Harry Potter: Who Cares?


I’m seeing the new Harry Potter tomorrow and I’m looking forward to it.

The sad part is that I’m *just* looking forward to it, the same way I would look forward to any other movie that looked good to me. I was quite the Potterhead back in my day and would have been first in line for the first midnight show. Now my attitude is, “Okay, but…who cares?”

I still love HP as light reading and a children’s story, especially in books 1 and 2. The die-hard enthusiasm has died since JK Rowling fell into the trap of so many famous people, which is “Hey, I got famous doing something great, so I’m going to take a gigantic dump on it to squeeze out a few more bucks by pandering to the lower common denominator!”

Yeah, that makes total sense.

First, the general criticisms…

There are things about HP that I have never liked, one of them being the one-sided treatment of Slytherin house (leave it to me to vote for the bad guys!) On the other hand, the later books have done some good work, such as making Draco Malfoy a human being rather than a 1-D bully. Overall, I was willing to overlook the flaws because of the good I saw and the potential it had in the end to be something (pardon the pun) magical.

When the series began, it was a children’s series that was fun and innocent but also dealt gamely with some troubling real life issues. It was unique. Then, in book 5, she started trying to make it into an Epic Work of Classic Literature (TM) rather than letting it be what it was. Ironically, if she had just let it be what it was, then it had a much greater chance of actually becoming classic.

This is where she falls into the second common trap of famous people: If you want to look edgy and, like, totally cool, litter your book with useless and distracting violence, profanity, and sexual references. Now, I don’t object AT ALL to the appropriate use of adult elements. If they are important to the story and are done in an artful way, then great! I’m all for it. That doesn’t happen in HP, though. JKR pretty much does it because she knows she has to if she wants to be taken seriously by pretentious art critics and self-consciously hip teenagers. Content? Who needs that?

The movies fall into this same trap. The first two movies had their flaws, of course, but on the whole I love how they captured Harry’s world. I think Columbus did a good job, again, capturing the essence of children’s entertainment, maintaining innocence and fun but with dark undertones and real emotion. People like to say that he copied the book verbatim, but this is bogus. He very obviously did NOT copy the book verbatim, for time, production, and other reasons. In any case, any director has a right to some artistic vision. At the same time, I think a movie based on a book should be, well, based on the book in question. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Then Alfonso Cuaron comes along, and I’m sorry, but I don’t see it. Like I said, directors are allowed to have new ideas and movies cannot be books because of the features of those two media are very different. But this guy took things out, changed, and added things for the hell of it and is very much like the pretentious art critics I described above. Throw in adult elements and special effects with no real story and call it a mature art film. Not only is it not a HP story, but it’s not even much of a story. He added innuendo between Ron and Hermione, and Hermione and Harry, that did not need to exist, brought in relics from Mexico in a story set in England, and did too many other things to list and for no good reason.

The later movies really aren’t any better, partly because of there being much more, and poorer, source material, but I cut them slack because they don’t have the hipster ‘tude that I think AC had. That’s still no excuse for craptastic pacing, lighting, and not at least having a coherent screenplay.

Granted, I still enjoyed all of them to some degree and I own them all except for the 3rd one. I also own the 3rd Harry Potter soundtrack because it really is cool, as were the special effects. I know I was hard on AC, so this is where I throw him a bone.:)

The inverted girl geek stereotype: Enough is enough

Other Fatosphere bloggers have commented on the rampant lookism that JKR engages in when constructing characters, especially with fat. I want to expand on that theme with regard to the movies.

At one time, geeks were geeks. They wore thick glasses, had incorrigibly curly hair, and other so-called physical flaws. They also had good hearts and brilliant minds. Hermione was this character. I have never totally been in love with her either, but I was very much in love with her geek persona. She had the brains and was not ashamed to admit it. She eventually got some friends and got a bit of a rebellious streak later on. She had large teeth, frizzy brown hair, and wasn’t much into fashion. There are some recognizable geek features, but Hermione had put her own spin on them and became Hermione Granger, not just another geek.

In later books, she got her hair straightened (Do NOT get me started on the overtones in that one!), got her teeth re-sized and started to care a lot more about fashion and what boys thought of her. Her intelligence did not shine nearly as much as in the earlier books. The movies take it a step further and make Emma Watson wear ultra-trendy clothes (even when in class in a school that requires, ahem, uniforms) that are form-fitting. They are designed to emphasize sexiness and her thinness. I guess the uniforms that are called for aren’t sexy enough for our stars.

Then I saw this.

I know Emma Watson is not Hermione Granger. I don’t expect her to pass up good jobs, nor do I want her to not do what makes her happy. I wish her the best in her endeavors, and yes, it’s a pretty cover.

I still can’t help but feel disappointed that the world’s favorite girl geek is yet another conventionally attractive actress.

Come to think of it, this isn’t a problem just in HP. Think of all the spy movies or shows you’ve seen. How often are the female leads very thin, conventionally attractive, and without disability? Shows like Burn Notice features ultra-thin hot women. The movie Kick-Ass, a movie that could take up its own post, features a pre-pubescent Chloe Moretz as Hit Girl. Hit Girl is a-surprise, surprise-conventionally attractive, thin girl with bad-ass athletic ability.

Sorry to interject, but does anyone else find it perverted that they had an 11-year-old wearing latex, using words like ‘cunt,’ and being trained by her father to be a serial killer? That’s just plain sick. I don’t care if it is a movie.

Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella Montez in High School Musical is another chic geek. She is non-white, but she is conventionally attractive, and thin, in every other way. She is loved by her classmates, except of course for those people totally jealous for her brains. She even says at the beginning of the movie that she is afraid of being the “freaky genius girl.” Try being a fat kid or a kid with a deformity. You’ll miss being the genius really fast.

Can’t we, for once, have a fat spy? A model with a facial deformity? Can we, for once, allow people to be unathletic without it being a commentary on their character or an invitation to concern trolling? Can we have genuine minority actors, and not just thin people pretending to be fat or hot actresses wearing bad FX makeup?

We have tried so hard to dismantle stereotypes of geeks that we have gone too far in the other direction. We have made the girls into the popular girls, only somewhat less bitchy and with the brains too!

Can you say Mary Sue?

LCD viewers won’t care though, because they get to watch a hot lead actress and special effects, not to mention some hot kissing scenes.

Anyway, in a few hours, I will be seeing the last Harry Potter movie. I will be seeing Emma Watson’s last appearance as the thin and sexy Hermione Granger.

And I won’t miss it all that much when it’s over. It tried to be all things to all people and a work of high lit at the same time. It ended up being nothing.

That’s too bad.

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10 comments

  1. vesta44 · July 17, 2011

    I think I read the first 4 books in the HP series and then lost interest in them, which is unusual for me (I have all the books in the Anita Blake series so far, and every Sookie Stackhouse book too, and anxiously await the new ones). As for the HP movies, I haven’t seen any of them, and won’t be seeing any of them. I don’t like watching movies made from books I’ve read simply because the movie isn’t like the movie I saw in my head when I read the book. Nothing can match up to that and the dissonance between the two ruins the story for me – I sit there watching the movie, yelling at the screen “that didn’t happen that way, you left this, that, or the other out and it was IMPORTANT, you moron!!!” Needless to say, I can’t go to theaters to see those movies, I usually end up watching them when they come to cable or satellite tv (or when my husband buys the DVD).

    • joannadeadwinter · July 17, 2011

      Trust me, you’re not the only one who lost interest after the 4th. Die-hard fans have done the same, and they only read further to go to the parties and to see how it ends…in the vain hope it will improve.

  2. Alexie · July 17, 2011

    This movie makes up for the last couple. It’s very good.

    Re: lookism in films. Agreed. If you look at British television, on the other hand, one of the great things about it is that it has lots of ‘normal’ looking people in it. There was a long-running series called The Bill, about a police station, and the cops on the job had beaky noses, bad teeth, middle aged spread and out-and-out plainness. It was hugely popular, because it was a well crafted drama.

    This is true, to an extent, even in the HP films. Emma Watson may be thin, but Alan Rickman has bad teeth, Maggie Smith is chock full of wrinkles, Mrs Grainger and her husband have plenty of middle aged spread and so on. Even Draco’s glamorous mother is clearly ageing without the help of botox or any other magic youth potion. It’s a cast of ordinary looking people who are there because they’re outstanding actors.

  3. Patsy Nevins · July 17, 2011

    I love all the Harry Potter books & all the movies. I think that the movies very faithfully stick to the books, which is what I want. I watch very few movies, & I am very disappointed when I love a book, then the movie made of it may as well be about some other book. I have loved HP since I first picked it up…is it perfect? No, sometimes I am not fond of her portrayal of fat characters…but I do love the story, all of it, & I don’t especially think of it as for children, but then I tend to often prefer kids’ books to much written for adults.

    And Molly Weasley is a fat & clearly loved, very positive character. And I also have no problem with my villains clearly BEING villains, though it is good that Draco has moments of humanity.

    The movies I have seen have been very good & it seemed to me that each one got better. My daughter-in-law & granddaughter took me to see the newest one yesterday & we all…age 6, 32, & nearly 62…loved every minute of it. My d-i-l are hoping that she will write more books, perhaps continue with the adventures of the children of Harry, Ginny, & Ron, Hermoine, & their friends.

    The actors, as seems to be more true of British film than American, is very human-looking; no one, including Emma Watson, is a great raving beauty, & I have no idea whether she is slender because she works at it constantly/has an eating disorder, or if she is just a slender girl. And, yes, the older actors are undeniably OLDER & definitely aging.

    It seems to be cool around the blogs to be hypercritical & disdainful of anything which seems to have too much mainstream success & popularity. I am generally no lover of movies, of show business people, of pop culture & mainstream media, but I have loved Harry Potter for years now & that is nothing for which I or anyone else need apologize.

  4. JoannaDW · July 17, 2011

    “And Molly Weasley is a fat & clearly loved, very positive character. And I also have no problem with my villains clearly BEING villains, though it is good that Draco has moments of humanity.”

    MW is also a fat stereotype-the jolly, matronly type. Admittedly, I don’t much like that character, so that might color my perception. As for villains, yes, if you want to create breathing characters that readers can relate to and understand, even if they do not like them, they need to be human…not just villains. Then again, I was rooting for Bellatrix Lestrange to win.:)

    “The actors, as seems to be more true of British film than American, is very human-looking; no one, including Emma Watson, is a great raving beauty, & I have no idea whether she is slender because she works at it constantly/has an eating disorder, or if she is just a slender girl. And, yes, the older actors are undeniably OLDER & definitely aging.”

    Raving beauty according to whose definition? Other rabid fans would beg to differ with that assessment that no one here is a raving beauty. Emma Watson especially has quite the fan base on Amazon.:)

    And you don’t need to be a raving beauty (blonde, blue-eyed, etc.) to be very conventionally attractive. And yes, the *main* female characters like Hermione and Ginny are conventionally attractive in many respects. Is that a crime? Absolutely not! But it’s also something very common and I would like to see something else in a story that was supposed to be, well, something else.

    Plus, the Hermione character, in the books and the movies, gradually *evolved* from being an altered geek stereotype to being a very conventional female lead. It is something like the Princess Diaries of the British magical world and that just…rubs me the wrong way.

    “It seems to be cool around the blogs to be hypercritical & disdainful of anything which seems to have too much mainstream success & popularity. I am generally no lover of movies, of show business people, of pop culture & mainstream media, but I have loved Harry Potter for years now & that is nothing for which I or anyone else need apologize.”

    As I wrote in a previous blog post which *you* read and commented on, I have very much enjoyed HP in the past and was very much part of Pottermania. I have ardently defended people like Kesha, Lady Gaga, and other artists that cultural critics love to hate. At the same time, I defended people’s right to enjoy something just to enjoy it and to not be insulted because it’s not some grand opus. So I don’t know who you were writing to when you wrote that, but it can’t have been me.

    I have never believed, or claimed, that mainstream success means that something is low-quality or that all famous people follow the money once they get famous. I am simply making the straightforward observation that sometimes, famous people keep fame by “selling out.” Which is odd in the case of JKR because she didn’t NEED to sell out. She was doing great doing what she was doing originally and she *deserved* her fame.

    You and I are not going to agree here, and that’s okay. I still like HP, by the way, but I still feel like it could have been something better. I was not satisfied and it feels like a loss after following it for so many years. That’s all.

    And I never asked you to apologize, either. Wow. It sounds like you took this personally, and I’m sorry if you did.

  5. JennyRose · July 18, 2011

    I am not a huge fan but my daughter is. I did not think Herminone looked particulary glam. I recall her mostly wearing a hoodie, jean jacket and sneakers. I too thought Molly Weasly was a good character. I didn’t see her as a “fat character” but as a good mum who did what she could with less financial resources than some of the other parents. Neville Longbottem did seem to thin out over the years but that could have been due to natural growth.

    I don’t think Patsy took your comments too personally. I just think she strongly disagreed with you. My ten year old loved the movies and the books. To be fair, she is a far less discerning critic thn any of us. I was a bit surprised that the liked the books and movies equally because I never think the movie can equal the book.

    The themes I discussed with my daughter were friendship and how Harry and Draco treated their friends so differently, love and the fact that the world is not always such a nice place. I liked the movie but would not have seen it had my daughter not been interested in it.

    • JoannaDW · July 18, 2011

      This is not about what Watson was dressed in, it is about the body she has and its conventional features. Again, there’s nothing wrong with her, but I would like more diversity in PRINCIPLES roles, not side ones. As for Molly Weasley, I cannot see her as a positive character. Talk about someone with a horrible temper who is always yelling and who, on at least one occasion, beat her children with a broomstick. She DOES have positive personality features, and I can see why so many people have taken to her. She just never grew on me.

      That’s actually another fat stereotype. The fat girl with a temper.

      I can’t speak for PN, but I took issue with her implication that I was criticizing HP because it was popular. It’s not true whatsoever and she knows this. It also was not relevant in any way to any of the criticisms that I brought up here.

      HP does have redeeming social messages but a lot of the time, I think the messages were second tier to the romances and subplots that went nowhere. And the main characters aren’t always the most upstanding people either. I don’t want them to be right 100% of the time but I still think the book should be more critical of it.

  6. severusPA · March 13, 2012

    As someone who once loved Harry Potter and still appreciates the books in their own way, I completely agree with you, particularly about the bad language and sex/violence in the later books. I have no problem with those things when they are necessary, but it just felt like JKR was screaming ‘this is not a children’s book!’ and she really didn’t need to. The books were great as they were. A bit of swearing wasn’t going to change the minds of the people who sneered at the books without ever having read them. HP could have been remembered as a truly classic children’s series with adult themes, instead it will be remembered as a mediocre mash-up of children’s and adult’s literature that ended up pleasing neither side.

    • joannadeadwinter · March 21, 2012

      Thanks for this. Sometimes, I think children’s stories are better than adult stories because they HAVE to use subtlety to get the point across. Children are not supposed to be exposed to excessive “adult elements,” and some people can’t write stories without loading them up with that kind of material. Like you, I’m fine with adult elements when they’re necessary and when they add to the story.

      JKR took it to the point where it was pitifully obvious to me that she wanted to impress people with a Deep Dark Work of Adult Fiction (TM). When you try to be both of two things, you end up as neither.

  7. K.Jane · July 8

    I do think you make some good points, though I did think some of the political stuff in the books was handled well. I still liked all the books and have re-read them all more than once, but the movies after the first two ones have been kind of hit and miss for me.

    I agree about the romances too. It makes sense that JKR wanted to eventually have the characters try out romances as they got older, like most teenagers do, but most of the romances kind of derailed the plot. Also, while I don’t expect the main characters to be perfect all the time, Ron’s behavior with regards to romances (him being jealous of Hermione and Viktor Krum together, him being jealous of Harry and Hermione even though they weren’t together and his behavior towards the while Ginny/Harry relationship) made me not like him. I did kind of like Hermione and Krum as a couple when I was a kid but it bothered me that Hermione had to have the “beautiful makeover” to go to the ball with him, especially considering that Krum seemed to be into her when she was being a book nerd. Plus, what’s wrong with having curly hair?

    Interestingly I heard that JKR regrets pairing up Ron and Hermione and feels she should have paired up Hermione and Harry. I think that that couple would have been better-written or less plot derailing.

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