iconoclasm - The 5 Minute Classroom: Key Terms for

Brain Warm-up!
“The concept of iconoclasm entails a contestation over – and
destruction of- images coinciding with a belief in the
fallacious nature of their representation. The objection to
the representation can stem from any number of factors –
disagreement over the truth of the representation’s
referent, with the manner in which the referent is depicted,
etc. – but the commonality between all of these factors is
that the violence tends to be directed upon the medium
itself.” – Matt Eatough, University of Chicago
Take a minute and ponder/discuss what you think this
Study objectives:
1. Define the term iconoclasm.
2. Apply the definition to practical examples.
3. Describe how this relates to
Communication studies and everyday life.
The rejection or destruction of religious icons as
2. The action of attacking or rejecting cherished
beliefs and institutions or established values and
3. The distrust and deliberate suspicion of religious
imagery; the destruction of various types of
 Example 1: The First Iconoclastic Period
 The first example of iconoclasm can be dated back to
the 730s, during the Byzantine Empire. Emperor Leo
the 3rd began a campaign to remove images of Jesus
from prominent places in his cities, claiming that it
was heresy to replicate and worship these idols.
 One such image was located on the entrance gate to
the Great Palace of Constantinople, which he had
replaced with a cross. Opponents of the idea (called
‘iconocludes’) went so far as to murder some of those
people assigned to the task of replacing the image.
 Example 2: Islamic Iconoclasm
 This concept is also deeply rooted in Islamic belief.
The religion mainly focuses on the avoidance of
images of anything viewed as sacred; especially in holy
places. However, the act of destroying these images is
considered by many Muslims to be an act of great faith
and importance.
 The first example of Muslim iconoclasm is dated back
to 630. In a sacred house (Kaaba) in Mecca, several
statues of Arabian dieties were completely destroyed.
 Though not confirmed, the destruction of the Great
Sphynx’s nose was said to be an act of iconoclasm
carried out by a Sufi Muslim in the mid 1300s. (This is
just one of many theories on the fate of the missing
Both of these examples deal with the basic idea of
iconoclasm – religious imagery is bad. Boiled down,
these cultures (and many more) view the physical
representations of their divine beings to be a betrayal
of faith. And if faith is defined as “a firm belief in
something for which there is no proof” (MerriamWebster Dictionary), then trying to create proof of the
divine through these images and physical
representations takes away one of the basic tenants of
faith. After all, can mere mortals be trusted to
accurately depict the divine when they’ve never seen
Great, but just what exactly
does this have to do with
the study of
Good question. Let’s
take an in-depth look
at one more example.
 Example 3: Slightly More Recent History
 There used to be a statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos
Square in Baghdad. That is, before it was toppled by a
United States M88 armored vehicle in the middle of an
Iraqi riot.
 This took place on April 9th, 2003 and was immediately
picked up by news sources and spread like wildfire.
Not long after that, there were several theories that the
event may have been staged. One newspaper had
published a picture that had supposedly been altered
to show a larger crowd; another report said that the
idea had been an American one and not one generated
by the Iraqi civilians (as it was made out to be).
 This is a great example for two reasons:
While not exactly a religious image, the statue of
Saddam Hussein did represent something: his
government. The destruction of the statue
therefore represents the destruction of the
Hussein government, and a very clear
contradiction to the reports that Iraq was
winning the war. So here, we have the
destruction of the image itself and the
destruction of idea that it symbolized.
2. The story itself is adds another layer. As soon as it
made the news, the public began to critique it.
The event became a distrusted idea.
Now get to the point.
Let’s take another look at that quote:
“The concept of iconoclasm entails a contestation over – and
destruction of - images coinciding with a belief in the
fallacious nature of their representation.”
If we go back to the very basics of communication studies,
it’ll look something like this:
Person 1
Person 2
Here we see two people communicating through the use of a medium.
But what happens when we
lose trust in the medium
that is used to
communicate something
to us?
Bingo. That’s the basics of
iconoclasm as it relates to us.
 As soon as we lose faith in the ability of the media
to relay the truth to us, we engage in distrust and
suspicion of that media. In essence, we no longer
believe it to be a valid method of communication.
 This applies to any kind of media; not just
religious images.
So… we need to revise our definition
of iconoclasm as it relates to
Let’s define communicational iconoclasm as
the distrust and deliberate suspicion of any
kind of image-based media.
And exactly how does that relate to us?
In our society, the two biggest types of media are
television and the internet. It’s the very nature of
these types of media that allows for such suspicion
and distrust. How can we be sure that these
mediums are telling us the truth when so much of
the truth depends on the entire picture? And how
are we supposed to get the entire picture if we
aren’t there?
In summation:
Iconoclasm has traditionally been defined as “the distrust
and deliberate suspicion of religious imagery; the
destruction of various types of icons”. A classic example of
this is the first iconoclastic period during the Byzantine
Empire, where images of deities were thought to be
heretical. However, when applied to communications, the
idea evolves into a distrust of image media.
“Technology has taken away our faith
and replaced it with doubt; a need to
question all we cannot touch.”
- Anonymous
 Džalto, D. (n.d.). Iconoclasm. Retrieved from
Eatough, M. (n.d.). Iconoclasm. Retrieved from
Farrell, S. (2008, December 11). Retrieved from
Iconoclasm. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
Straw, W. (2011). Intersections of media and communications. Toronto:
Emond Montgomery Publications Limited.