So Harry Potter is over and with it, my childhood. After seven books and eight movies, the series is now complete, unless there’s a Broadway debut in store. As I finished the final film and watche three-dimensional Voldemort’s remains scatter into the crowd — I may or may not have caught a piece — I couldn’t help but brew a deep personal resentment for and discomfort with the peace of the Wizarding world. While Team Evildoer may have taken a heavy blow, you can’t help but wonder what Harry is going to do with all his newly won free time.
2011 has indeed been a poor year for the forces of evil. Just two short months before Voldemort’s cinematic death, Osama bin Laden, another favorite world villain, was finally killed. The world rejoiced, not because his death had any immediate tangible impact on our lives, but because it was a slam-dunk for Team Good Guys.
Why did we love Harry so much? Was it because of Rowling’s stellar writing or the obsessive culture that clung to the series and made it a standard for any young reader? Maybe, but I believe it is something deeper than that. The Harry Potter series was so satisfying because we knew how it was going to end before it ever began. The moment we meet poor disheveled orphan Harry and learn about the evil Voldemort who plots against him, we know there is only one possible outcome that could take place. Was anyone really convinced when Hagrid carried out our hero’s supposed corpse? Harry represents good, and good always triumphs over evil. Circumstance contained all of the books’ nuance, and the justice of Harry’s cause never came under fire.
J.K. Rowling admits that Voldemort’s character represents a sort of Hitler-esque worldview, and the parallels in the series between Death Eaters and Nazis abound. Thus, she makes our job as reader even easier, since we can always reference the most black and white historical moment in our repertoire to remember whom we should root for.
Adulthood is not as easy as Harry makes seem. I stepped out of the theater into a world in which the U.S.A. is fighting three simultaneous wars, all of which are justified by, at least partially, shoddy moral reasoning. Contempt and suspicion mire the U.S.’s collective visage, and our international clout, by the kindest of standards, could only theoretically serve the purposes of relative good. No real-world litmus test of morality exists, but rather we find ourselves negotiating between clichés like self-determination, freedom and terror, and complicated situations on the ground.
Lucky for me, we inhabit a post-modern moment that offers a variety of literature to reflect our confusion. Try pulling a thread of morality out of Pynchon, Delillo or Foster Wallace and you’ll surely see why. As a reader of contemporary American literature, I can’t help but notice that not only is morality out of style, but so are dramatic conclusions and linear structure. All of these structures seem overly romantic and most authors employ them only ironically. In an attempt to mirror real life, 21st century literature is incomplete, erratic and kind of unsatisfying.
Many think that our newfound moral relativism means progress. We may be hesitant in our praise, but we are also gentle with our condemnation. We sympathize, rationalize and mollify, in an attempt to heighten our understanding of those who disagree with us. Our culture is reluctant to dole out the banner of evildoer, except in the most drastic of circumstance as with Voldy and OBL, especially since this label has led to war more than once.
There are times, though, when moral relativism is just not going to cut it. Poking holes in moral arguments can be fun and all, but as an American who was absolutely elated after hearing about bin Laden’s death, I can’t help but mourn the lost romanticism. Won’t someone just tell me who is trying to take away my freedom just so I can focus my energies on fighting them? Will anyone withhold their sarcasm for long enough to write some goddamn love poetry? I’ll be waiting at the nearest Pinkberry.
Original Author: Adam Lerner