Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Part 2 of 2. In part one, I set up some context about writers and bigotry/racism. I also rambled on about colonialism for a while — I will beat that dead horse, don't give me a minute.
What I wanted to raise though, was why and how Rowling's transphobia sets a VERY problematic precedence for everyone even tangentially involved. Which... given how much Harry Potter has seeped into our society — is almost everyone.
A Time and a Place for Everything... but Bigotry
I do realize, before we go on, that I seem to have started this easy a few different times in a few different ways in Part 1. It wasn't absolutely necessary to read the first one, but It provides important context.
This is a big topic. Absurdly big, as far as novel franchises go. There are literally university courses that teach Harry Potter like mythology. People have taken literal classes about this. People have grown up with this, and have devoted an incredible amount of energy to analyzing it. It's okay to say that Rowling's blow up might be a little bit traumatic — especially if you, yourself, are transgender, and had also devoted a great deal of time to this series.
So I’d like to clarify that Rowling has certainly picked the most opportunistic time in the world to drop a transphobia bomb like this. This is a huge topic, not only because trans lives matter and black lives matter and everyone who says that all lives matter is a c-c-combo breaker idiot who is simultaneously stating the obvious and using that as a convenient cop-out to avoid actually dealing with systemic prejudices by presenting a very good case for SEEMING to care about something while having no real commitment to fixing the root problems.
I mean. Her timing is so impeccable that it’s almost like she deliberately took advantage of a period of unrest and heightened emotions to facilitate her white-dominance by means of self-victimization virtue-signalling through the process of pitting marginalized peoples against each-other and thus establishing a hierarchy of minorities where a white woman can have cultural permission to simultaneously claim solidarity with this marginalization struggle as well as acting as a dominant power.
And, of course, it should go without saying that she is not involving herself with a struggle movement in any meaningful way beyond writing articles.
I'm trying to get better, folks, I promise so hard!
But this is also a big topic because Harry Potter has integrated itself into our lives. It has reached a level of cultural zeitgeist that it’s taken Shakespeare 400 years to get to. And younger generations might not quite understand just how much of our culture comes from Harry Potter and culture that developed as Harry Potter was being released.
For instance, the phrase ‘spoilers’ is heavily rooted in Harry Potter — where ‘Snape kills Dumbledore’ was the first time ‘spoilers’ was really used in earnest.
So — to say that Harry Potter is tainted, and that it must be done away with is a very serious statement. I’m doing my best to tackle the issues from as many angles as possible and then get to the gooey core of it all at the end.
We’re getting to the point… and it might not be what you think.
Back on track…
Are Rowling’s Goblins racist allegories? Yes, as an interpretation. And probably yes, given the absolute BONKERS LACK OF OVERSIGHT INTO MAKING THEM LOOK LIKE NAZI PROPAGANDA IN THE LIVE-ACTION MOVIES.
Who wore it better?
Did Rowling intend for this? I mean, she may not have had any creative control over early character design. But is this malice? Or ignorance that is indistinguishable from malice? Well… because of the aforementioned reasons above — we can’t be certain. Though I can tell you, as a PoorPerson™, my experience with bankers is certainly not a positive one. And given the chance, I would write them to be as disgusting as possible. I wouldn’t be doing this out of any explicit anti-semitism — in fact it never crossed my mind for the longest time.
(Side-note. For some reason I never imagined Jewish people as gravitating towards any singular vocation or profession… For instance, years ago I was dating an Asian guy and he made me guess what he was studying because apparently it was ‘obvious.’ I didn’t even consider ‘accounting’ — he had to tell me. Before you give me #woke credit, I believe this is due more to obliviousness than any paint-the-world-with-the-same-brushstrokes moral fibre…)
So if I, as a #PoorPerson don’t have a whole lot of respect for bankers, it would be a matter of cultural coincidence that I would write appearance of a goblin to align with anti-Semitic tropes in a profession that is stereotypically associated with Jews. Is it criminal to be negligent towards the cultural prejudices that are underlining the story you are? No, but it makes you look like a git. What you write matters — and you need to be aware of the background that is feeding what you are writing. In fact, it doesn't hurt to be a little bit paranoid about it. So when it comes to the goblins, to what degree is Rowling negligent? We can't be certain for sure, but Rowling does have a bit of bias towards Christian attitudes...
I mean… even when I was 10 years old, I wondered why there was no Hanukkah in Hogwarts. And how, in spite of being persecuted by Christians and literally practicing magic, everyone seemed to be Christian and certainly acted with Christian values. I mean you’d think they’d do away with Abrahamic religions in general and revere Pagan dates. (Calling it the ‘Yule Ball’ doesn’t count.)
(Side-note. Religion and wizards seems to be very much glossed-over. Whereas most practicing witches I've come across treat witchcraft as a religion. Which, I also want to trash Rowling for trumpeting feminism but doing nothing to incorporate the spiritual, mythological, religions, or ceremonial aspects into her books about witchcraft. Especially given that shamanism and witchcraft were probably the archtypical forms of female empowerment.)
This is literally someone's religion being packed up and re-packadged to us with our Christian perspectives on heritage, gender, and ethics.
Forget religion — how about the only Irish person at Hogwarts (which… is kind of a dick move in itself) is a boy named S E A M U S whose sole distinguishable trait is that he’s dumb and likes to blow shit up? This was written at a time when the IRA was blowing a lot of shit up. Which is also like… okay so I can justify how and why the Goblin Bankers are described the way they are but this seems a little bit too thoughtless not to at least be a little bit malicious…
The Irish were also a group of pagans (English) Christians decided to exterminate. Insult to injury, Ms. Rowling.
“Oh but Seamus was one of the gay ones so Rowling is actually pretty progressive for the LGBT—” Yeah, well support the whole community or get bent. Keep in mind this is still about how Rowling is transphobic garbage.
SUFFICE! These, and other misgivings — deliberate-or-not — pollute Harry Potter. Does that wreck the story?
Some people say ‘no’. The aforementioned goodness that has been brought about by having the series in our lives does not change now that Rowling is revealing her indoctrination into TERF rhetoric. We can acknowledge that the books have problematic areas, but being aware of them can help us overcome instances where we encounter this behaviour hidden in public. We can use this for spotting red flags when allies offer their support in the future.
Other people say ‘yes’. Whatever good the books provided, is tainted with an ‘almost but not quite’ approach to progressivism. This is especially indicative in centrists and neo-liberals who have latched on to Harry Potter imagery and symbols as a means of separating them form their political opponents. This also follows the pattern of Rowling herself moving towards a centrist political opinion. The good attitudes that came from Harry Potter only exist in tandem with encouraging an entire generation to read, in which they encountered books with better, more progressive values.
And as much as I hate both-sidesing it… I don’t really see a problem with either way of thinking. I think both ways of thinking tackle the very issues that are arising from all things about Rowling lately. They both address the problems with Harry Potter, and they address the values that have come out of the series itself.
However, I would request that we do not antagonize either method of reconciling this. We all grew up around Harry Potter. Even though there are a few who never really got into it — they certainly know about it. Learning that something that gave us joy came from what would become a very dark place is heartbreaking, in one way or another.
When other authors don't sell out to this kind of fandom, we call it 'integrity'. Why is Rowling an exception? She throws scraps of lore at us to keep the brand relevant and we treat it like she's enriching her universe.
As long as we acknowledge the underlying problems with the series, I consider both approaches valid.
This is not an answer to the question I was asking. I was not asking: “What do we do with Harry Potter?”
I was asking: “What do we do with Harry Potter™?”
Everyone’s talking about the book. Like. Yeah, it was a huge part of our childhood. So was Animorphs, in some way or another. And hey — you want an anti-authority author who is so pro-trans? Maybe give them a re-read.
But Harry Potter man. This intellectual property is one of the most lucrative brands in human history — built up in just a fraction of time that it took to make Mickey Mouse so large that American copyright laws have shifted DRASTICALLY to accommodate Disney.
This rat should have been in public domain DECADES ago.
This is a brand (Harry Potter) that employs thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people. Not just executives and billionaires. But people. A complete boycott of Harry Potter merchandise would not send a message to them or to Rowling. They are too rich to give a shit, remember? And as I demonstrate in my book (coming soon), rich people will literally never accept the consequences of their actions when they have an army of subordinates who can absorb the loss on their behalf.
And toy sales are rough enough in America… Y’all saw what happened to Toys R’ Us?
Forget reading, though. Harry Potter fan-fiction has become a hotbed of encouraging an entire generation to write. Rowling, for her faults, has created a parallel world to ours in which many of still want to escape. There are hundreds of stories that have as much to say as the original and may even say it better.
And as we’ve seen in all post-Deathly Hollows Harry Potter stories, Rowling doesn’t seem to have much passion for putting quality content out there. But a lot of other people do. And in a purest move of dick-baggery, she ‘confirms’ some fan fiction as being ‘canon’ without granting the author to formally publish this Harry Potter story which is now apparently ‘canon.’
It’s almost if she’s treating her priceless attention as the reward…
Suffice, my real concern isn’t so much merchandise (although if we’re gonna have capitalism, meaningful employment is great, right?), but what happens to this instance of living mythology that is as much a part of our lives as super-heroes or Pokémon? If the goal is to generate a world with more ideas and more art… making Harry Potter go down with the ship seems a little unfair to everyone who has invested a lot of energy into this Wizarding world.
Sad, Grumpy, and White
As a solution… I suggest we look towards another problematic, racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic over-entitled author who acts like their claim to wealth sets them above the self-preserving instinct of human decency. Another author who developed an entire fantasy mythology focused around magical worlds layered underneath mundane worlds, and who possessed an impeccable capacity to demonize elements of society in profoundly poignant ways.
Why does he look so much like Mark Zuckerberg???
H.P. Lovecraft is one of those godfathers of Horror. Not altogether the best writer, in terms of technical skill, but in possession of such a methodical imagination that could translate real-world signifiers into symbols, images, and ideas that only the rarest of writers are able to capture. And that’s about as far as I can compliment him as, sadly, have not gotten too deep into his writings, nor have I invested any time in those who write in his mytholog todayy (though that’s on a to-do list).
As far as being problematic goes, he was not too fond of… well, literally almost anyone. And yet, for some reason, a large swath of creators who are drawn to this universe are black, gay and Jewish.
It’s not until after they fall in love with the mythology that they learn Lovecraft himself was not of strong moral character in many, many ways. And their method of reconciliation with this is to write stories where the heroic protagonists set in their Lovecraftian world is black, gay or Jewish.
And I feel like… there’s a lot the Harry Potter fandom can learn from this. Namely… that you can separate the creator from their creation. This is not necessarily death of the author, because Rowling and her prejudices and her experiences are still written into the fabric of the story. Just in the same way that Lovecraft’s petchulent self-loathing hatred of the privileged lifestyle he felt he was entitled to worked its way into his.
However, Lovecraft’s work was claimed from him when his work became greater than him. His prejudice was not forgotten or erased — but it is separated from how modern creators want to envision and develop this mythology in the now. And though Rowling’s work is greater than her, her ego is doing it’s best to try and do everything to stop that from becoming apparent.
That said, it is (almost) not impossible to claim Harry Potter and her world from her and do the same thing with her universe. We can actually have a gay wizard who doesn’t need to come out on Rowling’s Twitter!
Instead, we get obvious queer-baiting, and then a tyrannical straight TERF telling us what is and is not a queer experience.
The *almost part is that, unlike the Cthulhu Mythos, the Wizarding World is not in public domain. Lovecraft left all of his writings open-source and unlike Rowling, never made a profit off his writing. His bitterness left us with a great gift that has coloured our collective imagination and provided an image of horror that has not since been able to be matched.
Rowling has done something similar with her universe… but has used it to get fucking rich. And she also has Pottermore, which is the gatekeeping encyclopedia of what is and is not canon. (Which she, I will reiterate, unceremoniously borrows information from unpaid fan-fiction writers.)
In order to reclaim this universe from her, fans would need to develop a very organized approach to independently policing what can and cannot be canon. They would do this without any kind of official go-ahead from Rowling — and would need to be agreed upon by everyone who operates as creating in this world.
For free. Nobody gets paid either. Which, in the Cthulhu Mythos, there are generally agreed-upon rules as guidelines for encouraging authors to respect the source content. (Nothing stopping anyone from changing some names if they want to go off on their own.) However, these rules are generally decided upon by creators who do get paid. It’s hard to organize things like this entirely on a volunteer basis.
Unless… everyone just agrees to self-publish a massive amount of fan-sourced Potter Canon at once. Let’s see if she can sue everyone?
The alternative is that Harry Potter goes the way of Wookiepedia where it becomes a mash of separating and organizing the conflicts between well-renowned fan-fictions. And, like Wookiepedia, there would be a very strong attempt to try and generate a sequence where all things can be true.
On second thought, I recommend not being like Wookiepedia.
What I’m trying to say is that claiming the Wizarding World from Rowling is difficult, but not impossible. And it may be the only way to save the longevity of the property — now that people are getting their Harry Potter tattoos covered up en masse. If we reclaim her world from her, and turn it into the progressive beacon we all assumed it was, we can carry the franchise beyond this controversy.
Not that Rowling’s going to make it easy for anyone. But it may be worth it.
All disrespect to Rowling. As an author, I mean.
She really loved the idea of expanding the Harry Potter world, but has a very limited desire to actually produce content. Is this laziness? Is she bored? Does she not want to be seen as a one-trick pony? Or has she internalized stigmas about creators who only work with one property? I have no shortage of contempt for her sob story about how she took Harry Potter to 12 agencies who rejected her before she found a 13th who would accept her. Would you care to know how many agents have rejected me? For which manuscript? For which edition of which manuscript? I didn't keep track, but there were many — enough that I decided to forgo an agent altogether and just self-publish.
And yet, in spite of the HUNGER for more Harry Potter, instead of producing content (novels, novellas, short stories) about small instances that would expand her world, she chooses to manage her own personal Wiki (Pottermore). She lets her fans do the heavy lifting when it comes to prose and content. She's too busy writing anti-trans manifestos, after all. Normally, popular authors trust their fans to organize and chronicle all the information that runs across their universes. Normally, authors are more concerned with putting art into the world then micromanaging their own enormous egos. But Rowling is exceptional insofar as she believes she is an exception to the universe.
Really, she has gotten away with bonkers things that should have been red flags to the fans that her ego was spiralling out of control. If an author who wrote a series of only moderately-successful books started to catalogue events of their book series with details that had never and would never find their way into any of their fiction prose, we would think they were an absolute git. Yet being the bestselling author of our lifetimes makes that different?
I never liked the idea of Pottermore. “Just write stories,” I said. Potter fans lurched to her defence, however.
No insult to Potter fans. Our human element needs more people who see the good in others, and who are willing to assume that goodness must be at the heart of every intention. Me, in my cynicism, however, saw a laziness from not needing to be invested in one’s own work.
I do get rather sick of myself very quickly… authors are naturally prone to huge fits of ego. (And, conversely, fits of despair and lack of self-confidence — we’re a dramatic bunch). In regards to my early-on feelings around Rowling’s treatment of her ownsuccess — I suppose it takes an egomaniac to know one.
Most people may not get this reference, but I am so grateful if you do.
My call to action here is to be aware that ego can happen to anyone. It may already have — and it is important to be cautious of what ego we are feeding, and what we are doing to feed it. Who is aware of their own ego and how are they taking measures to temper it?
I just look at myself in the mirror every day and tell myself I’m a garbage human being. It seems to be working fine — I don’t see much problem here.
Where was I?
The Good Read
Right— What do we do with J.K. Rowling.
J.K. Fucking Rowling who is not only rich, but fucking rich.
Who is, more or less, immune to basically every civil consequence that we could image. What can we do to harass an individual who is so immune to our petty threats at boycott that she is perfectly comfortable BLOCKING HER OWN FANBASE WHEN THEY TRY TO AMICABLY EDUCATE HER.
Or threatening legal action against a trans woman who calls her out for transphobia?
J.K. Rowling often gets a 'pass' on transphobia because she belittles and singles out trans people who do not 'pass' by conventional social standards. When attacked by someone who isn't clockable at all, she gets her lawyers on speed dial.
The thing about Rowling is… she’s not using her platform to spread hate. She’s not using her platform to discriminate. She’s not using her platform to educate with uncomfortable ‘truth.’ She’s not using her platform to spread awareness. Fuck. She’s not even using her platform to give you after-the-fact information about characters in her book that she is too lazy to write simple short stories about.
These are all bi-products of what she’s actually doing.
Rowling is using her platform to fuel her own narcissism. Like a crow who likes dropping shiny things and watching them plop into a puddle, she, like every other living thing, takes delight in watching her actions evoke reactions in the real world.
The more the real world engages with her slightest whim, the more she will act. Because the larger affect her actions have on the world, the greater feedback-response the pleasure centre of her brain gets for being able to manipulate the world.
But these things have diminishing returns, so she has to make a bigger splash. And she will make bigger splashes as she, in her SCOTTISH FUCKING CASTLE, experiences the melancholy process of the once-exceptional becoming mundane.
If we want to give Rowling a consequence she will feel in her soul, then ignore her. No plops or splashes. Unfollow, unsubscribe. Don’t comment on your main OR your secondary accounts. Boycott if you like, but it’s the news coverage and the retweets and the mentions that she really lives for. Because that’s what money can’t buy.
“But Nick — how could you possibly know how a middle-aged TERF-woman thinks?”
That’s because I could be just like her, in another life. We all could be. We could all be the person who becomes fabulously well-to-do, who is never challenged to be a better person because everyone around you wants to use your money or the things you own. When everyone wants to suck your proverbial cock, nobody’s going to say a word against you.
Look at teenage YouTube stars. And their progressively more abominable behaviour as time goes on. The more invulnerable they feel, the less fucks they give about consequences. Not all, certainly. But there is a trend.
J.K. Rowling, in a lot of ways, is all of us. Her transphobia may have always been there, or it may have been something she learned. But her inability to grow out of it is just a natural consequence of being comfortable to shut out the rest of the world. That’s not to say that only rich people have prejudice but maybe we should use Rowling as an example.
Take her progressivist downfall, and try not to let your own comfort blind you to the realities of others’ needs. Listen to people, and use what privilege you have to prevent prejudice from standing in vulnerable peoples’ way. Acknowledge when you are wrong — yes, even on the internet. Recognize patterns in your thinking that are being used to exploit the suffering of others.
And maybe next time, trust a trans person when they tell you that someone is transphobic.
I have a developing view on this topic. Supporting Rowling's industry may not increase her wealth significantly, but it does expand her recognizability to a public. As a result, continuing to invest in the Harry Potter franchise may grant her more clout to hold sway over political activities. Rowling is a strong financial supporter of the Labour party — what if she decides to withhold her donations (English parliament does not have a cap on election spending, I just learned) if Labour builds a platform of supporting trans rights. Furthermore, increasing her level of cultural permeability will increase the duration of her posthumous legacy.
For instance, we're still struggling to remove Ayn Rand from our cultural membrane.
I still maintain my stance on reclaiming the creative franchise, but I am not sure that supporting an industry around Harry Potter is a wise course of action.
I will leave the unadulterated version of the article for posterity. However, should I begin to see it being referenced, quoted, or used without taking this section into consideration, I will make changes.
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.