Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Silliest Distraction and the Enduring Power of Harry Potter

Lots of crossfire on the internet about whether it is right or not to invoke the fiction of Harry Potter as we grapple with the reality of Trump as President-Elect of the United States. People are saying that the reality is so serious that we should not rely on children's stories to inspire us or to provide insights into the present day.

Readings of the Semi-Spew know my answer to that is to reject that argument.  Why?

First, do not diminish the coping mechanisms that people rely on.  The immediate future is so dark that if fiction provides comfort, fine.  If some booze provides comfort, drink.  If chocolate chip cookies or cinnamon buns provide comfort, then eat.  We are now living in a very difficult situation, so let's not fight about coping mechanisms.

Second, fiction of all kinds has been useful to inspire people who seek to resist racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and all forms of creeping and not so creeping authoritarianism.  Stories about successful resistance, fictional or real, can help people as they grapple with the harsh realities.

Third, Harry Potter, in particular, is a widely shared piece of pop culture. In an age of "too much TV" and with fragmentation of popular culture, there are very few pieces of fiction that resonate widely.  Harry Potter is enormously popular both as books and as movies, with an entire generation (dare I call them millennials) exposed to the characters and themes.  What themes?  How about resisting intolerance?  How about fighting against repressive governments?  How about working with others to support those who are alienated and excluded? The reason why people are referring to Harry Potter right now is that the stories resonate.  Trump is not Voldemort, but they and their movements share many traits--the demonizing of others whether they are Muslims or Mudbloods, the need to conform with the majority, the use of disinformation, efforts to divide those who resist, and on and on.  Oh, and the fact that those who have read the HP books are more tolerant might be more than just a bit significant.

One can go into greater depth and specificity about how various elements of the HP world help folks make sense of contemporary politics in the US (and UK!).  My point here is that it is wrong to dismiss Harry Potter and other pieces of pop culture that might actually do some good.  If folks don't want to use HP, they can rely on Star Wars, which is also about rebelling against racist autocracts.  "Save the rebellion, save the dream" is not a bad call to battle.  And for the Trump fans who read me, when I say battle, I mean political, non-violent resistance.

Anyhow, much work to do, so fighting over this stuff is, indeed, distraction sauce.

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