Love ’em or not, we all know who they are – certain fictional characters. Certain real people, too – but that’s another post for another day. Fictional characters say a lot about the person who created them. Really popular fictional characters say a lot about the culture that loves them, the culture’s values and sense of self. Bugs Bunny, Harry Potter, and Katniss Everdeen are great examples of how popular characters tell us a lot about popular culture.
Bugs Bunny was created in 1940, shortly before the United States joined the fighting in World War II. So what does the popularity of Bugs tell us about the culture?
Well, Bugs was always super-confident. Even when he faced near destruction at the hands of a hunter, he wasn’t worried. Instead, he toyed with the would-be-destroyer. This at the time when the citizens of the United States could list off plenty of reasons to curl up in our shell and shake.
It’s easy to see why a brave character would appeal to such a concerned group.
And to make things better, not only was Bugs confident, but in the end he won.
Harry Potter’s first book was published in 1997, and his popularity started to grow. But it wasn’t until 2002 that the first film was released and Harry Potter became a household name.
So what does Harry’s popularity tell us about the culture of the early 2000s?
Well, there was a lot of… craziness at that time. The world that we lived in shortly after September 11th was uncertain and scary – it was the perfect time to get lost in a fantasy. And the world of Harry Potter offered everyone just that.
Harry (just like Bella in the Twilight series) acted as a sort of blank canvas upon which readers could paint themselves.
I think we all imagined what it would be like if we had received that letter inviting us to Hogwarts for study and adventure. And then, at each turn, we questioned what we would do.
And now, in 2014, things have changed a bit. It seems that in the U.S., it is so common for people to live on credit, to not accept responsibility, and to not take action into their own hands. Enter Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games series.
What does Katniss say about us?
Katniss lives in a less-than-ideal world. But she accepts that and moves on, making the most of it.
Katniss is thrown into negative situations, where she interacts with people she would rather not encounter. But she accepts that, too. She only continues on in her journey, knowing that hoping for things to be better won’t change anything.
Ultimately, she accepts responsibility. She doesn’t whine about not getting to have a perfect childhood. She doesn’t sit around wishing that things could be different. She just accepts reality and moves on.
I think that says a lot about us that this character is popular in our society. It gives me hope that we will accept that things aren’t as perfect as we had hoped that it would be, but that we are on an adventure, and that we can be brave enough to continue along.
What do you think about popular characters reflecting popular culture?
Can you think of other examples of characters reflecting popular culture?