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How 'Harry Potter' explains the world.
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July 24, 2007 | 12:00 am |More
As the seventh and final installment in J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series hits bookstore shelves this weekend, the frenzy over the young magician and his chums appears set to reach even more spectacular heights. Scholastic, Harry Potter's U.S. publisher, ordered a first-run printing of 12 million copies, which may be the largest in world history. The series has already sold 325 million copies worldwide and been translated into 66 languages. And the Harry Potter films--the fifth of which was released last weekend-have grossed more than $3.8 billion globally. As a franchise, Harry Potter thrills its fans, annoys some prominent literary critics, and generates large sums of money for its author and corporate backers. And its evolution holds any number of lessons for publishers, marketing executives, and other members of the industrial-entertainment complex. But, in the course of its spectacular rise, Harry Potter has become more than simply a commercial success story. It has become a global phenomenon. Harry Potter, in fact, functions something like a Rorschach Blot: In countries around the world, it captures various national anxieties about contemporary culture and international affairs. French intellectuals, for example, debate whether or not Harry Potter indoctrinates youngsters into the orthodoxy of unfettered market capitalism. Some Swedish commentators decry what they perceive as Harry Potter's Anglo-American vision of bourgeoisie conformity and its affirmation of class and gender inequality. In Turkey, we find a significant discussion of Harry Potter that pivots around issues of Turkish civilizational identity: whether Turkey is part of the West, the East, or a bridge between the two. A few Turkish writers have even asserted that controversies over Harry Potter in the United States demonstrate how Turks are more "Western" than Americans. And in Russia, a country whose concern over international status and prestige becomes more apparent each day, the newspaper Novaya Gazeta created a minor firestorm when it claimed that the film visage of Dobby the House-Elf was a deliberate insult to President Vladimir Putin.
But we still tend to think of cultural globalization as synonymous with "Americanization. The Chinese editions translate aspects of the western folklore in Harry Potter into Chinese mythological traditions. those who practice such "heterodox" forms of Islam amount to "magicians and witches. the parallels remain striking. Russia. By teaching children that witchcraft is acceptable and by encouraging them to play with wands and cauldrons. promoting occultism and Satanism. the reception of the books also reveals a number of important dimensions of globalization. Members of other religious movements also find fault with Harry Potter. To many religious conservatives. and cuisine--provide a subtle rejoinder to such impressions and subvert the equation of globalization with relentless homogenization. some Christian conservatives have condemned the books for. the argument goes. Harry Potter risks seducing them away from Christianity and into occult practices. he makes friends with a Bengali boy and tours India. Although the specifics of the doctrinal objections differ from their Christian counterparts. after all. The series is enormously popular in Indonesia. According to the American Library Association.S. In the United States. Unauthorized "sequels" in China and India explicitly recast Harry Potter in local settings and using local plot devices." The Harry Potter books--with their distinctively British boarding school setting. (In the Indian fake novel. reactions to Harry Potter highlight the worldwide character of clashes between various forms of traditionalism and modernism. as Peter Mandaville. use magic and witchcraft. Rowling's books were the fourth most challenged library books from 19902004." Thus. it comes as little surprise that some Wahhabist authorities. Harry Potter's success owes something to a process of hybridization . and other manifestations of secular culture against their traditional values. the Gulf States. as well as adherents to other conservative Islamic traditions. not only as part of their everyday lives. and the most challenged from 2000-2005. Thailand. slang. and Australia. manufacturing.More fundamentally.entered popular Islamic practice. public institutions. bring them into contact with the very real demons that haunt our world. Harry Potter's worldwide popularity owes much to the deliberate and inadvertent adaptation of the series to meet local tastes. strongly opposes "various esoteric and mystical practices that.. assistant professor of government and politics at George Mason University. Harry Potter represents yet another assault by the mass media. among other things. have noted. and Patrick Jackson. each extending elements of the novels to reflect their own interests and preferences. for example. Harry Potter and his friends. Translators of the books wrestle--often unsuccessfully--with how to convert faithfully Rowling's extensive use of puns and idioms into other languages.) Fans produce a worldwide stream of fiction set in the Harry Potter universe.. associate professor of international relations at American University. It may even. and many other Islamic countries. but also as part of their struggle against the forces of evil. Moreover. For all its often crass commercialization. In fact. whether in the form of "outsourcing" or the impact of Chinese imports on U." For Wahhabists. Christian critics of Harry Potter argue that the Bible makes clear that all magic stems from demonic sources. Americans increasingly see themselves as objects of economic globalization. view Harry Potter as promoting paganism and undermining Islam. But the Wahhabist tradition.
hide among the general wizarding population and strike with relative impunity against an often hapless Ministry of Magic with its bumbling bureaucrats and politicians. are also endemic in real-world manifestations of multiculturalism and racial politics. a doctoral candidate in political science at the University of Toronto. aims to establish ties "between young witches and wizards of different nationalities"--sort of like an Olympics with flying broomsticks. lack wizarding parentage--and thirst for power genuflects in the direction of fascism. despite their magical powers. standardizes cauldron thickness to prevent dangerous and inferior goods from flooding the market. Class antagonism. . A wide variety of miscarriages of justice mark the novels. He also condemns the legal inequalities that permeate the wizarding world. International bodies and legal regimes govern aspects of wizard behavior. and intolerance of non-human species abound in Hogwarts and the broader wizarding community. often deplores the excesses of the Ministry during the first and second struggle against the Death Eaters. Divisions of the Ministry of Magic concern themselves with regulating imports. is no Jack Bauer. For those concerned about sacrificing civil liberties and democratic values to the war on terrorism. of course. Innocents frequently find themselves imprisoned in the dreadful dungeon of Azkaban. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.familiar to scholars of cultural globalization. which some might read as the Potterverse's own version of Guantanamo Bay. Cornelius Fudge. Rowling's witches and wizards. Harry Potter. bear a striking resemblance to transnational terrorists. bending the rule of law as they seek to defeat Voldemort's bid for global mastery. display almost total indifference to Muggle racial categories. The books tackle not only issues of inequality. however. The Triwizard Tournament that forms the centerpiece of the fourth book. The Ministry. The Death Eaters. Such themes reflect. often seems to inadvertently endorse essentialist notions of racial differences. Harry Potter's heroes fight back by forming their own clandestine organization--the Order of the Phoenix--and. it simultaneously affirms national differences while providing a focal point for cosmopolitan sporting competition. The Quidditch World Championship parallels Soccer's World Cup. note. at least in the first six books. the "Islamo-" variety. however. when necessary. prejudice against mudbloods. both in their organization and tactics. Their hatred of the impure--particularly those "mudbloods" who. the moral center of the first six books. as some might see it. The Harry Potter books lend themselves well to real-world political debates. Such tensions. Albus Dumbledore. at least in part. whether of the traditional or. what we might term the "partially globalized" character of Harry Potter's world. Rowling has much to offer. The evil Voldemort and his Death Eaters. but as critics such as Debra Thompson. spends the last years of his tenure denying and downplaying the Death-Eater threat. but also of multiculturalism. Rowling strives mightily to present a consistent moral vision of equality. for example. because their plots themselves intersect with a surprising number of themes in real-world politics. The former Minister of Magic.
" it strained relations between the two governments.R. an assistant professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University. for example. By Daniel Nexon . for their part. the United States to Iran. After all. Liberals in the United States. Entrenched as they now are in the public consciousness. described Balkenende as "a mix between Harry Potter and a worthy burgher. Voldemort may be fast on his way to becoming a general symbol for evil. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings but to J. Harry Potter is already part of the globalizing process.At this point. then. Thus. Guy Verhofstadt. with all its complexities. for guidance on the legitimacy of torture. "reliable and upright but not stuffy. Daniel Nexon. when the Belgian Prime Minister. and Russia to India. Indeed. soon-to-be-defeated senators will justify a war not with reference to J. Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende proudly embraced comparisons between himself and Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter to help promote his image as. during his 2002 election campaign. according to Agence France Presse. rather than "24"'s Jack Bauer. Rowling's Harry Potter. affix bumper stickers such as "Republicans for Voldemort" and "Cheney-Voldemort '08" to their cars. the world might be a better place if future politicians and Supreme Court justices look to Harry Potter. from Indonesia to Taiwan.R. But it will be a long time before we know if Rowling's creations achieve the status of global political currency. however. the global Harry Potter phenomenon has outgrown the specifics of the books. Perhaps one day. It may happen. the characters have become symbols--abstract representations rather than the specific products of Rowling's imagination. is the co-editor of Harry Potter and International Relations.K. tensions. and possibilities." But. a man in whom I detect no trace of charisma.