Dominant Symbols in Pop Culture

People are generally visual creatures. The human brain processes images faster than text or audio. They remember 80% of what they see, 20% of what they read, and 10% of what they hear. Although people generally remember images and facts, memory has a tricky way of making them remember things. Often times, the details are recalled differently than how they actually occurred. This is the reason why images are created in such a way that they bring a lot of impact in order to come up with a memorable story.

A symbol is a word, action, or object that represents something with no natural relationship that is culturally defined. Symbols have different meanings to people that is why it is difficult to define how a culture makes use of a certain symbol.

Human beings constantly try to make sense of their surroundings whether consciously or subconsciously. Symbols such as signs, gestures, signals, words, and objects help people in understanding their surroundings. They give clues for people to understand experiences by disclosing recognizable meanings that are shared by societies.


Skull is generally a symbol of death or mortality. Using the image of a skull in the past meant danger, death, evil, or you should be careful, fearful, or weary. At present, the image of skull is being used not to represent danger, death, or fear but to show the empowerment over these things. This can be seen across different cultures. Symbols can change meaning over time.


Cherry is a sign that stands for slot machine. The first slot machine was invented by Charles Fey in the late 1800s. It had three drums with five symbols: diamonds, hearts, spades, horseshoes, and the Liberty Bell. The first slot machines could be found in local drinking holes until it was spread in barbershops and saloons in the United States.

Anti-gambling legislations became popular in the 1900s and slots were eventually banned. The Mills Novelty Company of Chicago came up with a machine which was billed as a trade simulator. The machine served as a game of chance where people won either candy or cigarettes. The prize was usually a gum but it was only a front to throw off authorities. The real prize was still cash. In this machine, the playing card symbols were replaced by the flavors of gum that’s why fruit symbols such as cherries, lemons, plums, and oranges came into being. The Liberty Bell symbol was replaced by BAR.

Since the “prizes” offered were gums or other food stuff, slot machines were still played in the United States. Of course there were a lot of legal cases that surfaced. Eventually, anti-gambling laws were toned down and the charade with gum was lifted. Despite that, the fruit symbols such as the cherry remain up to this day.


The cross has been a symbol of faith and fashion. At present, it’s hard to distinguish whether a person is wearing a crucifix as a sign of faith or as a fashion symbol. For some people, a cross is a visible expression of one’s faith that is backed by history and theology. To other people, it’s a fashion statement. For a few people, it’s somewhere in between. There are many rappers who wear necklaces with a big cross as their pendant so you can’t really tell what the cross represents for them. It really depends on the person.

Back in the day, a cross symbol meant suffering. But when Jesus died on the cross, the cross had a different meaning. The cross generally represents faith and Christianity. A cross can be seen in churches and other religious items. The details in a cross represent various spiritual and cultural traditions in Christianity.

Peace Sign

The peace sign was created by Gerald Holtom in 1958 to support the British Nuclear Disarmament movement march in London. He thought of creating a visual that would stick to the public. He combined two “N” or nuclear flags angled down at 45 degrees and one “D” or disarmament flag pointed straight up and one pointed straight down. Later on, he admitted that the inspiration for the symbol was more personal that came from despair. The symbol was an individual in despair with hands outstretched downwards and outwards but these were drawn in lines and formalized with a circle.

Ever since then, the peace sign has been seen everywhere especially during the outbreak of wars and protests. The peace sign served as a streak of hope in trying times. This symbol generally represents simplicity.

The peace sign was eventually adopted by hippies to make a statement against a consumer based society since the symbolism meant simplicity. Nowadays, it is being used as a fashion statement with kids not knowing about the origin of the symbol. It’s now a fashion icon that is as popular as its representation in the 1960s but now has a different meaning.


Heart meant different things in the ancient times. The ancient Egyptians used heart as a symbolism of life and morality. The Greeks on the other hand believed that the heart kept the body supplied with heat. For some philosophers like Aristotle, the heart controlled reason, emotion, and thought. Stoics believed that the heart was where the soul resided.

Many people believe that the symbol came from the heart-shaped silphium seed that was used as contraceptive and other medicinal reasons. Other cultures used this pattern until the Greeks eventually associated it with Dionysus, the god of wine, passion, and all things sensual. That’s when the heart became associated with romantic love. Today, heart generally symbolizes love.

Recognizing symbols in culture is a natural thing for human beings. The point is whether we understand the symbolism or not. Culture is filled with a lot of images and symbols. Some of these symbols have the same meaning across different cultures. Some symbols have different meanings. Some symbols change meaning over time while some retain the meaning.