Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bury Potter and the Ghastly, hallowed

Not that I've got an "audience"- we're all friends, here- but I've set myself up for charges of hypocrisy from the audience, here.
What I mean is that I've chartered this here blog on the idea that so-called "mass culture" is dead, dead, dead, and that we can operate on a different scale. I still believe that. However, I do talk about stuff that would register on the scales for "mass culture"- stuff like TV shows, U2, and today, the Harry Potter movies. So, what's up with that?
Here's my internal rationalization- It's me talking about this stuff. I don't really have an audience, and I'm strange, so necessarily, my take on it will be sideways, and anyone reading my take will read it sideways, as well. That's an internal rationalization, though. I recognize that we're all "non-conformists"- everybody thinks they're a unique snowflake, and I'm no different. Except, well, I really am a bit different, and I can prove it; most folks haven't worked in the industry, and of those who have, even fewer have my particular brand of mixed feelings about it.
But, enough with the intellectual pud-pulling! I've got a more external, objective reasoning- that is, the process is in enough flux that we can talk about mass culture. What I mean is that there still is enough of the old world to talk about, that when I say "Mass culture" you have an idea of what I mean. Because of that, in a dialectic, we're not yet at a new synthesis- we're still negotiating between theses. Exactly how much mass, and how much idiosyncratic culture will come out is still up for grabs. Therefore, I cannot totally ignore mass culture, and though I might be hostile to the vast majority of it, it really isn't the job of history to be hostile to an idea until it's totally resolved.
What I am saying is that I am a product of my upbringing, and my environs- which has weighted in favor of mass culture very heavily, but I'm not a blind consumer, so I'm welcoming the impending demise of that paradigm- I'm welcoming it, because it's not yet complete.
Seem like neurotic posturing to you? Yeah, it might be, but I'm going to see the new Harry potter movie today, most likely. I've got a few thoughts on that. The first is on the phenomena. Obviously, it's become a world-wide cultural phenomena- but it's not unique in that. In fact, it takes quite a bit from earlier incarnations of that same phenomena- most notably JRR Tolkien and the "teen mystery" novels (Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys). So, the reasons for Harry Potter becoming such a phenomena are probably much the same as for the earlier incarnations of the same phenomena. I don't think it's all that productive looking for significance in the books themselves, in that they're simply re-tellings of already existing themes, tropes and even stories. (By the way, this isn't meant as a slam on the books- since the time of the Greeks, the point of telling stories and myths isn't to be wholly original- the point is to tell the story that does the most for the audience)The real interest, for me, is why these stories? Why is Harry Potter world wide, while, say,Lemony Snicket, isn't? I suspect that it's something to do with Britain. Think about how many people watched the recent Royal Wedding. Think about how vast the British Empire was. Think about how rotten things have been in England since the 1970's. I think there's a strong element in Empire nostalgia in the Harry Potter series. Children seem to desire strong parents. I think I can see why. There is a comfort in knowing what's expected, and there is security in strength. Adults find that "strong parent" is authoritarian governments. I can understand that it's easier to place one's faith in a person than in abstract ideas, and for all the "magic" and "mystery" of Harry Potter, the strongest theme is of Harry seeking the comfort of a strong parent who won't go away. His birth parents are dead, his Godfather gets killed, his mentors die, and still, Harry never truly looks within to set his own agenda. Instead, he's always the plaything of his fears, as personified by Lord Voldemort. Essentially, the need fulfilled, on a cultural level, by the Harry Potter series, is the post-modern, multicultural democratic longing for the premodern monocultural empire. It's the desire for people to be exonerated for the crimes of their cultural past, while also wishing that the past could be secure enough to be the present. JK Rowling has said that her books were a plea for tolerance, but tolerance for whom? I'm a white middle class, middle aged American. I don't see a need for me to "tolerate" the third world, or women, or any other group. At this stage in history, I can only hope that all these other groups, who are much more dynamic than my own culture, will tolerate me. I think that's who rowling is pleading tolerance for, ultimately. Harry Potter is the British Empire personified in the most sympathetic light possible. That's what I think, anyway. Essentially, I think the Harry potter answer to the dialectic is to reject it altogether, and wish that we could all just be happy together. I think that Rowling's answer to my Blog's question would be something along the lines of "We don't need to tolerate mass culture, Mass culture should be tolerant, and, if we can accept others, mass culture will be tolerant". Now to draw too much of a straw man, but my answer to such thinking is that mass culture is not the same as the culture of the masses. I don't think that mass culture can be tolerant or intolerant. Mass culture is ultimately a proposition, and attempt to persuade us to a mindset. I have come to the opposite conclusion from what I see as the Harry potter answer to post modern insecurity. I think we should just give in to that insecurity, not look for our Parents, and instead enjoy what joys our lives can afford us, and fight those who would seek to be our cultural Parents.
So, if that's how I feel, why am I seeing the movie? Because my wife and kid do not feel as I do. They both really like Harry Potter. My son likes to identify as Harry Potter, and sees himself as the misunderstood noble hero, and my wife has literally said that she enjoys the "world of Harry Potter" because it's like her imaginings of old England.I'm interested enough in seeing the phenomena that I'm allowing myself to dragged along.

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