Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Harry Potter and the Adolescent Society?

I read a very interesting and thought provoking column today on the Los Angeles Times web page. It was written by Joel Stein, formerly with Time Magazine. The piece was called: Hogwarts fans, you’re stupid, stupid, stupid. You can read the piece here:

So riveted was I to this book and its ups and downs that with my wife was on the verge of death this weekend, I could manage only the most tertiary care. I am, ashamed or not, a huge Hogwarts fan!

That being said, Joel Stein raises some very interesting points about the adolescent fixation in our society. It is true that we live in a society where men have debated the “sexiness” of the Olsen twins since they were pre-pubescent. Beautiful aging actresses in our society have their faces stretched tighter then the strings on a tennis racket in order to continue to procure work. We prize youth over wisdom everyday and twice on Sunday. We live in a world that parades a young actresses before our eyes as “nymphets” and then declares it wrong, wrong, wrong to look at them. Plastic surgery is part of our never-ending quest for the "fountain of youth".

The symptoms have been readily apparent for some time. I understand the logic of dumbing down our society. It is clearly a way for people who are grossly over-worked to turn off and tune out after too many hours at a job selling widgets or trading stocks. Our society is lazy, and it is our own fault. We get lazy entertainment because we are too damn sloth to do anything about it.

Unlike Joel Stein, whose writing I regard as first rate, I disagree that Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince fits into this model. He points out that we should make excuses for reading the books, such as parental concern for the content of our children’s reading. Well, I have no children, but I would simply bring Joel Stein’s attention to the fact that good children’s entertainment has always been crafted to be appreciated on two levels. The first is the child who is absorbing the content from na├»ve and innocent perspective. The second is the parent who is reading the book or watching the movie with the child and appreciating subtlety that the author/screenwriter has inserted to make the experience tolerable for the adult.

This is the way it has always been. Look at good children’s entertainment from history. For example, Hans Christian Andersen or the Brother Grimm, who can possibly claim that there is not a severely sinister sub-story occurring within Hansel and Gretel.

Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory is, in my opinion, one of the worst movies ever made. Especially when not stoned. This is because it incorporates all of the juvenile aspects of the story without any of the darkness. The new version of the story is replete with darkness. Johnny Depp portrays Willy Wonka as a deeply troubled and slightly twisted hermit. This is the way Roald Dahl wanted the adult readers to see him.

Not convinced? Ask your 7 year old son/daughter/nephew/niece who their favorite character on the Simpson’s is, and invariably they will name Bart or Lisa or Millhouse. Now ask their parent or a friend and invariably they will name Homer, Barney, Smithers, etc.

All that stated Stein is right. Our media has been dumbed down to appeal our lazy, tired and unadventurous need for simplicity. Watching comic book heroes, gratuitous sex and violence, and simple unimaginative plots is easy. But who said everything had to be Doctor Zhivago?

I enjoy good books, movies, TV, arts and drama as much as the next person, but on occasion it is OK to be a passenger simply gazing out the window lazily daydreaming about the cheeseburger you are going to have after the movie.

Bravo to Joel Stein for pointing out our societal flaws. It is uncomfortable to have to face such questions, but it is the only way a society grows and matures. All that said, I would urge Mr. Stein to get past his cynicism and read beyond page 50 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone before condemning the series as adolescent and sophomoric.

I love the Harry Potter books. There are many things that make me lazy, but this is not one of them!


Anonymous said...

Personally I don't think there is anything wrong with being a lazy society, after all we are Americans. Besides isn’t it about how we as individuals chose to live our lives or what we read. If someone gets enjoyment out of a Harry Potter book (as stupid as I think they are), if it helps someone check out from reality for just 10 minutes to be a kid again or to feel joy or to use their imagination good for them. For instance I watch reality TV, lots off it, not because it's intelligent, or creative, or even entertaining, it's because I'm tired and I don't have to think, it's just there and if that's what it takes to turn my brain off so I can check out for an hour why should anyone else care? Sure I'd rather read a good book, but whenever I find a good book whether it be about the CIA's clandestine activities in Afghanistan since the cold war or some trashy romance novel I usually can't put it down and lay around all day and stay up until 2 am to finish it. Hey you know I read Watership Down when I was 10 and I really did think it was about a bunch of rabbits until my 6th grade teacher who I happened to have huge crush on told me otherwise. Life's too short to not partake in simple pleasures and too short to care what others think about what reading material is on our nightstand. As my sister said the other day I really like getting the New Yorker but it's just so damn depressing. I guess that's why we continue to fight over who gets to do the crossword in People Magazine first....although did you read the piece in the New Yorker about Tom Cruise being a dog, gads that was laugh out loud, pig snort funny! Oop INXS Rock star is on gotta run…

Anonymous said...

Um, I am not a Harry Potter fan. I wish I could write books that kids go ape over. It would make me not have to work ever.

Freak Politics said...

anonymous #1, I wish I knew who you were... that was a great piece of writing! Bravo!

Anonymous said...

Since I have't read any of the books, I can't comment. Fantasy adventure has always been popular at least dating back to the ancient Greeks.

Anonymous said...

great observation, society is lazy! tell us something we don’t already know.

i couldn’t agree more that, in general, our society has become disgustingly lazy however having stated that, i also can’t help but feel that not every aspect of laziness is negative. it’s impossible, unhealthy even, to constantly be on the go-go-go. at some point, no matter your age, you need to take a minute to relax, rejuvenate and a lot of times this can be achieved by partaking (or not, as the case may be) in mundane activities which could potentially be viewed as ‘lazy’.

if lying in a hammock, in the back of my yard, reading harry potter (or the world according to garp etc.) gives me nothing but mindnumbingsatisfaction then fuck you all with your opinions of ‘not educated enough’, ‘not stimulating enough’, ‘not active enough’. obviously, there is something gained if it’s an activity that i have voluntarily chosen to partake in and even if it’s something as simple as stimulating my brain then it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

i can’t stand how everyone is so quick to condemn. our society has become super judgmental about everything. kids shouldn’t play video games (i played video games growing up and i turned out fine); kids can’t play with toy guns (most of my childhood consisted of cousins/brothers running around playing cowboys and indians. i assure you, not one of them has been influenced so greatly by those plastic guns that they are running around, weapon in hand, going psycho ~ this is more a debate of parenting, a topic for another day), kids shouldn’t watch tv; play video games; surf the net. i wonder, what exactly are they permitted to do if all of these activities are considered lazy?

i think everyone needs to relax. i fully understand that mass amounts of laziness is not cool but a lil’ bit here and a lil’ bit there isn’t going to kill anyone. everything can’t always be 100% educating, physical or stimulating. sometimes numbness is good, just ask someone who is about to have their impacted wisdom teeth pulled.


Shanti and Aimee said...

As with anything, it is about balance. if you are always lazy, then that could be a problem, but if one is lazy after running a marathon or hiking in the hills of Conifer or up a vulcano, then that is good balance.

John Carroll said...

Firsly, I must say that I resent the fact that in order to read this blog, I was required to move my 400lb frame from the couch where I have comfortably spent the last 18 months.

As I hover over my keyboard, in a truss suspended from an industrial crane, I have some thoughts I would like to share.

For many of us Harry fans these books provide an important means of escape. Hand in hand with J.K. Rowling we are able to scamper and frolic through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts.
In my casem this is currently my only means of exercise.

This Stein person sounds like a bitter old muggle. If he had his way, we would all be forced to read the works of Tom Clancy.

I have several of Toms books wedged under my bed frame.
The lift these mighty tomes provide has allowed my lungs to function without mechanical assistance for up to twenty minutes at a time.

I could not do without Tom, but under my bed these books will remain.

There is no magic in them.. Only the pain of everyday living.