Photo by Mayur Gala on Unsplash

A Pop Cultural History of Hearts

Rachel Wayne
5 min readFeb 18, 2022

The heart is a rather funnily-shaped organ that is absolutely crucial to life. We can live without a functioning brain (although it’s rather difficult) but not without a heart. As physician Sherwin B. Nuland writes in How We Die, the cease of cardiac activity is the universal signifier of death, no matter the cause.

It’s no surprise, then, that hearts have gained a prominent role in the zeitgeist. They symbolize not only life but also love, lust, passion, and anger. The word “heart” also refers to the core of something — the ineffable substance that drives a thing’s existence.

That profundity doesn’t stop us from making silly versions of hearts. Sometimes, it’s easier to keep things simple. Here’s how hearts have been represented in popular culture.

Conversation Hearts

Who doesn’t recall the heartbreak of shyly passing a candy heart reading “Be Mine” to your crush, only to watch him eat it without even a glance at you?

Just me? Okay.

Conversation hearts are one of those food gimmicks that should have died after their first attempt, like Crystal Pepsi or all-peanut butter Reese’s. Originated by Necco and now made by Spangler, these sugar bombs are pure marketing fodder, exclusively released around Valentine’s Day to sucker poor unfortunate souls into yet more awkward V-Day exchanges. Now, in addition to channeling Blondie with a “Call Me” heart, you can ask cuties to “Email Me” or respond to uggos with “LOL.”

We must wonder how we’ve failed as a society when romantic exchanges are reduced to sugar-fueled exchanges of pre-canned messages. It’s like AOL never went away.


Originally named Hocus Pocus (but not to be confused with the cult classic film), the band Heart is an icon of ’70s glam rock. Powered by lead singer Ann Wilson’s supernatural vocals, Heart certainly lived up to their namesake with emotional…

Rachel Wayne

Artist/anthropologist/activist writing about art, media, culture, health, science, enterprise, and where they all meet. Join my list: