I hate to admit it, but that jerk you saw swerving on the Southbound 5 Freeway last week, playing on his cell phone, well, that may have been me. I would say I’m sorry, but I know you were probably the guy next to me doing the same thing. We can’t help it. Technology has made it easy for us to retrieve information, immediately.
Now, before you get all high and mighty, let me just say that I had good reason to endanger every motorist within a 2 lane radius of my car. On this particular day as I was driving home, I found myself stuck behind a Prius, driving 65MPH, in the fast lane. If you are not from Southern California, the average speed on the 5 Freeway is at least 80MPH. This, in my humble opinion, is the worst type of human being. So, after several vehicular gestures of decreasing the distance between his car and mine, I couldn’t help but notice a bumper sticker on the back of his car. The sticker read, “CODE PINK”. The name “CODE PINK” sounded familiar, but I didn’t know what it had meant. My initial thoughts were that maybe it was a band, or a breast cancer awareness group. Alas, my curiosity got the best of me; I whipped out my phone and preceded to “google” the phrase. I had learned that Code Pink is a “… a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.” Whoa, that was unexpected. So given this information I can probably assume this individual is probably an anti-war protester; that explains the Prius.
This person was telling me and the world a little bit about where he stands politically, whether we like it or not.
The use of body art, graffiti, art, symbols, clothing, jewelry, grooming, bumper stickers, flags, colors, or any other personal items to reveal information is what we call iconography. Iconography is a domain of combat profiling which we use to assist our ability to make proactive decisions.
Imagine you are walking down Hollywood Blvd, and you notice a young kid with a tall, blue, mohawk and large black boots. On his left arm you notice a tattoo with a large A and a circle around it. Upon further investigation you learn that the symbol stands for anarchy.
I think it’s a safe assumption that this kid won’t be applying for a job at his local law enforcement agency.
Cultures across the globe will color their skin with ink, burn, maim, and pierce body parts to proudly display their cultures or their beliefs. The older gentlemen with an anchor tattooed on his forearm with prior Naval service, or the young college grad with his fraternity marked on his leg are telling us about the organizations they belong to.
What about the Maori tribes of New Zealand and their use of full body or facial tattoos? These have historically represented seniority and status.
What is the Hispanic gang member from L.A. with a number “13” plastered on his neck telling the world about his beliefs?
The style of clothing and grooming can also reveal much about the person’s belief. In Hollywood it is not un-common to see young and old men dressed in dark black suits with a large hat. The older men will usually have large beards, and long side locks of hair on the sides of their face. Further investigation might reveal these men to be Hasidic Jews.
It is also not uncommon, on Sunday, to see families eating breakfast, dressed up. Is it possible these families are coming from or going to church?
Marines have traditionally been referred to as “Jarheads” based on their high and tight haircuts. It wouldn’t be hard to identify Marines near Marine Corps Bases, just look for the people who look like “Jarheads”.
Clothing, Symbols, Jewelry
People will often find meanings in certain logos, or symbols and proudly display them for the world to see. High Schools in America traditionally have mascots emblazoned on school T-shirts. If I am in Oceanside, California it would not be uncommon to occasionally see the kid boasting a green shirt with a cartoon pirate on the front. I know this kid probably attends Oceanside High School.
Fraternities and Sororities will use Greek letters. Members will occasionally sport a tattoo, or some clothing that proudly displays their membership.
Crosses, Stars of David, and Crescent Moons are common pieces of jewelry one might see that displays the religion of the wearer.
The use of colors can also help us determine more about the iconography. McDonalds will use the colors red and yellow to draw your attention and immediately engage your positive emotions. They are also known colors to increase energy, which means you won’t be sitting in their uncomfortable plastic chairs for long.
If I were to ask you which football team sports the colors of green and yellow, who would you think of? If you walked into a bar, and you saw a fan wearing these colors, who is he rooting for? Is he a Green Bay Packer fan or an Oregon Ducks fan? I guess that would depend on whether it is Saturday or Sunday.
Street gangs will choose colors to represent their gang. Crip gangs in Los Angeles have traditionally used the color “blue” while rival Blood gangs have used the color “red”. I am not a gang expert but the poet, Ice T, once told me “…the colors I choose, Red or Blue, Cuz or Blood, it just don’t matter… We gangs of LA will never die, just multiply”.
In the Middle Eastern Muslim community there is a strong use of colors. The heavy use of the colors red, green, white, and black are seen in their flags, clothing, and media.
Graffiti, Art, Public Displays
Often people will put their symbols, or beliefs on display for many to see. People will proudly display their favorite art in public areas of their house, or their workplaces. What does the art represent?
Graffiti is a public display of art, usually on property. We usually associate graffiti with illegal spray painting on the sides of walls, but sometimes it is placed legally.
Is the graffiti a name of a gang in the area? Is it telling all who pass by that this is their territory? Is it listing the members in the gang? Are certain names crossed out?
Murals will often be displayed to honor a fallen hero; a hero to that particular community. When Tupac Shakur was killed, a large mural depicting his image was found on several walls in Los Angeles.
On the 5 Southbound near Camp Pendleton the highway is nicknamed “Gunnery Sergeant Basilone Road” to honor United States Marine Corps Medal of Honor recipient Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. What does this say of the people in this region?
How can we learn from this?
The use of iconography is all around us. It helps us get off at the right exit, and stop at a 4 way intersection. People will tell us what they believe in, whether we like it or not. The knowledge we obtain from this information is invaluable to the trained observer.