The Great American Hero of the American Century

Some historians have dubbed the 20th Century, “The American Century” because of the dominance of its military, industrial, financial and cultural power.  Assuming that the 21st Century will be a muddled mess, it may be that history will declare the 20th century to have been the golden age of the United States of America.  So, barring the God Emperor restoring us to our former dominance it looks possible that the 20th century will be remembered as our high point.  I was thinking about who can be considered the greatest and most representative fictional American hero of the 20th Century?  If this were Ancient Greece or Rome we would look to epic poetry.  For Modern European countries we might look to novels, plays or possibly Grand Opera.  In addition to these, for Twentieth Century America we also have to consider several newer arts.  Motion pictures and comic books appeared during that time period.  Several interesting candidates come to my mind from some of my favorite stories.  From comic books there are obviously Superman and Batman.  Movie characters that I can think of are Sam Spade from the “Maltese Falcon” and Peter Warren from “It Happened One Night.”  Both characters reflect the rugged independence and confidence that typify the self-image of American men from the time period.  There are, surely, another dozen well-known characters from American books and movies of last century that represent the qualities that American men recognize as the archetype.  I’ll let the reader add some names to the list.  But there is another artform that blossomed in the 20th Century, animation or cartoons.  It is from this artform that I have selected the quintessential 20th Century American Hero, Bugs Bunny.

Some may say that my roots in New York City have irrationally biased me in favor of this wisecracking lagomorph who sounds like he should be selling newspapers in Times Square or hot dogs at Yankee Stadium.  But I’m willing to provide a rational accounting.  As I mentioned above, the characteristics of the American male (up until the snowflake generation) were self-confidence, optimism, independence, competitiveness, pride, egalitarianism, ingenuity and a sense of humor.  Now, certainly no one normally displays all these virtues to the highest degree at the same time, in the real world but these are the characteristics that identify the ideal.  My thesis is that Bugs is close to that ideal.

I’ll start with the last quality first.  I defy anyone to deny that Bugs Bunny practically defines mid-century American humor.  The Looney Tunes were among the most popular things shown at the movie theaters across the country and Bugs was the most popular character in the cartoons.  Bugs had a wise crack for every occasion and every antagonist.

All the rest of these qualities are on constant display as the “wascally wabbit” battles any and every rabbit hating adversary from Elmer Fudd all the way up to Hitler and Mussolini.  His intrepidity extended all the way up to Martians wielding disintegrator guns and gremlins sabotaging the very aircraft that Bugs is flying.  And one last quality he exemplified was patriotism.  In one episode he competed with various other characters to see who was the true “superman.”  But at the end he abandons the competition to become the true superman by donning the dress uniform of a US Marine.  Of course, this was at the height of World War II.  I think I’ve made my case.

So, here’s to you Bugs, the Greatest American Hero.

That’s All Folks.”

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