Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower . . . and RoboCop

Some are very well known. In the U.S., the Statue of Liberty. In Rio de Janeiro, Christ the Redeemer. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower. In Kamakura, Japan, the Daibutsu, or Great Buddha.

Others are not so well known. For instance, the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. Or Mannekin Pis in Brussels.

All of these statues or structures have one thing in common: they are icons. They are identified, or connected in our minds, with each of the cities or countries; when you see one of them, you think of the city, the country, or an idea, like freedom.

Today, the best-known icons are probably the ones you find on your computer screen – the small picture or sign that you click on to start a program – like the blue “W” for Microsoft Word.

When people who come from a Greek or Russian Orthodox or Catholic religious background hear the word “icon,” they may be reminded of a piece of religious art, often a painting of the Virgin Mary, Jesus’s mother.

Someone who is famous and admired by many people, someone who represents an important idea or art form may be called an icon. For me, B.B. King, and Buddy Guy are “blues icons”; they are famous blues musicians and represent an important part of the history and development of the blues. The blues are similar to jazz; the music is often slow and sad.

In general, you can see that an icon is something that is identified with something else: a statue with a city, a picture with a computer program, a painting with a kind of worship (religious practice or ceremony), a famous performer with a particular kind of music.

In the past two months, there’s been a lively (with a lot of energy) discussion about a new icon for the city of Detroit, Michigan, here in the U.S. Detroit is known as the home of (where it started) the American automobile industry and Motown Records, a popular music recording company famous for its black singers and groups, especially in the 1960’s.

A growing number of Detroit residents (people who live there) want RoboCop to become the new Detroit icon. Are you familiar with RoboCop? He was the star of RoboCop, the 1987 science-fiction movie, and became a pop culture icon. Pop, or popular, culture, is made up of music, movies, television programs, books, magazines, and other things in the culture that are popular with many people.

In the movie, futuristic (in the future) Detroit is filled with crime. A Detroit police officer who was killed by criminals is recreated (made again) as a super-human (more than human) cyborg (part human and part machine) called RoboCop. His life and work was guided by three principles, or values: serve (work for) the public trust (what people hired you to do), protect the innocent (people who can’t protect themselves), and uphold (defend or support) the law. In the movie, he helped clean up (restore law) the city and rid it (make it free of) of crime.

One supporter of the RoboCop statue says these are good values for Detroit to promote (encourage). And he adds, “A city needs to be fun, too. It can’t be all serious…. Showing people that we can have a sense of humor and encourage our citizens to have motivation and ideas is an important message….”

Question for discussion: If you were to choose an icon for the town or city you live in today, what would you choose? Why?

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor and creator of Successful English where you will find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo of the Eiffel Tower taken by W. Ediger


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24 Responses to Statue of Liberty, Eiffel Tower . . . and RoboCop

  1. Ligia says:

    The Christ The redeemer is the icon of wonderful city of Rio de Janeiro. When u are there on the top you can have an overview of the city and sea.I feel like a God’s Gift. BTW the president Obama and his family ll be there coming Sunday.
    I live in a small city in the Sao Paulo Brazil, called Cabreuva and the icon of my city is the waters falls, and else recently a temple called Kadampa….I elected those places. Because I think that outside people ll make the association of the city with those icons..

  2. Andreu says:


    I’d choose the “La Basílica de la Sagrada Família” better know as simple “La Sagrada Família”. If you want to know more about this amazing building or icon (for me it is a Barcelona icon) you can go to this website: [link removed – Please see our “no links” policy:

    It is a basilica that was started more than hundred years ago for the better architect that the world has ever known. His name was Antoni Gaudí and I think is very well known for a lot of people. It is today under construction and there are a lot of speculation in Barcelona and Catalonia about whether it should be finished or it should have been left as Gaudí left it when he died.

    In my humble opinion it must be finished.

    It’s an open debate for ever.

    Best wishes from Barcelona (Catalonia).

  3. Andreas says:

    Here in Dresden,Germany, where i live is a famous icon the Dresden Frauenkiche church. This building is a symbol for destroying in second world war.
    In my opinion was rebuild from this memorial very important because we never should forgot this terrible incident in our history.
    There are many other interesting places in my town where background not so seriously.

  4. Suzanne says:


    I choose Royal Mount to represent the city of Montreal,a city in Canada. This mountain is in the middle of the city with overview of the city.
    It is a park with trails for walking, jogging, biking, skiing. At the top of the mountain there is a small lake (Beaver Lake) without beaver because this lake is not natural. In the winter we can skate on it.
    There is also a resraurant with large windows all around.
    During the summer, every week end we can see,hear and dance with music groups. Many people go with their families and their picnic baskets.
    During the fall we can admire the fall colors, sometimes all the trees are yellow or red or orange or brown.

    Have a good day,


  5. Roberto says:

    I think many towns and cities change their spirit when they choose an icon. Some large cities dont have problems to select their icon: Rio de Janeiro, Paris, New York and so forth, because they have amazing statues, constructions or buildings to show all over the world. But others decide to choose or to build new icons for their city and, suddenly, this city or town begin to be famous or well-known: Bilbao and its Guggenheim Museum discover to us a modern city, Sydney and The Opera show the elegant design in one of the most beatiful bays, the London Eye…
    However, American people surprise us with a different kind of icon: a movie character called Robocop. In my opinion, this icon represent for them a chance for a new regeneration for their city and, as every social discuss, an enrichment for Detroit society in this case.
    I had not heard anything about Detroit city from its tough basketball team in 80s.
    Thanks Warren for showing some of the current discussions in your country.

  6. Daniel says:


    I would pick the Swan. Because I live on the Italian side of the Lugano’s lake and this animal is beautiful and we have lots af them.
    I would also like to link a photo that I took recently of a swan but unfortunately we cannot add link here.


  7. Betty says:

    Thank you very much, Warren, for this interesting topic. I have never thought about choosing an icon for Hong Kong, but I shall try.

    Although there were a number of suggestions which I wanted to propose as icons for Hong Kong, I wanted to do some research to have a more comprehensive picture about Hong Kong first. So I decided to seek the help of the wikipedia.

    After spending a lengthy time on studying the wikipedia about Hong Kong, I found that it mentioned nothing about my admired icon of Hong Kong – the coolie.

    The Hong Kong tourist board likes to tell people the history of Hong Kong by showing people junks (junk – ((Transport / Nautical Terms)) a sailing vessel used in Chinese waters and characterized by a very high poop, flat bottom, and square sails supported by battens).

    Most people only see pictures of Big Buddha, expensive famous brand handbags, shoes, fashions and lots of food and wine, plus horse racings, skyscrapers, lots of money and gold jewelleries when they think about Hong Kong.

    However, I want to mention one of the ‘thing’ which was the essential element in changing Hong Kong from a poor broken land into today’s world famous important financial center – the coolies.

    I have known the word coolie since long ago. I did not know there was such an English word (beware – says: “coolie – ((ethnic slur)) an offensive name for an unskilled Asian labourer”, so be careful when using this word).

    I only assumed it was a Chinese terms to describe those people I saw a lot everyday when I was small. In Chinese formal writing, it is ‘bitter workforce’, they work as labourers in building sites. I could tell when I saw one because their dry skin and wrinkled dark face gave away their job nature.

    Now all of those coolies I saw when I was small must have all gone, there was hardly a word to mention them in the wikipedia, what a shame! Hong Kong would not have all these tall buildings without them, but no one seemed to remember them!

    Well, I don’t care if no one wants to agree with me, I have decided that ‘coolies’ should be one of the icons for Hong Kong.

    [Please Note: As Betty pointed out, in the U.S. and perhaps other English-speaking countries, the term “coolie” is considered offensive and we do not recommend its use. — ESL Podcast Team]

  8. emiliano says:

    Hi Betty,
    to me the “Icon” of Hong Kong is a colored “Sampan” in the harbor, sailing through the little wages and the tall buildings of the
    City as the Skyline of the photo.
    It could be the big contrast between the old culture and the new one.

    But I know foreigners have a different “icon” of the cities that the citizens who are living on.

    The first time I have noticed about Hong Kong was looking to the movie “The World of Suzie Wong” of 1960, it was an amazing
    movie with Nancy Kwan making the role of a beautiful street girl who fall in love with an artist, William Holden, it was an
    impossible love in the book and consequently the movie is a little sad.
    Two different cultures and a big contrast too, but I think I need to see the movie again to have a better idea of it just now.

    It has nothing to do with “Pretty Woman” a good movie too but completely different with a “Happy End” instead the sad real end
    of Suzy Wong….

    Yes, I think that Icons of the visitors are different from the citizens, despite sometimes there is a coincidence.
    Paris it´s always the Eiffel Tower, of course, but what about New York?

    May be,
    The Empire State?
    Rockefeller Center?
    Central Park and the Skyline?
    or the Chrysler Building?

    To me Detroit is a “Cadillac” or may be a Vinyl of the Motown Records.
    A RoboCop statue?…., well it could be funny but not very credible to visitors or foreigners…….
    Detroit would be always the Motor-City where the big cars were made:

    Ford Mustang

    All these cars marks have something to do with my life too and they are associated to Detroit City for ever, at least for me.

    Sorry, but RoboCop?….I saw the movie but I did not remember the city was Detroit, now it´s different I need to see it again…
    Even the movie was made by a good Netherlanders director Paul Verhoeven who use to direct Science Fictions movies like
    “Star Ship Troops” ” Total Recall” and also the best known “Basic Instinct” with my beautiful incredible Sharon Stone.
    I like Paul Verhoeven a lot, but he was born in Amsterdam (I have seen that in Wiki…)…..???????? no, to me Detroit
    is the Motor City without any doubts, or even the “Detroit Sound” talking about good Music…

    Next post I am telling something about Icons of Madrid or Spain instead.

    Thank you Warren, nice good topic.


  9. emiliano says:

    There was a time when the Spain´s Icon was the silhouette of a “Big Black Bull” against the sky standing up in the middle of the fields.
    Originally it was a publicity advertisement of an alcohol brandy drink called Osborne, so the big bull was called “El Toro de Osborne”
    and when all the advertisement were removed off the side roads some people acquitted the Big Bull and it remain on its sites being at
    last an Icon of the Spanish Lands.

    But it was not for ever as some other Spanish lands said years ago that they did not like the Big Bull in their lands and they removed
    all the Bull Silhouettes eradicating from their fields and cities any signs of the Spanish Bulls.
    According to this behavior the “Big Black Bull Silhouette” is only the Icon of some lands of Spain now, others prefer another Icons
    but I don´t know which or why they refused the Bull Silhouette, yes, that´s a mystery …. or is it not?.
    It could be that this lands don´t consider them as to be part of the Spanish culture or countries? just a new problem for this Nation.
    Madrid Icon is “La Cibeles” ….The Cibeles Fountain.

    Cibeles was the Greek Goddess that in old Rome was called Magna Mater and She was the goddess of Nature.
    She is on a cart pulled by lions.
    The Lion´s names are Hipomenes and Atalanta, who were transformed by Zeus when the two lovers were making love in
    His temple.
    Zeus got furious with the two lovers and transformed them into Lions…..

    Afterward Cibeles Goddess felt sorrow for them and let the lions carried Her cart for ever.
    She is the Goddess of Nature and we are proud of having Her like our Icon.

    So now Madrid Icon is “The Cibeles Fountain” which was built by the King Charles III about the 1765 more or less, and it is the
    place where all the Real Madrid football lovers goes to celebrate the exits of their equip….Real Madrid.
    When Spain was the World Football Champion thousands of Madrid´s people went to Cibeles Circus to celebrate the
    To the fans of Atletico of Madrid, there is another fountain close to Cibeles and it is “The Neptuno Fountain”… yes, another
    Icon of Madrid, like La Puerta de Alcala and Puerta del Sol, that is not a door…´s a square intead of a Door….funny.
    The catholic Spain have Greek and Roman Goddess as fountains and Icons, thats peculiar.

    All these Icons were built by the same King Charles III, as the city was not very beautiful by those times and the King
    who came from Naples, Italy, thought it was necessary to give the city some nice monuments….as He made in Naples.
    For us, the inhabitants of Madrid this King Charles III was one of the best that Spain had along his story.
    He was called the best Madrid´s City Mayor for long.


  10. Jehovanna M. Arcia Torres says:

    Hello Professor Warren Ediger:
    I have never, in reality, thought of an icon for my native Panama, but after having learned the English language as second language, my opinions and perceptions have been broadened and I have become pretty much flexible. I truly consider that the “icon” of my city is definitely “The Panama Canal,” because in spite of the fact that The Panama Canal is a USA construction, the city of Panama, and the country as well, became worldwide known because of the canal. The history of Panama City is completely related to the construction of the Canal, so this should simply be our icon…I know that this sounds a little strange, and some people in my country would not like my opinion, but the Canal absolutely shaped the whole country is many ways.
    Because of the Panama Canal construction, my country became to be much more opened to the world, so the American presence in Panama, made Panama a place with a cosmopolitan population that even today is very much noticeable. For Panama being a Latin American country, it does not really share many of the characteristics that all Latin American countries have…Panama is a low context culture country (if you compare Panama with any other Spanish speaking country you will see that what I am saying is real). I came to this realization after having learned English, and I know that many people in my country would simply admit that what I am saying is true….

    Pss. Learning a language for a second learner (and I also consider it to be true for a native speaker) is a never ending process, since English is a living language and there will always be words and expressions to be learned. I just read and keep up learning words and ways of saying things and expressing myself.

  11. Betty says:

    Hi Emiliano, thank you so much for reminding me the word ‘sampan’, now I remember being taught this word when I little.

    It is a very strange feeling when I think about it, how come Emiliano knows so much about almost everything in the world. I have forgotten the word ‘sampan’ already but Emiliano knows about it, amazing!

    ‘Suzie Wong’ is very famous in Hong Kong, thank you Emiliano for pointing it out, I am really happy to see you mentioning it.

    Thank you also for sharing the icons stories of Spain and Madrid, I love reading all the stories that you have so vividly told us, thank you.

  12. emiliano says:

    Hi Betty, you are really nice.

    I have been always a dreamer who was traveling round the world searching or listening all kinds of sites and music.
    I could imagine myself on board of a “sampan” sealing by the Hong Kong harbor, watching to all the colors of the magical
    city that it has to be and talking with its Chinese people.

    I could imagine me doing the same along so many lands and cities that it could be impossible to tell about them.
    Sometimes it is just like I have been already in this cities and I think it has been possible by the reason of reading lot of books and watching
    movies all my life.
    It´s funny that I could identify a city in a movie just by a photo of its buildings, may be God gives me a good photographic
    memory, that´s all.

    Cuca always tell me “you have a very good memory for the things you like” and I think she is right as always, but it´s
    something to every one who likes a subject, if a person enjoys doing or searching for something this kind of
    memories are always alive.
    Even better if you dream about subjects, like me, traveling, watching photos or movies, reading books and
    so on. I think that all this records persists for long in the human minds.

    Life is a journey through different stages and sites, curiosity and interest about the different subjects is like the salt to
    enjoy the plates.
    Without salt or spices not any taste…..
    Without curiosity, enthusiasm and dreams it´s impossible to enjoy the life journey.

    All the best Betty, so nice to talk in English about these subjects.
    Thank you.


  13. Kaz says:

    Mermaid is the Warsaw icon, too. In opposite to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, the Warsaw icon holds a sword raised in horizontal position over her head and keeps a shield at her left side. Neither, she does not sit but stands on her semi curved tail.
    Thank you, Emiliano for your comments. I have got a pleasure to visit to Madrid last year. I regret it was too short visit to meet you, but what I remember there are many beautiful monuments, some of them pretty large and many smaller, among other the statue of bear, Estatua del Oso at Puerta del Sol. I was told, it is the legendary icon of Madrid. Is it true, that this legend roots in the Past of the Madrid region? Were big forests here before ages, like in other sides in Europe? Present day environment of Madrid region is rather dry and forests are rather scarce.
    Best wishes,
    Kaz in Poland

  14. Hilario says:

    I consider this topic as to be one of the biggest issues when adressing the promotion of a particular city, region or even a whole country. What usually happen is that the icon grows organically or naturally through time and then the it gains more real personality than when it is invented or created for the purpose. Now a days the concept of city´s business or the implementation of city/region/country marketing strategies has turned on a business case study in many economy schools fostered by all related city business stakeholders like Tourism boards, hotel resorts, city councils and so forth. Corporative image´s creative people can be useful at some instances for shaping and developping a suitable icon but in order to grow it up and to base it, the best one must itself to match the overall perceptions from the outsiders about the abstract definition involved within the icon.

  15. Mir says:

    When the word icon and or, iconic figures comes to my mind, it brings about a thing that have a great extent of aspiration. Somebody like a hero in a fiction or an epic literature. I am living in a town as a non native person, so for me to choose an iconic figure for my home is better to sort it out for my hometown where I was born and raised for almost 40 years. That is Tehran, capital of Iran. As my memories allow me to pick I would choose Ferdosi, a great classic poet, to be modeled as the city iconic statue. He lived during the invasion of Arab tribes over my country back in 1400 years ago. The Arab language and culture had an enormous negative impact on our culture as if we almost give in the attackers. Despite the hopeless atmosphere and the great power of the new government, Ferdosi decided to write a long poem in Farsi which took him 30 years to complete to prevent our language and consequently our culture from disappearing and vanishing. He did so and his book called Shahnameh is now considered as a great symbol of epic stories of Iranian legends who everlasting fight with ignorance and evils.

  16. emiliano says:

    Dear Kaz,
    yes that´s true, there is a said here which said:
    “a squirrel may cross all the Spanish Peninsula without putting a paw on the ground, just jumping from tree to tree”
    but I think it was a lot of years ago.

    Here in the lands of Madrid there were lots of “Bears and Arbutus” (Osos y Madroños), so in Madrid´s shield there is a bear and a
    arbutus representing our Village, and the little statue which is situated in “La Puerta del Sol” is our Icon too.
    In fact is the real Icon of Madrid Village, so little and so nice.

    Madrid was “Magerit” /????? Ma?r? / when the Arabs where living in the City, but in 1086 the KIng Alfonso VI conquered the city for
    the Christians, this King also conquered Toledo at the same time.
    The conquers had to climb the walls to take Magerit and since them people who has born in Madrid are called “Cats” like me….
    I am a cat too.
    By those times were Bears and Arbutus round Madrid, …..I think or at least is what is told to us.

    Just a pleasure Kaz, I hope you liked my city….but no more bears and trees, just a pity.


  17. emiliano says:

    Sorry, the name in Arab it is not possible to write……
    I think this could be write:

    Ma?r?? (AFI [ma?ri?t?])

    We are going to see…,that´s the name of Madrid when Arabs where living in the city
    and from it comes to Madrid.

    Castellano has a lot of roots from Arab language….
    all words beginning with AL…. Alhambra, almohada, almunia, alcazaba, alcahuete, alambique….
    or words that begins with GUA…….like Guadarrama, Guadalquivir River, Guadalajara City….and so on…


  18. emiliano says:

    No possible, sorry
    take it as Magerit….that is the sound..

    and this is our history
    so rich and so many different people living here
    along the hundred years of the past….
    all of them are running in my blood.

    all the best, emiliano

  19. emiliano says:

    Thank you Mir, that´s very interesting I am going to read something
    about your Icon….
    30 years of work?
    It´s incredible and really good to preserve a language which was
    talking by the Persian people for long.
    But I think Farsi is still the language of Iran?
    Is it the same?
    or it is the Arab more or less….with some changes.


  20. Tania says:

    Hi! In these tragic days hearing on TV only “meltdown” (to lose the control, a disaster) and “crackdown” (to be very strict with the rules, including the violence) – English Cafe 219- I think I would choose the “blues icons”
    listening to blues by B.B. King or Buddy Guy who “was ranked thirtieth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Times”.
    On Saturday , on You Tube , I listened to blues by B.B.King, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana…

    Best wishes,


  21. Tania says:

    Hi! Thank you for you have reminded us of the best-known icons and especially for the “blues icons”.
    I have not forgotten your first jazz lesson with “Summertime” composed by George Gershwin in 1935.

  22. Tania says:

    Hi! Dear Emiliano, I like this “without curiosity, enthusiasm and dreams it’s impossible to enjoy the life journey”.

  23. emiliano says:

    Thank you Tania, I like poesy and thoughts just a lot and in my own language years ago I tried to
    write something….but you are our poet, by all means.


  24. Kaz says:

    Thank you, Emiliano, for your explanation on Madid!
    Best wishes,

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