'Harry Potter' Is The Dying Star In Our Pop Culture Universe
Harry Potter, the boy wizard who taught a generation of kids that reading is both a joy and a means to trick your parents into letting you hang at the local shopping mall past midnight. It seemed like an unimpeachable pop cultural juggernaut not unlike The Beatles or Star Wars; a franchise that would be passed on from generation to the next like a beloved heirloom tomato. But we're not sure that's the case anymore.
Okay, first off let's address the Hippogriff in the room; J.K. Rowling's comments about the trans community -- which we have to be careful in talking about because Rowling recently threatened to sue a children's news website for implying that her views were problematic. So if we, for instance, write that a self-described free speech advocate hiring libel lawyers to silence any publication is a massive self-own that only further invalidates her bigoted drivel, will we get sued?
As most of us are aware by now, Rowling recently fired off a series of Tweets that many (including other authors, several corporate partners, fan sites, and the lead actors from the Harry Potter movies) rebuked for their transphobic messaging. Then, presumably because some Potter fan wished on a monkey's paw that Rowling would publish more writing, she penned a lengthy blog post defending her views.
Rowling's essay is full of inaccuracies, including concerns that throwing "open the doors of bathrooms and changing rooms" to trans women could lead to instances of abuse, which A) is a myth based on no actual real-world evidence, and B) pretty rich coming from someone who wrote an entire goddamn book about two heroic preteen boys who spend their evenings chilling in the girls' washroom.
This is all especially crappy seeing as Rowling launched her career a story literally about a child who is abused and mistreated due to closed-mindedness and fear. Plus Rowling is crazy rich, possibly a billionaire. Why would she spend any time going on Twitter rants (let alone targeting one of the most vulnerable communities in the world) when she could literally do anything her heart desires? If I had that much money, you can bet I wouldn't be on social media; I'd be too busy living on an island of mystery hunting shipwrecked sailors for sport with my golden crossbow and my dread osprey Methuselah.
Not helping Rowling's claim that this was all in defense of the gay and lesbian community, is the fact that her crime fiction pseudonym "Robert Galbraith" is "perhaps not coincidentally" pretty damn similar to the name "Robert Galbraith Heath" -- AKA the dude who pioneered the field of gay conversion using electroshock treatment.
Recent figures show that Rowling's U.S. book sales aren't rising at the same rate as the rest of the industry, which is currently booming. According to one expert she's "certainly underperforming the rest of the market, comparatively, by two thirds." (Although her U.K. publisher claims that everything is fine.) While it's easy to attribute this recent dip in popularity to Rowling's most current comments, it kind of seems like this trend has been in the works for a while now. Just this past February, a U.K. survey found that the Harry Potter books had "dropped out of the top ten favorite books for secondary school pupils" for the first time since such studies began twelve years ago.
Then there are Rowling's awkward attempts to shade in the history Potter-verse since the books ended. She revealed that Dumbledore was gay and somehow never mentioned it before in the actual books, Hermione might be Black but no one mentioned it, and Hogwarts had Jewish students who, yeah, were just never mentioned. Then there was the time she tried to shoehorn real-world Indigenous cultures into the framework of her fantasy stories, for some reason. Oh, and how could we forget when her Pottermore site informed us all that wizards don't use toilets, they just piss and shit all over the floor like animals and delete the evidence with magic. At this point, if we told you that Rowling once wrote that Quidditch bludgers were made out of the hides of goblin scrotums, would you even be able to tell if we were joking?
On the other hand, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has been a big success, boosting attendance at Universal Theme Parks and allowing fans to step inside the world of Harry Potter -- albeit a version of it crammed full of sweaty tourists. But the future of the theme park business is very much in flux. Universal Orlando just reopened, even though Florida is brimming with infection. Meaning that people are taking a serious "inherent" health risk just to engage with their Harry Potter fandom which, incidentally, Rowling has had fuck all to say about on Twitter.
Creatively, too, the franchise has hit a wall that, unfortunately, doesn't lead to a magical railway platform. The Fantastic Beasts prequel films have been generally despised, and the theatrical sequel Harry Potter and the Cursed Child may be thrilling for the select few who got to see it on stage, but the vast majority of us had to read it in book form and it's pretty rough. At worst, Cursed Child invalidates the entire franchise. At best, it still makes us think about the functionality of Voldemort's genitals.
It seems like most of the time when we hear about Harry Potter in the news these days it's due to either a dispiriting iPhone game or because fans got caught-up in some kind of Potter-based scam. Like the recent unofficial Harry Potter party in Montreal, appropriately dubbed the "Fyre festival" for Potter nerds. Guests were promised an enchanting evening in which they'd drink Butterbeer and choose a magic wand -- only to find out they'd paid for jugs of Coke and a table full of disposable chopsticks. Similarly, while there are surely many magically extravagant Harry Potter-themed Airbnb rentals, at least one is literally just a dingy cot shoved under some stairs -- because what fan wouldn't want to spend their vacation celebrating Harry's years as a victim of child abuse?
All of this is, frankly, kind of exhausting. It's hard to enjoy any story if we come to associate it primarily with a bombardment of cultural cynicism and disappointment. But even if older fans are weary of this crap, what about the kids? The real key to Harry Potter's longevity will be if it catches on with future generations and that's far less certain now. Gen Z may have read and enjoyed Harry Potter, but it wasn't the zeitgeist-defining moment it was for Millennials. And other YA series like Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games were arguably a bigger deal for many.
As for those Millennials, who could potentially introduce the series to their kids, many of them are now "rejecting" J.K. Rowling and her works. Even the author of Harry: a History, a book literally about "life inside the Harry Potter phenomenon" not to give the books to her seven-year-old nephew for his birthday following Rowling's comments. She bought him the Percy Jackson books instead. Maybe one day we'll all be telling our kids about how Universal Studios' Marvelous Minecraft World used to be about a juvenile warlock named Happy Peter or some crap.
Top Image: Scholastic