On the Origin and Propagation of Iconic Images

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On the Origin and Propagation of Iconic Images

Postby swilk » Sun Sep 13, 2015 5:23 pm

If you say "Frankenstein" to people, they immediately picture that flat-topped bolt-necked green-skinned creation that owes its origin to makeup man Jack Pierce. It's not remotely like the character originated and described by Mary Shelley, but it has become an Icon (although it evolved somewhat -- he wasn't oiriginally green, but he always is, now) He has become a kind of shorthand for the creature, and is recognizable as such.

What are the Icons of SF, why are they popular? Why are they often inconsistent or incompatible, and how do people fight against them?

A few other examples:

Matrix-style descending type in green on a black background to represent Virtual Reality

Saucer Shapes to represent interstellar craft (originating in "Flying Saucer" reports, but soon taken up by SF film, and becoming iconic even for humans with Forbidden PLanet and Star Trek)

Ninjas in black suits

Computers with Rows of Blinking Lights

Atoms with electrons in planetary orbits along different planes

Vampires in opera capes with widow's peaks

"Werewolves" that look like hairy people, rather than wolves

"Grey" aliens with black almond-shaped eyes and little bodies with hairless, earless heads.

Ray guns with high voltage electrodes characteristics

Lasers that make noise


I'm sure there are plenty of others I'm not thinking of right now.

These aren't merely misconceptions -- they're the way these things are commonly portrayed, and how most people think of them.
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Re: On the Origin and Propagation of Iconic Images

Postby howardbeatman » Sat Sep 26, 2015 4:29 pm

This is the "Literature & Writing ideas" forum - the images you've described are mostly seen on the screen and were created for visual or oral impact. When Kubrick was doing pre-production research for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, he asked computer experts what computer would look like in 2001. He was told they would look like little black boxes... no flashing lights, no spinning tape reels. He realized that such boxes would not be visually interesting on screen, so the movie showed prettified versions of 1960's computers.
The same is true of the Enterprise swishing past in the opening credits of the original STAR TREK series. Creator/showrunner Roddenberry knew that there is no sound outside of an atmosphere and created the credits without sound. But he found that this version was dramatically "dead", so he added the "swish" to make the action come alive.
In general, the first version of anything which is accepted by the general public becomes the only way that anything is portrayed. Clark Kent changed into Superman in a telephone booth in the 40's animated cartoons, not in the comics for decades, but that image stuck in the public mind so firmly that the first Superman movie used a spoof of it to surprise the audience... 35 years later!
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