The formula for the success of the Harry Potter books is pretty simple: take the standard British boarding school story, then add in a Manichean struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. This Tom Brown’s School Days-in-Middle Earth approach to world-building has made J. K. Rowling a fortune. To go from living in poverty to becoming as rich as Croesus, Crassus and Carnegie via children’s books is not to be sneered at. It is not, however, a handbook for how to live your life.
Who is this guy? Why must he parse political issues through a fantasy world? Is he just three children stacked on top of each other and wrapped in a trench coat, pretending to be interested in adult things, but actually wanting to talk about house elves?
Partly this annoys me because it touches on an important point: the left needs to form defensive groups which organise to protect marginalised groups that will be targeted by the new Deporter-in-Chief. Yet as opposed to talking about this openly and honestly, it wraps it in a cutesy covering, completely neutering what should be a radical point. If you want to look at what you could do during a Donald Trump presidency take notes from the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, or the Young Lords. But talking about resistance against a racist, fascist government sounds a bit too radical, so we infantilise it and swap out Fred Hampton for Fred Weasley.
But, mainly, it’s the shocking privilege of the whole thing that makes me nauseous. I can’t imagine Mexican migrants, or women tearfully washing spit out of a hijab, ever thinking about how a nation they call their home turning against them is like a book for children. It utterly belittles the coming victims – of what happens when racism, transphobia, sexism and all other forms of brutish bigotry become the fundamental ethos of the most powerful nation state – to turn their fear and suffering into a mawkish reference to a book about teenage wizards. What are these people gonna do next, turn up at a demo against police brutality with a Muggle Lives Matter sign?
This state of delusion isn’t even confined to Twitter manchildren. Vox – who else? – published a piece by a Parks and Recreation writer pertaining to be from the show’s hero, Leslie Knope. Using a rather patronising analogy, whereby voters are children, Mrs Knope sought to assuage American citizens’ fears about what was happening in their country. Despite the article dripping with the very contempt for the electorate that just saw the Democrats lose the presidency it proved popular with a certain section of the left. (A quick Twitter search for ‘Leslie Knope’ suggests that certain section is ‘white people’.) Like the show itself the ‘letter’ relied on Pollyanna politics where the bad guys have their moments, but decency will inevitably win out in the end. This is staggeringly naive.
It’s obvious and understandable why escapist fantasies aimed at children – Harry Potter, Doctor Who, The West Wing – are all popular with liberals right now: the liberal world is dying around them and the forces of reaction are ascendant, if not ascended. It’s natural to want to pull away from this world and find solace in one where evil exists, but so does Dumbledore, the Doctor and President Bartlett, and good wins out in the end. I don’t condemn anyone for a normal reaction to a horrible time. I just worry that people are becoming so engrossed in the fantastical that they are completely incapable of analysing or responding to the world that actually surrounds them. Or, to put it in terms they might better understand: “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”
And, with that, I reveal myself to be the biggest dork of all.
Photo: Christopher Thomas Photography, by kind permission.