Fuck the Hat!
Harry Potter should reject his elitist masters
Unlike Joseph Campbell, that doofus of ethnocentrism, I don't think all
belief systems are the same, or even equal. For instance, Harry Potter's
filmic realm, a modern London with a magical underworld, seems to embrace
many basic tenets which are not only unusual in the world of spirituality,
but seem downright suspicious.
There are four basic principles taught to Harry Potter, the fictional
wizard who's all the rage with the kids these days. First, that certain
people are special, important and mystically powerful based on their birth.
Second, that the sacred and magical powers of the universe are invested
in finely-crafted and expensive objects. Third, competition, with the attendant
triumphs and humiliations, is the basis of personal growth. Fourth, the
state and its institutions are all-knowing, all-powerful, the keepers of
divine wisdom, and arbiters of all things.
The first is the most painfully enforced in the Harry Potter movie. Left
with unmagical (or 'muggle') relatives, Harry is badly treated throughout
his childhood. We learn that they are jealous of his and his dead parents'
magical powers - which they were obviously not born to share. Once Harry
reaches trainable age (11), a representative of the Hogwarts school of Magic
comes to take Harry away to the private institution, open only by birthright.
Though his family resist on religious grounds, the state snatches Harry
in a midnight raid reminiscent of Elian Gonzales, during which the muggle
cousin is tauntingly given a pig's tail as a whimsical punishment.
Harry, we soon learn, is even more 'special' than most magical people;
as a baby, he was able to survive an attack by a powerful Bad Wizard. Why?
Because he's special - and that's answer enough in the HP universe. When
Harry gets to school, a most disturbing ceremony ensues: each novice is
placed under a sinister hat - yes, a hat - which mystically selects which
of four "Houses" they should belong to. The hat mumbles, scans
their brain, and sets their destiny. Of course, Harry and his friends end
up in the same House - they are special and good.
Harry's first expedition after leaving home is to a magical marketplace
where he must purchase his magic supplies. No earth-spirit or heavenly host
here. Of course, special boy he is, he has a surprise inheritance of a mountain
of gold coins (the state kept it from his family), so he sets about buying
the most expensive wand, cloak, etc, he can get... and of course, the most
mystical and special wand "chooses" him, because his body quakes
with mystical specialty. The coolest and most expensive new broomstick,
the Nimbus 2000, is what helps Harry win the ridiculous sport they play.
Why the magic school doesn't teach cooperation, one can only guess. Instead,
they set the boys against one another in a brutal sport called Quidditch,
in which students routinely end up dead, disappeared, or maimed. No Robin
Williams in this faculty. The final scene of the film is about Harry's House
earning the most points and winning the House Cup; it determines the ending's
happiness. The "bad" House, peopled by bucktooth, snarling goons
and one blond over-privileged snob, are the only one of four Houses who
don't cheer the "good" guys' victory. We are meant to loathe this
targetted House from the first moment. Why?
Finally, the state is the divine power in Harry Potter. It decides when
and how magic is to be used. We hear fleeting mention of a Ministry of Magic,
certainly as secret as the magicians themselves. No child ever objects to
the system of collective punishment and arbitrary rules of the school; Harry
and his "good" friends always smile when the bad House is officially
punished. Sure, they sneak around and break the rules once in a while, but
even this is state-sanctioned when they receive House points for their ultimately-heroic
transgressions. Moreover, the school proves its arbitrary intent in the
last scene, when Harry's House is awarded exactly one point more than the
other House, in a verdict more trumped-up than the US election (everyone
cheers except the bad House, remember).
Oh, what's the point? No one takes this seriously; it's only kids' minds
we're paying to get manipulated.
But if you must take your kids to see this, make sure you rent *Zero
for Conduct* the same week. It's the 1930's french film after which this
column is named. There's no violence, but there is actually magic - and
kids mocking their stuffed-shirt schoolmasters instead of risking their
lives for reward and favour.