Harry Potter and the Death of the West
A recent trend in political writing and in the strange mirror world of social media is to draw comparisons between real life figures and characters from JK Rowling books. It’s hard to say how long this has been going on for but it currently seems ubiquitous among twenty year old tweeters (who, if we’re feeling generous, can be forgiven) and forty year old political commentators (who absolutely cannot be excused of this or anything).
Everything bad is Voldemort or Dolores Umbridge, everything good is owls and private school. Hillary Clinton shouts “expecto patronum” and takes her place at the right hand of God. Bankers remain anti-semitic caricatures. Slaves seem to appreciate their lot in life. Don’t think about it too hard or, preferably, at all. The comparisons are fluid and can basically be applied to everything, anything. Once a response to Donald Trump becoming President-elect of the United States of America is to call on fellow Gryffindors to be brave in the desperate times ahead, all bets are off.
Evidently this is an infantile and absurd response to current events but it’s not epiphenomenal. It is a symptom of a much wider trend, as anyone who has cringed through an actual newscaster mugging to the camera and saying “someone tell Corbyn he’s not in House of Cards” will attest. Why has all political journalism descended into this twee mess?
It’s not just that Trump’s election is an event so staggering it has sent people fleeing back to the comfort and familiarity of their childhood fantasies, although it must partly be that. It is not just that JK Rowling herself has consistently thrown Harry Potter into the conversation when it comes to politics, endlessly relating characters who are (despite her best efforts) frozen in a particular segment of time and space, to things that would surely be of no consequence to them — the Labour leadership election or the Scottish Referendum, elections foreign and domestic. Severus Snape teaches horseshoe theory, the darkest art of all, on his days off.
It certainly can’t have helped matters that the author is so drunk on the era-defining, Blair-loving importance of her own writing that she feels this is valid contribution to the conversation but it is not actually her or Harry Potter who are the heart of the problem. They’re just a particular example that comes in for flak because the only thing as in vogue as Potter comparisons is hating Potter comparisons.
The problem is that, really, for the vast majority of people asked to comment and even to participate in the politics of the day, it’s all pure fantasy anyway. They may say they care, they may strive for the fable of electability, the golden ticket to prosperity for all, but it’s really of no actual consequence to them. If it was, they’d find it hard to be so trite. I suspect they’d find it hard to find the time to write in The Guardian at all. They are disengaged from sharp edge of politics. The only things that seem to inconvenience these people are strikes.
Perfectly natural, then, to compare one set of unreal and fantastical events to another.
Donald Trump being elected is not actually some unthinkable collapse of the natural order, it doesn’t defy the laws of thermodynamics, it’s not magic, but of course it’s easier for people who don’t dwell in the real world for any prolonged amount of time to define it as such. They only dip in from time to time to write a thinkpiece, it’s just a grim plot twist for them.
Political journalists play a game, like fantasy football, but with politicians of all parties. Look, here it is http://demosfantasypolitics.co.uk/about/
Presumably you can put Mike Hookem in to police the midfield. To anyone with any actual convictions, this is obviously grotesque. Discovering it existed only confirmed my suspicions about a large section of the British Press. When Theresa May lets Jeremy Corbyn have it at PMQs these people — despite their stated political positions, which are largely meaningless and open to offers anyway — all cheer and clap as if they’ve scored treble points, whether they’re playing this game or not.
PMQs is just one example of empty political spectacle which is only rendered important at the insistence of the people whose job it is to livetweet it every week.
Real politics kills in vast numbers, at home and abroad, but this seems to be increasingly less important among the people employed to comment upon and analyse it than scoring points in the form of retweets or clicks for whatever website they’re writing for at the time. Everyone who disagrees with them is a troll from a nightmare army, a Stalinist, a croissant-eater. They are the hero and you are the villain and there’s money to be made complaining about this very blight at the heart of culture, the fascism of people not agreeing with their claims that real feminism is being executed by a firing squad of women or that the people can’t be working class if they wear trainers.
The only way you can make sense of this point of view is if you realise that someone like Camilla Long sees herself as a plucky wizard fighting the dark forces of outrage culture. She’s not generating any of this outrage. You don’t have to read what she writes, indeed, it should just be left to exist, an incontrovertible truth, like an obelisk in the desert. Only the people who agree should make their own pilgrimage to it. Man up, she says, you’re not ten. Very fine words from someone roleplaying as Veruca Salt for money.
The amount of examples for this sort of pompous fantasy of self is endless. It permeates political writing and has created a distorted, double world, a filter overlaid on reality. It’s easier to make politics Harry Potter than it is to face horror.
Confronted with the idea that people were starving in Britain, Dan Hodges responded: “When is the last time you saw someone starving in the street?”
That’s the level we’re on. Dan Hodges, a disturbing parody of a man motivated only by hatred of Jeremy Corbyn and the cheques from Tory newspapers he receives for this hatred, has not seen any corpses while running around London with his top off, therefore starvation does not exist. He is wrapped up in his own little fantasy world where right is left, and it is more potent than anything you’ll find in JK Rowling. He has declared the Labour Party dead on several occasions, hosting a more lavish funeral each time. He is a Tory by any plausible definition aside from his own and, in fact, there must be hundreds of actual Tory party members who have spent significantly less time attacking the Labour Party from the right.
Michael Deacon, the most punchable form of Adam Buxton, has his own bubble which he floats merrily about in, casting a sidelong look at current events. It’s clear this is a man with a very delusional idea of the world as soon as you see what he actually looks like compared with his avi on Twitter. He’s delighted to appear on Sky News mocking ordinary people who have written cringy poetry about Jeremy Corbyn, visibly vibrating with excitement, voice adopting a tone of exquisite contempt which he must have practised many times in the mirror. Yet this is a man who has himself written several hundred words analysing the way Jeremy Corbyn sniffs. It’s an indulgence that exceeds even JK Rowling lying through her teeth about Hermione’s parentage.
James Bloodworth, who once had an avatar which was a photograph of himself on television, is somehow considered an authority on, well, something, although I don’t think it’s really clear what. Yet he’s a man who said Hitler was the result of pure evil. That ISIS, too, has no “root cause” and that you are a Stalinist for suggesting it does. Honestly, there are less Stalinists than there are Cubans in Syria and there is no point commenting on foreign policy if you think Voldemort stalking about with a wand is the reason for wars in the Middle East. The fact he still has a job at all shows that fantasy writing is totally synonymous with political commentary.
Of course, each columnist is actually living their own Hero’s Journey, where everything that occurs is a reversal of their personal fortunes, a revelation, a step in their quest for the one true central political position that pleases absolutely every publication they pitch to, a Pilgrim’s Progress through swamps of stinking proles.
This is why Marie Le Conte can be surprised that Theresa May is not the safe set of hands she expected. This is a twist like the end of an M Night Shymalan movie if you’re living in your own careful reconstruction of the world. To anyone who was interested in the actual facts of the situation, who is willing to accept that a Home Secretary best described as brutal hasn’t turned into a socialist upon achieving the highest office in the country (thanks, Robert Peston, for that one), it’s a gross thing to say. If you’re remotely concerned with the actual plight of migrants in the UK, who have this safe pair of hands wrapped tight around their neck, you wouldn’t be laughing about such things. Fortunately, Le Conte has May as her captain in fantasy politics and so scores triple points every time someone is deported.
Harry Potter, in film and on paper, discards anyone who isn’t white so it makes sense that the endless journalists who have adopted it as a lifestyle, who have absorbed it entirely into themselves, give no consideration to people of colour. It’s quintessentially British in that way, better than queuing.
This banal, fantastical nonsense is not limited to any particular political leaning.
Examine for a moment — Lexit. The idea, straight out of Lewis Carroll, that leaving the EU was some sort of triumph for the working class, a blow against imperialism. Many people, a number of whom are viewing events with razor sharp insight from the US, still adhere to this. Despite the increase in racist attacks in Britain, the result’s validation and enablement of a section of the ruling class and the right wing, the renewed sabre rattling of British politicians and officials, the fear in the eyes of the EU migrant workers I see every day. Give me a trite comparison to Voldemort any day of the week over this particular brand of sectarian self-aggrandisement. The ultimate Marxism turns out to be complete denial of the material, living in a cloud cuckoo land where sweeping victories for the right are just steps on the road to utopia. The Jabberwocky is vanquished. The proletariat are in the ascendancy now.
There’s worse subgroups, too, most of them with Black and White avis of dead communists, who don’t wait until the blood is dry after a massacre before shouting about psyops in a 30-tweet Markov chain thread of complete nonsense. If you try to actually read these diatribes, it’s impossible to establish the actual position of the author. On occasion, I’m not sure there is a position. Argue with Phil Greaves and he’ll call you a clerk and demand to know what you have done for the revolution. What has he done for the revolution? I mean, he’s followed by Jeremy Corbyn so maybe that’s the future of the working class secured. He’s in a role playing game: he’s Lenin, anyone else is a secret policeman. It’s all so detached from the real world, it’s hard to imagine him ever leaving the house or getting on a bus without shouting at some single mother that she’s not communist enough. I hope his sad little gang of cranks and sycophants do start a podcast; I’m sure it’ll give heart to all the cadres, all the golf club Marxist-Leninists, waiting with bated breath for the call.
Leftist politics is at its most appealing when it offers critical, material analysis of real conditions and how to improve them- talking about better wages, shorter working days, free healthcare and education, ultimately it’s at its most effective talking about the nature and nuance of worker exploitation. What is the point of just shouting, “Fully Automated Luxury Communism” at people? What does that achieve? This political Quidditch League is another subset that shouldn’t be indulged. You can’t throw robots at a problem and think that’s utopia: Marx himself knew that machines in a capitalist system are rarely used to liberate workers. Systemic change is hard work and FALC is pure escapism, sci-fi novel stuff, that frankly becomes more and more embarrassing as time goes on.
There’s a trend of unveiled misogyny in wider circles describing communists as neeks and shut-ins scared of pubs and crowds. Actually, yes, communism is obviously appealing to some of the most vulnerable people in current society, people who are disabled or trans, for example, who know that the system conspires to kill them, people whose lives and identities are grist for the mill, who face everyday abuse. A thousand jokes about being triggered are part of an elaborate fantasy of people who are so close to Men’s Rights Activists it makes no odds, actually extremely scared of the “snowflakes” they disparage, holding on (as a significant section of the American electorate is apparently still holding on) to a dwindling dream of white, male supremacy.
I don’t think anyone is necessarily helped, however, by the reduction of communist ideology to lame slogans and putting a hammer and sickle in your bio. It has to be more than academic, in every sense, more than just a badge someone wears to write an article. If you’re operating on seventeen layers of irony whenever you discuss the idea of non-binary people using bathrooms then you’re part of the problem.
Twitter is not the real world, of course, but the fantasies of a thousand memes seem to infect the physical and the Harry Potterisation of everything continues apace. It’s hard to see the two worlds slowly coalesce because it means there is no real escape.
When people talk about their disillusionment with a liberal political elite could they possibly be talking about whatever corporate suits thought it was a good idea to have, at the DNC, a bouncy castle in the form of the White House, allowing people to relax and unwind from the stress of their own convention by jumping around a recreation of the seat of power for the United States of America. Satire cries out in anguish, rendered utterly moot. I’m not a steel worker struggling to make ends meet but if I was, I think this is a good example of the type of thing which would make me vote for the other guy.
These same people are now writing that Clinton, a creature of pure light, was failed by the people of America. Why did you allow, through your negligence and stupidity, Dumbledore to die? Another forced conceptualisation of the world feeding off of the others. It’s a swirling vortex of complete absurdity, dragging everyone into it. Calling someone Khaleesi doesn’t necessarily make it so and maybe Clinton and the Democrats should have engaged with some of the actual nuts and bolts of people’s day to day lives and not relied on absolute fantasy to carry her over the line.
I watched some of the election coverage for reasons of pure masochism and I saw one Trump supporter cite his son being denied $750 of insurance, something that he felt immigrants would be granted “for free.” This man was wrong, and probably racist, but he wasn’t going to be convinced by someone telling him Trump was a Slytherin.
At the moment, a series of memes doing the rounds on Twitter (a grotesque phrase in and of itself) depicts the White House itself as a sort of bouncy castle which Joe Biden and Barack Obama dash around carrying Rainbow Flags and playing pranks on the inbound President-elect. I guess some people are finding comfort in this but it seems tantamount to apologism to me. It’s an insult to anyone affected by US government policy at home and abroad. I don’t see any value in it. Obama has deported more people than Trump promises to. He has left behind a vast security apparatus and legions of heavily armed cops for Trump’s use, not to mention the drone fleet that forms his most lasting legacy. Guantanamo Bay remains open, and while Obama pledges to close it before handing over power, its prisoners are simply being transferred elsewhere.
That people are apparently thirsty for a young Joe Biden speaks volumes about the deep well of loneliness at the heart of social media. Of course, this is a website on which you can find an account dedicated to regaling followers with the stories of a universe in which Ed Miliband became Prime Minister. Miliband — a sad trombone noise of a person — is some kind of folk hero now, despite carving “CONTROLS ON IMMIGRATION” into a rock. Maybe some of this is harmless, or would be in and of itself, but political fan fiction seems to be reaching a critical point now, where it replaces engagement rather than just supplementing it.
You don’t have to be on Twitter for very long before you realise that you can rephrase a trite opinion in the form of an established format — “buddy …”– for extra retweets. I suspect that relating Harry Potter to modern events works in the same way, particularly in certain circles of pundits who spend all day giggling with one another online and in real life, and whose careers peaked when they tweeted the Brexit flotilla in the delirious terms of a teenager at their first gig. They’re so firmly ensconced in their fantasy world of political commentary that ‘size of Thames flotilla’ is a meaningful gauge of worth for a political movement.
Harry Potter is obviously a gift for SEO, guaranteeing extra hits, and so will inevitably snowball as such things do before, perhaps, exhausting itself. The wider treatment of politics as a facile parlour game, however, with everyone doing the Dimbleby Dance on top of an ever-growing pile of skulls, will probably only come to an end when the ice caps do finally melt and reality crashes through our windows.