Existentialism 7: Iconoclasm

Existentialism 7: Iconoclasm

12/29/15 Robleh Wais

We've explored many avenues of Existentialism in these articles. Implicit in all of the topics I've covered in what I'll discuss now: iconoclasm. That is, the disregard for cultural mores, customs, codified practices, and beliefs of any society. That's my definitional take on the word. But, for clarity, and a reference let's list a dictionary definition from where else in our 21st century age, that's Dicitonary.com.The actual reference is to iconoclast. But, the idea is an embodiment of the belief:


here is what the site contains:

a person who attacks cherished beliefs, traditional institutions, etc., as being based on error or superstition.

This definition is abbreviated, but close to what I have expounded upon. An iconoclast attacks all forms of cultural expressions as being false and wrong-headed. So does the existentialist. These variegated rituals, celebrations, observances, processes, etc., are all seen to be misguided ideas. The iconoclast scoffs at such events as Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Festival of Lights, and Chinese New Year. Much deeper, the same person would find celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and memorable events absurd as the existentialists would too. But, satire in some interpretations does the same thing. Of course, the main difference here is satire seeks to expose hypocrisy, it doesn't argue for disregard of societal values. However, iconoclasm and existentialism are related. One is an expression of the other. Iconoclasts attack the mores and customs of society, while existentialists disregard them. In that sense, it can be said that one is a more extreme version of the other.

Iconoclasm can be seen as a form of existentialism in action. It is not the arrogant, drunk that will ask celebrants at a New Year's Eve party: why the fuck are you jerks..(belch), uh hooping and hollering about (belch) this count on your calendar? A calendar you mad..(hiccup) I mean made up by..the wayHe passes out.

It is not. But, it is someone that tries to live without celebrating events like New Year's Eve, or can't find meaning in recognizing any of the following list:


Funeral days




Tragic events

Records set

Religious festivals



Sporting competitions

Religious rituals

Military rituals

Rituals of any type, substance or form


And that's the short list! But, let's be fair and point out that iconoclast see no value or meaning in the above, but doesn't mean such a person can't ENJOY such events. I enjoy footballs competitions immensely, but don't find them of substantive meaning.


Beyond these observations, we can note that so much of our comedy is based on iconoclasm. One of my favorite comedians good ol George Carlin made iconoclasm into a fine art. I miss George today, and often think of what would he have said about this or that. Or who can forget, Richard Pryor and his attack on all forms of cultural customs. He tore away are the tradition of the African-American preachers in his southern black minister archetype persona. Carlin destroyed the notion of the respectable politician, cop, government representative, etc. He exposed the silly notion of profanity as meaningless nobody in America can forget his piece of the 7 words.


But, iconoclasm has moved well beyond comedy, how 'bout Michael Moore? Are not his films that expose the corruption, and vile exploitation of people in this country and others a form iconoclastic expression? Moore is not the only one as I am sure you know.


And now, yes now it has grown into a movement, a social movement. A cybernetic social networking movement. This tearing away at the pillars of our cultural, social, and the societal world has become a living thing, composed of millions upon millions, turn billions of people that post videos on YouTube and other social media. All of these myriad videos posted, questioning the notions of religions, societal ideas, cultural traditions, political ideologies, and most of all meaningfulness itself show that iconoclasm is growing.

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