Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Hidden Wrongness of Harry Potter

These days, everybody wants to be a wizard. How could we not? The Harry Potter universe is so beautifully realised that it feels like you could walk right in, pull up a Butterbeer, and chat with the Order of the Phoenix like you've known each other for years. Not to mention that the place is freaking AWESOME in every respect, from magic wands to dancing chocolate frogs, unicorns, dragons, potions, and high school that never involves maths or science.

Of course, you have the downsides - Lord Voldemort, a variety of terrifically lethal monsters, sadistic teachers, irritating blonde enemies - but, let's face it, nobody ever looked less cool for smiting any of the above. If you don't mind the occasional near-death experience (and zombies, there are fucking zombies), then it would be unbelieveably, incredibly awesome to live in the Harry Potter Universe.

Except that it totally isn't. Some scary and seriously overlooked shit goes down in the Harry Potter universe. Stuff like...

1. Fat people are evil.

Let's play a game. First, let's have a glance at some of the heroes from Harry Potter:

The three main characters

Dumbledore's Army (the entire student resistance)

Get a good look? Now, here are some images of Harry Potter villains:

Harry's asshat Uncle Vernon...

...and Cousin Dudley

Draco's fat, stupid henchmen; Crabbe and Goyle

Sadistic, chubby torturer; Dolores Umbridge

Getting the idea? Of course, I can already hear the bitching start, "But most of the Harry Potter villains are thin! And so is Imelda Staunton and you're full of shit!" To that, I say, take a closer look at Harry Potter and you'll notice that there is not a single fat character who is a nice person*. And that Dolores Umbridge is supposed to be fat in the books, with a double chin, bitches. J.K. Rowling really seems to have it in for the fatties in her novels, but occasionally must have felt like she was pushing the envelope as she settles, now and then, on simply ridiculing the appearance of unpleasant characters. Let's take Slytherin student Pansy Parkinson - a mere footnote to the story, she is rarely mentioned without Rowling adding, with relish, that she has a face like a bulldog.

2. No sex ed. And probably, no sex.

As Harry and the gang grew up, there were more than a few clues as to their romantic awakenings. And, at first, these seemed to be right on cue. By the fifth book, Harry sneaks a pash with Cho Chang, and it's not long after that Ron spends half of an entire book sucking face with Lavender Brown. Even mousy, bookish Hermione enjoys a flirtation with Viktor Krum - at one point even hinting that she may go to visit his home over the summertime.

And then, right when everything seems to be steaming up... nothing. J.K. Rowling avoids the mention of sex almost studiously - no mean feat in novels featuring adolescent students of a co-ed boarding school. By the final novel, despite being alone, terrified and full of teenage hormones, seventeen year-old Ron and Hermione share perfectly chaste accommodation for months on end. The only hint of physical contact we are informed of is the scandalous detail that they actually fall asleep holding hands. But then, as explained by Rowling earlier in the series, women in the Harry Potter universe are curiously devoid of sexual desire - apparent in the fact that the girls' dormitories are equipped to keep the boys out, but the boys' dormitories require no such security measures.

Maybe it's a good thing that nobody at Hogwarts is getting down and dirty, though, considering that at no point are they ever seen to receive any sexual education. We readers would have really benefited from some as well, come to think of it. I have unanswered questions about wizarding contraception.

"I can't handle another unplanned pregnancy!"

3. It's all about the... *ahem*, wand.

In case you haven't noticed, it's a wizard's world out there. But I like to think that Rowling's hand was forced on this; in a climate where she was encouraged to use a gender-neutral pen name, she may have naturally (and probably correctly) realised that the series would have the most mainstream appeal if it featured a male protagonist.

"Guys, you ever get this feeling when chicks feature in books?"

Of course, Harry's best friend is also a guy. So is his mentor, Dumbledore, and his only remaining relative, Sirius. And his arch-enemy, Professor Snape. And his super-arch enemy, Lord Voldemort. There's Hermione, of course, but she's mainly there in a Lisa Simpson context; as a mobile encyclopaedia and force of temperance against the constant wand-stroking going on by the male main cast.

"Hey Voldemort! Wanna... duel?"

Aside from the scarcity of female leads, the Harry Potter universe doesn't present women particularly well. In the Goblet of Fire Tri-Wizard Tournament, we not only saw the standard ratio of three men to one woman, but a female competitor who came last in all three events, and needed to be rescued (by men) in two of them.

Life for witches in the Harry Potter universe presents some considerable drawbacks, as well. Most wizarding marriages seem to take place straight out of high school, and any suspicions we have about wizarding contraception would seem to be borne out by the fact that women like Lily Potter, Molly Weasley, and Fleur Delacour all became mothers before their twenty-first birthdays. But that's not much of an issue, so long as their children don't turn out as...

4. Squibs

For the uninitiated, a Squib in the Harry Potter universe is a child born to wizarding parents but without any magical powers of their own. Wizard attitudes to "special" children fall on the "only-just-above-Spartan" level, in that they don't merely fling the unfortunate prodigy from cliffs. However, Squibs are seen as a source of shame and embarrassment, often hidden, and usually sent into exile in the Muggle community because it's "kinder" that way. Rowling hints that a culture of Squibicide may have even existed in the wizarding world, what with widespread acceptance of the conspiracy theory that Dumbledore's sister was a Squib, deliberately done away with by the family.

Don't worry, kid, Muggle society is used to failure. You'll fit right in!

* I should also point out that Hagrid isn't "fat" so much as "retarded half-giant".