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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Problematic Content

3 Oct 2020

Ellen Wright

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Problematic Content

It doesn’t take a degree in literature to realise that Harry Potter is basically a story about brave, noble and downtrodden heroes defeating what is essentially a group of Nazis. And when you look at it on a surface level you may think it’s pretty progressive; we’re taught from a young age that Nazis are the epitome of evil, that fighting against fascism and prejudice is right. But that progressiveness really is surface level.

With the vile bigotry that has been coming from J.K. Rowling (not to mention her new book which is at best insensitive and at worst blatantly transphobic), one is forced to go back and reevaluate her earlier and most famous work. Many of us will have read Harry Potter as children, but coming back to it as more socially conscious adults with a more sceptical mindset, it reveals some rather disturbing things. If you haven’t read Harry Potter, there will be spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t, why are you reading this?

Let’s begin with something that is mentioned in the very first and very last book- Gringotts Bank, an organisation run by Goblins. These Goblins are very focused on money, control the economy and are often depicted with hooked noses; in essence, these Goblins are a collection of offensive and anti-Semitic Jewish caricatures.

This is not the only area where the series is problematic. Many of us disliked the character Dolores Umbridge, and it’s true that she could be cast as the antagonist, but at the end of the Order of the Phoenix, it’s implied that she is taken and sexually assaulted by a group of centaurs. What happens to her after being abducted in the Forbidden Forest isn’t explicitly described, but in Greek mythology, centaurs would often abduct women, drag them into a forest and repeatedly rape them, which the scene certainly seems to allude to. This shouldn’t need to be said, but the ‘justice’ for a character being a bully shouldn’t be them getting gang-raped. No matter how unlikeable or despicable or cruel a person is, they do not deserve to be raped. No one deserves to be raped. 

The last issue to mention is one that’s less offensive and more annoying- retroactive inclusivity. Hermione is black! Dumbledore is gay! It's all so diverse and inclusive, except it isn’t. When a character is retroactively made to be more diverse, there is an attempt to increase inclusivity without anything meaningful being added to it, making it simple tokenism. For example, if Hermione had been actually described as black in the book, her being ‘muggle born’ could have been used as a metaphor or linked to racial discrimination, but it wasn’t. And Dumbledore being gay is just as bad, he’s a character that has no romantic or sexual relationships in the original series. LGBT+ and POC communities aren’t stupid. We can see when you only include a character to make it look diverse, instead of actually representing us and our stories.

These issues represent an issue not just in the books, but in our society. Harry Potter teaches us to fight against some great and obvious evil, but to leave the discrimination and prejudices, we encounter in our everyday lives unnoticed and unchallenged. It’s unlikely we’ll have to fight a coup of fascists. Still, it is likely that in our daily lives, we encounter anti-Semitism, racism, homophobia and sexism. We need to challenge these issues, and we need to have these issues challenged in the content we consume.

When people make media, they need to consider the message they are putting into the world. This is especially true for one of the best selling authors of all time. Until JK Rowling ceases her bigotry and makes real strides towards representation, I’ll be keeping her off my shelves and my screen.