The Anti-Potter, Part 2: Jeremy Corbyn and the Billionaire’s Authorthority
Should Jeremy Corbyn somehow manage to win the United Kingdom’s General Election on 8th June, J. K. Rowling will be forced to take a principled stand against his rule. Which will presumably mean that she’ll go and sulk in a tent for several months. After all, she’s been vocal, even vociferous, in her opposition to his leadership of the Labour Party since before it started.
Well… it might not be a tent. She’s a billionaire, remember. This is something that people seem to forget, at least in effect. But I imagine sulking would form a large part of it, even if it took place in very comfortable surroundings. And snarking on Twitter. That would be a big part of it too. She’s done a lot of that about Corbyn already. She has tweeted and retweeted truckloads of declarations of his unelectability, his incompetence, etc. She piled on in the fake ‘Labour anti-semitism’ row, in which a handful of incidents – ranging from the piffling to the wantonly misconstrued to the fabricated – were talked up by the media into the chimera of a Labour Party stuffed with raging Jew-haters, with Corbyn as either Anti-Semite-in-Chief (Ken Livingstone presumably being his deputy) or as a passive permitter of all the internal Labour Party kristallnachts. (This is all the more reprehensible, by the way, because there is evidence that anti-semitism is on the rise out in the real world. But, surprisingly enough, it’s mostly not coming from Left-wing people who have issues with Israel.)
This isn’t to say that Corbyn is perfect. I’m not here going to elaborate a full position on Corbyn. If I did, I’d have many complaints to make. But let’s just state something: when Labour loses on 8th June, the largest single factor will be Corbyn’s unpopularity, which is largely a media artifact. I mean, you don’t have to especially admire Jeremy Corbyn to realise that when this manifestly sincere man is widely considered less competent, likeable, and trustworthy than Theresa fucking May – a woman he routinely trounces during PMQs; a woman so blatantly machiavellian that she does the Skeletor laugh, on camera, in the House of Commons – something funny is going on somewhere.
Of course, one expects the Right-wing press in Britain (which is almost all of it) to vilify the Labour leader, and especially to vilify Corbyn, a man with a long-history of principled socialist activism and campaigning. The British Right-wing press thought Ed Miliband was a Marxist. To them, Corbyn must look like an absolute lunatic. Seriously, this is what they think. Anyone who departs so far (which, by the way, is nowhere near far enough for me) from the Westminster consensus (i.e. the dogma of neoliberalism) must simply look, to them, like a twisted nutcase. But the fact is, he looks like a twisted nutcase to most of the ostensibly Left-leaning British press, i.e. the Guardian, the Independent, and some magazines… well, just the New Statesman, if we’re honest. (The Indy’s claim to be on this list is really just down to the fact that they have one or two left-leaning columnists.) Consequently, he looks like a twisted nutcase to many of their readers.
The real damage to Corbyn, at least from the direction of the media, and at least if we just shelve the issue of the BBC, has been done by this supposedly Left-leaning press. And this is the quarter with which J. K. Rowling has chosen to loudly align herself. Just the other day she retweeted a Sarah Ditum article from the News Statesman website, trashing Corbyn once again.
Now, I’m not one to criticise somebody for snarking on Twitter. God, no. That’s a person’s God-given right. I’ve even been known to indulge in it myself occasionally. But of course, when J. K. Rowling snarks on Twitter, people pay attention. Lots of people. I’m not even criticizing that, particularly. If I had that kind of platform, I’d use it. Damn skippy, I would. And she’s entitled to her opinion, and to promote it as loudly as she likes… and, naturally, since she’s a woman on the internet, she’s been nastily attacked for having opinions and defending them, which is wrong, and people shouldn’t send abusive tweets when she annoys them, etc etc etc. (I trust, by now, you all know how sincerely I mean all that, despite my casual way of saying it.)
But the reasons for Rowling’s influence… or maybe I mean ‘influentialness’… are interesting. There are a lot of people who pay attention to her not just because she wrote some books they love, but also because she says a lot of things they like. She’s outspokenly liberal, and even mildly leftyish, on social issues. She makes a big deal of paying her taxes… which is a baseline minimum requirement really, but which our world makes seem like something special. Like it or not, a lot of people like being able to cite her as being ‘on side’. They like the idea that someone they admire, someone who created characters they treasure, is with them, on the side of progress, etc. This is an understandable impulse. Most of us a prone to it from time to time, in one form or another. I’ve certainly enjoyed the knowledge that an artist I like agrees with me about stuff.
But Rowling, owing to the ridiculous and disproportionate success of her Harry Potter books, punches way above her weight in terms of influence and culturally-perceived moral authority. Really… the books aren’t that good. Not even the first three, which are genuinely good examples of the kind of thing they’re content to be: kids’ books. But it’s more than just their success. It’s also the fact that they are self-consciously and self-proclaimedly moral tracts about ‘tolerance’. Especially as they go along, the books acquire a thematic obsession with notions of tolerance and intolerance, freedom and persecution, and specifically of these things in relation to social attitudes to inborn identities. The whole ‘mudbloods’ thing escalates from being a sub-theme in the second book to being the main signifier of the evil of Voldemort. He is evil because he is a racial purist. When the import of the ‘mudbloods’ thing was ‘Draco Malfoy bullies Hermione because he thinks he’s better than her because of something about herself she can’t change – that’s horrible’ everything was fine. That’s a nice moral for a kids’ book. (Though I question how much impact it has. Bullies don’t perceive themselves as bullies. There will have been kids who were bullies at school who read that and rooted firmly for Hermione.) But when it becomes the basis for texts which imagine themselves to be complex meditations on prejudice… well, things get sticky.
But it’s this muddled project – and it really is very badly muddled – of using the Potter stories for the purposes of pontificating about tolerance that leads at least part of Rowling’s audience to prize her words and thoughts on issues of social justice. But this is a very, very bad idea. I say this not just because of her resolute opposition to an actual socialist leading the Labour Party, or just because she’s a billionaire Hollywood mogul (and thus in a different social class to most humans, with manifestly different and opposed interests to the rest of us), but even just by what’s in her books.
Apart from stuff I talked about last time (i.e. the ambivalent attitude to literacy: snobbery towards the illiterate combined with suspicion towards any concept of literacy as engagement in ideas, particularly oppositional or marginal ideas) there are other huge issues, some of which I’ve mentioned before in other pieces.
The books are filled with sentient ‘magical creatures’ who reflect ‘other’ races. The Elves, the Giants, the Centaurs, the Goblins… and I do mean other races, because the standard human being in Harry Potter is white. I’ll get into the specific problems with these representations another time. Suffice to say… it ain’t pretty. In fact it all gets as racist as all fuck. For now I want to take a little digression…
I confess to having been irritated by the whole ‘Black Hermione’ thing. Not by the decision to cast a Black actress as Hermione in the Cursed Child play. I don’t care about that, except insofar as I’m just generally glad when I see culture getting less smotheringly white. Nor am I referring to the longstanding habit of some to depict Hermione as Black or Asian in their fan-art. I think that’s usually quite nice. No, I mean the attendant phenomenon of people insisting that Book!Hermione is Black, or that it is possible to interpret Book!Hermione as Black. Because… well, sorry and everything… but she isn’t, and it isn’t. Book!Hermione is white. Because everyone in Harry Potter is white until Rowling tells us otherwise, either specifically (i.e. “Angelina Johnson was a Black girl”) or tacitly… by, say, calling a character “Padma Patil”. The Hermione-is/could-be-Black brigade often hinge their ‘arguments’ on a line in one of the books (Prisoner of Azkaban, I think…) in which Hermione is described as “very brown”. The trouble there is the context. You know, that stuff that enables us to understand what is happening and/or being said to us? Firstly, if Hermione is “very brown” because she just is, why are we being told about it? Why bring it up, apropos of nothing? And why now, suddenly, in Book 3? Secondly, she’s just come back from a foreign summer holiday. That’s the immediate context. Rather than opening the possibility of Hermione being a Black or Asian person, I’d say the line is definitive proof of her whiteness. I’m all for letting the reader construct their own reading… but when you start trying to ‘prove’ your reading using textual evidence that actually refutes your case… I mean, nobody would stand for it if I used isolated and context-free lines from Henry IV to prove that Falstaff is actually an extremely brave soldier.
The use of textual evidence is interesting in that it suggests a certain mindset on the part of fans. It simply isn’t enough for them – or at least for a certain type of them – to interpret the books the way they like. They want their interpretations to be ‘true’ or ‘correct’. And the reason they turn to Rowling – either in the text of the books, or in person – for settlement of the issues is because they think she gets to say who’s right and who’s wrong. Ironically, they have fallen back onto the idea of the authority of the author in an attempt to validate their own act of creative reading. And this is something they have learned from Rowling and her books. Because they books are written as collections of immutable facts about a place that Rowling alone fully knows and controls. This is partly why so many Potter fans go into ecstasies about Rowling’s use of continuity, and her ostensible mastery of the principle of Chekhov’s pistol. What she actually does, generally, is rifle through the bric-a-brac of previous books, find something she can re-use, and then act like its appearance in the earlier book was carefully-planned foreshadowing. This is important to her, and to her fans, because it reinforces the idea that Rowling has absolute knowledge of all the ‘facts’ about the Wizarding World, which is a coherent place with a past and a future, all of which is contained within the mind of the Omniscient Author. (I’d be tempted to suggest that this impulse comes from a subconscious awareness of the very historylessness of the Wizarding World that I talked about last time. It’s a defensive overreaction.). The experience of reading the books, if one buys into this perspective, is the experience of being told things, having things explained to you, by an authority figure who has total mastery over all the facts. The adventure becomes the gathering of all the facts, the accumulation of ‘knowledge’, the consumption of information. This is further reinforced by the fact that Harry spends a huge amount of his time being told things, and having things explained to him, by authority figures… whether is is eavesdropping on them from under his Invisibility Cloak, or listening to yet-another long-winded infodump from Dumbledore.
Rowling wouldn’t want to flout her own vocal social liberalism by appearing to step on the idea of a Black Hermione. Indeed, Rowling has embraced Black Hermione, or at least the possibility of Black Hermione, or at least the validity of interpreting Hermione as Black… which is interesting, and which must’ve hurt her. Not because she’s racist. I believe she’s genuinely a conscious anti-racist. It’s rather because she considers the Potter books to be dispatches from a universe of ‘facts’ about the Wizarding World that she keeps stored inside her head. This can be seen in the way she has imparted information about the pasts and futures of the characters, and nuggets of data about ‘what really happened’, since the publications of the books. The most notorious of these is, of course, her ‘revelation’ that Dumbledore was gay. (Again, we won’t go into that here, but trust me… it’s coming.)
(I should acknowledge that much of what I’m saying has been anticipated by others, especially by Dan Hemmens at Ferretbrain.)
Rowling has – in my opinion quite shamelessly – exploited the Black Hermione thing to try, once again, to make her Potter stories seem redolent of far more liberalism than she actually evinces in them. Whiteness is absolutely the default assumption in the books. Now, I don’t actually have much of a problem with this. It’d be unfair to single Rowling out for special opprobrium. But I don’t like that many, including Rowling, seem to want to deny it. And it becomes an issue when millions of people think of these particular stories as a primal cultural narrative, a moral-political touchstone… and specifically a touchstone of tolerance and anti-racism. (I will have more – and angrier – things to say about this at a later date.)
But again, the even more fundamental issue here is one of authority. Or… if I may once again indulge my habit of coining awkward new words… Authorthority. Authorthority is when people think of stories as dispatches from a world The Author knows exclusively and fully; of reading as the act of slowly being fed a list of facts about an unreal place by The Author, who is the ultimate arbiter of what is ‘true’ in that place. This is a bad way to train people to think, especially if you’re then feeding them your pronouncements about racism and politics and tolerance, etc. And this is as good a description of how millions of people – including, disturbingly, Rowling herself – seem to experience the Potter stories. Which is less than ideal when the ‘facts’ about tolerance and intolerance and politics that are being fed to the readers are, to be honest, pure liberal bourgeois ideology. (This sort of thing is hardly unfamiliar to any genre fan, least of all Doctor Who fans… and yet we have the luck to have no over-arching Author figure, just a succession of ‘stewards’ towards whom we tend to feel little reverence… precisely because we tend to think that they have temporary charge of something that is, in some way, ours. This isn’t always entirely healthy, to put it mildly, but it’s a different type of unhealthy to Authorthority as it appears in Rowling and Potter.)
Now, clearly, if there’s one figure in the Potter books who has any authority to decide what is or is not true, it’s Albus Dumbledore. But this power is not in opposition to Rowlings, to The Author’s Authorthority. It is Rowling’s Authorthority. Dumbledore’s manipulations, omissions, and explanations are Rowling’s – to us, the readers, who spend almost all of all the books seeing everything from the perspective of Harry, who is the main subject of Dumbledore’s manipulations, omissions, and explanations. Clearly, then, Rowling thinks – albeit unconsciously, I’m sure – of Dumbledore as being her spokesman, her mouthpiece… as her method of controlling the flow of ‘facts’ about the world she’s created… and more, as the authority figure who settles things one way or the other. He is her Authorthority, personified. Consequently, he is also her way of informing the reader about what’s right or wrong in morality and politics. In fact, he does this constantly.
All the more reason for Rowling to be perturbed by the fact that people often say Corbyn reminds them of Dumbledore. (God, I’m being really mansplainey today. But at the end of the day, I think the fact that she’s a billionaire capitalist is far more pertinent than the fact she’s a woman.)
Of course, Corbyn is not actually remotely like Book!Dumbledore, or even particularly like Film!Dumbledore. Nevertheless, he reminds many people of the Dumbledore that lives in their heads.
Book!Dumbledore (and Film!Dumbledore, who is a softened version, but still basically the same character) isn’t a wise, clever, compassionate, fair-minded battler for truth and justice. Going by the text, he’s a capricious, foolish, selfish, reckless, cynical, manipulative, calculating old autocrat who enjoys unearned privilege and, the odd gesture aside, never does anything about injustices he knows to be wrong. He allows children under his care to be abused in various ways – from the psychological abuse of ‘sorting’, to punishments which put them in direct physical danger.
As with several things, this sort of stuff isn’t a problem when we’re reading whimsical kids’ books. It becomes a problem when the books bloat – in several senses – and Rowling starts thinking she’s writing serious and dark political Fantasy set in the same silly world of the early books. It forces us to start asking questions about that world that were simply inappropriate if we’re just reading jokey kids material.
Dumbledore unabashedly plays favourites, allowing Harry to get away with outrageous infractions because he adores him, presumably because he believes Harry to be inherently superior to all the other kids. He says as much, even at one point claiming that Harry’s blood is worth more than his. (Again, I’ll pass over this here, but we’ll be coming back to this another time.) Meanwhile, he has relentlessly lied to Harry, kept things from him, and cynically raised him to be slaughtered at the appropriate time, manipulating and grooming Harry to the point where he is psychologically primed to sacrifice himself.
(Rowling is, of course, manifestly unaware of the fact that she actually wrote Dumbledore as a total bastard, much as she is unaware that she wrote Harry as a selfish little shit. As it happens, I agree with her on one thing: I really don’t think there’s much similarity between Dumbledore and Corbyn. Dumbledore and Theresa May, however…)
But for my purposes today, the most salient issue is that Dumbledore is wedded to the status quo, despite his occasional and two-faced criticisms of it. He never challenges the inherently undemocratic nature of Wizarding society. He has never actually done anything substantive about the abuses he fitfully acknowledges Wizards have committed against oppressed groups in their society. He happily stands by while his society wipes people’s minds – indeed, he does this himself at one point, to one of his own pupils, to protect himself from impeachment. Because him no longer being Headmaster of Hogwarts would change things, you see… and above all else, that must be stopped. That really is the quintessential moral imperative of Dumbledore, and of Harry, and of the books: things mustn’t change. (I know, I know, Hermione and SPEW… but that’s yet another of those cans of worms I’m going to open some other time.) That’s why Voldemort is evil: he wants to change things. That’s why Dumbledore is good: he wants to preserve things just as they are, injustices included. After all, we can remember to denounce the injustices occasionally, and maybe Hermione will get into the Ministry of Magic, and that’ll sort everything out. I’m told Rowling has dispatched yet more fact parcels about events after the books in which she says Harry and Hermione become great reformers. I’ll just remark that a) nothing like that is in the books, and in the books anyone who wants to change anything is always either evil or stupid, and b) they’re presumably still doing it from within the status quo… so the first thing to do, if you want to change anything, seems to be to accept the profoundly undemocratic Ministry as an inevitable fact of life. Hmm.
The Corbyn/Dumbledore comparison violates – at least potentially – Rowling’s Authorthority, her power of veto. As I say, what always seems to matter to Rowling is whether or not people are getting their ‘facts’ right about the Wizarding World. To her, there is one correct interpretation of the Potter stories, and she is the arbiter of it. For her readers, the reading consists of the act of slowly and passively waiting for J. K. Rowling to reveal this interpretation to you. And she does this by getting you to slowly and passively wait for her to reveal fact after fact after fact about the Wizarding World. Furthermore, if the facts she reveals clash with her official and licensed interpretation of events and characters, then she either studiously avoids noticing this, or – if pushed – is always ready with a retcon. What is important, at every stage, is that the readers are ‘on message’. She will occasionally ‘allow’ a creative reading where it appeals – Black Hermione for instance – but even that is telling. Fans take the idea to her and she sanctions it. This process is important to both.
This same approach is extended to the real world, hence her habit of using metaphors and analogies drawn from her own books to illustrate points about current politics. This isn’t just a habit she’s recursively picked up from her readers, through being in near-constant contact with them via social media. It’s even more recursive than that, because they themselves picked up the impulse to do it from the books.
And this is because, as the books progress, Rowling becomes ever more obsessed with the idea that they are dark and serious treatises on racism and prejudice and authoritarian government, etc, and impassioned pleas for tolerance and equality, etc. As I say, we’ll examine such claims for the books a bit more carefully another time. Suffice to say, this idea doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. But that itself works, because the kind of political consciousness displayed in the books is quintessentially centrist and mainstream liberal… which means, in practice, that it is superficially progressive but actually based on a total unquestioning acceptance of the economic, gender, and racial hierarchies of the status quo, of Western capitalism and imperialism.
I’d even go so far as to suggest that her Authorthoritarian mind-set is a function of what seems to be a fundamental impulse to defer to power, to say that ‘what is’ – certainly in terms of the basic structure of society – is right, by definition.
Rowling has, to anticipate later posts, literally reified the status quo, described it as magical, and depicted it as a glorious fantasyworld that is unquestionably better than this one… and yet is almost indistinguishable from this one. (Remember what I said last time about the effable mirror, the cameo reflection.) She has literally turned an idealised ideological reflection of the world we currently live in into a heavenly version of itself, specifically designed for mass consumption as magical wish-fulfillment. A lot of the wish-fulfillment comes from the idea that we can expect that heavenly version to provide any socially liberal progress we desire. Paradoxically, we are always reminded that Rowling’s world is dark and scary… and yet the only ostensibly dark and scary things in it are either the people it has crushed and subjugated, or those who want to change it in some way. Once again, as I described way back in the Merlin essay, the thing to do if you want progress is not to try to change the world, that makes you bad or stupid, but rather to wait for a fundamentally good status quo to eventually provide.
And there you have it. really. Corbyn – for all his many real faults – is someone who wants to change the world in some way. He’s not a revolutionary… but, as I say, the point is that he looks like one to people like Rowling. He wants to do more than be the personification of a benevolent status quo, the way Tony Blair was (a million or so dead brown people aside). This is the heart of the problem that people Blair (who has been going around telling people to vote against his own party, but who routinely still gets fawned over by the supposedly left-leaning media), and the Guardian and the Indy and the NS, and the Labour Right and most of the Labour PLP, have with Corbyn. And it’s the heart of the problem Rowling has with him.
Let me remind you once again: the woman who is regarded as being ‘on the Left’ and ‘progressive’ etc, and as a powerful moral voice, and even by some as an arbiter of moral truth, is a billionaire Hollywood mogul capitalist. Does that make her an inherently terrible person? No, that’s not what I’m saying. But it does mean that she has a totally different perspective on the world to almost all of the rest of the human species, a perspective based on totally opposed and conflicting interests.
Rowling has spoken out to defend the welfare state… and this is an instructive thing to look at. In so doing, she has often used her own story. But her story is a fluke series of events in which a single mother on benefits won the publishing contract lottery, published some above-average kids books, and then some below-average fantasy books notionally in the same series, sold the rights to Warner Bros., and happened to become a billionaire as a result. She is not typical. She is not a meaningful illustration of why we need social benefits and the welfare state. It’s almost as if she thinks the point of welfare is to help people to eventually become massively financially successful, rather than to help them… y’know… survive and retain some degree of dignity. The end-result of providing people with the welfare state and benefits seems to be, ideally, that they will go on to become productive members of capitalist society, either as billionaire entrepreneurs or, at least, as happy wage earners and taxpayers. It is, as is often the case, unfair to single Rowling out. These are hardly unusual assumptions on the liberal-left reformist side of things. However, as is also often the case, she’s an instructive illustration simply because she’s so vast and dense a cultural event. And the illustration reveals her fundamental reliance on the ideology of the capitalist status quo. Here, for instance, it is the myth of meritocracy. Ironic, given that in her books she recycles a version of the Calvinist ‘Doctrine of the Elect’. But then, as Weber pointed out, there are points of convergence between Calvinist doctrine and the ideology of capitalism (though he got the sequence wrong if you ask me). In the Doctrine of the Elect, some people are just saved – and that’s just the way it is. In the doggerel version, this becomes a way of saying that some people are rich because they’re just… well… better.
I suspect Rowling’s fundamental problem with Corbyn is that she perceives him as weak, as a failure. And there is literally nothing she hates more than weakness and failure. Seriously, read those fucking books. They detest weakness and weak people. There is nothing in those books but contempt for anyone who is weak, who fails. This is why Gryffindor is clearly the only really good house to be sorted into: it’s the house of the strong. Slytherin prizes success at any cost, so you’d think that, by my take on her, she’d like them too… but remember: they lose all the time. The definition of the contemptible.
Rowling’s primary howl against Corbyn has always been the main mantra of the supposedly-left anti-Corbyn media: that he’s “unelectable”. This has, as I say, become a classic self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, Corbynism was always a gamble on a long game. I knew that when I signed up to it, just as I knew there’d be sell-outs and compromises along the way. Corbyn is a genuine socialist but he’s a reformist, working within the parliamentary system and not actively trying to overthrow capitalism – so he and I have fundamental disagreements. But imagine what could’ve been achieved by now if even just the supposedly left-media had swung behind him. Not by slavishly praising him no matter what he did, but simply by giving the poor fucker a chance, by not systematically misrepresenting and undermining him. Imagine if the Right in the Labour Party hadn’t launched a farcical coup against him which fatally undermined his public image. Imagine if people like Rowling hadn’t, from the start, anathematised and belittled him, declared him simultaneously a clown and an authoritarian. But then, we couldn’t expect anything but what we got… precisely because people, including Rowling, act according to the perceptions of the world, which are shaped by their place in the world, by their class positions and allegiances. (That is, of course, precisely the sort of observation almost entirely missing from the Potter books. Yes, rich and posh people are snobbish in those books, and the middle classes act very middle class… but it’s because of inborn, innate qualities. Ironically, given the books’ ostensible opposition to prejudice based on bloodline, in the books people’s personalities are in their blood. But again, I’m going to come back to this.)
The irony is that Corbyn is almost certainly going to lose on 8th June, not because he’s weak – fucking hell, you only have to look at the sheer stubborn grit he showed when he refused to resign, something Rowling criticised him for! – but precisely because he is hated by people, like Rowling, who perceive him as weak. And they make sure to perceive him that way because they are filled with even more fear and loathing by the idea that he – and the latent socialist idea he represents – might actually be, or might one day become, strong.
But hey, what do I know? I’m just an angry troll, apparently.
Oh, we’re at the end. (The irony is that my Potter posts are getting longer and longer and longer.) So it’s time for me to kill of a beloved regular character, because I want my readers to understand that I have a profound understanding of the reality of death. Daniel, you’re up. I was going to kill off Jane (I picked her at random) but I’m not sure female main characters really matter enough to kill.
P.S. I wrote a bit about the whole ‘mugwump’ thing but I cut it for reasons of space (ha!) and also because it didn’t quite fit anywhere. My Patreon backers will get exclusive access to it. (Hint hint.)
April 28, 2017 @ 12:32 pm
It really says something that HPMOR has, in many ways, a superior politics to the source material. At least insofar as the “so long as Azkaban stands, there can be no justice in the Wizarding World” thing goes.
April 28, 2017 @ 2:04 pm
I find that a lot of the Harry Potter fan fics tend to have better politics than the books.
April 28, 2017 @ 2:08 pm
It’d be hard not to, really.
April 28, 2017 @ 2:20 pm
HPMOR is better on Azkaban, but I can’t agree that it has better politics on the whole – if anything, HPMOR doubles down on the original’s contempt for weakness and turns it into a shitty Nietzschean wish-fulfillment fantasy (not even the good parts of Nietzsche). And that’s without even going into the sexual assault stuff which is truly nightmarish.
May 2, 2017 @ 10:17 am
What sexual assault stuff would that be? It’s been a while since I read the story.
But yeah, the contempt for weakness is very jarring. I think it says a lot about HPMOR that the two characters who get sidelined the most and treated like useless imbecilles are Ron and Hagrid. Y’know, ’cause well-meaning good people are irrelevant if they’re stupider than you?
April 28, 2017 @ 2:41 pm
This is why Gryffindor is clearly the only really good house to be sorted into: it’s the house of the strong. Slytherin prizes success at any cost, so you’d think that, by my take on her, she’d like them too… but remember: they lose all the time. The definition of the contemptible.
I think she gives them a redemptive reading by the end given the whole “Albus Severus Potter” thing.
April 28, 2017 @ 3:16 pm
The problem with the whole “Snape was actually good” thing is that Snape was consistently awful all the time throughout all the books.
It might potentially be another example of the cultural Calvinism Jack mentions briefly in the article: Snape’s goodness doesn’t have to do with his actions (which mostly consist of being horrible to Harry all the time) but with the fact that he’s redeemed by his love of Lily and all the horribleness of his actions can’t counterbalance that.
April 28, 2017 @ 3:39 pm
There’s a bit where Dumbledore even muses that Snape might’ve been sorted into the wrong house because, at least by Dumbledore’s assessment, he’s not a total shit. Which, by the way, raises the inherent psychological abusiveness of ‘sorting’…
April 30, 2017 @ 3:41 pm
There are only four kinds of personality in the world – protagonist, ???, ?????? and a-very-specific-kind-of-upper-class-racist.
As a kid, I used to be cross with Dumbledore for allowing the racist children to go to Hogwarts at all, where they could spend their time bullying people like Hermione. Why even have Slytherin? The whole of Hogwarts is set up such that the racist aristocrat contingent is a tolerated and necessary part of life.
April 28, 2017 @ 7:19 pm
A redemptive reading saying Snape was good enough to be a Gryffindor, and that’s why Albus Severus shouldn’t feel bad if he ends up in Slytherin. The only way to be good in the schema of those books is to be “brave”.
Naming his kid after Snape doesn’t even prove that Harry’s less of a self-centred little shit, given his characterisation in the play.
April 29, 2017 @ 8:06 am
“A redemptive reading saying Snape was good enough to be a Gryffindor, and that’s why Albus Severus shouldn’t feel bad if he ends up in Slytherin.”
And it’s tempered even further by the implication that the awful Sorting system hasn’t been abolished, and Harry’s (and by implication society’s) response to that is a very polite and kindly “Suck it up.”
April 28, 2017 @ 5:43 pm
“The end-result of providing people with the welfare state and benefits seems to be, ideally, that they will go on to become productive members of capitalist society, either as billionaire entrepreneurs or, at least, as happy wage earners and taxpayers. ”
I don’t get if this is something you directly say (i.e. agree with) or something that you claim Rowling seems to express in her works.
April 28, 2017 @ 6:40 pm
Sorry for the lack of clarity. It’s my description of what I imagine she thinks. I’m not saying she expresses that exact sentiment in her works, rather that it seems to be implied by some of the ways she’s defended the welfare state.
April 29, 2017 @ 4:53 am
Rowling behaves as though she were a longtime fan of Harry Potter. As if she came from a future or a universe where the books existed, written by a better, more natural authoress, and was hurled into our universe or our time, and in order to make money she wrote the stories out from memory. As the years went by, she was able to remember less of the original great books from her world and the quality stagnated. But she’s always that hardcore fan – the one who best understands her obsession.
April 29, 2017 @ 8:07 am
That sounds like a synopsis for the only Harry Potter fanfic I’d consider reading all the way to the end.
May 3, 2017 @ 8:05 am
April 29, 2017 @ 12:31 pm
So the reaction to a systemic flaw of the educational set up like Voldamort is to keep the house system at Hogwarts. How in any shape or form can the winners be construed as the ‘good guys’?
Keeping all the children with sociopathic tendencies grouped together is not the best idea, but then again a change would relate to the use of intelligence and a stand against entrenched power, as opposed to providing opportunities for conventional bravery further down the line may be wouldn’t fit with J.K. Rowling’s sensibilities.
(As an aside hope that The Last Jedi does actually stick to it’s apparent guns from the trailer and have Luke refusing to continue the slavery apologist Jedi Order as obviously not fit for purpose).
April 29, 2017 @ 3:30 pm
I think you hit on something probably quite fundamental to the series when you described the “contempt of weakness” in Rowling’s writing. Viewed in the light of her joblessness and family situation, it’s hard to escape the idea that the Potter books were written in large part as an escapist power fantasy.
When I was a kid, the absolute oddest thing about Harry to me was that he turned out to be rich – and in fact VERY rich – due to his inheritance. In the Dickensian narrative of the downtrodden but good-hearted lad, that’s the sort of development you place at the end of a story, not the beginning. At best in the middle, and that’s if you want to tell a tale of wealth as a corrupting influence. So why at the beginning? Power fantasy.
And Harry is weirdly unaffected by the fact that he is wealthy! In the films, his parents are always depicted as faintly scruffy middle-class people even though the implication is their wealth is comparable to the Malfoys’. The Malfoys, of course, always dress in elegant, pseudo-aristocratic clothing – in the films, dressing in “Muggle” style is a signifier of lower class, but the Potters are allowed it. The surname “Potter” even carries working-class connotations, though it belongs to one of the last ancient wizarding bloodlines. Why? Power fantasy – it’s just that she wants to give Harry the illusion of being someone who already deserved the wealth before he got it. A prince disguised as a pauper.
Harry’s reaction to discovering his wealth is totally glossed over, considering he’s spent his whole life living in a cupboard on hand-me-downs. It never “goes to his head”. He remains level-headed and unemotional about it throughout. He’s just faintly embarrassed whenever Ron expresses dissatisfaction with his own family’s poverty. (Not enough to help, though.)
I guess my break-up point with the franchise came because of Ron. He was a version of Harry who was less smart, less emotionally secure, less desirable, and with no cool “toys” of his own. I’d always admired Ron because he seemed to be at least as brave and “heroic” a figure as Harry in spite of those things. Now I realize he was just a device for Rowling to make Harry look “better” in comparison.
(And of course almost every one of those “flaws” is traceable to Ron’s family not having the same wealth and prestige as Harry’s.)
April 29, 2017 @ 4:45 pm
See also this comment elseweb: https://pointstick.wordpress.com/2014/12/31/pottermore-twelve-days-of-christmashalf-blood-prince/#comment-719 Rowling couldn’t even bring herself to give Harry a viable playground rival.
April 29, 2017 @ 6:31 pm
On the “black Hermione” issue, pretty definitive evidence that Rowling originally imagined her as white can be found in Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch. 21, which has the line “Hermione’s white face was sticking out from behind a tree.” (the ‘white face’ here was probably to emphasize that she had paled with fear, but even though a dark-skinned person can pale to some degree I don’t think Rowling would describe them this way) More bits of evidence here.
On politics, from what I have read I get the sense that Rowling does generally support social-democratic type policies rather than being some kind of neoliberal (she’s a big booster of the NHS and socialized medicine in general, see here where she wrote in support of striking doctors, and here where she criticized the Scottish Medicines Consortium for denying Scottish patients access to a drug for MS because of its cost). But she subscribes to the pragmatic notion that we shouldn’t support anyone who might hurt the Labour party in the polls (see her tweets here, here and here), because she thinks even a not-so-great Labour politician like Blair (who she’s criticized over the Iraq war) is better than the Tories. See for example this tweet where she said “I agree with every word of this” to an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn here which among other things said “You are the protective seal around neo liberalism”, i.e. criticizing Corbyn for being ineffective at actually opposing neoliberalism successfully.
December 1, 2018 @ 1:44 am
Rowling having enough money to buy the folks with MS that drug several thousand times over. Yet somehow bringing herself not to…?
Jack, you need to get those further points developed. Please ?
April 29, 2017 @ 9:03 pm
I enjoy the book series in general – and once we got past the slightly twee styling chosen by Chris Columbus for the first two movies, I generally like the films as well. However, I have no idea how JKR thought her writing of (for example) the house elves was acceptable.
It also strikes me how harsh a place the wizarding world is for anyone who isn’t born rich or at least middle class. There seems to be no welfare system, no proper protection for abused families (see Eileen Prince) and no place for orphans to go if they don’t find someone to take them. I also don’t like the idea of constantly bumping into people who bullied me at school years later – it seems a very claustrophobic world to live in. Basically, if you’re a rich-kid James Potter or a Malfoy you’re fine – otherwise… Well, let’s just say the world does not belong to you.
Roderick T. Long
April 30, 2017 @ 5:04 am
“She makes a big deal of paying her taxes… which is a baseline minimum requirement really, but which our world makes seem like something special.”
I fail to see the virtue in transferring piles of money to a murderous criminal organisation like the nation-state. Paying taxes is forgivable as prudence, but whenever one can avoid paying taxes with minimal risk to oneself, one has a moral obligation not to pay them. The small number of decent, helpful things the state does one could then fund directly oneself, without becoming complicit in thuggery, exploitation, and mass murder.
Roderick T. Long
April 30, 2017 @ 5:18 am
P.S. – Socialism (or what most people mean by socialism) and capitalism (or what most people mean by capitalism) are so essentially the same thing that I find it hard to get excited about political fights between them. Rhetoric aside, both socialism and capitalism are fundamentally about someone other than the workers controlling the means of production and controlling the fruits of their labour. Under socialism, the controllers are the political class (albeit in the name of “the people,” of course); under capitalism, the controllers are the capitalist class. Hell, often enough it’s largely the same folks.
April 30, 2017 @ 9:35 pm
Means of production can never be controlled by the workers. They are too busy working.
Roderick T. Long
May 1, 2017 @ 8:40 pm
Control is mainly a matter of other people not being allowed to interfere.
April 30, 2017 @ 8:54 pm
A society built on the principle of the less fortunate begging for the table scraps of the wealthy is already thuggish and exploitative. And in practice, usually criminal and murderous as well.
Roderick T. Long
May 1, 2017 @ 8:41 pm
Right? You say that like you think it’s a disagreement with me, but I don’t see how it is.
May 7, 2017 @ 1:56 pm
“The experience of reading the books, if one buys into this perspective, is the experience of being told things, having things explained to you, by an authority figure who has total mastery over all the facts. The adventure becomes the gathering of all the facts, the accumulation of ‘knowledge’, the consumption of information.”
I find this a frequent criticism of let’s say “traditional” nerds by “non-traditional” (i.e. literary type) nerds – namely, that the first type view too much a book/film series in a Watsonian way, i.e. as a universe you continuously find out more and more about. While I don’t deny that this criticism may be valid, I have two points to make: first, that I find it really frustrating that the alternate point of view is not nearly as well-expressed as the criticised one (which makes it really hard to switch positions – how could one advance solely by being told what not to do?) and secondly, that this is one of the main appeals of the HP books — that they are so immersive you may actually really deeply suspend your disbelief while reading them, so that you forget that you are reading a novel and truly believe for a split-second that you have in hands a first-hand account of some real experiences, albeit in a fictional universe.
June 8, 2019 @ 10:14 pm
I don’t know if you’ll read this, but what gives you the idea that the Ministry of Magic is undemocratic in nature? By all accounts Minister for Magic is an elected position (heaven knows the Fudge character seems very worried about his public image), and while some fans are under the impression that the Wizengamot is a House of Lords of some description, this is outright contradicted in the books (where Malfoy Snr. is barred from it), suggesting it more a kind of Senate.
Of course, it might be argued to be undemocratic because Elves, Goblins and so on do not have the right to vote. But that seems part of the “whole other can of worms” you said you wouldn’t address in this post, so I have difficulty believing that this is what your “Ministry is undemocratic” idea relies on.