November 9, 2005

Stop the Pott

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If you don’t hate me already, chances are you will by the end of this column. But I just can’t keep it in any longer because there is something I hate more than widespread disapproval. And the most recent copy of Entertainment Weekly just reminds me that I must say it while I still can, before I’m silenced again by a blitzkrieg of international propaganda. Oh yeah, I’m referring to Harry Potter.

Harry Potter is one of those mainstream “safe” choices that enjoy widespread public and critical acclaim (think the book version of Linkin Park), a personality-boosting consumer decision which functions like a short cut to social approval. It is youthful, unstuffy, imagination-infused safe fun. And besides, people who hate Harry Potter usually come in a few isolated, rare forms: the uncultured and ignorant who can’t keep up with the times, the snooty savant who refuses to indulge in something so childishly plebian or the unfortunate soul whose native language is not one that has been graced with its very own translation of the series.

And which one am I? Well maybe I deserve my own category: people who just don’t get it. Really, I just don’t get it. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the movies and yeah, so what? What is there to get so worked up about, so school girl gushy about? Unless I’m the only person in the entire world who missed out one some special cocaine-laced edition of the Harry Potter series, I really don’t see the need to count down, dress up or pledge my undying loyalty to some kid whose literary voice comes across as a bad case of CAPS lock.

As an English major, I entirely understand the need to ditch that critical reader cap every once in a while, ignore all examples of symbolism and just reduce my comprehension to taking things at face value. I’ve spent many airport layovers in complete observance of this timeless ritual and have eagerly read and forgotten many books of The DaVinci Code and Bridget Jones’ Diary variety. I approached Harry Potter with the same strategy but instead of coming away from the experience freshly energized and amused, I was merely confused. This was what had suddenly inflamed the world in a frenzied fervor of passion? In terms of quality, it was merely on par with The Rule of Four (perhaps the most obnoxious example of self-gratification in modern times and a book that I only finished because I was so indignant at its Ivy League nerd snobbery).

I’m not denying that J. K. Rowling’s epic about The Boy Who Lived To Make My Life Miserable is an impressive, sprawling feat but it’s no Chronicles of Narnia, and to consider it as this generation’s Chronicles of Narnia is just an insult to this generation. Rowling is just another appropriator of that timeless children’s literature gimmick where authors update or alter classic character types and plot cliches, passing off the results as shining gems from the depths of their imagination. Just like how there really aren’t any truly “original” storylines in Hollywood, this strategy derives its longevity from the fact that if it works, there really isn’t a need to fix it.

Don’t believe me? Fine, let’s compare Harry Potter with something equally gimmicky, something called Smallville. Brunette boys with unusual pasts who possess inexplicable powers with a penchant for angst? Brainy sidekick female friend who seems to have all the answers? Slightly duller, unthreatening male friend who is obviously the wingman? Rich, spoiled archenemy that is ambiguously evil and secretly yearns for main character’s approval? Female love interest whose past is defined as “girlfriend of presently deceased football/quidditch star?” Not to mention the last time I met an Asian girl named Cho Chang was in the land of never. As my roommate says, “She just added two Asian last names together!” Still, the reported volume of hate mail that Katie Leung has garnered for standing in the way between rabid fan girls and their scruffy, lightening scar hero is rather frightening to say the least. As for me, I’m still in the dark about Harry’s charm. What about the whole phenomenon renders it award-worthy, a tome to outlast the ravages of time and worthy of a cult-like following? To me, it’s just one thing: overrated.

Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Arts and Entertainment Editor