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Icons of Popular Culture: 03/10/16

Icons of Popular Culture by Marshall Fishwick

Icons of Popular Culture by Marshall Fishwick written in the 1960s and published in the 1970s could just as easily be called Branding of Popular Culture. The central thesis is that with the secularization of modern American society, the brands created by modern corporations have become the new iconography.

In 1970 the king of the brands was Coca Cola. A good third of this slim book is devoted to the soda manufacturer out of Atlanta, Georgia. Though the brand is still around and the iconic bottle (now more often than not rendered in plastic than glass) is still around, it's not the king of the branding pantheon. Now that would be Apple, Android, Amazon, among others.

Coca Cola bottles on a Google image search.

In the context of my road trip research, I was looking for insight into commercial aspects of the journey. The road is lined with billboards. The Inns are replaced by chain motels and hotels. Food is provided by chain restaurants, and even those that are independent still all serve the same list of soft drinks.

In terms of the road narrative, the corollary to Fishwich's thesis was the most relevant: Americans aren't aware of how in depth their brand knowledge is or how they got it. It's at the silliest end of the road trip genre, the comedies, that this notion holds most true. Of course the creators are well aware of the brand's influence but their characters are not. By playing out expectations against those of the protagonists, we are made to laugh.

Two stars

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