I’ve spent the last several years working hard to learn about social justice and how to use that knowledge to think critically about media. On some levels, it really sucks, because it means I can’t just simply enjoy something. Even if I don’t see the feminist, racial, queerphobic, or other issues with something on my own, it gets pointed out to me eventually, and it sucks to have to battle with something you enjoy being problematic. But I also think it’s an important part of learning to be a better person and a better writer, because seeing what other writers and creators get wrong helps me figure out how to get it right.
One of the hardest parts of this, though, has been turning that critical framework on the things I love most (like Firefly’s incredible lack of Chinese people).
But the worst to confront is Harry Potter.
I started reading Harry Potter when I was nine. I fell in love instantly. Like many kids in my generation, I went to midnight book releases. I went to midnight movie showings. I dressed up. I read more fanfiction than I can quantify. I lived and breathed Harry Potter all the way through the release of the last movie.
Except – the past tense isn’t honest. It’s still true. I have four sets of the series. When my friends travel overseas and ask what they should bring me, I ask for the first Harry Potter book from that country. I will debate for hours about the attributes of Hogwarts Houses, why Gryffindors are far bigger bullies than Slytherins, and why Hufflepuffs are obviously the best.
When I’m sad, I open Sorcerer’s Stone, read that first line (“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much”) and feel instantly safe. When I think of J.K. Rowling saying “Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home”, I cry.
The only difference is that I’m almost 24 and now people are starting to look at me like I maybe shouldn’t parade this love around, and when I start debates about Harry Potter headcanons, inevitably the conversation turns towards the series’ more problematic aspects. And as much as I’d like to just close my eyes and pretend that these books I love so much are perfect, they aren’t – and I’m not just talking about Albus Severus Potter.
I think there are arguments to be made about why Dumbledore’s sexuality never would have shown up in the books, but he doesn’t count as representation just because JKR said so after the fact and because there’s a lot of subtext in the stories about him and Grindelwald.
There are people of color throughout the cast, but not in the leading characters, and although I love and fully accept the headcanons that Hermione and Harry are black, that doesn’t count as representation, either.
I joked about Albus Severus, but that’s actually a pretty big problem, too, because while Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape were remarkable men, I wouldn’t call them the bravest people that Harry ever knew.
Dumbledore left a child in an abusive household and then manipulated that child for years. (I think Dumbledore is a complex character and I generally come down on the side of liking him, but those are still indisputably BAD THINGS.)
Snape may have been a war hero, but he was also a really creepy dude that was obsessed with Lily (obsessed with, not loved) and bullied children to the point that he was literally Neville’s greatest fear. He bullied Harry for daring to be born looking more like his dad than his mom. He was a selfish, creepy douchebag, and although JKR has said he’s not a hero, ultimately the narrative rewards him by having Harry name his kid after him.
Seriously, couldn’t he have named the kid Hagrid or Neville or Remus? Dobby would have been a better name.
There is a way more thorough and generally awesome post about being a fan of problematic things that you should 100000% read if this is something that concerns you at all. But here’s my condensed two cents.
You have to like problematic stuff, because that’s all there is. Every person has problems and weakness and privileges, and no one can create something that is perfectly representative of everything without ever using problematic words or ideas.
Our job as viewers and readers and listeners is to recognize and talk about these problems. We examine it against our own values and priorities, and make the choice about if we can continue to like it. If we decide it’s worth its flaws, we enjoy it anyway.
Our job as writers is to recognize our own flaws and privileges, to know that there’s a big chance we’ll mess up, to know that we won’t be perfect, and try anyway.
I love Harry Potter. It’s still a huge part of me. It’s made me a pacifist, it’s made me kind, and although it struggles with representation, it made me and other kids more open and accepting. Harry taught me the power of love. Ron showed me that it’s okay to make mistakes. Hermione let me know that I didn’t have to sacrifice any part of myself or my values for a guy.
So happy birthday, Harry. You have issues, and I still love you more than I can say.