I recently read a tedious, tendentious essay about Harry Potter. The author is a writer for a liberal leaning web magazine and was new to the whole Harry Potter phenomenon. She gushed about how the movie clearly portrayed liberal values and so forth.
To be fair, I read a similar blog post by a conservative writer outlining the conservative world view that exists in J.K. Rowling's books.
To be honest, both of these essays left me feeling a little queasy. They both overlooked clear pieces of data that argued against their points and pushed on, impressing Harry and Rowling to serve their cause like the British Navy dragging some poor guy in a waterfront tavern to the H.M.S. Bounty.
My friends and family know I have strong political views and there is a time and place to discuss those.
But does everything have to be political these days? I mean, Harry Potter, really?
Can we not just enjoy a good story about a brave kid with a scar without having to search for deeper political messages? Are we so bereft of arguments for our politics that we have to draft underage wizards (yes, they are underage by Muggle standards. Harry is only 17).
This distresses me for several reasons. First of all, as I have written before, I worry about the growing, deepening divisions in our country. There is precious little we have in common anymore. So when something comes along that we can all enjoy (or many of us at least) it would be nice not to find ways to disagree about it.
Second, good and great art speaks to our souls. It tells us about being human and it generally draws on universal themes. Harry Potter is about courage, loyalty, friendship, good and evil. These are big ideas, transcendent themes. To drag politics in cheapens it.
Politics is a necessary fact of life in a republic or democracy. It is to freedom what excrement is to life: a fundamental and necessary, if unpleasant, process everyone goes through. But in polite society, we don't focus on it beyond occasional jokes that we all acknowledge are juvenile and in bad taste.
Third, and most importantly, Harry Potter features an evil wizard who tortures and kills people. He wants to rule the world. Republicans or Democrats may really annoy you but come on! They are nowhere near Voldemort's level of evil. And if you think they are, then you are smug, delusional, and a big part of this country's problems. You need long self-reflection, less media, and possibly some counseling. You need to calm down and think clearly and logically. You also need to make some friends with people on the other side of the aisle. You might also read my blog posts on civility here, here, and here.
One of the things that bugs me most about these kind of comparisons is that it's a sort of narcissistic values inflation. The writer elevates his or her policy beliefs to being analogous to great heroes while simultaneously casting those who disagree as villains. That is an off-putting kind of arrogance and self-righteousness.
More than anything though, I think we are focusing far too much of our time on politics. We should vote and write our Congressional representatives. We should be informed and express our opinions. But if we let politics consume and inform everything then it's getting to be unhealthy and we risk becoming myopic. There's so much wonderful and good stuff in the world! If we focus exclusively on politics we are cheating ourselves. Not to mention contributing the polarization and extremism that are raging.
Finally, there have been times and places when all art had political overtones. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and North Korea, for example. Art was (is) subverted to be elegant propaganda for a political message. And it wasn't pretty. It's not something I think we want to emulate. Let's not voluntarily go to this kind of system.
Harry Potter was something enjoyed by adults and children, liberals and conservatives, readers and non-readers. Let's celebrate that and just leave the politics at the bookstore's edge.
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