H. A. Byrd

Has the unicorn lost its relevance?

Has the unicorn lost its relevance?

In modern society, the status of unicorns has shifted.

An image search for “unicorn” in one’s browser, with 1970s, 1980s, 1990s respectively, will reveal a dramatic change in the general perception of unicorns.

As a more conservative attitude took over in the western world, people began to tire of the particular romantic idealism of the 1960s and ‘70s. For this reason, although dragons remained interesting, unicorns, along with rainbows, found themselves shoved into the realm of glittery saccharine toys for little girls. How tremendous an insult to a creature so sublime! However, because unicorns love damsels so much, I don’t suppose they hold this ironic degradation against us.

Nowadays, the magical creatures have attracted some new meanings. As a slang term, the word “unicorn” denotes a rare find. Most commonly, a rare person: either a job applicant who perfectly fits a long list of requirements or a woman suitable to complete a polyamorous relationship. About five years ago, a fun millennial nostalgia about the pastel pony franchise of their own 1980s childhoods found unicorns to be associated with purple and pink tinted sweets, kicking off a huge unicorn fad. Around this time the LGBT community adopted the unicorn due to these colors and its current relationship with rainbows and glitter. This certainly gives the word relevance, but has little to do with the traditions of the mythological beast.

The legendary unicorn, of course, has been with us for thousands of years, appearing in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Persian unicorn stories date to the ninth century BCE. In early Europe, unicorns were known to protect water supplies. Their horns became valued in detection of, and as an antidote for, poison. Thus, the creature served as a symbol of purity.

Many aspects of our world have experienced accelerated change during the past few decades. Yet the unicorn has undergone great transformation before this. Introduction into Greek culture, and later Christianity, had dramatic influences. Now that we have less interest in purity and there’s less of a market for magical horns perhaps the unicorn will endure as a symbol of grace. And, perhaps, acceptance.

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