Iconography

Charles Gustine

How do we understand the places we visit (and even the places we’ve never been)? As a shorthand, we use agreed-upon touchstones - famous places, famous people famous foods, and, of course, dreams. Dreamed-up people and dreamed-up places and dreamed-up things. This podcast looks at a culture's icons - real and imagined - to see what they say about the culture itself, as well as the outsiders who've elevated those icons above all others.

Season 2 Preview
Trailer 6 min 35 sec

All Episodes

With Thanksgiving just around the corner, and Iconography ringing in its fifth birthday, it seemed like a great time to bring up a gem from the archives, out episode on Squanto from 2018.As an icon, Squanto is known, but he isn’t really known. What Santa is to Christmas and the Easter Bunny is to Easter, Squanto is to Thanksgiving. He is a sense memory from childhood. He’s more than a man, or really much less than a man, now. He is a symbol.There he is smudged into the paint of the handprint turkey you made in kindergarten.You don’t need to go visit Squanto – have kids and at some point when they’re in elementary school, he’ll come to you in the form of Timmy with the gap in his front teeth dressed in a fringe vest and a feather headband.We’re going to spend the next few episodes of the podcast in Plymouth, thinking about the icons the Pilgrims have left behind leading up to their ultimate legacy, Thanksgiving and those handprint turkeys. As a first step, let’s exhume Squanto from the smudged paint, and restore to him not just some dignity but some agency.

Nov 23

57 min 50 sec

As we hunker down for what will be a very unconventional Thanksgiving, it seemed like the right time to re-release our 2018 episode exploring how the holiday is actually a strange mashup of two distinct celebrations. Whether you're spending this holiday longing for Thanksgivings of old or wondering why on earth this holiday matters so much, this episode is worth checking out.Sarah Josepha Hale, editress of Godey's Lady's Book, dedicated years of her life to the crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday - she was successful. And yet, Reverend Alexander Young wrote one footnote about Thanksgiving, and he may have inadvertently done more to change the history of the holiday (and the history of the Pilgrims). This is the story of the "First" Thanksgiving.

Nov 2020

39 min 26 sec

This episode, a deep dive into the 45 year old proto-blockbuster that has dominated the conversation in this lost pandemic summer - Jaws.That deep dive takes us to the island where Jaws was shot, Martha's Vineyard, as well as Nantucket, the nearby island where Jaws might have been shot if snow hadn't forced the ferry Production Designer Joe Alves was on to turn back towards the mainland.  Along the way, we'll meet father and son authors who both turned their off-islander experiences into hit Hollywood movies - We'll consider how Universal Studios Orlando tricked me into thinking Jaws was set in California - We'll reconcile our preconceived notions of the Vineyard as a rich person's playground with the fact that the island was chosen because it was lower-middle class enough to pass for economically vulnerable Amity Island - And we'll celebrate the performances of islanders, with special focus on Lee Fierro's work as grieving mother Mrs. Kintner.

Sep 2020

1 hr 13 min

Iconography started three years ago with an episode about two neighboring bridges in the heart of London. Now, for our third birthday, Wade Roush of fellow Hub & Spoke show Sooinsh brings us the story of two Boston bridges that share a similar story, though that story has a very different ending. Stick around after Wade's story to hear him and me chat about what makes bridges so iconic and what Spider-Man, Magneto, and Godzilla have to do with it.

Dec 2019

1 hr 8 min

How does a group of people hold onto an icon when… well, when that icon can no longer be held? In 2003, New Hampshire's state emblem, the Old Man of the Mountain, a massive granite face on a mountainside, crumbled 198 years after he had been discovered. This is his story in five pieces.

Nov 2019

1 hr 12 min

In this bonus interview episode, Brian Logan, Communications Director for the Plymouth 400 organization gives us insight into what goes into planning a quadricentenary commemoration. Transcript here: https://iconographypodcast.com/articles/interview-w-brian-logan-communications-director-s1!677ae

Aug 2019

37 min 19 sec

Visitors to Plymouth Rock tend to find the icon... underwhelming - a small, scarred rock in a cage. Maybe the reason Plymouth Rock is so frequently seen as underwhelming is because all the fascinating stories of how people who love the Rock have hurt it aren’t well known enough. People love telling stories about cool scars! Maybe if we all knew more of Plymouth Rock’s scar stories, visitors would be appropriately whelmed. Our guest Matt Villamaino certainly thinks so, and so we put on a little history pageant so you could listen in to the long strange history of Plymouth Rock. Transcript here: https://iconographypodcast.com/articles/plymouth-rock-a-pageant-episode-transcript-s1!4eeff

Jul 2019

1 hr

In the 1950s, something must have been in the water, because all of a sudden, there was a movement afoot to put a replica of the Mayflower in the water. For one man to become obsessed with the idea of rebuilding the Pilgrim's famed ship, to throw all his time and money into that single-minded pursuit, well you could just chalk that up as weird, but weird in the way most things are weird. But for two men born during the last year of World War I to determine, at the same time but from opposite sides of the Atlantic, that in the wake of World War II they would build a Mayflower II come hell or high water… that’s cosmically weird. This is the story of Warwick Charlton, Henry Hornblower II, and the ship they pulled out of the history books and put on the Atlantic. Transcript here: https://iconographypodcast.com/articles/s1!eb6d2

Mar 2019

1 hr 9 min

The Mayflower is a foundational icon of the United States, but it was a British ship carrying British subjects to a British colony. So how does the UK plan to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower's journey from one Plymouth to another? This episode, Dr. Anna Scott and Jo Loosemore of Mayflower 400 ring in Forefathers' Day with their thoughts on how we connect with the Pilgrims in 2020. Transcript here: https://iconographypodcast.com/articles/the-mayflower-episode-transcript-s1!12d40

Dec 2018

57 min 37 sec

Sarah Josepha Hale, editress of Godey's Lady's Book, dedicated years of her life to the crusade to make Thanksgiving a national holiday - she was successful. And yet, Reverend Alexander Young wrote one footnote about Thanksgiving, and he may have inadvertently done more to change the history of the holiday (and the history of the Pilgrims). This is the story of the "First" Thanksgiving.

Nov 2018

39 min 26 sec

The Witchfinder General of Salem, Eric Dwinnells leads us on a Halloween journey to the heart of Salem, Massachusetts. Find it questionable that the Salem Witch Trials and The Crucible would be covered in a Halloween episode at all? That friction - the friction that defines Salem - is precisely the thing that this episode is about.

E

Oct 2018

1 hr 5 min

Can a witch hunt narrative be effective if it includes actual witches? In part one of a two part series on Salem and its Witch Trials, Iconography uses Hocus Pocus, Scooby Doo, and The Blair Witch Project to see how the bad witch stands in for the unknowable wilderness; then Sabrina, Bewitched, I Married a Witch, and Bell, Book, and Candle tell the story of how the witch was domesticated.

E

Oct 2018

44 min 29 sec

As an icon, Squanto is known, but he isn’t really known. What Santa is to Christmas and the Easter Bunny is to Easter, Squanto is to Thanksgiving. He is a sense memory from childhood. He’s more than a man, or really much less than a man, now. He is a symbol. There he is smudged into the paint of the handprint turkey you made in kindergarten. You don’t need to go visit Squanto – have kids and at some point when they’re in elementary school, he’ll come to you in the form of Timmy with the gap in his front teeth dressed in a fringe vest and a feather headband. We’re going to spend the next few episodes of the podcast in Plymouth, thinking about the icons the Pilgrims have left behind leading up to their ultimate legacy, Thanksgiving and those handprint turkeys. As a first step, let’s exhume Squanto from the smudged paint, and restore to him not just some dignity but some agency.

Aug 2018

57 min 50 sec

Look up. This month, July 2018, Mars is as close as he'll get for another 17 years. On a recent trip to Houston and the Johnson Space Center, this struck as deeply moving, inspiring, and a bit sad. It also reminded me of the first episode of scripted audio I ever produced, about The Martian and Martians. I hope you enjoy this little interruption from our regularly scheduled programming, and it inspires you to do a bit of star/planet-gazing.

Jul 2018

43 min 27 sec

The story of how John Smith made New England, and how New England destroyed John Smith.

Jul 2018

55 min 54 sec

Season 2 of Iconography begins with a look at the relationship between two New England icons - a marathon that's become not just the definitive marathon experience but perhaps the definitive Boston experience, and an advertisement that's transcended its commercial beginnings to become a symbol of civic pride. In our attempt to figure out how the Citgo Sign was saved, we're joined by first-time Boston Marathon runner Andy Luce.

Jun 2018

43 min 25 sec

From England to New England. No I didn't move from London to Boston so I could have that catchy tagline, but I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Heck no, I'm going to ride that horse all the way from Charlestown to Cambridge shouting "Season 2 is coming! Season 2 is coming!"

Jun 2018

6 min 35 sec

Revisit 2015, when the most recent Bond film came out on the tails of a series of revelatory spy films - and world events - that argued for 007's irrelevance. This episode: How the NSA shows up in mainstream entertainment So many Bond themes Melissa McCarthy showing the men (mostly Statham) how it’s done Kingsman’s scathing class critique Ilya Kuryakin and the demonized other Bridge of Spies and the reality of spy craft The wonders of Ilsa Faust The murky waters of Sicario A cameo appearance from HERCULES MULLIGAN!

Feb 2018

1 hr 1 min

There are very few things in life that are truly once in a lifetime experiences. If you had picked up the New York Times on August 6, 1975 you would have experienced one of them. “Hercule Poirot Is Dead; Famed Belgian Detective.” It would have been the first time you had ever seen the Times honor a fictional person with an obituary, let alone on the front page. It would be the last time you would see it as well. This episode, we consider what factored into the Queen of Crime's decision to kill one of fiction's greatest detectives.

Feb 2018

49 min 36 sec

This is the story of Guy Fawkes, but it's also the story of the comic book that forever gave him rosy cheeks and a smile that taunts authority.

Nov 2017

52 min 24 sec

You never know what your legacy is going to be. There once was a scholar at Cambridge who dedicated probably 90% of his adult waking hours to scholarship - cataloging dusty old manuscripts, caring for fragile old artifacts, studying creaky old churches. He never married, never had children, never retired. In the other 10% of his time, for kicks, he wrote and recited stories… stories about bachelor scholars went looking for dusty old manuscripts, found fragile old artifacts, and poked around creaky old churches, and oh yeah, these things were all cursed and studying them meant confronting unspeakable horrors. M.R. James is iconic because of what he did in those rare moments he wasn’t giving his heart and soul to academia - those nights and weekends when he smirked and wondered “How can I scare the crap out of my friends?”

Oct 2017

34 min 32 sec

How does one map onto our world a fantasy world that rides around on the back of a turtle, where there is no London or England - or, to be more precise, where those places exist, but only in a magicless round world that’s kept in a glass sphere at Unseen University? I went to the HisWorld exhibition at the Salisbury Museum to find out.

Oct 2017

42 min 22 sec

What started as the second half of a series on Dunkirk turned into a meditation on Charlottesville, Nazis, statues, and symbols.

Sep 2017

1 hr

It all feels immersive, especially in IMAX. But I’m having a wider screen experience when I watch Dunkirk. I imagine what’s just on the periphery; who else, besides Mr. Dawson, is setting off from England in a little dinghy? Who is up in the air monitoring fuel readings alongside the self-assured RAF Pilot Farrier? Who else, besides the baby-faced private Tommy is ducking the Luftwaffe amidst the dunes of Dunkirk?

Aug 2017

58 min 32 sec

An episode dedicated to Michael Bond, and his little bear from Darkest Peru.

Jul 2017

39 min 15 sec

To wrap up our three-part series on the turn of the 13th century, we take a look at King John - no longer a petulant prince - and how he transformed England for the best by being the absolute worst.

Jul 2017

37 min 34 sec

This episode we consider the legacy of Richard the Lionheart - was he a disobedient son, a bad governor, a harbinger of death? This far out from the 1190s, does it matter anymore who he was, or does it matter who he's become?

Jun 2017

59 min 10 sec

It might surprise you how much Robin Hood has been transformed by the way we want to see history; and by how much the way we see history has been transformed by Robin Hood.

May 2017

50 min 33 sec

This week, our first culinary icon. The Full English. The fry-up. What does it mean for a national cuisine - one that finds itself frequently derided for its blandness - to be tied so obviously to a meal as fickle - as subject to trends, whims, diets, advertising forces, and let’s be honest, early morning laziness - as breakfast?

Apr 2017

42 min 42 sec

This episode: why Britpop orphaned the very British, very popular Spice Girls, and why feminists refused to adopt them.

Apr 2017

48 min 52 sec

20 years ago, in March 1997, our world was in truth, a Spice World. Revisit those heady days as we look back at Girl Power and its influence today.

Mar 2017

46 min 6 sec

The lights are out in Piccadilly Circus, just the latest change for an icon that's characterized by change. We look to a lot of icons to tell us about the past - Piccadilly Circus is that rare icon we want to look like the future, right down to the simplest of questions: what will I be buying tomorrow?

Feb 2017

52 min 44 sec

This is the iTunes debut of the podcast that inspired Iconography. In this episode, I considered Crimson Peak within the context of American vs. British ghost stories, and within the context of Gothic Romance.

Feb 2017

36 min 57 sec

In 1994, it became the highest grossing British film of all time. How Four Weddings and a Funeral changed Richard Curtis's career - for better and worse.

Jan 2017

49 min 33 sec

What happens when an icon dies? It's not just people that pass away, or buildings that get demolished... ideas to can be weathered away by time. Twelfth Night, as it was celebrated in England for centuries - as Shakespeare knew it when he wrote a comedy named after it - is but a ghost of its former self. But that's the thing. If an idea is big enough (and lucky enough) it can find its way into the strangest places, sneaking into people's lives without anyone even realizing it's happening.

Jan 2017

40 min 32 sec

This is a special in memoriam episode of the podcast, dedicated to one the brightest stars in the constellation of British music, George Michael. And specifically, dedicated to his fascinating relationship with his most iconic of totems - the leather jacket. 

Dec 2016

42 min 46 sec

Every day of the holiday season, there is probably someone in your neighborhood watching or reading some version of A Christmas Carol. If you think about it, that means we probably see early Victorian England as often as any other time period. What has kept the story so vital? And how did a young Charles Dickens engender so much empathy for such a miserable man? 

Dec 2016

48 min 56 sec

The poppy is an elegant symbol of remembrance - for soldiers who died and for those who came back; but there's a lot of conflict behind the story of its creation - the war that inspired a poem, and the two women who fought to be the true Poppy Lady.

Dec 2016

1 hr 5 min

The London Bridge you cross today may not be anything to write home about, but there have been many London Bridges, going back to Roman Times.

Nov 2016

46 min 57 sec