When you think about it, some of the things we choose to read and watch never seem all that relatable. Just look at the Hunger Games, none of us have been in a situation where we’ve had to fight to the death in an arena for people’s entertainment. Yet somehow this story connected to thousands of people in some way, making it one of the most popular YA series to date. Its the same with a franchise like Star Wars, we don’t know what its like to live in outer space or amongst other alien species, however we still find ourselves relating to these characters and their lives even though they are vastly different to our own.
So how does media relate and express the concerns of the world around us? and how does certain works and concepts stay relevant over hundreds of years , constantly appealing to new audiences and generations? Media has always been a reflection of the world around us, but good media does something more. It taps into this ancient old need we all have embedded within ourselves, and that is Human Nature.
But what is Human Nature and how do you access this? Well, Human Nature is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘The general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.’ This is the answer that creators across time have tried to answer, and few have succeeded.
A great example of someone whose done this is William Shakespeare. His works were written over 500 years ago with settings and characters that no longer exist in modern society. Still today we find these stories as relevant as they were in the time they were written. Why? Because Shakespeare understood that to relate to people he needed to talk about the one things we all have in common, the fact we are human.When you look at Shakespeare’s works you’ll find that underneath the setting and plot there is something that runs much deeper. These are the everyday emotions, values, and themes that we all experience in our lives no matter who we are, they are things that connect us to what it means to be human. So when you look at plays like Romeo and Juliet you’re not resonating with the idea of running away and getting married to someone you met overnight, as most of us haven’t experienced that. We are relating to the underlying feelings of great love, great loss, and tragedy. These are emotions that we all experience in our life, that transgress time, and are a part of human nature. This is what keeps these stories relevant and is the reason why we still connect to Shakespeare’s works despite being written for a different time and audience. This is what makes him such a brilliant writer, and will allow his works to continue to resonate with people across time.
Its the same with works written by Jane Austen. The world she writes about is so different to the way we live now, with all the rules and conventions and restrictions placed on people. We have no reason to relate to this, but we do, because at the heart of her stories she is really talking about the things that we all experience, the things that transgress time. Human Nature.
In Media today we are still seeing the same thing and a great modern example is Harry Potter. Harry Potter has already had so much success in its time and I’m sure that it’ll go on to inspire generations in the future. What many people who have never watched or read the series don’t understand that magic is not necessarily at the forefront of the series all the time. Yes it is a major element, but what makes these books and films so good, so moving, is the human emotions and experiences you watch these characters go through. Many people who are not familiar with the series, particularly the books, think that the story is pretty unrelatable, with wizards and a magical school in the mountains. But this is only the setting, the real crux of the story is the journey Harry goes through. I mean we watch him as he grows up and he goes through the same things we all did, the emotions, the different kinds of love, family, crushes, losses, the friendship. These are the those timeless ideas again that are part of being human, and is what makes Harry Potter and its message so timeless already. I believe this is why this series has connected to the millions of people it already has, and why the series is so much more than a magical adventure.
Another revolutionary work today that is already getting praised for its transgressive messages is the musical Hamilton, the musical about the founding father Alexander Hamilton. Now when Lin- Manuel Miranda first started writing this people thought he was crazy! How was a musical about a founding father going to be good entertainment? But what he has done with the musical truly groundbreaking, making it the most successful and popular musical at the moment, with Michele Obama calling it the “best piece of art I have ever seen in my life”. So how is a musical written around the founding fathers relevant to todays society? How can people across the world, who are not even American relate to his story and engage and be moved by his life. Lin- Manuel understood the same things as Shakespeare, Austen, and Rowling- Human Nature.
He realised that to make these historical figure appealing to an audience today he had to show them as but as the humans they are, not the elevated, unreachable figures they are in history books. This makes the musical so funny and heartbreaking, you find yourself connecting to these characters you never thought you had anything in common with, and being moved by and touched by their journey, even relating it to your own. Lin-Manuel has even gone one step further and and made this musical even more accessible for everyone! He has people people of all races playing these characters showing that the story is told of ‘American then, by the America of today’ because of this mix of races within the cast its truly inclusive of everyone in todays modern society. Some people find it hard to believe that a musical, of all things could do this. But Hamilton, its approach, achievements, and message has revolutionised broadway like no other musical, proving how the media counts to relate to our society around us. Who would of thought the founding fathers would have been the ones to do it.
Another musical that understands this idea of timelessness in a way I’ve never really seen in another work before is ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’. I was lucky enough to see this in San Francisco this year and was really surprised at how much it moved and impacted me. This was originally created after the 2001 movie and was revived on Broadway back in 2014 by Neil Patrick Harris. Its set up like a one night only show put on by Hedwig and although it starts off pretty intense as the show goes on you see the character break down her walls, as well as her elaborate costumes, to reveal who she really is, a broken person like us all. What I find really moving about this musical is the underlying theme of love and soulmates that runs throughout the show, again a timeless idea. Hedwig believes that in life you need to find your other half and has spent her whole life searching only to have that person reject her for things she couldn’t control. She then realises that to be complete you don’t need another person, but just yourself, offering an answer to the age old question raised by plato centuries ago. The creator John Cameron Mitchel has made this seemingly unrelateable character reach and move so many people by showing that underneath that her intimidating exterior, she has the same insecurities and emotions that we all hide within ourselves too. This taps into a key part Human Nature, identity, insecurities and belonging. Because of this, this show has expanded in ways the creators never predicted, already reaching many people through its timeless ideas and emotions.
We all have emotions, values and themes that run through our lives like family, lost, jealously, friendship and love. These are the things that never change no matter how old we get, no matter what era. They are the timeless ideas that relate to us fundamentally as humans, that we all experience and carry with us throughout our whole lives. This is what a good creator recognises. This is how media is constantly reflecting the world around us, not necessarily in the way the world looks right now, but in the emotions that run through it. The things that make us human and connect us, because in the end none of us are really that different.
eBlogline. (2016) Shakespeare play. Retrieved form https://www.eblogline.com/entertainment/william-shakespeare-plays-based-movies/
Hamilton Offical. (2016) Hamilton Banner. Retrieved from http://www.hamiltonbroadway.com/chicago.php
Hedwig Broadway. (2016) Hedwig. Retrieved from http://hedwigbroadway.com
PBS Newshour. ( 2015, November 5) Hip Pop and History blend for Broadway Hit Hamilton. (Video File) Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAiEVjW-GNA
Play buzz. (2016) Harry Potter. Retrieved from http://www.playbuzz.com/pringlepeaches10/95-of-harry-potter-fans-cant-get-over-75-on-this-quiz