For 85 years now Time has declared its "Person of the Year" — well, for 68 of those it was "Man of the Year," but we digress. The magazine's choice is sometimes obvious, as in this year's selection of President Obama, and sometimes abstract, as in The Protester — or that whole "You" thing. But usually the honor goes to some sort of real person who represents the year in some kind of important way or other. But not-real people can influence us, too, and this year, in some ways, fictional characters stood for as much about the American year in news as the nonfictional ones.
So, in continuing The Atlantic Wire's Year in Review, we're honoring the characters of the year, because they're still people that matter. Some we loved, and some we hated. Some of them are villainous; some of them are just annoying. All of them, however, reached beyond their mediums and touched upon something we as a people at large were feeling.
Katniss Everdeen: Beyond Girl Power
A.O. Scott called this the "year of heroine worship," and while there were a number of great
female characters in film (Merida from Brave, Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild) it wouldn't be the heroine's year without the heroine of The Hunger Games. Like Buffy before her and Ripley before that, Katniss will be the standard by which we measure kick-ass ladies for years to come. Though Suzanne Collins imagined her long before, Katniss came into our consciousness this March in the form of Jennifer Lawrence, and she did so with a vengeance. With her noble actions and steely focus, Katniss proved that a movie containing a love triangle doesn't have to be about that love triangle. The Hunger Games was about Katniss, all the way. And while her womanhood was important and perhaps one of the main reasons we talked about her so much, it was not the factor that made her a great character. As Manohla Dargis wrote earlier in the year: "Katniss may be speaking to so many is that she doesn’t just seem to be a new kind of female character but also represents an alternative to an enduring cultural type that the literary critic R. W .B. Lewis described as the American Adam." Katniss has entered our cultural lore, and we don't think she's leaving it any time soon. Indeed, Lawrence will return in the first Hunger Games sequel next November.
Bane: Like Mitt Romney, in Reverse
There were a number of heroes this year, from the sleek Bond to the dark Batman to the raucous Avengers, but it was one of the villains that worked his way deep into our political mind. The (very) bad guy in July's The Dark Knight Rises happened to share a name (at least phonetically) with the company that Mitt Romney famously founded. Sure, the connection to Romney was a mere coincidence — and, honestly, it didn't make much sense, since Bane was more about taking down the rich — but it made for great memes. There was the conservative handwringing, and soon Tom Hardy's character started showing up at Romney protests. But our fascination with the homophonic connection played into just how high the anticipation became both for this film (the release of which was ultimately marred by tragedy) and for the presidential campaign.
Hannah Horvath: Because Obviously
What is there left to say? The protagonist of Lena Dunham's Girls made us talk about privilege, about race, about sex, about women, about a lot more. She was divisive. You either thought she was completely clueless or conveyed a sort of 21st century wisdom. At some points you believed she was just Lena Dunham playing herself under a different name. At others you probably argued that, no, Hannah was just a character. No matter how you felt — no matter whether you watched — the mere existence of Hannah, at the height of the cultural conversation and at the perch of HBO, forced us to broach so many subjects that, well, we're not sure what the conversation in 2012 would have sounded like without her. We're excited to have her back in 2013, along with the rest of the girls of Girls — Jessa, Shoshanna, and Marnie.
Will McAvoy: A Serious News Anchor for a Year of Unserious News
Aaron Sorkin's holier-than-thou anchor from HBO's The Newsroom was the anti-Lena Dunham. He was smug, he was misogynistic, he was all too responsible. And even if Sorkin's show got panned by critics, the sanctimonious tone of his protagonist gained a Twitter following, so much so that sometimes tweets from "his" account showed up alongside the real newsmen and women we were following. If 2011 was the year the news got sick of Keith Olbermann, 2012 was the year we needed a fake one to frustrate us.
Maya: Spies, They're Just Like Us!
Calling her the "real life" Carrie Mathison does her a disservice, but Maya — the fictionalized version of the CIA agent who doggedly chased Osama bin Laden who serves as the centerpiece to Kathryn Bigelow's new Zero Dark Thirty — does fit into a national obsession with spies in the latter half of this year, which was abetted it no small part by the Petraeus scandal. Sure, we had Homeland's Mathison and the 50th anniversary of Bond, but Maya was real! Or at least we were told that screenwriter/journalist Mark Boal based her on a real person — maybe a male person, and maybe a little too based on him, but we loved the border between fact and fiction this year, and so she has already become the most intriguing of 2012's many spies. Maya lives at once in the shadows of the CIA and in the movie-star light of Jessica Chastain, but somewhere in the middle she was involved in serious heroics. Knowing that the woman who served as the inspiration for the character has had some drama of her own only added to the jingoistic thrill.
Sam Shakusky: Just a Kid in Love
Was there a more earnest display of love this year than that which emanated from Moonrise Kingdom's pint-sized hero? In a year that was marked by a lot of cynicism — election season, anyone? — watching Sam's pursuit of Suzy was heartening. He made us want to dance to Françoise Hardy all day.
Christian Grey: Mr. Literary Lust
It's all a blur, but at some point in 2012 we started talking about dominants and submissives. Around that same time middle-aged women and teenagers alike started talking about bondage. Why? It was this man, Christian Grey, the character who launched a thousand trend stories. He may not have been well written, but he was the symbol a phenomenon that got Random House employees $5,000 bonuses. For that, we thank him.
Sure, the man who embodied him was named the Sexiest Man Alive, but the character of Magic Mike also deserves some credit. He turned the stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold archetype on its head by, well, being a dude. Suddenly what was supposed to be the campiest movie of the summer actually had some weight behind it, aside from the whole Steven Soderbergh thing. Plus, that "Pony" dance.
Alan Scott: The Big Gay Superhero
If the name Alan Scott doesn't mean much to you, it will mean something if we explain that he's Gay Green Lantern. In june DC Comics revealed that its superhero had come out of the closet, and this alongside a wave of LGBT-friendly themes that popped in comic books. Marvel's X-Men had a same-sex marriage, and so did Archie Comics. The Buffy series had a gay male vampire slayer. But the Green Lantern news was the most high profile, and proved that while Hollywood may still load their superheroes with testosterone, on the page the tune is changing with the country — gay-marriage ballot measures were invincible at the polls this November.
Paul Ryan Gosling: The Rise of the Fake Twitter Feed
Hey girl, I'm depressed that it looks like Mitt and I lost. On the upside, excited to keep my Obamacare health insurance!— Paul Ryan Gosling (@PaulRyanGosling) November 7, 2012
Just as Time might award a concept rather than a person, we give our last spot on behalf of the parody Twitter feed. There was one for everything, as Slate points out, and each had its own personality which diverged from the figure they purported to represent. (Though does Angelina Jolie's leg really have a personality? Well, probably.) Each loses steam after a while — we'll miss you, Paul Ryan Gosling — but each touched on what we were laughing about in a particular moment. Sure, they were inspired by real people, but they were characters all their own.