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"There's a game of water Quidditch going on in the swimming pool." Harry Potter, fandom, and academia.
August 12, 2006 10:24 PM   Subscribe

"... Everyone needs an escape. It just amazes me that for 1,200 people this involves sitting in darkened rooms listening to presentations on Harry Potter and the Sanctity of Everyday Life: JK Rowling's Complex Treatment of the Trope of Normalcy." Carole Cadwalladr covers Lumos 2006 for the Guardian. [via]
posted by anjamu (27 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously in the Guardian: Tanya Gold on Accio!, the British equivalent of Lumos.

A response to the Cadwalladr article from the author of "Out of bounds? Transgressive Granger/Snape fan fiction and online communities," one of the papers discussed therein. (Includes the text of the paper, likely NSFW).

J.K. Rowling's sentiments about Harry Potter fan fiction.

Oh, and is Harry Potter Jewish? Both conferences so far have featured papers on Judaism in the oeuvre of Ms. Rowling.

Previously on Metafilter: a scandal within the Harry Potter fanfic world; scientists use Harry Potter to teach genetics.
posted by anjamu at 10:25 PM on August 12, 2006


I have to admit that stuff like this does tend to make it embarrassing to be a person that enjoys the books, but I think this writer was still a little harsher than she needed to be.
posted by zixyer at 11:25 PM on August 12, 2006


Seriously, Is Harry Potter Jewish?

"he cares about how others are feeling, he is kind, and he defends his beliefs; these are a very few examples of proper Jewish behavior.”

Way to appropriate 'being a decent human being' into 'being Jewish'. Wanker.

(at the presenter, not the post. Good post - I read a lot of HP fanfiction, so it was interesting to read about it.)
posted by jacalata at 11:47 PM on August 12, 2006


Good post. Always wondered how anyone could read HP. Now I know it is porn.
posted by A189Nut at 1:45 AM on August 13, 2006


I can't help but wonder if these scholars are completely wasting their time. Not because of their topic, but because the Harry Potter series isn't finished yet. Rowling has one more book to go, and anything she writes could completely blast these people's theses out of the water.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:21 AM on August 13, 2006


There's just one man in the room who spends the entire session staring at the carpet.

I corner him on the way out. 'I came with my girlfriend!' he says, quickly.

I thought it was just about liking nice cuddly wizards, I say.

'So did I!' he says. 'Jeez! I mean.'

I head out into the sunlight. I need to get away from the windowless rooms and the sex-with-animals.

posted by stbalbach at 5:38 AM on August 13, 2006


OK I didn't expect to have to be the first one to say this, but - that article was absolute shit.

They sent a writer to a conference who was unfamiliar with its subject - unlike the readers of the 300 million goddamn copies of the books floating around - and couldn't be bothered to do the four days of pleasurable reading required to catch up, whose vision of what literary criticism should be is dated sometime in the 1950's. Said writer is then surprised by the concept of fan fiction even though scholarly studies of fandom have been serious business for going on 20 years. Said writer conflates fan fiction with slash and apparently finds the whole concept 'icky,' conflating 'erotica' and 'porn' to boot, and editorializing in the dull repetitive fashion of second-rank snobs everywhere who feel that academia owes them something.

Someone send this fool the Dewey Decimal Number for Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins and be done with it.

The Lumos types might be out somewhere in left field, frankly, but even they deserve better treatment than this dismissive, ignorant, shabby article unworthy of an undergrad-newspaper column.
posted by waxbanks at 6:01 AM on August 13, 2006


Dewey Decimal: 306.1
The 306's are about Culture and Institutions.
posted by ancientgower at 6:06 AM on August 13, 2006


Nice post, thanks!

I think this writer was still a little harsher than she needed to be.

No, I think she was exactly harsh enough.

They sent a writer to a conference who was unfamiliar with its subject - unlike the readers of the 300 million goddamn copies of the books floating around - and couldn't be bothered to do the four days of pleasurable reading required to catch up...


Right, they should have sent yet another HP groupie who would have rambled on about how intertextual and postmodern and wonderful it all was. No thanks; a bracing dose of reality is much better. But I guess it's unrealistic to expect a taste for reality from a Harry Potter fan.
posted by languagehat at 6:52 AM on August 13, 2006


But wait! Now there's more Potter Fandom drama regarding Cassandra Claire, author of the Very Secret Diaries.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:08 AM on August 13, 2006


> I can't help but wonder if these scholars are completely wasting their time. Not because of
> their topic, but because the Harry Potter series isn't finished yet. Rowling has one more book to
> go, and anything she writes could completely blast these people's theses out of the water.

Being right gets you no brownie points (or any grants or any further up the tenure track.) The idea is to have something to say that gets you listened to right-now-today. Things presented at conferences like these are the very holotypes of ephemerality, they will be forgotten almost before the last word is spoken, and everyone knows that including the presenters, so there's no risk at all in saying something that may be refuted tomorrow.

The point of being an academic lit-crit is to jump some creative person's train and ride it some--any--distance along the career track. Which is precisely why the departments which deal in lit-crit have become such campus clowns.
posted by jfuller at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2006


Only on the Internet would the position that fan fiction is stupid be a controversial one.
posted by reklaw at 7:14 AM on August 13, 2006


languagehat : "Right, they should have sent yet another HP groupie who would have rambled on about how intertextual and postmodern and wonderful it all was."

Er, no, they should have sent someone who had at least read the books, and was at least familiar with the concept of fan fiction or slash. That doesn't mean that they should necessarily send someone who liked the books, fan fiction, or slash. Just someone who had done some preparation for their job.
posted by Bugbread at 8:26 AM on August 13, 2006


Just read the "Out of bounds? Transgressive Granger/Snape fan fiction and online communities" article. I had forgotten how far lit-crit can have its head up its own ass. Reminds me of some article I had to read in grad school whose thesis was the The Taming of the Shrew was actually a tale of empowerment for women.

Also, the quality of writing in fanfic, especailly "slash" and "het" stories is really, really awful.
posted by eustacescrubb at 8:31 AM on August 13, 2006


> to jump some creative person's train

And as for what creative person, it has not escaped these folks' notice that if they try to write about Milton, they're competing with Stanley Fish. If they try to write about Shakespeare, they're competing with Harold Bloom. But if they try to analyze comic books or Harry Potter they're only competing against the other bottom-feeding, uh, scholars who do the same, and thus maybe have a chance of distinguishing themselves from among their, uh, peers and maybe get promoted from instructor to assistant professor at Southwest Texas Community Junior College at Uvalde. (P.S. before the fan torchlight mob starts to gather, I absolutely adore Harry, I have the HP books up on the tippy-top fantasy shelf along with Oz and LOTR, streets ahead of C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman [who are actually the same person, and isn't he howling at his own joke!] But academics who write disquisitions about HP (and/or fanfic) are and will remain comic relief and nothing else.)
posted by jfuller at 8:44 AM on August 13, 2006


Re: Cassie Claire: she's also attempted to purge her NC-17 Harry/Draco slash (1, 2) from the internet now that her Young Adult fantasy novel is being professionally published.

I agree that the reporter should have done some research on fandom and read more of the books beforehand instead of going for the cheap, context-free "look at the freaks!" angle. That would not have necessarily yielded a positive spin to the piece, but at least it would have been more informative. Her brainless comment about Snape, for example, is a direct result of her unfamiliarity with the source material; in later books, he's a genuinely ambiguous character, not just a bad boy that female fans want to redeem.
posted by amber_dale at 9:08 AM on August 13, 2006


Having grown up amongst conventions, fan fics, panel discussions drooling over second rate parodists, of all types from Otakus to Gamers to Vampires to Trekkies, et al. I didn't get the feeling that Cadwalladr was superficially bashing these people. Think of it this way:

Imagine how perturbed the Wizards Council would be to see a bunch of muggles prancing about pretending to be magic users; and in Draconian fashion, rewriting their historical characters as ones of questionable morals and sexuality.

Now imagine how pissed actual intellectuals would be to see these people prancing about in the guise of legitimate analysis and claiming to be equally legitimate.
posted by judge.mentok.the.mindtaker at 9:18 AM on August 13, 2006


Er, no, they should have sent someone who had at least read the books, and was at least familiar with the concept of fan fiction or slash. That doesn't mean that they should necessarily send someone who liked the books, fan fiction, or slash. Just someone who had done some preparation for their job.

And how boring would that have been. This article was a much more entertaining one than the one you posit. You don't send an insider to get an outsider's view of things.
posted by insomnus at 9:20 AM on August 13, 2006


I'm coming across as saying something different than I intend. I didn't mean they should send someone well versed in Potter, who is on the up-and-up regarding which ships are popular and which slash yiff stomp internet-word-explosion...sorry, regardless, I didn't mean to imply that an insider should be sent, but someone who has at least covered the absolute basics (i.e. either read the novels (they aren't so long) or seen the movies).

I suppose that wouldn't make for a particularly entertaining read, but "random journalist learns the word 'slash'" isn't a particularly entertaining read either. I'd say, if that's the tack you're going for, then it would've been more interesting if the writer knew far less. Send an octogenarian who has never seen any of the movies, read any of the books, or heard any grandchildren talk about it. That would be a good read. But here we have someone stuck between not knowing so little that their observations as an outsider are interesting, and not knowing enough that their observations as an outsider are interesting.

I will totally agree that sending an insider (a fan, as opposed to someone just conversant) would be the worst possible option.
posted by Bugbread at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2006


I suppose that wouldn't make for a particularly entertaining read

You can stop right there, because everything else is irrelevant. This isn't the Intercultural Journal of Metacritical Studies (thank Christ), it's the Guardian. They're in the business of entertaining people, not providing in-depth academic accuracy. Be grateful the reporter had read any of the books; that's certainly neither required nor expected in this kind of situation.

Mind you, I'm happy with it because I think Harry Potter books are badly written even for children's books, with only a kind of basic plottishness to justify their popularity; if I were a fan I'd be taking a different tack and complaining about ignorant journalists. But if my aunt were a man, she'd be my uncle.
posted by languagehat at 10:52 AM on August 13, 2006


i was a guest at last year's HP con, "the witching hour," which was in salem, ma (apparently the only US city mentioned in the books). they had an author/editor track, non-HP related, which i was on. it was somewhat surreal, all told.
posted by sdn at 12:03 PM on August 13, 2006


languagehat : "They're in the business of entertaining people, not providing in-depth academic accuracy. Be grateful the reporter had read any of the books; that's certainly neither required nor expected in this kind of situation."

No, see, that right there is the problem. I dunno the best English word for it, but it's 中途半端...stuck-in-the-middle. The reporter knew too much to get the entertainment value that comes from being a total outsider, but knew too little to get the entertainment value that comes from being an insider.

An octogenarian whose internet experience extended as far as calling up her grandson to ask how to send an email, sent to a Derrida-quoting, rape fanfic discussing, witch robe wearing convention would have made much better entertainment.
posted by Bugbread at 12:16 PM on August 13, 2006


"Send an octogenarian who has never seen any of the movies, read any of the books, or heard any grandchildren talk about it. That would be a good read. But here we have someone stuck between not knowing so little that their observations as an outsider are interesting, and not knowing enough that their observations as an outsider are interesting.

I will totally agree that sending an insider (a fan, as opposed to someone just conversant) would be the worst possible option."
posted by bugbread

Brilliant comment...and worthy of a decent newsdesk decision.

The one-note sarky faux naif bit is done to death in journalism.

There was a gently delightful and informative piece in one of the UK broadsheets not long ago - a fairly eminent radio broadcaster who was pushing 70 and tried a McDonald's for the first time. She got some surprising nuggets (no pun etc) out of the experience.
Sort of thing you start idly reading with blank expectations - and end up realizing it was a commission by someone rather clever.

There's always a way to find an oblique angle.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:34 PM on August 13, 2006


But, hell, I was an English student once so I've not-read Milton and not-read Spenser; not-reading Rowling in comparison is a walk in the park.

This minor piece of self-deprecation is both true and worth the price of admission. The author isn't taking things seriously and that's her outsider role here, among those who takes some fairly fluffy things very seriously indeed.
posted by Sparx at 2:49 PM on August 13, 2006


also: Thanks for that fandom infighting link, Robocop is bleeding. I find this stuff fascinating - it's as if Comic Book Guy was reborn as a squadron of middle aged harpies. Can't help with the rubbernecking.
posted by Sparx at 3:30 PM on August 13, 2006


Sparx: That was my favorite sentence in the article.
posted by Bugbread at 4:42 PM on August 13, 2006


I'm really glad that this post inspired some interesting discussion.

jfuller, I wholeheartedly agree with you. So much of what is considered great literature has been picked over and analyzed to death (hence the appeal, if there is any, of "cultural studies" and the forms of criticism associated with it), and certain people have cornered the market on certain authors. I think a lot of academics have taken to writing on more mass-market culture for these reasons alone.

Jody Tresidder, do you have a link to the article you're talking about? It sounds quite interesting, but I'm falling short in my efforts to find it.

reklaw, I think I mostly agree with you. I've tried reading fanfiction, and I was mostly disappointed by the quality of the work. As for the smattering of good writers out there, well, why aren't they writing their own work? Something that will get them recognized? Why spend your time on other people's characters? What really creeps me out is fanfiction written about real people, which does exist and probably in greater quantities than I really want to know about.
posted by anjamu at 10:55 PM on August 13, 2006


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