Wednesday, 10 January 2018

'Oh How We’ve Changed' - Fictional Character Transformations Over the Past 50 Years

by Jane Sandwood

Humans are a continuously evolving species, with CNN reporting that we have gotten taller over the past 100 years, thanks to our intelligent health choices. In fact, the recent physical change in humans is directly related to our growing developing intelligence. As our brains continue to learn new skills, our physical development coincides. Fiction has reflected these changes over the past fifty years, with character physiques directly mirroring the time period of the work.

The Sixties to the Early Eighties

The Vietnam War and the development of equal rights reflected the theme of many works of fiction during this time. From Atticus Finch to Alex from A Clockwork Orange, the fiction of the day reflected a fast and loose treatment of the body. People smoked, drank, and thought nothing more about it. Viable research did not yet exist on the real dangers of these habits, and activists were not stepping forward to slow the use of tobacco on the big screen. Fiction characters represented a future full of cirrhosis and lung cancer. Writers researched the habits of the day, and what was socially acceptable.

The Late Eighties Into the Turn of the Century

As researchers found more links between cancers and personal habits, people have adopted healthier habits and fictional characters have followed suit. After Nancy Reagan’s War on Drugs, television began to turn toward a cleaner lifestyle. Family-style fiction on television addressed drug use, portraying a healthier lifestyle. Collectively, the fiction body switched from a free-for-all to a more controlled ideal of health. This reflected the modern research revealing how to better care for the self. People were beginning to desire characters that looked better and that seemed to care better for themselves. Characters who indulged in alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs were portrayed as troubled or physically run-down.

The Past Decade

Since the turn of the century, fiction characters have more closely reflected the ideals of society. Tobacco use has slowed, and if it exists, it is often associated with negative characters. Fictional characters who drink or use drugs are portrayed as physically unappealing. Creators of fiction have swung their characters from a glamorous cigarette to a damaging tobacco habit. Over the past fifty years, fictional characters have changed to relay the real dangers of drug habits.

The days of a simple cigarette are gone in fiction. When writing a fictional character, the character must be physically believable, and this often includes considering the character’s personal habits. Write in the long-term effects of drug use, remembering that modern readers know more than readers fifty years before.


  1. I find it strange you don't mention the biggest health risk of our time: people eating too much unhealthy food, leading a sedentary life and becoming dangerously overweight. Perhaps it's 'okay' to criticise smokers/drug takers, but not fat people?

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