Driving Solo: A Reflection on Today's Icons

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The focus today on America's modern icons can be ridiculous. Our icons are no longer people who have done anything touchable. Florence Nightingale saved our country from future disease. Harriet Tubman helped to free slaves. Francis Scott Key wrote our beloved national anthem. Now, in the 21st century, we have Britney Spears, sexpot. We're proud to say that we are the home of the raunchy Christina Aguilera. And Kurt Cobain. We can't forget Kurt, can we? At the mere mention of any of these names, curiosity and conversation run rampant. Why is it that Americans can be so engrossed with a person who is all publicity and no substance? We don't know half of the traits of these people, yet they are the loves of our lives.

I recently read an essay in my Seeing and Writing book by a man named Toure entitled, "Kurt Is My Co-Pilot" (511-519). In it is an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt says that he had always "listened to country music. Then one day changed it all " (511). A video for the song "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by the new alternative rock band Nirvana came on MTV and Earnhardt was captivated. He identified with the song so deeply that he "was pulled from the good ol' boy path and rebaptized by rock & roll" (511). The essay goes on about Earnhardt's racing career and seems to say that Kurt Cobain was such a genius that he forever changed not only music, but life as well. Both the author and Earnhardt seem to have a great regard for Cobain.

But how much do we really know about Cobain? Common opinion seems to be that he was a tortured soul who hated his fame and was anguished at all of the pain in the world. The first question in my mind is, "If he hated publicity, why did he strive for fame?" Maybe, just maybe, we...

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...se people to icon status, why are we giving that to those who happen to have a good publicist? We give that power to the talentless Britney, the brainless Jessica Simpson, the womanizing Mel Gibson, and the hate-filled Kurt Cobain. How does this make us look to other countries? How does this reflect on us? Have we become so image-fueled? Unfortunately, I think we have. Personally, my tastes in icons run to the more uncommon flavor of the people who died to stop the plane from crashing into the White House. Or Charles Darwin. Or Albert Einstein. These are the deserving icons. Not Kurt Cobain. We instantly recognize his name and why he is famous. But some of us have to think for a moment to remember exactly what Einstein did for humanity. It's shameful and ridiculous. And so I say to Toure, the author of "Kurt Is My Co-Pilot", I'd rather drive solo, thank you very much.

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