Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Last week, in Christchurch, the front page of The Press informed us that the city is to have an 'iconic' gateway.  The writers did have the decency to place the word iconic in quotation marks.  Although this is a hint that they knew something or the other was not quite right about the word, it was not enough.

Icons used to be paintings of Christ or other holy figures, usually on wood and usually pretty old.  In recent years, icons have assumed other meanings, for example, being in abundance on the screen in front of me as I write this.  They have also come to refer to persons or things that stand as a representative symbol of something.  And they are now all over the place.  On most days we come across reports of icons in the newspapers, from the tv news reporters, and even from those who are interviewed.  In short, the word, like many others, is losing its meaning.  As soon as an All-Black stands out for something other than a drunken misdemeanor, he assumes iconic status.  Perhaps all of the old tall poppies of the 20th century have become icons in the 21st.

Anyway, assuming that the proposed bridge over Memorial Avenue is not to be constructed of wood with a painting of Christ on its side, then it is presumably to be seen as a potential symbol of post-earthquake Christchurch.  An overpass.  In what way might this be seen as symbolic?  All that springs to mind is that Christchurch might be a good place to overpass, next time flying straight onto Queenstown.  Surely not.  Then it might be seen merely as a bridge.  Perhaps to higher things.

In the body of The Press article, the phrase "iconic gateway" was quoted, presumably from an original report.  Then the question becomes, how can a gateway be an icon for a city?  In fact, as one drives from the airport along Memorial Avenue one will presumably be aware of an overbridge rather than a gateway.  However creative the design, it is hard to imagine instant iconic status.  In fact, can anything have instant iconic status?  Isn't this something that has to be earned by lengthy association?

On the following day, an image of the proposed icon was shown in The Press, although it was not possible for the reporter to say whether or not it would be exactly as portrayed.  It looked fine and might well add something to the approach to Christchurch from the airport - although Christchurch being Christchurch, many people will find it objectionable whatever it looks like.  But instant icon it cannot be.  Whether or not in the fulness of time it comes to be iconic is a question for public reaction.  At least it is not the equivalent of a huge L&P bottle.

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