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 History's Most Potent Symbols

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nordmann
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PostSubject: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 13:09

An excellent line of inquiry into our common cultural heritage opened up on Priscilla's thread concerning religion's impact on the world. Part of this impact has been the proliferation of certain emblems and symbols which now are so deeply embedded in our common conscience that they are unavoidable when contemplating either our global history or what constitutes human societies in this modern age. However this is not an area in which religion holds a monopoly and it might be interesting to identify those which members think deserve honourable mention - not because they represent any one thing, nor even a thing deemed worthy of remembrance or recognition, but simply because they have become wordless components of the global environment of visual stimuli shared by us all on this planet which shriek loudest to our common psyche, and without which it would be almost impossible now to construct a sensible narrative of who we are and how we came to get to the point at which we all now stand.

The two which have received special mention so far couldn't be more extreme in terms of their commonly assumed import and meaning (though this too becomes a much greyer area when actually examined properly):





And of course a more recent addition also mentioned in the other thread:



I am not trying to equate these symbols except in terms of their pervasiveness. As mentioned in the documentary Fast Food Nation some years ago the last symbol above, according to a global survey, was recognised by a staggering 88% of people in the world - a statistic that any self respecting religion would give its right arm of the Lord for. The Christian crucifix, for example, weighed in at 53% in the same poll.

Any others, in no particular order of importance or pervasiveness?
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 13:30

My earliest one was the drawing of Chad during wartime when it was difficult to protest or investigate anything. Could someone summon one up here please. it often had a Wot No ...... remark to pinpoint shortages. People often drew them on walls and places that they thought needed investigation in our town in silent protest. I was warned never to do it - like on our school dining area.  Thanks for opening up the thread, sir.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 13:54



US political aficionados who remember the Bush v Gore Florida voting debacle from 2000 might have been confused by your reference, P. Just for them - this is what a whole other part of the world once knew as a chad. To me it represents my schooldays - I don't think there was a school-desk I ever inherited in any classroom that didn't have this lad carved into it.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 14:17

Another major political symbol of the 20th century, the Hammer & Sickle;

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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 14:22

Which, Trike, as a child I readily confused with this one (to my mind one of the most beautifully evocative and unassuming of religious symbols of identification - not associated with murder, like the Christian symbol, nor overt supremacy, such as the various religions which have opted for the sun).



And then of course there is this one whose popularity since the 1960s many have tried to explain in terms of political consciousness, youth rebellion, hippydom, revolutionary theory and in a rake of other worthy manners related to socialist ideology and the like. The truth however cannot be any one one of these things, I would hazard to guess.

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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 15:21

The one I remember most from the 60s is the peace sign, originally the CND symbol in the UK, then adopted world -wide, notably in the Vietnam War;





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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 15:27

The Cross of Lorraine, as a symbol of the Free French/French Resistance force of WW2;

The Free French memorial at Greenock;

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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 17:04

In terms of longevity and widespread adoption, the eagle must be one of the more potent. The eagle talons in Isbister are contentious and arguments regarding their dating rage but the Roman eagle was, and still is, unarguably understood as a recognised symbol whether of repression and conquest or of civilisation and order but it has continued to be used in many places and by many different regimes but I would suggest its symbolism has remained fairly consistent.

Present day single headed eagle include:

Egypt          

Kurdistan      

Mexico          

The varieties of Hapsburg eagles, this is Austria


And, of course



The double headed version was used in the later Byzantine empire



the Holy Roman empire



and the Seljuk Turks




but it is of course most associated with Russia and its former satellites



The campaign for a sovereign Mercia has a double headed eagle which it claims to have adopted from the arms of Earl Leofric and is used on the badge of the Merican Regiment.

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 23:22

The double headed eagle shrine is a famous shrine in the Sirka city of the Taxila complex and was shown in the treasures of the Indus prog recently. The eagle is set above three short corinthian columns of the Greco- Ghandarian period and is thought to have been carved during the Scythian/Pathian period of the complex 60BC -34AD. An interesting note in the volume I used to check on this mentions the symbol of the double headed eagle being used by Scythians (they being from southern 'Russia') and was how it became used in Russia. It was also used by Hittites and Baylonians.

Scythes were well into animal cults - much being depicted in their glorious gold ornaments - and of course were great horsemen. The Hindi word for a horse groom and stable hand is still 'syse' - and the northern Pathans - great horsemen still - were strongly linked with them .
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Fri 09 Oct 2015, 23:42

I'd forgotten about the Taxila eagle P, thanks.

And the Scythian horse cult too, that was one of the reasons that the Picts were once thought to be descended from them, all those cuddies on their symbol stones.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 09:51

I don't know about being potent but the London Transport Roundel is a piece of classic design,imo. It is clear and  put to diverse relevant use - currently Crossrail is an new addition to the central bar library. Someone can upload a selection, please?
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 10:31

@ferval wrote:
In terms of longevity and widespread adoption, the eagle must be one of the more potent. The eagle talons in Isbister are contentious and arguments regarding their dating rage but the Roman eagle was, and still is, unarguably understood as a recognised symbol

Napoleon unashamedly adopted it for his troops, presumably to suggest his Empire was heir to that of the Ancient Romans. It certainly used the same imagery of that used by the Roman Legions, wings spread, talons clutching a thunderbolt. Here are two which were captured at Waterloo:


No Legionary Aquila is known to survive (the 'Silchester Eagle', which was one of the inspirations for Rosemary Sutcliffe's famous novel The Eagle of the Ninth, is now thought to have been part of a statue of Jupiter), but here is a rather nice modern reconstruction based on carved depictions, for example in the grave markers of Aquilifers:

Interestingly there is one carving which has been interpreted as showing a live eagle kept in a cage and used as a standard. However, others have suggested it is more likely to show a normal standard in some sort of protective casing.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 10:45

Usually very impressive, but not stuck on top of a helmet:


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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 11:16

These are pretty much universally recognised these days too ...



What many mightn't realise however is their antiquity, both dating back to astrological symbols used - we know - as long ago as the ancient Greeks were writing on papyri. The circle in each case infers divinity in the sense that what we now know as the male symbol originally represented Mars and the female Venus (or Ares and Aphrodite if one is being absolutely stickly about the Greek pantheon). The male arrow component is actually a spear-head. Some debate exists about the cross component in the female symbol though by Byzantine times it was generally believed to have originated as a necklace (or a distaff).
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 12:33

One example where a familiar, extremely potent symbol met extraordinary ignorance (and/or insensitivity) is that of the 'Boy' clothing company. Here is their logo:



Unsurprisingly many people were struck by its similarity to another symbol:



There have been widespread objections as a result (I must admit I feel very uncomfortable when I see it) but it still became popular with the fashion-concious, whilst the company itself were unrepentant, insisting that it was inspired not by the Third Reich's symbolism but that of the Romans. I find it hard to believe that they didn't realise the resemblance (especially when they stuck with the logo even when the similarity was pointed out to them) but maybe they were just incredibly stupid.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 14:40

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/apple/11464501/Can-you-recognise-the-Apple-logo-Take-the-test.html



As the brand behind so much of the popular technology we use today, Apple's logo is one of the most recognisable in the world. Or is it?

Researchers at the University of California asked 85 people to draw it from memory, and then scored their attempts for accuracy.

Only one person got it right.

When asked to pick the correct logo out of a line-up of 12 similar designs, fewer than half the participants chose the correct one.

The surprising results were said to support the theory that over-exposure to a logo does not necessarily mean our memories of it will be accurate. Quite the opposite might be true, in fact.


I've tried to copy the 12 different Apples, but it won't work.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 15:56

Turns out that no, I don't know!
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 17:22

@Anglo-Norman wrote:
One example where a familiar, extremely potent symbol met extraordinary ignorance (and/or insensitivity) is that of the 'Boy' clothing company.  

And yet no-one raises any concerns about clothing by the Hugo Boss company? Boss senior was a fully-paid up member of the Nazi party and actually designed virtually all the Nazi uniforms ... hence probably why it was generally said (even in 1940s Britain) that the Germans always had the smartest uniforms. But again it's evidence of the power of symbols ... BOY get slated for their use of a widely-recognised symbol, but Hugo Boss, with a far worse actual history but no provocative logo, generally have no such problem.

But the power of symbolism has been used against the Hugo Boss company, in such a way that I really need say nothing more for people to immediately make the connection:

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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sat 10 Oct 2015, 17:52

@nordmann wrote:
associated with murder, like the Christian symbol



'The Butcher's Apron'
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sun 11 Oct 2015, 13:08

Indeed, Vizzer. The Union flag is definitely one of the most successful symbols ever devised given its near-universal recognition and its ready adaptability to various nuanced interpretations, including the one you highlight (though this particular nuance, while strong, is not one that many outside of Britain might be familiar with).

Any discussion of symbols and their longevity would be incomplete without consideration of those most of us encounter most frequently, the letters of the Latin alphabet. It is amazing how little they have changed over millennia (though the sounds they represent may have evolved tremendously since first adoption) and therefore how easy it is to see how, with some of them, their pictorial root can still so easily be guessed with some confidence of being correct. "M" for example had its origins in a very simple but graphic illustration of water used in hieroglyphic representation and adopted almost exactly for use in proto-semitic writing. "K" began as a hand symbol with splayed fingers, "O" as an eye, and so on.

In fact when you think about it, symbolising speech to invent writing reveals a uniquely human ability which also presents itself in our ready comprehension of allegory (really just complex analogy) as a potent form of communication, often working where more direct forms would fail. To see or hear one piece of input, sometimes extremely simple and rudimentary in nature, but to comprehend another concept, even a much bigger one, on that basis, and with everyone more or less in agreement on what has been comprehended, must have been a huge step in the early departure of humans from other species which apparently retain a comparatively rudimentary comprehension of visual and aural input. Of course it has also led to its own problems, but on the whole its persistence as a by now hard-wired function of our brains suggests one without which we could never have survived to have become what we are at this point in time.

At this stage we are now, quite literally (in every sense), symbol-dependent.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sun 11 Oct 2015, 13:51

Although all of that is true I'm not sure that alphabetic symbols have quite the same function or indeed potency as the others that we have discussed given their very specific function. Words of course are much more like those in that they carry a vast repertoire of associations and resonances.

I would suggest that numerals are closer - although specific in one sense, some have picked up accretions of meaning that go beyond their meaning in terms of a counting role - 13 for instance and - here we go again - all those with religious significance.

Mathematical symbols - how do they fit? And equations?
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Sun 11 Oct 2015, 14:00

For the Romans that discrepancy simply didn't exist Smile

Greek mathematical symbolism also originally employed ones developed primarily as alphabetical sound symbols. The Hindo-Arabic roots of our present numerals are, as you say, evidence of an even more heightened refinement of symbolic meaning. Some have conjectured that they originally contained the same number of angles as the number they should represent but this is demonstrably false when examined closely (it works only for the lowest numbers in its most anciently recorded form). It is a real case apparently of the concept reaching refinement before its symbolism was actually finalised. In fact much like what is assumed happened with language and words.
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PostSubject: Re: History's Most Potent Symbols   Mon 12 Oct 2015, 16:18

White feathers and red roses spring to mind. Also signs of the zodiac and Tarot symbols.

I was going to post some pseudo-intellectual stuff about signifiers and the signified and sliding signifiers and all that Saussure/Lacan stuff, but it makes my head ache, so I won't.

But it is interesting how meaning is never is fixed. The reader or the viewer attributes meaning. That eagle perched on the Kaiser's helmet once signified power and terrifying aggression. Now we read as: "What a prat I am."
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