Welcome to Symbolism Saturday! For anyone new to Symbolism Saturday, this is a bi-monthly Saturday special that I originally started sharing on Instagram and Twitter. In these posts, I highlight an example of symbolism in pop culture in a bite-sized exploration. Today, we’re taking a look at a symbol from The Powerpuff Girls series from the 90’s.
What is Symbolism, You Ask?
In a nutshell, symbolism is a literary device where the author of a creative work (like books, video games, and cartoons) uses an object (like a bird, necklace, color, or, occasionally, person) to represent a complex or abstract feeling or idea (like peace, loneliness, death, or, occasionally, a person). If you want to know more, I have a post taking an in-depth look at symbolism and Over the Garden Wall.
Audience Interpretation of Symbols
There are many symbols that carry a common meaning across multiple works, and many symbols whose meaning or presence are exclusive to a particular work. There are also times when the audience can interpret something in the creative work as a symbol. These interpretations can be based on a person’s cultural knowledge, personal experiences, social experiences, and other factors. They can relate to the individual, or can be related to something bigger like a social structure in their culture.
These types of interpretations are fairly common, and are part of what makes symbolism both challenging and fun.
The Chain of Communication
The Powerpuff Girls are superpowered kindergartners who are also highly effective crime fighters. It helps that they have a direct link to Townsville’s mayor via their smiley face phone. The mayor can use the phone to call the girls whenever evil rears its ugly head.
On most days, the phone serves as an effective communication tool for protecting the people of Townsville. On others, however, misuse of the phone has detrimental impact on the Girls or the city’s citizens. Occasionally, the mayor abuses his control of the phone for personal gain, which is also a problem in real life with political leaders occasionally abusing their control over public services. In more rare situations, the phone falls into the hands of villains, allowing unscrupulous individuals such as the Gangreen Gang to wreak havoc on the town. At least one of the Powerpuff Girls has also misused the emergency phone. Each of these misuses leads to chaos and near-catastrophes that need addressing.
The phone plays an essential function in the show, but it also symbolizes the complex chain-of-command dynamics that keep our cities and towns running smoothly. Governing figures in the real world have communication channels in place with local infrastructure such as emergency services to coordinate keeping the city or town running smoothly. Just like in The Powerpuff Girls, misuse of city resources and communication channels often leads to bad outcomes in the real world.
If you enjoyed this Symbolism Saturday post, be sure to stop by for a new one every other Saturday. Do you have a favorite example of symbolism in pop culture? Be sure to share it in the comments! You can also connect on Twitter at @Popliterary, or send a message on the “contact me” page.
And as always, if you have a literary device you want to know more about, or a game, comic, show, or movie that you want to see make an appearance on the blog, leave a shout-out in the comments!