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American Icons: Buffalo Bill's Wild West

William F. Cody’s stage show presented a new creation myth for America, bringing cowboys, Indians, settlers, and sharpshooters to audiences.

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John Henry

Thursday, February 19, 2015

John Henry wins a race against the machine that threatens to take his job, but then he dies of exhaustion. Some victory.

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"Uncle Tom's Cabin"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

More than any other novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” helped promote the abolitionist cause. So how did “Uncle Tom” become a name for someone who betrays his race?

Comments [21]

American Icons: Buffalo Bill's Wild West

Thursday, January 29, 2015

William F. Cody’s stage show presented a new creation myth for America, bringing cowboys, Indians, settlers, and sharpshooters to audiences.

Comments [7]

American Icons: “Mad Magazine”

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Along with serving up a generous helping of dirtyish jokes and goofy parodies, “Mad Magazine” changed the way we consume pop culture and how we talk about world affairs.

Comments [19]

American Icons: The Tramp

Thursday, December 25, 2014

With just a pair of baggy pants, a derby hat, mustache, floppy shoes, and his own physical genius, Charlie Chaplin created silent film's most memorable character — the Tramp.

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American Icons: The Disney Parks

Friday, November 28, 2014

Walt Disney didn't just want a theme park — he wanted to create a scale model of a uniquely American utopia. 

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American Icons: "Migrant Mother"

Friday, November 14, 2014

Before it became the all-purpose image of hardship, Dorothea Lange’s famous portrait was just one of hundreds she shot to document poverty in the Depression.

Comments [1]

American Icons: Fiddler on the Roof

Friday, October 10, 2014

How a milkman from a Russian shtetl became a Broadway star and a hero of postwar American culture.

Comments [9]

American Icons: Mad Magazine

Friday, July 25, 2014

From David Letterman to the writers of The Simpsons, generations of comedians and writers have grown up reading Mad Magazine. It changed the way we consume pop culture and the way we talk about world affairs — along with a generous helping of dirtyish jokes and goofy parodies.

Slideshow: The Evolution of Mad Magazine

Comments [46]

American Icons: The Tramp

Friday, June 27, 2014

With just a pair of baggy pants, a derby hat, mustache, floppy shoes, and his own physical genius, Charlie Chaplin created silent film's most memorable character — the Tramp.

Video: Charlie Chaplin in Kid Auto Races at Venice

Comments [4]

American Icons: Anything Goes

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cole Porter was out of the musical theater game during the 1930s, as American mores grew looser and more risqué. But instead of getting stodgy, he wrote the classic celebration of bad behavior.

Bonus Track: an updated version of "Anything Goes"

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American Icons: The Scarlet Letter

Friday, May 16, 2014

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel about forbidden love among the Puritans captured our admiration for independence — and our craving for scandal. How much has changed in the 150 years since?  

Bonus Track: Tom Perrotta on Nathaniel Hawthorne's influence 

Comments [4]

American Icons: Untitled Film Stills

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cindy Sherman launched her career by placing herself in photos that look like movie stills for imaginary movies. With Untitled Film Stills, she also created some of the most recognizable images in 20th century art — and maybe even invented the selfie.

Slideshow: Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills

Comments [1]

American Icons: I Love Lucy

Friday, March 28, 2014

It set the model for the hit family sitcom. Lucy's weekly antics and humiliation entered the DNA of TV comedy: from Desperate Housewives to 30 Rock — writers can’t live without Lucy.

Bonus Track: Mindy Kaling Hearts Ricky

Comments [8]

American Icons: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Monday, February 10, 2014

When Malcolm X was assassinated at 39, his book nearly died with him.  Today it stands as a milestone in America’s struggle with race.

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American Icons: Nirvana's Nevermind

Friday, January 03, 2014

In April, the band Nirvana is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — it’s been 25 years since the release of their first album, a gnarly piece of late punk called Bleach. But it was their second album, from 1991, that made them famous. It was angry and bracingly cynical ...

Comments [8]

American Icons: The Wizard of Oz

Friday, November 29, 2013

It's been over seventy years since movie audiences first watched The Wizard of Oz. Meet the original man behind the curtain, L. Frank Baum, who had all the vision of Walt Disney, but none of the business sense. Discover how Oz captivated the imaginations of Russians living under Soviet rule ...

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American Icons: The Scarlet Letter

Friday, November 01, 2013

One of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ancestors was a judge in the Salem witch trials. In his novel of early America, Hawthorne explores the tension between our deeply ingrained Puritanism and our celebration of personal freedom. Hester Prynne was American literature’s first heroine, a fallen woman who’s not ashamed of her sin ...

Bonus Track: Tom Perrotta on Nathaniel Hawthorne's influence

Comments [1]

American Icons: Uncle Tom's Cabin

Friday, October 25, 2013

Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin to promote the abolitionist cause. So how did Uncle Tom become the byword for a race traitor — a “shuffling, kowtowing, sniveling coward”? A scholar traces Tom’s unfortunate journey through pop culture, and a controversial writer who’s been called an Uncle Tom decides to own it ...

Slideshow: Uncle Tom in popular culture

Comments [12]

American Icons: The Disney Parks

Friday, October 18, 2013

Generations of Americans have grown up with Walt Disney shaping our imaginations. We’ll tour Disneyland with its art director, a second-generation Imagineer, who explains why even the trash cans are magic. In Florida, urban planner Andres Duany shows how a theme park helped reimagine city life; Tom Hanks, the first person to play Walt Disney on screen, and futurist Cory Doctorow explain how Disney made them kids for life.

Bonus Track: Cory Doctorow on the Disney theme parks

Comments [30]