You are currently viewing The Trouble with Icons
  • Post published:January 15, 2022

I went through a rigorous audition process for the role of Atticus Finch in a play version of To Kill a Mockingbird. The artistic director had chosen nine actors for the final callback. Any one of them would have been an excellent choice.

When I was offered the role, I called Kay with the exciting news, then called both our daughters. I was able to reach Kristin, but not Lauren. Days later, when I spoke with Lauren, and dropped the “I got the role of Atticus Finch” bomb, her reaction was pure impulse: “Oh Daddy, I’m so excited. Atticus Finch is the father I always wanted.”

This was a moment of profound realization. I knew I was about to square off with a quintessential American icon seared into the consciousness of society. We still laugh at Lauren’s faux pas, but it is not easy to go up against the iconic Atticus portrayed in the film adaptation of the novel.

One theatre patron’s comment to me outside the stage door after a performance was, “You out Gregory Pecked, Gregory Peck.” I assume this was meant as a compliment, but the truth cannot be denied: the image of Atticus Finch will forever be associated with one actor. I mean, he’s got his own stamp for heaven’s sake.

The trouble with icons is that they never set out to be icons, whether born of literary imagination or born of woman. When a kid gets asked what they want to be when they grow up, the answer is never, “I want to be an icon.”

An icon carries with it the implicit expectation of a virtuous character. Family members and friends of the icon know all too well the fallacy of such a notion. When the spotlight is not on the icon, he/she must continue their mundane life of just being human.

A more desirable aspiration is to become a genuine human being. Icons are placed on pedestals and put into stain glass windows with appropriate mythologies built around them. I never have to worry about being placed upon a pedestal or my image fabricated into a multi-colored window. My flaws are too numerous and apparent for icon status. I desire to be authentic in all things and in all ways. Others can have the status of icon. It is enough of a struggle just to be human.