Potternism

There was for a time (it is always only for a time) a funny meme which skewered the ubiquity of Harry Potter references among a certain cohort of society, sometimes identified generationally as millennials, other times identified by political affiliation, as liberals. (Neither of these identifications in truth map very well, incidentally.)

The meme responded to such referencing by demanding that the referencer “READ ANOTHER BOOK.” It’s funny, or at least it was way back when, not because it suggested that referencers had only read Harry Potter and nothing else. In terms of quotation and convoluted metaphors and linkages, both the Collected Shakespeare and the Bible have generated many single-book citers in their time.

No, it’s funny because, unlike Shakespeare or the Bible, the limited remit of a children’s book series about a schoolboy wizard has to undergo often significant semantic stretching to accommodate some of the parallels that were suggested. It’s never ideal to explain jokes, so let me illustrate:

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Generally these parallels are political. And in fairness, the Potterverse is not without its own politicking, from the formal politics of the Ministry of Magic, the geopolitics of ‘Fantastic Beasts…’, and the fascist implications of Voldemort rule, to personal politics like Dumbledore’s closeted queerness or the construction of non-nuclear families. The books at times were very long. They’re not entirely without content, even political content.

But the parallels became so common, so ubiquitous on social media, and also to be honest, at times so risible, that even the esteemed Washington Post felt obliged to add its weight to the ‘read another book’ school of thought.

It was perhaps inevitable, given that the graduate student essay has now become almost as common a mode of expression for some of the Harry Potter generation as a half-thought out tweet, that eventually this mode of analysing world events through the prism of Harry Potter fandom would emerge.

It has not disappointed, I would argue. The one that led me down this particular line of pondering was entitled “Wizards First: The Muggle and Mudblood Crisis Reflecting the Rohingya Crisis”. I may not be alone in questioning the taste, if not the sincerity, of such an extended parallel. It comes from a sub-genre of Potter-political academic analysis of which the exemplary is surely “Voldemort Politics“.

But it’s not just misplaced political analogies. The Potterverse can be applied to almost anything else. From here to Potternity, in fact. Hence we also have such wide-ranging, free-wheeling extended comparatives as “Home Depot, Hogwarts & Excess Deaths at the CDC“, “Hogwarts House Rules & the Cathedral Choir of Mexico City”, “Can Muggles be Autistic?“, “Vipers, Muggles, and The Evolution of Jazz“, “Sequence Rule Compliance: Separating the Wizards from the Muggles“, “How Muggles fix broken arms?“, and my personal favourite, “Deauville Doomsday and Voldemort in Ireland“, which of course relates Voldemort to the Irish banking crisis of 2007.

And this is before you get to even the outer fringes of where Harry Potter references might actually be deemed attenuated but possibly okay, such as “Fibonacci in Hogwarts?“, or “Hogwarts torts“, or “Surveillance in Hogwarts: Dumbledore‚Äôs Balancing Act Between Managerialism and Anarchism“. (Which itself is the penumbra to the bullseye, literary criticism about the books themselves and their associated cultural artefacts and societal impact.)

In short, this is such a prevalent mode of cultural analysis, that I am somewhat surprised that Potter as Critical Lens does not yet have a name. In which spirit of helpfulness, I propose – Potternism.

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