Updated: Jun 24, 2020
This is a two-part essay about what we can and what we should do with J.K. Rowling, and a book series that has shaped our global culture.
So. J.K. Rowling.
J.K. Fucking Rowling
Apparently her ego is inflated to the level where, if the spotlight is turned away from supporting her brand, she must — at all costs — do something to put her at the centre of the stage. And then, with all the gleeful, shit-faced smugness of Piers Morgan, takes absolute delight in being an absolute hateful git while shrugging and then saying ‘I’m sorry if you don’t like it, but it’s just the truth.’
Conservative technique No. 1.
And then she goes on to make a list of all the ways Feminism is under attack. Thus, looping in transgender people with other absurd ‘threats’ such as incels and Donald Trump.
Conservative technique No. 2.
She then talks about how she was supporting trans people before anyone else in the whole world.
Conservative technique No. 3.
And that she has many ‘transsexual’ friends.
Conservative technique No. 4.
Then finishes off by referencing how “most” of the feedback she received was overwhelmingly positive. She, vaguely, received a great number of comments from social workers who worked in trans youth shelters. Though has made no mention of trans people who have given her any positive feedback whatsoever.
Conservative technique No. 5.
Now. There are several ways that this article can go. I could waste my breath (fingers) going through Rowling’s Gender Manifesto on Twitter, and then her subsequent open essay where she giddily described herself as an expert, in spite of being neither a doctor, psychologist, social worker, critic, sociologist, social scientist, or who someone has done any formal hands-on work with any queer organization. She’s there in her SCOTTISH FUCKING CASTLE… reading TERF Reddit threads. And because of this… she knows better than you.
How J.K. Rowling thinks of herself as she single-handedly saves feminism from the army of knuckle-walking transwomen out to sabotage women's rights. Trans women — the REAL masters of the patriarchy.
But everyone’s already doing this. It would hardly be anything worth telling.
Now. I am tempted to ignore the play-by-play of her epic swan-dive into her own echo chamber. I could, instead, focus on describing the ways in which her gender theory is not only wrong but… fucking wrong. To back me up, there are decades of work on trans-identity validity that has been done within and without the queer community. There is a plethora of psychological, anthropological, and sociological LIBRARIES of information which all point to the same idea — gender is weird; let people be happy; the rest will work itself out.
But everyone’s already doing this. It would hardly be anything worth telling.
Now. I could also highlight the number of inaccuracies Rowling is presenting regarding gender manifestation, the social/medical process of being recognized as trans, her inability to say the word ‘gender’, her total ignorance of FTM/Afab/Transmasc identities, and her perspiring fear that trans women are out to sabotage feminism. (Conservative technique No. 6.) All of which are stolen ALMOST VERBATIM from TERF essays and talking points.
I could also point out that Rowling seems to think that TERF is a slur. And that she doesn’t seem to understand that, while she defends TERFS as being ‘not transphobic’, it literally stands for Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists. I could also point out that Rowling doesn’t seem to understand that this was a term developed in the 90s by TERFS to describe themselves.
But… everyone’s already doing this. It would hardly be anything worth telling.
Now. I could also take a moment to mention that Rowling has, in the past seemed to demonstrate a very pro-trans outlook, by means of fans’ head-canon about trans students at Hogwarts, which Rowling supported.
Especially as a woman who credits the UK welfare system as being the sole reason for her being able to write Harry Potter in the first place, which eventually allowed her to buy a SCOTTISH FUCKING CASTLE as a home residence. She came out very strongly AGAINST the progressive party in the prior UK election — and supported moderate liberals instead. (Specifically because she was deathly afraid of them letting trans-women in the appropriately-labeled women’s bathrooms.) And how, in spite of demonizing Thatcher, moderate politicians, and making birth-right segregationists the primary antagonists of literally all of her stories — she seems to be embodying a LOT of those values.
Now. I could muse to myself: when and where did Rowling get so… indoctrinated?
Not a whole lot of people are doing this… but you know… I couldn’t really find my first ‘fuck’ for caring about the feelings of a radicalized bigot who thinks that their ability to watch internet videos makes them know more than people who have devoted their entire life to studying this subject. So I’m certainly not going to give her my second fuck.
Harry Potter is the chizzled jawline of Daniel Radcliffe. Not some salty rich wasp.
Consider that Rowling herself has had very minimal contact with our lives. It’s not her face that’s associated with Harry Potter — it’s Daniel Radcliffe’s. It is not Rowling herself that has impacted our lives — but her brainchild. It’s Harry Potter that has changed our culture — not her. There is a difference and it is quite significant.
So. J.K. Rowling.
J.K. Rowling is a TERF and probably a bigot. The worst kind of bigot — the one who assumes they are helping. Who assumes they are helping by confronting you with a ‘truth’ that is conveniently rooted in what is most convenient for the ruling classes.
J.K. Rowling is a bigot… but is Harry Potter?
Now. A lot of people are talking about this.
What do we do with Harry Potter? The books? Merchandise? Films? Do we dump what we have forever? Or is it okay to simply stop supporting the franchise?
Transphobic by fandom?
If we… if we read the books again does that… make us… also TERFS?
Literal studies in the UK have shown that reading the books past #3 meant you were EXTRAORDINARILY less-likely to vote for Brexit. And reading the books was also a good indication of being far more likely to support the rights of marginalized peoples and to support socialist policies. So clearly, there are some good values in these books.
However, has Rowling’s nosedive tainted Maggie Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson’s collective battle against fascist wizards? Is Rupert Grint suddenly selling anti-trans ice cream?
Bear in mind all of the smaller instances of subtle prejudice you might find in the books. The oft-mentioned goblin-Jewish banker. The only Irish student at Hogwarts who is constantly blowing things up. And, in spite of Rowling’s recent railing against internet incels — she was fine to make a hero out of Snape, who, for all intents and expressions, was an incel himself.
Severus Potter is a thing, after all.
In a retrospective light… is the story tainted?
She’s not just rich — she’s fucking rich. She’s the LITERAL ONLY AUTHOR who has ever made a billion dollars off of a book series. She is entirely self-made. Which… is quite impressive, granted, even if she hasn’t written anything groundbreaking since Deathly Hallows. Though unlike many Billionaires, she has lost her Billionaire status several times because she has donated so much money to charities.
Obviously, her financial success matters to her. And it should. This is something unprecedented — especially coming from literally living off of welfare. So, one would think that — as she literally blocks anyone on Twitter who tries to educate her about trans rights — the clearest way to send a message to Rowling would be to boycott.
Here’s the question that’s triggering out guillotine bloodlust: how do we send a message to J.K. Rowling?
The fact that it isn't this easy highlights a serious problem.
Here’s the problem with boycotting her: she’s rich. But she’s not just rich — she’s fucking rich.
You need to understand. When Sean Hannity apologizes for trying to incite violence against David Hogg, he apologizes because his sponsors undergo boycotts. Their profit is threatened by their association to Hannity and his comments. So they threaten to withdraw Hannity’s income, so he responds to protect his income. Hannity is rich.
But he’s not fucking rich.
At about $10,000,000 (USD) of raw cash, you can arrange for your money to make money off of its own interest. At about $100,000,000 (USD) there is almost nothing that your money cannot buy that would make you go broke. Congratulations — you have won capitalism. Anyone between these two amounts is just ‘rich.’
$1 Billion is winning capitalism ten times. You need more than ten lifetimes to spend all your money — assuming you are living as LAVISHLY AS POSSIBLE.
This is $1 Billion in gold bars. Bezos and Gates both own 100 of these. Every heist movie in history is a paltry sum next to what you can earn from being a dick.
That’s where Rowling is. Rowling has enough money that she does not need income from any licensing and branding. She has enough wealth, that her wealth can simply make more wealth. She has enough wealth that she can live comfortably without adding another red cent to her dragon’s heap. This is what it means to be fucking rich.
This is why she blocks literally everyone with a dissenting opinion. This is why she acts like she does not need to change or grow or evolve — because there is no consequence in the world that would threaten her income. (Except for tax-the-rich left-wing neo-socialist policies… which also might have something to do with her sudden support of the Centrist Labour party.) She does not need to fear or worry about anything.
Being a billionaire means that your ability to exist does not depend on any meaningful human interaction whatsoever.
What kind of ego must exist in having that kind of life? There is literally nothing you can’t afford. There is literally no one you need to impress. There is literally no one you need to cooperate with. There is literally no permission you would ever have to ask for.
With any significant kind of wealth, the only person who needs to be in your life for you to exist… is you.
How do you develop consequences for someone like that, if they refuse to follow social/human rules that apply to the rest of us who require human interaction for survival? It really should have tipped everyone off when she bought that SCOTTISH FUCKING CASTLE. How over-bloated and fragile does your ego need to be when you need a fortress to protect it?
Okay, okay... I know it's a bit more quaint than what you'd expect when someone says they live in a castle.
Keeping Up with the Columbuses
So we have two issues.
J.K. Rowling is invulnerable to almost literally everything, and is entirely unwilling to adopt any new ideas that challenge her pre-existing worldview in any way because her wealth has removed her from the human condition. She’s making this abundantly clear.
But “is it still okay to like Harry Potter?”
Short answer: Yes.
Long answer: Well…
Regarding instances of racism in Harry Potter — there are instances of racism in almost every piece of literature. Even those that promote diversity and cooperation.
There is not a single solitary area of our lives that has not been affected by European Colonialism. This isn’t an excuse for instance where it exists in fiction by any means, even when it is coincidental. But it does highlight that instances where you see it are only due to our limited scope of awareness as Human beings, and not explicit malice. Though maliciousness is also something you will come across.
Lord of the Rings often comes under scrutiny for heroes having light skin, but villains having dark skin. This is in spite of the coded messaging of different peoples working together to overcome a common evil — as it was with World War 2, where soldiers from across the British Empire came together in spite of cultural separations.
(Granted, it probably isn’t as rosy and friendly as history likes to portray it. Because colonialism.)
But Tolkien makes an allegory (don’t tell him I said that) of white and non-white people coming together by making white elves, white dwarves, and white humans come together. I mean — based on the book’s non-coded messaging of how people need to look past inherent prejudice and see the value of each-other, many are inclined to believe this is a matter of overlooking a detail rather than malicious intent.
Tolkien was hardly the first nor is he the last to visually separate heroes from villains like this.
Alternately, this also ties into the theme in Lord of the Rings where Light=Good and Shadows/Dark=Bad. A theme that stretches across literally every culture for all time.
Suffice, this example highlights that regardless of intent, racism and bad-taste symbols can find their way into literature. Writers, as existing with a colonial and post-colonial culture, write their own culture into a book. A complete examination of how this colonial culture impacts our everyday thinking is not only absurdly time-consuming, but also likely impossible. To do this would require an examination of how our examination itself is rooted in colonialism. Writers Are naturally going to write racism into their stories.
And, on a controversial note, this isn’t to say that authors of colour do not carry internalized racism into their stories either. They, too, live in the post-colonial world that was fostered by Europe. This is something that will take a great deal of time to overcome as generations will have to mull over what their predecessors wrote, and refine our ideas. Rooting out colonial intent will be a process of percolation — and that’s why it is important for authors of today (especially white ones) to be very aware of when latent cultural racism interacts with what they write.
However, I’m willing to stick up for Tolkien’s colonial manifestations in Lord of the Rings as symbolic oversight. The areas where racism worked its way into the story do not prevent me from extracting value from it. And there are other stories I feel the same way about.
Virginia Woolf, for instance, is a fantastic author who cares very deeply for many peoples and who advocates against the establishment culture of her time. But Woolf does occasionally slip into cultural attitudes and prejudices that exist in her society. But to what degree do we fault the author for existing in a given culture?
…I think that’s a matter of taste, sensibility, and an awareness of the extent to which we, ourselves, exist in a particular given time.
Not the first time I've blogged this image.
For, on the contrary, there is Heart of Darkness, the Chronicles of Narnia, and other books where I couldn’t even finish because it was abundantly clear that the authors were not even making a solid attempt to branch outside their narrow, habituated perspective of culture.
And then the big question that everyone is asking: Is Rowling in the former group? Or the latter?
To be continued...
Give me a follow on twitter and instagram. (@NTHerrgott) I'll post more stuff soon I promise! I've got a whole bunch of pictures saved up from quarantine.
And if you're the podcast type, I've started up another podcast. (Been several years in the making while we invested in some equipment. It's only a coincidence that it's starting up when everyone else is.) Check it out here: a Thousand Tiny Tantrums.
Trans rights are human rights, black lives matter, and while we're talking about racist colonial elements of our culture that we're carrying with us for some reason, let's dismantle the police.