46 times ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ echoed through pop culture
Editor’s note: Author Harper Lee has died at the age of 89. Last year, when the prequel to her signature work “To Kill a Mockingbird” was released, we took a look at ways in which the original novel has influenced American culture:
If you went to junior high or high school in the United States, chances are you’ve read “To Kill a Mockingbird” (or at least skimmed the CliffsNotes). Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the 1962 film, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, perhaps the most iconic role of his career -- although early reviews of the book “Go Set A Watchman” indicate Atticus may not be as noble as everyone thought.
If you’ve somehow managed to avoid both the book and movie, though, you’re still probably more familiar with Harper Lee’s classic than you think. “To Kill a Mockingbird” has likely made more appearances in American pop culture than any other American novel (with the possible exception of “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”).
It’s become an inescapable part of our cultural DNA, and with the upcoming release of Lee’s second novel, “Go Set a Watchman,” you can bet that even more “Mockingbird” references will be showing up on screens both big and small, on the radio and pretty much everywhere else.
Here are some of our favorites.
One of the earliest references to Lee’s book on American television came in 1969, with an episode of the comedy “Get Smart” featuring the agents on the trail of a figurine called the “Tequila Mockingbird.”
(“Tequila Mockingbird” is the joke that refuses to die. There’s a cocktail with that name, featuring lime juice, creme de menthe and tequila; an entire book of literary cocktails; the Los Angeles punk scenester; drag performers; and bars and restaurants in Maryland, Connecticut, Florida and New Zealand named after the groan-worthy pun.)
A reference to the book shows up in the “30 Rock” episode “Murphy Brown Lied to Us,” when Liz Lemon meets a smart, independent young girl who’s trying to get her classmates to call her “Scout.” (It doesn’t work.)
Fans of “Community” might have recognized a shout-out to Scout Finch in the episode “Paranormal Parentage,” when the group of friends gets together for a costume party. Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs, is dressed as a ham — just like Scout’s famous costume in the “To Kill a Mockingbird” movie.
And then, of course, there’s “The Simpsons.” In the episode “Diatribe of a Mad Housewife,” Marge writes a romance novel, and Homer realizes he’ll have to read it. He’s not happy about it: “I swore never to read again after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ gave me no useful advice on killing mockingbirds. It did teach me not to judge a man based on the color of his skin, but what good does that do me?”
Perhaps the most overt reference to Lee’s novel in rock music comes from the Boo Radleys, a ‘90s Britpop band that took their name from the reclusive, misunderstood hero in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The band was best known for its insanely catchy song “Wake Up Boo!”, and the guitarist explained the group’s name in an interview on the Creation Records website: “We just thought it was a cool name. ... It was the one book we did in school that had any lasting impression on me.”
The Philadelphia hardcore punk band Paint It Black recorded a song called “Atticus Finch,” though the lyrics seem to have nothing to do with the soft-spoken attorney. They’re also mostly unsuitable for work. Here’s a slightly edited taste: "[Darn] parasite! / So don’t talk until you take a walk in my Chucks / What the [heck]? / I guess you’re [quite] out of luck.”
Lee and Truman Capote were close friends, and the character Dill, Scout’s friend, in “To Kill a Mockingbird” was based on the “In Cold Blood” author. So it’s no surprise that Lee shows up in two movies about Capote, “Infamous” and “Capote.”
In “Infamous,” Lee is portrayed by Sandra Bullock, with Toby Jones starring as Capote. The two visit Holcomb, Kansas, the site of the murders that would eventually form the basis for “In Cold Blood.” Bullock plays Lee as cool and amused by her flamboyant friend’s antics, urging him to “come in on little cat’s paws.” (“It’s no use,” Capote shoots back. “This cat has long, noisy nails.”)
“Capote,” starring Catherine Keener as Lee and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as the title character, plays out much the same way. Keener’s Lee is also calm and charming, drolly thanking Capote after he tells her, “You’re the only one I know with the qualifications to be both a research assistant and a personal bodyguard.”
“To Kill a Mockingbird” also shows up in the 2012 film “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” based on Stephen Chbosky’s book, as an assignment given to a high school English class by Mr. Anderson, played by Paul Rudd.
Jennifer Love Hewitt and her husband, Brian Hallisay, welcomed son Atticus into the world June 14. Other celebrities who’ve named their sons Atticus are Jason Behr and KaDee Strickland (in 2013), Casey Affleck and Summer Phoenix (in 2008), and Daniel Baldwin (in 1996).
Blink-182 members Mark Hoppus and Tom DeLonge are two of the founders of Atticus Clothing. The streetwear company uses a dead bird as a logo.
Craft site Etsy is a “To Kill a Mockingbird” extravaganza. Fans of the books can buy cufflinks, art prints, silk scarves, tennis shoes, e-reader covers, iPhone covers, bookmarks, necklaces, purses, coffee mugs and more.
“To Kill a Mockingbird” has inspired dozens of different literary tattoos. One strategy is the simple mockingbird symbol. Another is the long quote: “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” And then there are many styles in between.
SEE YOU IN THE FUNNY PAPERS
Perhaps the sweetest, and funniest, reference to Lee in recent pop culture comes from Berkeley Breathed, creator of the “Bloom County” and “Outland” comic strips. In one installment of “Outland” from 1994, Opus the Penguin reflects on “To Kill a Mockingbird,” his favorite book.
“Every summer since I was little, I’ve re-read it,” Opus reflects, “just to remind me [of] ‘the fragile thread of dignity and grace that unites the human tapestry.’ ” Opus is then told that a sequel to the movie version of “To Kill a Mockingbird” is in the works, and is handed the script.
The sequel is not “Go Set a Watchman,” though. It’s a movie called “Kill Mo’ Mockingbird: Boo Radley Loose in the Hood,” written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Oliver Stone.
Lee must have been amused: She sent Breathed a fan letter.
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