I can no longer hide it: I hate Harry Potter. Always have. I’ve tried to avoid coming out about it, but I can’t take it any more. I rant a lot about the decline of culture and the whole Nietschean weakening of humanity. And yeah, people like what they like. No one (least of all me) ever convinces anyone of anything. The more I learn about brain science the more I’m convinced that’s true–I just proved my point–I’m reading books that reinforce my POV! But like the song says: it’s gone too far.
Freedom now means The Freedom To Be Stupid. Like ‘property’ defined America in the age of Marbury V. Madison, ‘Freedom’ has become the guiding watchword of our time. Which is a nice sentiment. But it seems that the celebration of this thing is now expressed as the right to do stupid things; to have stupid wants. We now don’t merely tolerate or smile at stupid behaviour, but actually glorify it. I guess because it shows our affluence. There’s an irony there, right? We must’ve done something right in order to have the ability to tolerate all the knuckleheaded behaviour. I mean, when times are tough, no one can afford to be that wasteful. Decadence is, by definition, stupid.
This is the price of prosperity: Nobody can make me do things I don’t like. And the stupider the stuff I like? The more wonderfully free I feel! ‘Discipline’? The idea that one should like certain things more than others? A collective sense of, oh I dunno good taste? Hey pal, that’s some Nazi crapola. And I hear this on the left, the right, the up and the down.
But let’s look at the quintessential American models; the people we all look to as role models of greatness and ‘freedom’. Not too many stupid guys in that lot. Can you imagine that paragon of America, Honest Abe… Abe The Rail Splitter… as down to earth a man who ever trod this great land ever saying, ‘Mary, kids, for my birthday, I don’t want a cake. Now that I’m Prez, I wants me something REALLY STUPID!’
(By the way, did you know that Abe could recite whole scenes from Shakespeare off by heart. The guy visited the theatre over a hundred times during the war. That was his idea of a good time. How come they don’t teach that in school?)
SO WHAT IN THE HOGWARTS DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WTIH HARRY POTTER?
I dislike Harry Potter because it’s mediocre writing. Pure and simple. You know it in your heart. And if you don’t? Baby I know how this sounds, but you need to read more. ‘Expeliamus!’ my arse. Harry may be entertaining as all get out. That’s not the issue. Enjoyment’s got nothing to do with it. But literature. Please. As I said, people like what they like, and I ain’t gonna bother mentioning that there’s a ton better material written over the centuries that’s equally comprehensible to sixth graders.
What I object to is the elevation of these books in the estimation of critics and teachers who should know better. And I believe that is because no one, to paraphrase a recent comment from our President, feels the need to eat their peas anymore. So instead, we all get together and decide that ice cream is ‘healthy’.
All I want is for the intelligensia to stop lying about it. All the stuff about how it ‘gets young people to read’ is ridiculous. It’s the myth of the Evil Nuns At Catholic School. (All those beatings!) The myth goes like this: Life has to be ‘fun’ for kids. If the kids like Harry they should read Harry and screw those dead ‘classics’.
Now, if you dig low brow writing? Cool. Everyone has guilty pleasures. My grandfather bought the first TV in our village for the sole purpose of watching wrestling. If I told you how much time I’ve wasted watching Iron Chef? But I don’t try to move the cultural bar. And don’t make it out like having the kiddies reading Rowling is a better road to travel than Dickens or Kipling or Twain.
I see all manner of talking heads these days trying to explain the Harry Potter phenomenon. Like there has to be something to it which justifies everyone being into it. But forgive me if I sharpen up Ockham’s Razor for a minute and suggest an alternative: It’s fun! And for some damned reason, if something or someone becomes popular to a certain point it simply must be ‘deep’ right? It must have some as yet undiscovered innate value because we human beings are drawn to ineffable ‘quality’ even if we cannot name it. It couldn’t just be that the collective brow has become a bit lower now could it? But that don’t bug me.
What does bug me is lying about it; making it out to be richer stuff than it is. It’s like the cultural equivalent of ‘The Easy A’. If enough people like it? Hey, it’s gotta be worth a course of study at some toff university right? (Not to mention some extremely erudite books to further justify why Harry is a whatever of his generation.
AND YOUR POINT?
I frankly worry that by elevating Harry Potter to such lofty heights… and thus make this an acceptable substitution for decent literature, we’re giving our kids the intellectual equivalent of ‘tomato’ as the ‘vegetable’ for the school lunch. Maybe it’s more immediately satisfying, but nourishing? Building strong minds? I don’t think so.
‘Oh get off it,’ I hear you say. But I am not kidding. And the really scary part is that Harry may be the book equivalent of TV as childminder. It may just be easier to give in and let Junior read whatever he likes than to force feed him some nasty old Mark Twain, what with all those filthy ‘n’ words. One gets to feel good that ‘we’re encouraging reading in our house! (After all, we’re not just plunking him in front of the telly now are we?)
BRING BACK THAT GOOD OL’ CATHOLIC GUILT!
Like I said. People like what they like. I ain’t here to judge. But I do care about the next generation. And frankly, I think historians are going to look back on this age and lump ‘Harry Potter As Literature’ in with ‘Creationism’ and Global Warming Denial as key markers of what went wrong with Western Society in the early 21st Century.
It’s time to stop acting like stupid is good. Or at a minimum, stop saying to our kids (and to ourselves) that if we like something? It’s just gotta be great.