Friday, September 28, 2018

Why It's Okay to Have All The Feels About the New Potterdom

Based on all of my blog posts and even my other blog (shameless plug), this doesn't need to be admitted. But I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. I live and breathe this series, and because of my devotion to this world that has given me so much love, understanding, and escape, I don’t have the emotional range of a teaspoon when it comes to this fandom. So much so, that when the series was supposed to end via Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 in 2011, it was a rough road to closure that there wouldn't be a new story to explore in J.K. Rowling's universe.

And then, the dawn of a new Potterdom arrived. It all started up again seven years ago with the interactive Pottermore site (RIP) and the possibility of spin-offs to expand the universe with Fantastic Beasts and Cursed Child came to fruition. As exciting revelations of the wizarding world unfolded, it also invited controversies that left fans baffled and disappointed; incidents from casting to confusing developments in worldbuilding that have made me question: Does the new canon add anything to the story we love? Can we support Fantastic Beasts with victim shaming? As additions has grown, my feelings bounce between reawakened excitement and cringe-worthy confusion. My emotional range has reached cauldron-sized proportions, and to be honest, not all of them are good. This post contains spoilers for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Sad About Appropriation

To be honest, the Harry Potter series has never had a squeaky clean reputation as much as we like to believe or glossed over because hey most of us were kids/teens when the books came out. But when looked at objectively, the series isn't perfect. From characters falling under stereotypes to the internet speculating about Dolores Umbridge being raped by centaurs or Aberforth's creepy infatuation with goats, Rowling's books have always been filled with implications of wider themes that aren't necessarily fit for kids to read and make adults think twice. So it's not as if the series has never been devoid of controversies.

But I guess you could say a blatant disregard for appropriation by its author in 2016 is where my disappointment in the expanded wizarding world began. Pottermore released Rowling's backstories that were filled with questionable details directly taken or derived from Native Americans,  in an effort to give fans more intel on American magic. At the time, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them was about to released, so here was a way to see the world beyond Hogwarts and get an idea of its USA counterpart Ilvermorny. However, at the time what it revealed on a deeper level was Native American fans pointing out that this new input was full of dangerous stereotypes. As with most developments with a fandom, I like to wait for all the details to come out before jumping to conclusions. But it couldn't argued, especially after Fantastic Beasts was released, that the info didn't offer any deeper insight, mainly cherry picked indigenous cultures, and became the start of a bigger pattern with poor representation and creative choices.

Confused About Liking Fantastic Beasts

I love Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Scratch that. I love parts about Fantastic Beasts Where To Find Them: Newt and his friends, the creatures, the cast, the production design, and diving into the 1930s and 1940s parts of the wizarding community because I’m a vintage gal at heart. It's mostly Newt's adventures that make the second wave of Potterdom exciting because he's an elusive figure in the series who has the opportunity to show other sides of Rowling's history that couldn't be covered in Harry Potter. More often than not though, where I had anticipated an Indiana Jones type action-flick where fans joined Newt discovering fantastical creatures while writing his book, it's confusing that a five-movie franchise "inspired by a Hogwarts textbook" is being used to explain the backstory behind the first wizarding war. No matter how much I like Jude Law, the insertion of Dumbledore and Grindelwald's feud feels out of focus compared to Newt's arc.

Guilty About Johnny Depp

When I saw the first Fantastic Beasts installment, I was interested in the film all the way up until Colin Farrell transformed into Johnny Depp. At the time, I did not know about the allegations between him and Amber Heard, and my gut instinct was merely rejecting his acting presence. Since knowing what we know now, I wholeheartedly believe fans can support the series without victim shaming or simply not enjoy Depp’s performance because they're not a fan of his work.

But contention within the fandom has made it difficult to enjoy the spin-off so far. In an attempt to placate the backlash, Rowling showed support to Depp by insinuating Heard's accusations were false. And that support has become fuel for Depp's strongest fans to lambaste Heard's supporters and Heard herself on social media with abusive language. While obviously fans are responsible for their own actions, the divide in the fandom is a heavy one. Some days, I do find myself liking the Dumbledore/Grindelwald aspects, and I feel guilty about that and feel complicit in the fact that the wizarding-higher-powers not only support Depp but negated Heard's allegations in the process (as well, I still just don't like Depp's acting in general). It's one of the biggest casting decisions I wish the franchise could do over again.

Conflicted About Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the official eighth story, and has received astounding success on the West End in London and on Broadway. And for good reason. The play’s script is filled with delicious descriptions for the characters to create magic on stage when they cast spells and charms. It’s a production I can only imagine and hope to see one day in person. That said, the story leaves a lot to be desired as it focuses on Scorpious Malfoy and Albus Potter rebelling against their “parents’ mistakes” by swiping a time-turner and creating new alternative pieces of history again and  again until you realize Voldemort and Bellatrix had a child. In the words of the Despicable Me's minions: WHHAAAAAATTTT?

While reading the play, it's a joy to return to Hogwarts with the next generation of wizards. However, once you read it, it’s hard to ever go back to normal; to not reach the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and cringe about what happens next. As creative as Cursed Child tried to be, it also ignored the world-building Rowling set up like time-turners can only be used for a short period of time in Prisoner of Azkaban, and they were all eventually destroyed in Order of the Phoenix. Not only does the play deviate from the the original story, it's the tip of the iceberg in what I call 'after the fact' world-building: it doesn't really matter what was written before, something can always be changed or explained away in the future.

Frightened About the Worldbuilding 

Author John Green once said that after a book is published, the story belongs to its readers. And yet since the second wave of Harry Potter has begun, the recent canon over the years hasn't often felt authentic to the story I know and love; the one where readers could let their imaginations run wild and not feel like it went against Rowling's wishes or vision.

Since Deathly Hallows was published, Rowling has shamed fans for liking Draco Malfoy, ran Ron and Hermione's relationship through a gambit of post-series ideas, announced Dumbledore was really gay all along, and revealed Voldemort's serpent Nagini turned out to be a woman - and these are only a few examples. There are times when canon is interesting like reading backstories on Pottermore, and then there are trails of clues and seals of approval (or disapproval) that categorically change how fans experience a story that's already published and can't be re-written. (Nagini turning out to be a woman who Neville beheads in snake form fundamentally alters how we view his courage in Battle of Hogwarts, among other things) As the series grows with Fantastic Beasts, and what the future has in store, my fear for the world-building is that it's merely a guessing game of trying to figure out how a previously unreleased piece of Rowling's ideas fits into the text we invested in; that the trails of random easter eggs will eventually outweigh the specific journey of Harry Potter we fell in love with.

because I’m so worried about everything else

Struggling with the new wave of Harry Potter isn't about fanservice. I don't want Rowling to extend her world based on what I want. But at the very least, it'd be nice if baiting fans with representation started to improve (i.e. fans who are upset about the casting of Nagini evens out the amount of fans who are not upset about it or it might've been a case of wrong-timing with the casting), and that more details revolving Harry Potter were foreshadowed or built on the foundation in Harry Potter.

Sometimes the hardest thing with an evolving fandom is the evolution itself. Accepting Rowling's latest concoctions is difficult when they follow a pattern of glossing over major details in books that are already published or a severe lack of diversity. As fans, we judge with what we're given, especially when the original creator is involved....and this process of give-and-take can't be invalidated by the fact that our feelings stem from real concerns; sometimes blown out of proportion because the internet is the internet and everything catches on like wildlife, sometimes grounded in real feelings of being misrepresented. When I was a young adult reading the series, I mostly accepted everything that was thrown my way and didn't take into consideration the lines the fandom crossed with problematic issues. Now as a olderish adult, I've learned it's okay to disagree with your favorite fandom or its creator and doesn't make you any less of a fan. If there's ever is a day when the Harry Potter realm reaches the end of its universe, I hope the stories we deeply love will have improved and prevailed.

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