Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I don't know J.K. Rowling's Politics

...but after watching Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix this afternoon, I could not help but draw a number of parallels between a few exchanges in the movie, and the present political climate surrounding the war on terror.

It should be stipulated that anything written here is entirely speculative and most likely coincidental. The purpose is not to imply any overt or even subtle intention by Rowling, rather to point out how an idea can be turned on its head when juxtaposed.

About 45 minutes into the film, Harry and his classmates are subject to their new 'Defense Against the Dark Arts' instructor, Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge was recently appointed by the pusillanimous Minister of Magic (Cornelius Fudge). Her role at Hogwart's is to not only teach a watered-down version of the class, but likewise to play down the fears of Lord Voldemort's return (which the ministry denies) and act as a shill for the Ministry of Magic, helping to whitewash the perceived threat.

The wonderfully sardonic, condescending and controlling Umbridge, played by Imelda Staunton, embodies every shameful ounce of Democratic obfuscation and denial when it comes to the war on terror. She contains elements of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Jack Murtha, and John Edwards in her persistent and eager desire to reduce any hint of danger to mere misunderstanding or hyperbole, seeking to silence dissenters (Through the implementation of torturous quills, if necessary).

Here is the exchange:

Dolores Umbridge: Your previous instruction in this subject has been disturbingly uneven. But you will be pleased to know from now on, you will be following a carefully structured, Ministry-approved course of defensive magic. Yes?

Hermione Granger: There's nothing in here about using defensive spells.

Dolores Umbridge: Using spells? Ha ha! Well I can't imagine why you would need to use spells in my classroom.

Ron Weasley: We're not gonna use magic?

Dolores Umbridge: You will be learning about defensive spells in a secure, risk-free way.

Harry Potter: Well, what use is that? If we're gonna be attacked it won't be risk-free.

Dolores Umbridge: Students will raise their hands when they speak in my class.[pauses]

Dolores Umbridge: It is the view of the Ministry that a theoretical knowledge will be sufficient to get you through your examinations, which after all, is what school is all about.

Harry Potter: And how is theory supposed to prepare us for what's out there?

Dolores Umbridge: There is nothing out there, dear! Who do you imagine would want to attack children like yourself?

Harry Potter: I don't know, maybe, Lord Voldemort!

What of this dialogue? Simply - the language immediately drew me to similar comments, attitudes and positions taken up by war opponents. From the initial denial of al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, to the nonchalant denial and even apathy for the consequences of an American pull out.

For proof, here is a quote from the liberal DailyKos:

"With the Keystone Cops of Al-Qaeda embarrassing themselves in the UK and President Bush's commutation of Scooter's sentence embarrassing us all, this was a revealing week in the "War on Terror". This combination of operational incompetence and administrative injustice demonstrated the limited physical menace presented by terrorists and the very real corrosive threat to our way of life engendered by the specter of "terror" and effected by those who claim to protect us."

In short: we are a greater danger to ourselves than they are.

That certainly rings of ignorance-loving bliss, no?

Now this shorter exchange between Harry and Umbridge is perhaps more telling:

Dolores Umbridge: You have been told that a certain dark wizard is at large. This is a lie!

Harry Potter: It's not a lie! I saw him!

The telltale sermonizing is present; reinforcing the party line and attempting to re-direct reality toward specious faux existence.

Again, it is far too easy, but sufficient to turn to Daily Kos for the parallel:

The Pentagon has lost the Iraq War but it seems they are fighting a focused PR War. It is Iran and Al Qaeda now at almost every turn. Our soldiers are blown up by Iranian weapons and the killers are almost exclusively Al Qaeda. The BBC reports on one helicopters attack in recent Operation Arrowhead Ripper ( how scary!) where the US claimed a victory over Al Qaeda. It tested the truth of the US report.

Or perhaps more aptly, John Edwards' denial of a 'War on Terror':

"By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set — that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam."

Now, Julia Turner of Slate wrote in 2005:

But close reading of the book suggests that Rowling's motives are more authorial than political. She's not using Harry to make points about terrorism. She's using terrorism to make points about Harry. Rowling culls the scariest elements of modern life and uses them as a kind of shorthand, a quick way to instill fear.

Ms. Turner's analysis was bent toward the use of terrorism to reflect government's harsh and heavy-handed reaction. This may have been true of Rowling's earlier works (or maybe not). Regardless, I have found this latest screen adaptation of her work to be less argumentative. The message is clear: The enemy is gathering strength and waiting for the moment to strike. We can either stick our heads in the sand, or take action to defeat the dark, violent ideology of the malcontents.

As Turner wrote:

"Reading the Half-Blood Prince today, Rowling's references to terrorism don't feel cheap. They feel terrifying. But how will they read in 50 years?"

Update: NRO's the corner says Gordon Brown is Cornelius Fudge.

Update: Dr. Sanity gets the picture with the Harry Potter connection and talks appeasement:

Update: Instapundit posts a review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Update: Whims Rhyme says

Dolores Umbridge is an overperforming character and the conflict focus isn't prioritised carefully, resulting in some mayhem in the viewer's chronological walk through the film - it gives people the 'is it Voldemort or Umbridge being the bad ass?' kind of feeling.


The only few wonders here are, was how did Rowling able to come up with so much information and imagination that could create a whole new separate world of England altogether, where soccer was replaced by quidditch, education was made into magic education(fun), politics were revised into Ministry of Magic and institutions with leaders of tremendous power, a whole new save-the-world concept and a big-bang kind of war to end the entire story.It's stupefying. After all, Rowling is one of the richest ladies in the world.

Update: A viewer's MySpace page gets it... sort of:

It is fun yet it presents to us the themes at work in today's politics. Rather thanaccept a truth that will change your entire reality, Minister Fudge prefers to deny this truth and instead conspires to besmirch and demonize those who insist on the truth until it is almost too late.

That Harry and his fellow students cling to this truth is admirable. Their love of truth made them prepare themselves for Lord V's onslaught.

Who has not met the tame but catty Ms. Umbridge? That studgents' rights are taken away decree by decree are very scary given our own Patriots' Act, warrentless wiretapping and Guantanamo prisoners. Shall we send them to Azkaban?

Great books are those whose themes are timeless. Truth vs. denial, sacrifice for the common good, and an inner struggle to not become what you battle. All in a kid's book. Harry, how will it end?

Update: Pajamas Media asks What's wrong with Harry Potter? and links to Harry Potter and the Death of Reading in the Washington Post.

Update: Blogger QueerVisalia totally, ahem, misses the mark:

The manipulation and politics of the Ministry of Magic clearly frustrated me because it's so obvious that people in power or positions of authority can too easily turn blind eyes to the truth for the sake of their own personal goals and agendas. Ahem. Bush. Ahem!

Update: James P. Pinkerton writes in Detroit News:

"When kids see "Harry Potter," they should be thinking first about defending their country, and their civilization, against evildoers wielding weapons of mass destruction. After that's taken care of, they can then worry more about carbon dioxide"

...and he compares Cornelius Fudge to Neville Chamberlain.


Anonymous said...

WOW that was a great understanding and something I think is probably true, while threats gather the Dems and many Americans want to wish it away so badly that they are blind to it. I do not necessarily like or dislike these movies however you have now forced me to see it:-)

richard mcenroe said...

PM Brown should be made to watch this movie daily, if only for its message that refusing to name something doesn't make it go away...

Nick Brunetti-Lihach said...

That's a great idea, Richard, I agree.

But I'm afraid it would require a restraining device such as that which Alex in 'A Clockwork Orange' was subjected to in order to keep PM Brown focused and attentive to the subtle nuance.

Anonymous said...

I disagree, if anything the book mirrored the way Bush and his regime constantly puts out false propaganda about "terrorism" etc which is very similiar to Fudges "face saving" propaganda articles.

If anything, Umbridge represents the right-wing which constantly dismisses everything that contradicts its doctrine as a "conspiracy theory".

Not to mention in the HP series, the detainment of various people who have done nothing in an effort for the "ministry" in the book to look good, this is also a reflection the Bush admin detaining individuals without charging them with anything.

Nick Brunetti-Lihach said...

Dear 'Anonymous' reader,

What false 'propaganda' are you referring to? The "phoney" Fort Dix plot? The JFK plot? The LAX plot? Please be specific when accusing a President of lying to the American people.

I don't buy your version of the parallel with the Bush administration at all.

The comparison I made is surely just a coincidence, but still perfectly illustrates common liberal denial of the terror threat. And I supplied proof, which you did not.

And if by 'conspiracy theory,' you mean the Right dismisses the "9/11 Truthers," then you're correct, they are a bunch of infantile fantasy artists.

Regarding your last comment - I have a lot of experience with individuals who make this claim about people detained for "doing nothing." I'd ask you to show proof of your claim. Many friends of mine like to throw out the same bland accusations, but never able to back it up.

Show me who is being held unconstitutionally: Not GITMO detainees (they aren't citizens), not Padilla (Or as he prefers to call himself, by his adopted Islamic name, Muhajir) - Padilla's been in and out of U.S. courts, which have upheld his incarceration.

So please, give me some solid evidence before laying down an ad hominem attack.

Eric W, Texas said...

I read Rowling's Order of the Pheonix when it came out in the summer of 2003 and could not help but note the many parallel's between the political discussions in Europe about the lead up to OIF and the book. I don't pretend to know her politics, but the theme of her series is plain for anybody who has read her work.

Dr Zen said...

Hilarious. Like most rightards, you see "truth" everywhere, and facts nowhere.

Dr Zen said...

Oh, and Rowling's a liberal BTW. The chances that she takes the same reality-free view of current affairs as you do are pretty slim. Sorry to burst your balloon and all.

Nick Brunetti-Lihach said...

Dr Zen,

I appreciate your sarcasm. Very funny.

Actually, I am a lifelong registered Democrat, fairly liberal on most issues... except for the war on terror, and the Democrats' disgusting meekness when it comes to this fight.

But let's not worry about the details, unless you would like to supply the "facts" that you allege I am missing.

Nowhere do I suggest that J.K. Rowling is a flaming neo-con. However, the characters and plot within the book and most recent film serve as an instructive metaphor (in my view) of the present determined obfuscation practiced by certain seasoned Democratic politicians.

That's all I'm trying to say.

Zhuge Liang XLII said...


I think Jon Swift's explanation makes more sense. (It looks like you can backtrack to his post from the "Harry Potter is a Brat link")

Nick Brunetti-Lihach said...

Zhuge liang xlii,

Thanks for the comment. Jon Swift wrote:

"Update: In the comments, Julia points out that some conservative bloggers, no doubt out of desperation to please their kids, are making the outlandish claim that Harry Potter is a Young Republican, especially in the most recent film, The Order of the Phoenix, though anyone can see he is nothing of the sort."

My response to that is -

1) I do not have any children,
2) Nor do I claim that Harry is a Young Republican (or J.K. Rowling for that matter). In a nutshell, I am saying that it's interesting to watch 'Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix,' and note the denial of Voldemort's threat by a number of government officials.

To me, this parallels the repeated and documented denial of a serious al Qaeda threat in Iraq and other places by many Democrats. It is further paralleled by PM Gordon Brown's repeated conciliatory and mildly dismissive tone with regard to the belligrent fundamental Islamic groups and individuals within Britain.

I don't suggest Harry is a Republican, nor do I think he would be in reality.

However, when one juxtaposes Voldemort-denial with al Qaeda/terrorism-denial (or downplaying), why is it so much more incredulous to accept the reality of the threat in the real world than in a fantasy novel?

Anonymous said...

While I disagree with most of the points you make...I have to commend you on your opening. There are way too many people trying to find deeper political meanings in Harry Potter and truthfully I think people are mostly psychotic.

Especially if they believe any of the crap that they write is 100% true rather than coincidence or a bent truth. In short, thank you for accepting the fact that Harry Potter might just be a childrens book.

Anonymous said...

In this interview, she states her political views as being left wing

Anonymous said...

To all the people saying J K Rowling is a liberal, of course she is. Not only that, she is a Communist. She even named her daughter after Communist celebrity Jessica Mitford for G-d's sake!

I think it's sick that you can show so much support for a Communist traitor. The Communists are the very type of people who believe that rich people should give up some of their wealth just to stop lazy people from starving and that we can live in harmony with the Terrorists!

This seems to be pretending to be a pro-American site, but no pro-American site would have these subtle pro-Communist articles. It's one thing to promote books written by Communists, but quite another to recommend people to seek political advice from them under the guise of pro-Americanism. The good people on the right aren't stupid and won't give in to your horrible tricks.

Why don't you go blow yourselves up for Alah somewhere in a distance place and leave us Americans alone?

Nick Brunetti-Lihach said...

Well, "Anonymous,"

Thank you for the insightful commentary, you have hit it right on the nose. Your are very perceptive.

I spend hours a day writing pro-American posts so that I may subtly slip in a communist manifesto now and again.

Very adroit, you are.

One day, if I am lucky, I can also loudly proclaim my enlightenment, and stand atop the mantle by which you so proudly extol the "right" virtues.

Have a good day.

Anonymous said...

So, will you be signing up for military service in Iraq?

Since this fight is so important and all.

WLindsayWheeler said...

The main motiff of the Harry Potter series is "Blood Purity". And where have you heard that before? What is that allusion to?

And "Blood purity" and the snobishness that surrounds that is evil.

JK Rowling is a Communist. This is fleshed out on another thread: at the Vox Day blog.

Anonymous said...

Of course J.K. Rowling is liberal. That being said, I don't see anything more political in Harry Potter than a little bit of can't-we-all-get-along propaganda--Democrats have compared the Republicans to Voldemeort, which is BS. Voldemort is a Hitler-type figure that represents what can go wrong when a prejudice becomes an obsession.

Personally, I see the worst of both the right AND the left in Harry Potter villains. Maybe J.K. didn't intend it that way, but at least it shows that she can pick up on all flavors of 'evil', even if she *perceives* that it's all on the right.