The Expansion of Symbolism

I really enjoyed Victor Turner’s work on symbolism. Symbolism throughout peoples cultures and actions is highly intriguing to me and I always look for symbolism in everything around me. He did a really good job breaking down the various types of symbols, starting with primary and secondary. Primary symbols directly mimic an object, while secondary symbols are no longer traceable through words, it can be body language or it can be markings on the wall. Through secondary symbols, a person could make a correct assessment of it, or be completely wrong. There is a strong possibility that when deciphering a secondary symbol, you will never know the true meaning, because every single person has variations in their thought processes, which in turn can be projected a completely different way. Perhaps a spiral pictograph could be something related to the universe (otherworldly), or it could symbolize a maelstrom someone had observed many years ago.

I really like the statement of “the greater the symbol, the simpler its form”. Meaning that symbols that convey great emotion or thought processes that have large impacts on peoples lives, are often in very simplistic forms. One example he gave was that of the Christian Cross, another I thought of is a Nazi symbol. Both are simplistic in form (although completely different meanings from one another), but convey powerful messages through its symbol to its followers. 

He also explains that symbols take on different forms of fulfilling a persons agenda, and these have to do with physiological, natural phenomena, and social relationships. The same symbol shared within a community could convey a different meaning to someone else. The meaning of any given symbol is just as varied as the variety of symbols there can be.

A good example of my own to bring to the table, is that of the “okay” symbol, which has taken on a more cynical sign through out the white supremacist’s culture. I am sure a good majority of you have seen this photo, the one of the little girl, (and in a costume) Gru, and a minion. Much speculation had been made over this photo being an opportunity for the man inside the Gru costume to spread the “accepted” symbol of white supremacy.  Once widely known as the “okay” symbol, has taken a new form: a symbol of hate. It started out as a prank in 2017 on a website (4chan) and quickly gained its reputation. This symbol is now acknowledged by the Anti-Defamation League as a symbol of hate and anyone seen using it on social media is monitored and made aware of.  They’ve even categorized the bowl-cut (after Dylann Roof) as a general hate symbol. On the premise this man sported a bowl-cut and committed such a heinous act as attacking a church in South Carolina, those who consider themselves white supremacist’s glorified his actions, using his iconic bowl cut as a symbol of hate.

My final point, is something as simple as the “okay” sign, once used as a symbol of being fine/content, was able to take form as something completely opposite inciting hate. A symbol can be the same, but a meaning can convey a completely different message to its follower. It is up for interpretation and therefore no symbol can truly ever mean one thing, because humans have the capability and range of imagination/experiences to convey a different emotion or attachment to a given symbol. 

2 thoughts on “The Expansion of Symbolism

  1. I actually had no clue about the “ok” symbol, which just goes to show how different a symbol can mean to someone, and how people can really misinterpret things and hate on someone who is using a symbol for a whole different reason and maybe never even knowing there is another symbolic meaning to it. Excuse me while it go rethink everything I’ve ever done… haha

  2. I had no idea that the ‘ok’ symbol was a sign of white supremacy. Thank you for letting us know about this issue! I also liked how you touched upon the simplicity of a symbol often portraying its power (the nazi symbol is a great example of this). I also think you could point out that the same symbol used for the nazis had once been used as a symbol of peace and prosperity by other cultures. An interesting post!

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