Never meet your heroes. That’s what they say. But these days, you don’t even have to meet your heroes to get an insight into their mind, you don’t even have to speak to them. Thank social media for that. Twitter allows singers, actors, writers, footballers and anyone else to spill out their every thought in an instant. Indeed, fame can even be attained simply through clever exploitation of social media. This has done two things that are quite paradoxical. It has opened our eyes to some of the frankly stupid shit media personalities do and say, but it has also opened the doors to the easy cult-ification of some already ridiculously rich and revered people. That’s because, in an era of struggling news outlets and beleaguered journos, copying some tweets and slapping a click-bait headline on them makes for all too easy content.
This brings us to J. K. Rowling. Now, she’s not a particular hero of mine, even though I definitely enjoyed the Harry Potter novels a great deal as a child; but I’m all too aware that many of my peers have a nostalgia for the series that boarders on obsession. That makes her a respected and even revered voice to a large demographic of people and therefore an easy generator of shite click-bait content. ‘J. K. ROWING TOTALLY OWNS DONALD TRUMP’ a headline will scream, ‘J. K. ROWLING SUMS UP BREXIT IN JUST ONE TWEET’ another blasts. These headlines, of course, are shared around Facebook like wildfire by her millions of adoring fans and thus become accepted as some sort of political insight when really, all she does is compare real world things to characters in her stories. Bleh.
So far, so boring. But recently this has taken a strange turn, Rowling has seemingly begun to police these comparisons. When one tweeter compared Jeremy Corbyn to fictional Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Rowling furiously replied that CORBYN. IS. NOT. DUMBLEDORE. This led many to point out the obvious – DUMBLEDORE. IS. NOT. REAL. It’s obviously perfectly natural to relate music, films, songs, characters to your own experiences as all art, whatever the medium, is interpretive. Each individual brings their own personality and subjectivity to the art and thus experiences it uniquely. So it’s strange and slightly sinister for Rowling to be so hysterical about what comparisons can and cannot be made. Harry Potter is her creation and her intellectual property but that doesn’t mean she can control what other people think about it. This has been exemplified recently in a frankly bizarre controversy among Potter fans as to whether the character Sirius Black was secretly gay all along. So for those keeping score at home; Sirius Black is straight, Donald Trump is Voldemort but Jeremy Corbyn is definitely, categorically, most certainly not Dumbledore.
Now, I’m not trying to castigate J. K. Rowling as a person. Her work has encouraged a lot of children to read. She doesn’t tax dodge. She lost her billionaire status because she donated substantial sums of her wealth to charities. But there is something a little bit sad about a grown woman whose entire political world view seems to be shaped entirely by her understanding of her own fictional universe. Her position on boycotts of Israel was informed by ‘what Harry would do’, meanwhile the worst thing she can think to say about the maniacal, racist buffoon Donald Trump is that he’s like the main villain from her series, Voldemort. To take a kind position on all of this, these sorts of comparisons could help her younger fans understand where she’s coming from. But unfortunately, Rowling directs her followers towards some moribund politics.
In yet another widely ridiculed tweet, Rowling stated that ‘This country needs to be freed of fascists on both right and left.’ This is such an historically ignorant statement. Fascist of the left is an oxymoron. Fascism is inherently opposed to the left and vice versa. Millions died proving that point. But this ignorance is part of a wider phenomenon – the crisis of the centre. It’s by now a familiar cliché to everyone that elections in Britain can only be won from the centre ground. Now this never acknowledges that what is considered ‘centre ground’ is not fixed. But that’s beside the point. The centre and the ‘moderates’ who uphold it have failed. British politics is realigning, the centre is shedding its credibility and those who occupy it react with hysteria and anger. You only need to observe the response to Brexit to see that – cringe-worthy pro-Europe rallies in London, spurious court cases and desperate calls for a do-over have filled the airwaves.
The centre is dying and all that seems to remain is anger and nostalgia. The left is regularly attacked from the centre for being too extreme, or paired with the far right in order to damage any credibility as seen in Rowling’s tweet. Centrists are convinced that the only way forward is trying to hold on to the current status quo. But for all the anger, there don’t seem to be any ideas. All that remains is nostalgia. In the US, Clinton runs a campaign based purely off reviving old Cold War red-baiting tropes. In the UK, Theresa May seeks a return to the 70s with grammar schools, while Owen Smith’s appeal seems to be a combination of shite banter and not being Corbyn, with little to actually say for himself.
Just as with the ‘moderates’ of the Labour Right who are nostalgic for the years of Blair (something Rowling herself seems to express through, you guessed it, her tweets), J K Rowling is nostalgic for her fantasy world, regularly tweeting little updates as to what the characters would be doing now and of course producing a new play based on the series. But if yesterday’s ‘moderates’ love nostalgia, that’s because they have nothing left to say.