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J.K. Rowling: Harry Potter and the Canceled Author

J.K. Rowling, El American

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It was 1990. The Piccadilly train station in Manchester, England, saw passengers passing by its platforms. Many of them were at the station for the first time, others were transferring in a hurry so as not to be late for their appointments and commitments, and others were moving at a slow pace, as they had time before they had to board their train.

From one of the platforms, a train bound for London had departed, and on it was a red-haired woman of about twenty-five years of age. While the rail journey between the two cities usually takes just under three hours, just this time there were delays along the way, lengthening the journey by almost double, and giving the twenty-something woman a chance to relax in her seat and let her imagination run away with her. A graduate of Exeter University with a degree in French and Classical Languages, on her way to King’s Cross, London, Joanne Kathleen Rowling began to imagine a story: the story of Harry Potter.

With more than 500 million copies sold, Harry Potter is the most prolific literary saga in history. Its title is eponymous, as the work follows the adventures of Harry, an orphan boy who lives with his inept aunt and uncle in a residential neighborhood, leading an ordinary life, which is quickly transformed when he learns that he is actually a wizard (a fact that his family has kept from him all his life), and that he has, in addition, the opportunity to study magic and wizardry at Hogwarts, the school where he is educated to become a wizard, and that he also has the opportunity to study magic and wizardry at Hogwarts, the school where he will meet both new friends and people from the past (whose existence he ignored), thus embarking on a journey of self-discovery and growth as a person, and as a wizard.

The saga has a total of seven books and eight corresponding movies, and has influenced and accompanied, (and continues to do so), several generations around the world.

Nobody, or at least almost nobody, is unaware of the famous name of the literary, film, and even theatrical universe written by J.K. Rowling. Just as very few people do not know the author herself. In addition to her writing profession, the now 56-year-old woman is a screenwriter and film producer, a philanthropist, and a visibly active participant in the world of politics, mostly in Great Britain, where she is from. She also defines herself as a feminist.

For a couple of years now, the author has been part of some controversies due to her opinions regarding the emerging activism of the trans community. She worries about the “dangers” that women, girls, boys and the gay community could run if a yet-to-be-approved legislation allowed access to public bathrooms and locker rooms in sports centers that are longer be separated in its classic form: men and women, thus allowing men who identify themselves as women, or vice versa, to enter spaces where there is exposure to nudity and, evidently, vulnerability.

Although isolated, and not day-to-day occurrences, there have been cases in which trans people (particularly biological men who later identified themselves as women) have been allowed to enter such spaces and have sexually, physically or verbally harassed girls, adolescents and women, not only biological, but also trans.

Another concern that the author has verbalized is the inclusion of trans people in sports such as field hockey or rugby, leading to people with male physique, historically more robust and advantageous, competing on the court physically with women, perhaps of a smaller build, which is dangerous and uncomfortable for the mental and physical health of the players.

These two argumentative points have been met with a lot of backlash from the trans community, mainly on social media. It is especially on Twitter where J.K. Rowling communicates with the world, and publishes her visions and ideas, sometimes receiving death threats, videos of people burning copies of her books, and insulting comments. For example, there are people calling her “b*tch”, “wh*re,” or “TERF”, which serves as an acronym to define someone who is a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. In short, countless negative reactions regarding her opinion, as a biological woman and feminist, on the subject.

So far, there is nothing new under the sun. The networks have been, historically, a portal in which one writes what one thinks, and may be shouting it into the void, or may be landing one’s words on the page of someone who just happens to be in another ideological or political position, and being that there is not always respectful dialogue, things can get ugly, and hate and anger can spread as fast as wildfire.

However, the case of J.K. Rowling has transcended the networks and has had a major sociocultural impact. Why? What the author is currently experiencing is a phenomenon called cancel culture. It consists of a collective effort whose main purpose is to condemn and banish a celebrity or someone globally and publicly known, most of the time, sustained by the following argument: they do not agree with the actions, thoughts or words of that person.

The consequences and effects of this coordinated virtual lynching can be, and have been, irreversible. The freshest and most recent thing to discuss would be the decision taken by HBO Max, the production company in charge of the return of the Harry Potter film cast to the big screen, through the televised “reunion,” a project that revives the magical story behind the blockbuster production, from which the very creator and author of the saga was excluded and removed.

Of course, following the parameters of freedom of expression and free will, just as J.K. Rowling has every right to express her opinion, and to verbalize her thoughts, the mega movie production company also has every right to not include her in the project, for whatever reason. One possibility would be that, seeing how controversial the author’s image is, they choose not to “play it”, and receive a negative backlash from the massive public. Another is that they have joined the effort to “cancel” her person.

And this is where my role as a neutral informant comes to an end, and with my hand on my heart, I must say: I would like us to cancel the cancellation culture.

Generally speaking, we have lost tolerance for differences of opinion, and for each other’s experiences. We have opted for an angle of debate that leads to nothing but a narrower and narrower division, in which we believe that a vision or opinion defines the value of a human being and that certain people, because they do not follow our thinking, should be eradicated, eliminated, canceled, or simply do not deserve to be listened to or valued.

I’m not here to defend J.K. Rowling because she has done that herself. She has done so through open letters, and repeated postings on her social pages. I have decided to write about her because her example is perfect to address this social phenomenon. I have been able to observe from the outside how the public opinion about her has been molded in this way, only because a group of people thought something she didn’t agree with, and that group had, (and has) the necessary instruments, (see the support of a plurality of mass media), in addition to the sociopolitical conditions collectively agreed as acceptable and un-cancellable, to propagate what they think, then, they get away with it, and end up defaming the image of a person, whose only crime was to speak her truth.

I want to be very clear: she has spoken her truth, not the truth. And this is precisely what the cancellation culture attacks: individuals expressing their truth; their opinion, their ideas, their experiences, for being “indecent,” “daring,” or, my favorite, “dangerous.” In the case of artists, their work is also attacked. Holes are deliberately sought through which the artistic expression, belonging to the individual being “canceled,” takes a leak. An important angle of attack on Rowling has been the fictional character belonging to HP of Chinese origin, Cho Chang.

There had never been any comment on this until Rowling spoke out, and to justify the cancellation, a full-blown hunt was necessary. She has been called “racist” and “basic,” for not taking care of more ethnic characters and for having given Cho such a common name. It should be noted that, after some research, I discovered that Chang is the 94th most common name in China, which seems to me to be the opposite of basic and ignorant. Of course, if it had been Li, or Wang, which are the two most common surnames in China, it would be a different story. But there’s no way around it; the creator of Harry Potter finds herself ousted from a mega project derived from her own ideation. Deadly ironic!

Returning to the sun, and since there is nothing new under it, we have established that debates between people are just that, debates. We all have the opportunity to choose with whom, for how many hours, and what we will debate about. Now, I would like to speak out about the sponsors and sponsors who instrumentalize this forced “truth,” this normalization of media everywhere jumping on the bandwagon, and absolutely trashing an individual’s image, without suffering consequences. I would like to speak out against, as in Orwell’s 1984, the existence of a Ministry of Truth; an entity in charge of controlling thought. In this case, this entity is made up of all the media that propagate and support the “official narrative,” which already inherently loses its official quality, since official would be the factual, not the subjective. And let’s not even talk about the first term: narrative. In the end, a story told. A story that, like the one Rowling wrote, will contain a victim, and a victimizer to be canceled; a hero and a villain.

The big difference is that Rowling writes fiction, and she intends all her stories to be obviously and clearly fictional. We, humans, have agreed that, upon opening a fictional novel, we take it upon ourselves to distinguish the narrated from the factual, remembering that we are holding a story in our hands. Whereas, as far as the media are concerned, they are supposed to inform us, they are supposed to update us on the facts. And now, instead of facts, they communicate, or should I say “instruct,” opinions. They pretend to make the fictitious, or rather, one of many truths, the reality. And that is where we are in danger.

In a quasi-poetic contradiction and irony of life, I close this article with the following quote from the last book of the Harry Potter saga.

Pietro Scalone

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