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.