Iconoclastic is not an adjective that finds its way into very many resumes or job applications. Despite the attractiveness of the word “icon” making up two of its syllables, the connotation carries with it a sense of the more untrustworthy and undependable sort of non-conformist. And why not? The original iconoclasts were fundamentalists who got their name from their subversive act of destroying icons in Greek Orthodox churches. Most people today—provided they even have an idea of what the word means at all—probably come by their suspicion of iconoclasts from media representations of them as rebels without a cause looking at and every beloved tradition as the target for a wild swing of a baseball bat. I prefer the view of iconoclastic that describes the portrait of independent thinker preferring an oblique means of arriving at understanding.

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My arrival as the definition of my self-concept as iconoclastic is a perfect example of my preference for taking the oblique approach to understanding something as this particular word entered my vocabulary thanks to Lisa Simpson. One might think that if any character from The Simpsons would be the role model for the development of a concept of self that takes its cue from the wanton violence that comes with the destruction of cherished representations of the most deeply held spiritual beliefs, it would like be the show’s bad-boy, Bart. But, as I indicated, my take on iconoclastic behavior is less restricted by history and more informed by an independent spirit of understanding. Bart may well be the most iconic of post-modern pop culture iconoclasts, but to have learned the value of this particular adjective from such a figure would hardly show independent thinking, much less understanding arrived at obliquely. An early episode of The Simpsons finds Lisa—as usual—upsetting the other residents of her town by insisting that she discovered evidence their beloved founder was not the hero everyone thinks but a despicably mercenary pirate. The episode is title “Lisa the Iconoclast.” I was always struck by the way that Lisa stuck by her principles when she was knew she was right and everybody else was wrong yet rather than destroying the city’s icon when she had the chance, she realized that it was far better to give people something good to believe in. Iconoclasm in the classroom may focus upon destroying works of art or belief, but thanks to little Lisa Simpson, I take the oblique approach by agreeing that “Iconoclasm is a sign less of radical certainty than of anxiety and disturbance” (Cummings 198).

As evidence of my concept of self as an independent thinker, I believe no better evidence can be forwarded under this particular condition that the self-concept development theorist which I believe has the firmest grasp upon the reality of the situation is not a sociologist or psychologist but an economist. Thorstein Veblen is the turn of the 20th century economist who peered many decades into the future and realized that the American free enterprise system was going to become utterly dependent upon reproducing the desire for pecuniary emulation; or, as it has come to be known, conspicuous consumption. That economic theorizing led directly to his self-concept theories based on his believe “that internal motivation could appear personal and distinct, that is, individual to both claimants of individualism and their observers. He simply argued that in reality most individuals were primarily emulatory in terms of the motivation and thrust of their behavior” (Tilman). I firmly do believe that the greater mass of mankind arrive at their concept of self through the process of emulation. Look at me: my oblique route to finding Thorstein Veblen too me through the process of emulating Lisa Simpson’s iconoclastic interpretation of being an iconoclast! Like Veblen suggests, my happy of my personality as one that rejects conformity and tradition simply for the sake of conforming to tradition is person, distinct and inescapably emulative.

Oblique is certainly a strange adjective to use to describe one’s self-concept and to even attempt to inject it into a trio of descriptive words smacks of trying a little too hard to prove you are independent iconoclast you claim to be, but keep in mind that oblique can mean many things from not being perpendicular to slanted to indirect to disingenuous to evasive and all the way to…sinister. Perhaps by oblique, I am actually just trying to mask the reality that I can be evasive. Or maybe I was being disingenuous throughout this entire essay and I am not iconoclastic or independent at all. Or maybe my choice of oblique to describe the development of my self-concept was a sinister way of not describing anything at all even remotely accurate about myself. Maybe that oblique nature of my character is based on the fact that I would prefer to use the word iconoclastic to direct any reader away from getting a genuine unslanted peek into my inner being.

Or, perhaps, I truly do view myself the development of myself as a concept-in-progress that is seeking to one day become truly iconoclastic through an independent search for knowledge that leads me to understanding in an oblique way that nobody else can claim. I would prefer not to based my sense of self on the emulation of others, but since I truly do believe that Veblen sees clearly where others delude themselves, I can hardly be independent even by throwing rocks at my own revered icon, can I?

  • Cummings, Brian. “11: Iconoclasm and Bibliophobia in the English Reformations, 1521–1558.” Images, Idolatry, and Iconoclasm in Late Medieval England: Textuality and the Visual Image. Ed. Jeremy Dimmick, James Simpson, and Nicolette Zeeman. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 185-206.
  • Tilman, Rick. “Durkheim and Veblen on the Social Nature of Individualism. (Notes and Communications).” Journal of Economic Issues 36.4 (2002): 1104+.