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Jack Graham

Jack Graham wrote about Doctor Who and Marxism, often at the same time. These days he co-hosts the I Don't Speak German podcast with Daniel Harper.Support Jack on Patreon.

30 Comments

  1. Daniel Harper
    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.

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    • Sean Dillon
      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.

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      • Jack Graham
        April 28, 2017 @ 2:08 pm

        It’d be hard not to, really.

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    • homunculette
      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.

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      • Przemek
        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?

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  2. Sean Dillon
    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.

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    • Homunculette
      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.

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      • Jack Graham
        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’…

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        • Holl
          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.

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    • liminal fruitbat
      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.

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      • Kaan Vural
        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.”

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  3. Andrei
    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.

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    • Jack Graham
      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.

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  4. James Murphy
    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.

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  5. Tim B.
    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).

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  6. Kaan Vural
    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.)

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  7. Jesse M.
    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.

    Reply

    • Davie
      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 ?

      Reply

  8. BeatnikLady
    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.

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  9. 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.

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    • 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.

      Reply

      • ViolentBeetle
        April 30, 2017 @ 9:35 pm

        Means of production can never be controlled by the workers. They are too busy working.

        Reply

        • Roderick T. Long
          May 1, 2017 @ 8:40 pm

          Control is mainly a matter of other people not being allowed to interfere.

          Reply

  10. Kaan Vural
    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.

    Reply

    • 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.

      Reply

  11. Andrei
    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.

    Reply

  12. Vadron
    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.

    Reply

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