From coffee cups to team uniforms; from gift wrapping to “wife beater” tee shirts; the biohazard symbol is becoming one of the new symbolic expressions of pop culture. The visual power and mathematical beauty of the biohazard symbol combines with the current fascination with apocalyptic and virus based zombie fantasies to make it a replacement for the nuclear mushroom cloud as the latest catastrophic possibility that looms over mankind. And dark prophecy of undeniable havoc and destruction is big business in some segments of young society today.
The key to pop culture symbolic expressions begins in the wide social appeal and easy recognition of the logo, face, symbol or photo. The symbol represents complex issues that have great meaning to a large segment of society, be it dark thoughts, religious values, feelings based on current events, personal statements, encouragement through hard times, and anything else that creates a strong emotional bond with the symbol. In some cases, the mere iconic representation of a company and it’s products is enough to spark memories or feelings in those who love the brand and who have memorable experiences associated with wearing or having the item.
Official social and state values can be represented by new and old symbols, such as the over sized “Uncle Sam” hat and various flag logos, including national flags with peace symbols superimposed over them. Camouflage items represent support for, or interest in the military or in militaristic activities.
The “Wife Beater” T-shirt is a popular symbol, not because it glorifies the abusive son-in-law of “The Godfather” film, but because it is, itself a staple clothing item that provides comfort, represents physical toughness, and offers year ’round utility and style. This style of shirt was made wildly popular for women in the original “Alien” film, when the tough, smart heroine wore them during the heat of battle. These shirts are now made for male and female, in all colors, for infants, and with or without other iconic symbols applied to them.
These symbols come and go, remain favorites through an individual’s life, or are marketing attempts that fail to catch on. The symbols of goth, punk, hippie, racist, religious, gang, prison, military, and other standing subcultures are not so volatile in their popularity or demise. A marketing ploy to popularize a design, logo or symbol may survive if the company itself is a symbol of style, culture or class. But other marketing plans can be complete failures as a fickle audience changes it’s focus to some other cultural attraction.
At any rate, anything goes with some pop culture symbols while other pop culture symbols are part of long standing traditions or movements that will survive through generations of humans.
Newsvine, “Warning: Pop Culture Appropriates The Biohazard Symbol”, Mar 2009