Reviving icons to death: when historic photographs become digital memes

Sandrine Boudana*, Paul Frosh, Akiba A. Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Iconic photographs possess broad social and symbolic significance, are widely replicated over time and circulated across media platforms, and fuel public discussion. In an era of digital memes, they have become generative resources for memetic performances that not only can draw on these images’ historic authority but can also undermine it. Based on the analysis of the ‘Accidental Napalm’ memes, our research leads to a fourfold taxonomy, from memes that expand or expound the meaning of the original picture to those that narrow and potentially destroy its significance. Assessing Hariman and Lucaites’ contention that appropriations of iconic images enhance civic engagement and public culture, we argue that some memes may actually dissolve the original significance of iconic photographs and potentially degrade, rather than enhance, public culture.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1210-1230
Number of pages21
JournalMedia, Culture and Society
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, © The Author(s) 2017.


  • Accidental Napalm
  • historic images
  • iconic photographs
  • iconicity
  • icons
  • indexicality
  • meme
  • napalm girl
  • public culture
  • war imagery


Dive into the research topics of 'Reviving icons to death: when historic photographs become digital memes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this