Thursday, July 08, 2004

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Abu Ghraib 

This is so funny, I have to quote it almost in full:

"Boy wizard Harry Potter has cast his spell over a new, but unusual, group of fans - for the past few weeks the cream of French academe has been coming to metaphysical blows over the true nature of the Potter stories.

"The opinion pages of the French broadsheet Le Monde have hosted a spirited discussion on the underlying political messages of JK Rowling's hugely successful series of children's novels.

"In short, is the adolescent wizard a running dog of neo-liberal capitalism or the Naomi Klein of wizardry, implacably anti-globalist and firmly on the side of the weak and oppressed?"
After the French finish with the poor Potter he will get totally deconstructed and will undergo a Foucaultian analysis of punishment and sexual perversion at Hogwarts.

"The debate was kicked off by Ilias Yocaris, who teaches at the Institut Universitaire de Formation de Matres in Nice, a teachers' training college. He maintains the Potter oeuvre is full of neo-liberal stereotypes.

"Potter's private school, Hogwarts, is represented as struggling against rules imposed by an interfering state system represented by the Ministry of Magic, while Harry and his friends are forced to defy the ministry to survive.

"His arch-enemy has a French name - Voldemort (Flight of Death), which has not endeared him to the Gallic sensibility any more than his personal philosophy, which appears to have come from Friedrich Nietzsche: 'There is no good and evil, just power and those too weak to seek it'."
One could add that Malfoy also's got the French ring to it. And Nietzsche or not, the philosophy seems to accurately describe the contemporary French foreign policy.

"The world of Harry Potter, [Yocaris] says, 'glorifies individualism, excessive competition and a cult of violence'."
And of course that scar on his forehead resembles one half of the runic SS symbol. But what if Harry is deep down really a leftie? After all, isn't magic just like socialism, where you expect to get something out of nothing without doing any work?

"[Yocaris' argument] provoked the considerable ire of Isabelle Smadja, a professor of philosophy whose 2002 book, Harry Potter and the Forces of Evil, identifies the teenage wizard as a lone fighter against the rise of new Nazism.

"Smadja defended the Potter series as 'a ferocious critique of consumer society and the world of free enterprise' and cast Harry as 'the first hero of the anti-global Seattle generation'."
Which is pretty curious, considering that the Potter series are one of the most parochial in recent memory - it's not until the book four that we even learn that there is a magic world beyond Great Britain, and it consists mostly of France and Bulgaria. There's just nothing for Harry to protest about.

Just as trying to discern politics in the Bible (was Jesus a capitalist or a proto-socialist?), politicising Potter is fun, but largely meaningless; neither book is really about politics. Yes, J K Rowling is a soft Brit leftie - bourgeois suburbs are bad, so is aristocracy; wizardry is meritocratic, Hogwarts multicultural; underdog is good ("half-blood" wizards, persecuted werewolves), top-dog rarely so (the posh, Aryan-looking, Malfoy dynasty) - but by the same token the conservatives can find a lot to cheer about too: the uncompromising struggle of good against evil, even when it's not easy or popular; the value of friendship, courage, and honour; the uselessness of bureaucracy.

But in the end, however hard French academics might try, the young 'uns of today will not form opinion on the war in Iraq, immigration, free market or globalisation after reading about the Philosopher's Stone or the Chamber of Secrets. And that's actually very good.


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