“But Harry Potter is simply too big a cultural landmark to jettison. I don’t believe anyone wants to mind-wipe Harry Potter’s existence from the world; it means too much to too many of us. (Let’s leave aside the nonsensical whatever of Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts films.) But I also find myself bristling at the jokes that have invaded social media in the wake of Rowling’s comments — the ones fantasizing that the Harry Potter books magically appeared unto us with no author, or that they were written by someone else we like better. Sure, the author is dead, but that idea is about reclaiming agency over our own interpretation of a text. It paradoxically depends on the author having a proprietary interpretation of their own work — one that we can then reject.
By repudiating Rowling’s anti-trans comments, millions of Harry Potter fans are also turning the series into a symbol of the power of a collective voice to drown out an individual one. The power of fans’ love and empathy for trans people and other vulnerable communities, and their steady rejection of Rowling’s prejudice, is a potent, raw form of cancellation — one undertaken not out of a spirit of scorn and ostracism, but with something closer to real grief — and it deserves to be a part of the story of Harry Potter.
But if we can’t erase Rowling, what can we do instead? We can break up with her.
We can grieve, nurse our wounds, and be sad we loved someone who hurt us so badly. We can celebrate happier times while mourning a relationship we outgrew — one that became toxic — and regretting the time we spent waiting for a problematic fave to change and grow. We can give ourselves time to heal. And we can consider accepting that the microaggressions we may have noticed in Rowling’s books themselves were, perhaps, warning signs obscured by a benevolent, liberal exterior.
Jo can keep the money, and Pottermore and Cormoran Strike, and definitely all of Fantastic Beasts. She can keep the house elves who really love their enslavement, the anti-Semitic goblin stereotypes, Dolores Umbridge, Voldemort, the Dementors, and Rita Skeeter. I’ll take Harry and Hermione and Ron and Draco, Luna and Neville and Dumbledore’s Army. I’ll take Hogwarts and pumpkin pasties and butterbeer and Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and every other moment of magic and love this series has given me and countless others.
Trans and queer Harry Potter fans get to keep Tonks and Remus and Sirius Black and Charlie Weasley and Draco, because I say so; Harry Potter is ours now, and we make the rules. J.K. Rowling lost custody over her kids and now we can spoil them, let them get tattoos, express themselves however they want, love whomever they want, transition if they want, practice as much radical empathy and anarchy as they want. Harry Potter is Desi now. Hermione Granger is black. The Weasleys are Jewish. Dumbledore’s Army is antifa. They’re anything you want and need them to be, because they were always for you.”
Even the spirited Antigone, the brave Joan of Arc and the unfettered Thelma and Louise meet tragic ends in large part because they are spirited, brave and unfettered. They can defy kings, refuse beauty and defend themselves against violence. But it’s challenging for a writer to imagine a world in which such free women can exist without brutal consequences.
Butler and other writers like Ursula Le Guin, Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood did not employ speculative fiction to colonize other planets, enslave new life-forms, or extract alien minerals for capital gains only to have them taken at gunpoint by A.I. robots. These women used the tenets of genre to reveal the injustices of the present and imagine our evolution.
As time has passed, I’ve come to understand what deep influence shaping a narrative has. Stories inspire our actions. They frame for us existences that are and are not possible, delineate tracks we can or cannot travel. They choose who we can find empathy for and who we cannot. What we have fellow feeling for, we protect. What we objectify and commodify, we eventually destroy.
I don’t want to be the dead girl, or Dave’s wife. But I don’t want to be a strong female lead either, if my power is defined largely by violence and domination, conquest and colonization.
Sometimes I get a feeling of what she could be like. A truly free woman. But when I try to fit her into the hero’s journey she recedes from the picture like a mirage. She says to me: Brit, the hero’s journey is centuries of narrative precedent written by men to mythologize men. Its pattern is inciting incident, rising tension, explosive climax and denouement. What does that remind you of?
And I say, a male orgasm.
And she says: Correct. I love the arc of male pleasure. But how could you bring me into being if I must satisfy the choreography of his desire only?
I imagine new structures and mythologies born from the choreography of female bodies, non-gendered bodies, bodies of color, disabled bodies. I imagine excavating my own desires, wants and needs, which I have buried so deeply to meet the desires, wants and needs of men around me that I’m not yet sure how my own desire would power the protagonist of a narrative.
These are not yet solutions. But they are places to dig.
Excavating, teaching and celebrating the feminine through stories is, inside our climate emergency, a matter of human survival. The moment we start imagining a new world and sharing it with one another through story is the moment that new world may actually come.
“In all, Douglas is sillier than its predecessor, and even in the moments that feel legitimately angry or smugly self-satisfied (the kicker joke about Louis C.K. is a real back-patter), the show’s comparative goofiness is a welcome direction for Gadsby.”
We particularly liked the lecture bits. Putting that art degree to work!