Archive for April, 2014

Woodstock. I chose this subject as an ‘American Icon’ for my communication class. To me, this event really represent the US. Let me tell you why.

  • First, a few facts about Woodstock.


Expected : from August 15th to August 17th 1969

50 000 spectators

Reality : from August 15th to August 18th 1969

Half a million spectators

It lasted longer than expected, and many more people came.


It was held at Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in Bethel, NY (43 miles from the town of Woodstock).


The festival was set up by Michael Lang, John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Artie Kornfield. It should originally have been set up in Wallkill, but people refused.

In April 1969, the band Creedence Clearwater Revival is the first to accept to perform.

They were not the only ones present on that day, 32 performances took place with some really famous names such as Ravi Shankar, Joan Baez, Santana, Janis joplin, The Who, Joe Cocker, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix…

Some other ones should have been there but refused, or could not be there, or cancelled. Among them were The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Doors, the Moody Blues, or Led Zeppelin.


  • Why an icon ?

– The image of the festival was used in films. Visually, it really means something.


Woodstock by Michael Wadleigh, 1970


Taking Woodstock by Ang Lee, 2009.

– Parodies were made in some well-known American shows… (here in an episode of the Simpsons)



– … and the poster embodying the festival was also made into a parody. I found this one very funny ! On the left, you can find the well-known poster of the festival, on the right another one made by cake designers.



To me, Woodstock really is an American icon because, despite the fact that it is not something material such as the American flag or the one dollar bill, it really has a visual power.


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The American Flag

1)The national flag of the United States of America, often referred to as the American flag, consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton (referred to specifically as the “union”) bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America and the 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the Union. The seven red stripes stand for the 7 continents of the world. Nicknames for the flag include the “Stars and Stripes”, “Old Glory”,and “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

  • American ships in New England waters flew a “Liberty Tree” flag in 1775. It shows a green pine tree on a white background, with the words, “An Appeal to Heaven.”


  • The Continental Navy used this flag, with the warning, “Don’t Tread on Me,” upon its inception.


  • It is said to be the oldest known American flag (that is, a flag intentionally designed and used to symbolize the country), and the oldest to use 13 red and white stripes for this purpose. It was carried by the Minutemen when they were called out on April 19, 1775, for the Battles of Lexington and Concord.


  • On January 1, 1776, the Continental Army was reorganized in accordance with a Congressional resolution which placed American forces under George Washington’s control. On that New Year’s Day the Continental Army was laying siege to Boston which had been taken over by the British Army. Washington ordered the Grand Union flag hoisted above his base at Prospect Hill. It had 13 alternate red and white stripes and the British Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner (the canton).
  • In May of 1776, Betsy Ross reported that she sewed the first American flag.
  • On June 14, 1777, in order to establish an official flag for the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
  • Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed for additional stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.

2)The Grand Union Flag (also the Continental Colors, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the First Navy Ensign) is considered to be the first national flag of the United States.[1] This flag consisted of thirteen red and white stripes with the British Union Flag of the time (the variant prior to the inclusion of the St. Patrick’s cross of Ireland) in the canton.


The Grand Union flag was first hoisted on the USS Alfred, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 3, 1775, by Lieutenant John Paul Jones. The event had been documented in letters to Congress and eyewitness accounts. The Grand Union flag was used by the American Continental forces as both a naval ensign and garrison flag through 1776 and early 1777

By the end of 1775, during the first year of the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress operated as a de facto war government authorizing the creation of an army, navy and even a marine corps. A new flag was required to represent the Congress and fledgling nation, different from the Red Ensign flown from British vessels and British Union flags carried by the King’s troops.

4)The design of the flag has been modified 26 times officially, since 1777. The 48-star flag was in effect for 47 years until the 49-star version became official on July 4, 1959. The 50-star flag was ordered by President Eisenhower on August 21, 1959.


The modern meaning of the flag was forged in December 1860, when Major Robert Anderson moved the U.S. garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Adam Goodheart argues this was the opening move of the Civil War, and the flag was used throughout the North to symbolize American nationalism and rejection of secessionism.

Before that day, the flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, and displayed on special occasions like American Independence day. But in the weeks after Major Anderson’s surprising stand, it became something different. Suddenly the Stars and Stripes flew—as it does today, and especially as it did after the September 11 attacks in 2001—from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above the village greens and college quads. For the first time American flags were mass-produced rather than individually stitched and even so, manufacturers could not keep up with demand. As the long winter of 1861 turned into spring, that old flag meant something new. The abstraction of the Union cause was transfigured into a physical thing: strips of cloth that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for.

6) and 7)The flag of the United States is one of the nation’s most widely recognized symbols. Within the United States, flags are frequently displayed not only on public buildings but on private residences. The flag is a common motif on decals for car windows, and clothing ornaments such as badges and lapel pins. Throughout the world the flag has been used in public discourse to refer to the United States.

10)The flag has become a powerful symbol of Americanism, and is proudly flown on many occasions, with giant outdoor flags used by retail outlets to draw customers. Desecration of the flag is considered a public outrage, but remains protected as freedom of speech. In worldwide comparison, it was noted that the United States is not unique in adoring its banner, for in Scandinavian countries their flags are also “beloved, domesticated, commercialized and sacralized objects”.


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Muhammad Ali



Muhammad’s life and career have been played out as much on the front pages of newspapers as on the inside sports pages. His early relationship with the Nation of Islam and his insistence on being called Muhammad Ali instead of his “slave name,” Cassius Clay, heralded a new era in black pride. His refusal to be inducted into the United States Army anticipated the growing antiwar movement of the 1960’s. His willingness to stage his much-promoted and publicized fights in such far-flung locales as Kinshasa, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur signaled a shift from superpower dominance toward a growing awareness of the developing world.


He has since devoted his life to helping promote world peace, civil rights, cross-cultural understanding, interfaith relations, humanitarianism, hunger relief, and the commonality of basic human values.

His work as an ambassador for peace began in 1985, when he flew to Lebanon to secure the release of four hostages. Ali also has made goodwill missions to Afghanistan and North Korea; delivered over $1 million in medical aid to Cuba; traveled to Iraq to secure the release of 15 United States hostages during the first Gulf War; and journeyed to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison. His recent attempt to free two American hikers held captive in Iran reinforces his tireless commitment to promoting freedom, tolerance, and humanity around the world.

Throughout his boxing career, Ali’s highly publicized fights in locales such as Kinshasa, Manila, and Kuala Lumpur brought increased global attention to the developing world. Today, he continues to serve those in need overseas, providing over 232 million meals to the world’s hungry. Ali has hand-delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote D’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco, among other countries.

In addition to his international efforts, Ali is equally devoted to helping charities at home. He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped organizations including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics. He also annually participates in Celebrity Fight Night, which generates funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona..

Today: championing the issues in the developing world has become a major focus of Muhammad’s life. He has been instrumental in providing over 232 million meals to the world’s hungry. Traveling across continents, he has hand-delivered food and medical supplies to children in Cote D’Ivoire, Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco among other countries.

In addition to his international efforts, Muhammad is equally devoted to helping charities at home. He has visited countless numbers of soup kitchens and hospitals, and helped such organizations as the Make-A-Wish-Foundation and the Special Olympics. At the State Capitol in Michigan, he advocated new laws for protecting children.

He annually participates in “Fight Night,” which generates funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Research Center at Barrow Neurological Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona.
Ali has inspired millions worldwide. He gave people hope and proved that anyone could overcome insurmountable odds. He gave people courage. He made fighters of us all.

Bowing legend, civil rights activist and « the Greatest », Muhammad Ali has made his mark on the world of boxing and athletics as a whole for his engagement and the strength of his convictions in the face of adversity (picture of Ali at the 4th annual life changing lives gala on September 11, 2011 in California).

Whether promoting tolerance and understanding, feeding the hungry, studying his religion, or reaching out to children in need, Muhammad Ali has always been devoted to making the world a better place for all people. No athlete has ever contributed more to the life of his country, or the world, than Muhammad Ali.

Ali once said, “I’ve always wanted to be more than just a boxer. More than just the three-time heavyweight champion. I wanted to use my fame, and this face that everyone knows so well, to help uplift and inspire people around the world.”

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McDonalds was so successful in its effort to impose the brand as a symbol that its elements have been widely used in various contexts. One of them is art production. The restaurant in itself is obviously not important anymore, only what it represents. An Americano-Russian sculptor, Alexander Kosopalov, created this piece entitled “Angel of Cholesterol” in 2010. It was exposed in New York among other cities, in the Guggenheim museum and at the Museum of Modern Art. It questions the problematic of the sacralisation of McDonalds, and through it, the sacralisation of a society of consumption, with all its consequences.

angel of cholesterol

This mummy was created in 2012 by a Texan artist, Ben Campbell, as part of an exhibition dedicated to showing the connection between ancient Egypt and modern society. The mummy is made out of 200 dollar worth of McDonald’s food. The artist uses McDonalds as a symbol for big corporations in general. He links the desire to build ever growing corporation to an obsession with immortality, which can be seen as a characteristic of Ancient Egypt society. For him, McDonalds is a cultural ambassador of the United States to the rest of the world and on top of that, its food doesn’t decay (as we will see with the next piece of art), which makes it quite an appropriate material for a mummy.


In “The McDonalds Happy Meal Project”, the photographer Sally Davies, from New York, has photographed the hamburger and portion of fries of a Happy Meal every day for 6 months. At first, she intended to record its decaying but was surprised to find out that no sign of rotting or molding ever showed on the food. It’s been 3 years and the food is still sitting in her apartment, on a bookshelf, under glass.

day 1day 171

During the 2014 Milan Fashion Week, the Moschino brand introduced a collection inspired by the connection between “fast food” and “fast fashion”. Consequently the pieces displayed references to McDonald’s and other icons of the popular culture. The line also features the slogan ‘Over 20 Billion Served’ – a reference to the consumer culture in which we are all submerged. The designer linked his work to that of Andy Warhol who challenged the definition of art.

moschino 2 moschino

The Danish collective Superflex exposed this video at the South London Gallery in 2010. The film work is entitled “Flooded McDonalds”. A life-size replica of the interior of a McDonalds is gradually flood with water. The video questions the responsibility of consumerist society and large multinationals and the lack of willingness to take action in the face of climate change.

McDonalds and its attributes are heavily represented in street art throughout the world. Banksy, a Bristol born artist, is one of the most famous representative of street-art and, in 2013 he made out a fiber-glass sculpture of Ronald McDonald, mascot of the renowned fast food chain, and moved it from one McDonald’s to another in the New York area, with a real man shining the shoes of the statue. An audio-guide is connected to the piece accessible through a phone-number. Here are some quotations of the audio recording made by Banksy: “Ronald was adopted as the official mascot of the McDonald’s fast food corporation chain in 1966. Fiberglass versions of his likeness have been installed outside restaurants ever since, thus making Ronald arguably the most sculpted figure in history after Christ. The result is a critique of the heavy labour required to sustain the polished image of  mega-corporation.



This was not the first time that Banksy had used McDonalds in his work. Several of his graffitis feature the fast-food chain. It can be a symbol of the decaying of modern society, as in this prehistoric man with a tray of MacDonalds food in his hand, or a symbol of American imperialism and of its crimes against humanity, with Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald holding by the hand the little Vietnamese girl burnt by napalm during the Vietnam War.


banksy ape banksy


McDonalds and its symbols can be found throughout the streets around the world, usually as a symbol of the imperialism of American culture and of its noxiousness. It is interesting to note that once again, McDonalds is linked to other American icons, here, the historic photo “Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima” taken during WWII. It is regarded as one of the most significant and recognizable images of the war, and possibly the most reproduced photograph of all time.

street art in Amsterdam street art in Paris street art in San Francisco street art in Spain

We can see through the use that is made of the brand and its symbols in art that McDonalds has come to represent much more than a fast-food chain, it a true American icon.

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Slideshow Dream Team

After my presentation, I was told the US basketball tem in the ’92 Olympics of Barcelona – most known as “The Dream Team” – was not that much an American Icon. What do you think about it ? Here is my presentation text and slideshow, please leave a comment to express yourself on the question !

The Dream Team is the nickname given to the American basketball team during the 1992 Summer Olympics of Barcelona. This team is considered by many specialists and journalists to be the greatest sports team ever assembled and the greatest collection of basketball talent on the planet.

I – The origin

In 1988 and as it happened in every Olympics since 1930, USA sent a basketball team only composed of college players who were stars of the NCAA, the college sports championship but had no professional experience and they only managed to finish at the third place, winning the bronze medal. This defeat was considered as a disappointment and that increased calls for professionals to play in the Olympics. The International basketball federation advocated for this and the decision was agreed in 1989, despite America voted against this proposal. This decision started the phenomenon of the Dream team as USA Basketball wanted to take their revenge from the previous Olympics and gather the best players they could have. The first time the word Dream Team was on the cover of the famous magazine Sports Illustrated of February 18, 1991 with five superstars playing in the NBA, the US basketball league.

The roster was announced in May 1992, four months before the Olympics.

#4 Christian Laettner – the only college player of the team

#5 – David Robinson

#6 – Patrick Ewing

#7 – Larry Bird – considered as the best shooter in the history of the game

#8 – Scottie Pippen – remembered as the lieutenant of …

#9 – Michael Jordan – “His Airness”, the GOAT, greatest player of all time

#10 – Clyde Drexler

#11 – Karl Malone

#12 – John Stockton

#13 – Chris Mullin

#14 – Charles Barkley

#15 – Magic Johnson – the best point guard in the history, he invented the notion of showtime with his team, the Los Angeles Lakers and applied it to Team USA. He was also known for being the first seropositive athlete who still played after he revealed his disease.

Coach Chuck Daly

II – A crushing success

Before the Olympics, the US team trained themselves to international competition with the Tournament of the Americas, a competition between countries of North, Central and South America. For their first game together, Americans defeated Cuba 136-57, winning by an incredible 79 point differential. It led to a famous quote from the Cuban coach who said after the game “You can’t cover the sun with your finger.” This first win was the only the beginning as Team USA won this tournament, beating Venezuela in final, only with a 47 point differential. During this tournament, Team USA won their games by a crazy average differential of 51.5 points.

After a week of training in Monaco when they spent more time in casinos than on the court, USA arrived in Barcelona with the status of superstar, eagerly awaited by the fans of course, because it was the first time all these players played basketball in Europe, but also by their opponents as even the other teams in competition went to the games with cameras to take pictures of these players they had never seen before in flesh and bone and who were their idols. This status didn’t only have a bright side as they had to live in a hotel the whole time of the Olympics because of the terrorist risks in the Olympic village.

During the Olympic competition, USA was opposed in the first round with Angola, Croatia, Germany, Brazil and Spain. For their first game of the competition against the African team, the Dream Team clearly wanted to send a message with a 68 point win, 116-48. The captain from Angola stated after the game that “those guys were on another level—a galaxy far, far away” The rest of the Olympics will be pretty much the same as they won every game by at least 32 points, this differential occurred during the final against Croatia and a 117-85 win for the gold medal.

Despite this astonishing domination, Americans enjoyed the opportunity to get to know each other in a casual setting, often playing cards all night and, for Jordan, playing several rounds of golf daily with little rest. For instance, Charles Barkley walked around the city alone despite the threats. When asked where his bodyguards were, he held up his fists and answered, “This is my security.”  Barkley was later described as “the number one U.S. Olympic ambassador” for his visits in popular places such as La Rambla, where he met with adoring crowds such as anybody would do.

Opposing teams were nonetheless overwhelmed by the talent of the American roster, losing by an average of 43.8 points per game. The Dream Team was the first to score more than 100 points in every game in an Olympic. Its 117.3 average was more than 15 points more than the best scoring average before 1992. The level the US team showed in this tournament is still considered more than 20 years later the best ever seen in a basketball competition.

III – Why this team was iconic ?

  • Sense of the show

The Dream Team didn’t only play a good and solid game, they added a show dimension to their game, with a lot of spectacular moves such as no look passes or devastating dunks. As the US is known for its tradition for the show, the cinema, these players managed to give to a sport a sense of entertainment, which has never seen before, except in the NBA and which suits perfectly to America in the XXth Century.

  • Bringing people together

This team was made of 12 players with many different stories, many different backgrounds and some of them had a true rivalry with their clubs. For instance, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were the two biggest stars of the NBA in the 80’s, but they were almost perfectly different. Bird is a tall White man, with Irish origins, a fantastic player but with almost no physical abilities : he wasn’t fast, wasn’t strong, he didn’t jump high. He played for Boston, an industrial town on the East coast. Johnson was is Black, who is always smiling and who loves to make the show, with spectacular fashion. He was extremely high for a player who organizes the plays of his team. He was a great representation of his town, Los Angeles and all its exuberance. But for the time of the Olympics, both players played and lived together in perfect harmony, only focused on winning. Basketball brought people together and erased the differences, even in the stands. The atmosphere of the match between Team USA and Cuba was almost like a party, even after all the political conflicts the countries had.

  • Basketball players as a symbol of world superpower

These 1992 Olympics happened just after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the USSR, putting an end to the Cold War. USA was the winner of this war and with the end of the Soviet Union, they could have the role of the major world superpower. This context was also a reason for the Dream Team. Opening Team USA to NBA players didn’t mean all the superstars would join the national team but America wanted to show to the world how strong they were, and sport was a way to bend the muscles. Even with only two or three of these players, United States would have probably won the gold medal, but they didn’t only want to win, they wanted to crush all their opponents. This idea of a super America was still present decades before when the US took the role of the international referee in any conflict (for instance in South America). After the end of the most important one of this period, they could do nothing but to show they were the best and this is what the Dream Team did.

  • Commercial (capitalism) interests

The Dream Team was not only use for political interests but also for commerce. Their image of superstars was used by many American companies which were able to set up in the European market. The most famous are of course Coca-Cola which was also a sponsor of the whole Olympic Games and the main sponsor of the next edition of 1996 in Atlanta, but also McDonalds which became a partner of the Olympic Games partly thanks to the Dream Team and US pressure. Barcelona was the first Olympics where a McDonalds restaurant was build inside the Olympic Village at the request of the US athletes and especially, the basketball team. Americans were not sure that European food was healthy and would be tasty. The Dream Team was also used for toys or more recently for video games as the best basketball simulation NBA 2K recreated the Dream Team for its 20th anniversary. Sports were used as a tool for capitalism, another symbol of the USA.

  • Brought basketball into a universal dimension

What is the most important for me as a basketball fan was that the Dream Team, gave fans a glimpse of basketball at its finest, and an entire world responded. Since 1992, basketball has exploded in popularity around the globe, rising to a place where it challenges soccer’s status as the  most popular sport in some countries in the world. Much of that is due to the impact of the Dream Team, which attracted fans and followers wherever it went. “It was,” said Coach Chuck Daly, “like Elvis and the Beatles put together. Traveling with the Dream Team was like traveling with 12 rock stars. That’s all I can compare it to.”. In France, three monthlies were created just after the Olympics.  Incidentally, the global basketball community embraced the American superiority in these games. Had young international basketball players resented the Americans for their abilities, they may have sought to develop the credibility of their own professional basketball leagues. As it turns out, the Americans were idolized and these young international basketball players sought to play basketball against the best competition in the world, which was clearly the NBA.  Due to their triumphs in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and their visibility as wealthy athletes, foreign-born basketball players from around the world sought to migrate to the U.S. and compete in the NBA. Thus, the Dream Team was a catalyst for the global migration of basketball talent, and changed the professional basketball forever.

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