This isn’t a new conversation, but Return to Hogwarts and responses from fans past and present on social media invite us to revisit the question: Is it possible to separate the art from the artist?
The answer, of course, is complicated and nuanced. Except for the moments when it’s pretty straightforward. The idea that we can separate the art from the artist hinges on a form of privilege and a misunderstanding of how creators can put themselves and their beliefs into their work. French philosopher Roland Barthes’ essay “Death of the Author” is used as a way to explain that it’s “just art” and can be consumed without any input from the creator, making the creator someone whose shouting doesn’t impact the narrative or your understanding of it. Unfortunately, when it comes to bigotry, that’s not necessarily an approach that works.
In grad school, there were a lot of books I read for my degree that were by people I would disagree with deeply or who were open and avowed bigots. The Marquis de Sade, who featured heavily in my class on transgressive literature, was a sex pest and pervert (negative). Philosopher Heidegger, who we had to learn about in literary theory because he… is apparently influential to it and influenced so many others – he did the whole “notion of ‘being'” stuff, was a whole ass Nazi. Lovecraft was a racist weenie weirdo. Some of the comic writers I did my thesis work on… were really shitty.
Rowling is a TERF. She’s claimed that title. She acts like one. She breaks bread with many.
Awful people often make things that are so important to us as readers and fans. Harry Potter is one of the most important thing in many people’s lives. It got them through hell.
How do you break free from that? How do you leave that fandom behind you or try to make it better? What do we even owe each other as fans?
I try to answer those questions in the first Fan Service installment of 2022… It was TOUGH
Note: I absolutely wrote the wrong title down initally because I am a space case. Deal with it.
I went and saw Fantastic Beasts this past week.
Considering that my video review is almost an hour long, obviously it inspired a whole host of grouchy thoughts on my end. Mainly that the film’s beautiful cinematography and the way that the magical creatures first brought to our attention in Rowling’s 2001 magizoological textbook are brought to life on the big screen don’t make up for barely unbroken whiteness, Rowling’s misuse of Native cultures in and out of the film, and what reads to me as a really shitty narrative about abuse survivors.
I fell out of love with the Harry Potter series pretty early on. I liked the idea of the franchise and owned all of the books at one time or another, but with every new tidbit that Rowling revealed about her characters and the world that they lived in, I found myself increasingly disenchanted. This is all thanks to Rowling’s constant need to express regret for everything except how lacking her works were in diversity and her new material which contains things like confirming/canonizing her “lycanthropy as a stand-in for AIDS/HIV” stance or the way she views Native cultures as a monolith while misrepresenting and misusing Native peoples and cultures.
I watched Fantastic Beasts specifically because I wanted to check the film out and provide an honest opinion of it. I did go into it expecting to hate two specific things (the lack of diversity and Johnny Depp) but I was surprised at all the other things that made me annoyed or uncomfortable throughout watching it.
Note: If you’re unfamiliar with the critical slant I tend to take when watching films, understand that this isn’t going to be a review where I say super goopy things about the film. I think I say one and a half nice things about it and they’re not very nice at that. So be prepared for a rather caustic look at the thing you probably love!
Notes, clarification, warnings, and links to thing you might want to read are under the cut!
Content warnings: this installment of Urban Fantasy 101 contains very brief mentions historical acts of oppression (largely in vague terms), sexual assault and pedophilia in Laurel K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series, as well as more indepth references to anti-Black and anti-Native racism in the same series.
There’s nothing wrong with a good allegory.
Unfortunately, there’s this thing that happens where writers use an allegory that mimics or calls back to real world oppression that constantly rubs me the wrong way
Keep in mind that I actually don’t mind the use of allegories in fiction. In fact, I think they can be useful. Some of my favorite works of speculative fiction focus on supernatural figures dealing with oppression due to what they are, after all.
However, many writers who use allegories then kind of overuse them at the expense of portraying nuanced representations of actual or “real world” oppression.
Whatever your reasoning, chances are that if you’re a paranormal romance, urban (or general) fantasy, or science fiction author, you’ve used an allegory that mimics or calls back to an instance of real world oppression.
However, there’s definitely a lot to be said about the very many authors who think that that supernatural form of race-based oppression is the only thing they have to do. They don’t think deeper.Read More »
Part passive aggressive stress valve, part honest attempt at expressing my continuous frustration with JKR, this first post for Letters to the Author is me at my grouchiest. Future posts will be more moderate. Maybe.
I can’t remember exactly how old I was the first time I read a Harry Potter book I was either nine or ten years old. It was before I moved to Florida and before I knew that there was a certain kind of magic that really only existed in books like yours.
As a small child, I didn’t notice how poor your portrayals of people of color were or how lacking all forms of representation were. You got so much praise for the women you wrote, but aside from my own headcanons about Hermione’s implicit blackness, only a handful of your women were like me.Read More »
My big issue with all of this “after the fact diversity” that we’re seeing around JR Rowling and the Harry Potter series is that she’s getting so much credit for doing basically nothing with regard to representation.Read More »
For a body of media that seems fixated on different avenues of oppression, the Harry Potter series is seriously lacking when it comes to actual diversity and oppression that doesn’t revolve around magical beings. Seriously, just about everything’s a metaphor for some form of oppression or some facet of a marginalized identity.
If you’re looking for allegories about human rights and racism shown through a lens of magical humans and magical species, cool. That’s what you’re getting.
If you’re actually looking for nuanced interpretations of how race, power, and privilege intersect and affect each other in a world of magic, maybe look somewhere else.