Some Notes On … is a section which features my autoethnographic fieldnotes as I document my thoughts throughout different parts of my PhD project. Here, I write about the text resources discussed in our podcast episode.
For Episode 4, A Lot of Gold in Gringotts: Representations of Class and Considerations of Gender, we discussed the following texts.
1) Academic paper – Restorying the Self: Bending Toward Textual Justice
According to the paper, the concept of restorying refers to highlighting marginalised perspectives in mainstream media and culture through fan responses to favourite texts. Everybody can insert their own perspectives and experiences in stories which otherwise erase or silence them. While there are conversations happening around diversity in mainstream publishing and media, fandom is such a rich resource where they are already doing it. The collective nature of this practice is what i’m most interested in because it’s what I’ve experienced – encountering other people’s perspectives, as largely a lurker, has expanded my own thinking and helped me decolonise my brain. This happens with both exposure to perspectives in which I’m marginalised and in others where I’m dominant. I love the idea of fandom as an educational resource where you learn both technical and conceptual skills which you may not in institutionalised educational contexts (of course, this is still limited to those who have access to the technology and time to experiment). Even though there is global circulation of texts and fan texts – the West is still privileged – exemplifying and exacerbating cultural imperialism and colonised minds. However, this does have empowering potential as well since you’re encountering ever-diverse perspectives.
“Bending – reimagining stories from nondominant, marginalized, and silenced perspectives, as one form of restorying that draws from and makes manifest embodied, lived realities and identities”
Examples of this include racebending, genderbending, and queering the texts. Young people respond to the lack of representation by inserting their own representations within fandom – both young people and different marginalised groups make space for themselves. According to their research, racebending isn’t just a practice engaged in by fans of colour – white fans who recognise the white-dominated worlds of fantasy media racebend characters as well. Counter-narratives offer perspectives which are different from the mainstream dominant ones. This has a tremendously empowering potential, particularly as a collective activity, as a tool of community-building. Historically, literature and media has been created, controlled and represented a small group of privileged people and everyone else on the margins has had to read themselves into the story and become well-acquainted with narratives and experiences which didn’t reflect their own. This is still the case both within an Indian context but especially globally, with the widespread influence of Western media. Technology and participatory media offers a space for marginalised voices to insert themselves into the narrative and share these counter-narratives with a global audience.
The article outlines different ways to restory and disrupt dominant narratives and understandings and challenge the dominance of a single story:
changing the time, the place, the identity (race, gender, queer), mode (transmedia storytelling), perspective (counter storytelling), metanarrative (collective storytelling)
These restorying practices employed by fans in informal digital spaces can be used by educators within more formal contexts. Restorying offers a way of promoting empathy, respect and understanding for diverse lived experiences and of challenging inequalities of representation and exclusion of certain groups of people.
2) Alison’s academic presentation – Daemons and Pets as signifiers of social class in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials
The paper points out that taste often acts as signifier of social status and class. It interprets the Weasleys as the Irish – redheads, impoverished, lots of children – which reiterates that there are many things you don’t pick up on as a reader outside the context in which a story is set. This reminds me of a conversation with my Scottish partner who was horrified when he discovered that there’s an Irish character in the series, Seamus Finnigan, who has a propensity to set things on fire and blow things up. I never realised the connection with the IRA.
The middle class in the UK is very different to the middle class in India. To me, everybody here seems pretty well off – even though the Weasleys are explicitly described as poor. Also, there is this perception in India that in the “West” (usually a monolithic construct), everyone is prosperous and people don’t have to worry about poverty. It is definitely a matter of context, that I began to see clearly only after moving to the UK and encountering perspectives and standards of poverty here. A few weeks ago, my partner and I witnessed a neighbour’s encounter with mental illness and how it was (mis)treated by the police. My partner was appalled at the cuts to services which has led to the way things are now. To me, even the existence of such services is such an unthinkable thing, much less the expectation that these services need to function according to a high standard. It’s so good to be able to learn from both privileged and marginalised perspectives because it allows you to see things you wouldn’t have thought of.
The paper argues that the fixed nature of daemons reflects the lack of social mobility and career changes in the world of His Dark Materials which is an interesting idea. Another interesting idea is pets as a signifier of status. This can be seen in real life as well with what you can and can’t afford when it comes to having animals. For example, I would love to have a menagerie, but I definitely can’t afford to.
“Harry has been disadvantaged, materially, culturally and emotionally, by the Dursleys, but in the wizarding world he is a lost prince.”
While Harry grows up impoverished, he has inherited wealth and valuable objects, from many older men – his invisibility cloak, the Marauder’s Map, Hedwig – as the co-hosts on Witch, Please and the paper point out. Witch, Please further discusses how a lot of the objects in the magical world seem to have artisanal value where the economy seems to value one-of-a-kind objects rather than mass-produced items, in itself a class marker. Harry has several of these. Hat-tip to Witch, Please again for noting that the accumulation of objects in the magical world seems to be especially common among the wealthy – the Malfoys, Voldemort, the Blacks. Sirius is desperate to get rid of these objects as a further way to cut ties with his family when he is forced to inhabit his family house in Order of the Phoenix.
3) Fanfiction – A Wand With Sixteen Strings
Just reading fanfiction again has filled my heart with such joy! I remember doing this as a teenager – just losing myself in Harry Potter fic and finding so much joy and comfort in it. I never did get around to reading fic inspired by other worlds. Going back to that experience even briefly makes me want to simultaneously read and write more fanfiction – this time, using all the knowledge, interests, and perspectives my PhD research has exposed me to. I like the What If? sections on my co-host episodes allow me to do this somewhat in the form of headcanons. But I would love to explore further.
I didn’t even realise it was a crossover with an existing school story series – The Marlows – until a note hinted at Lawrie being an existing character in Chapter 5. This fic reiterated the gender politics in school stories. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this while I was bingeing on school stories as a teenager, but I glossed over the more overtly sexist bits of the narratives and enjoyed them because they centred female characters having all sorts of adventures – both domestic and outdoor – and included relationships, drama and all-round interestingness (at least it was interesting to me).
Nicola’s brief friendly conversation with a centaur in the library made me wish there had been more of that in the series! Also, the librarian Madam Pince, in this case didn’t seem daunting, quite helpful if a bit quirky – my kind of librarian representation. I would really have loved the series through Hermione’s point of view. I would have also loved more magical creatures in Hogwarts – an inter-cultural learning community would have been so interesting! Do I need to write this fic?! I also loved the casual inclusion of different religious faiths in this conversation.
“Does everybody have to go to the Quidditch match?” Nicola was asking Susan, who was leaning over the desk behind her.
Susan shook her head. “Most people do, but the Osmans don’t go because their religion doesn’t think much of witches riding around on brooms showing their legs – you know the Osmans, they’re Gryffindors, one’s a fourth year and the other one’s a seventh – and neither do some of the other Muggleborns. Sally-Ann Perks doesn’t, I know that, because she came in at the end of my clarinet lesson and asked Magister Reed if it was all right to use the music-room, and he said if the Snitch flew in through the window and up her euphonium he’d hold her responsible.”
“Sally-Ann Perks is never a Muslim,” said Nicola, sounding as if she suspected a leg-pull.
“No, but her people do follow some kind of Muggle religion,” said Susan earnestly. “Haven’t you noticed she wasn’t allowed to come to the Hallowe’en feast or anything where people sing hymns, and she got really embarrassed when Lavender Brown was asking when her birthday was, and had to tell her not to send cards to her house because her parents don’t agree with that kind of thing?”
“Well, who’d have thought it,” said Nicola, only mildly interested.
“What are they going to do in the music-room?” asked Tim Keith, strolling over. “I might go and join them.”
“You can’t do that,” said Goyle offendedly. “You’ve got your House to support.”
“And the so-dear Marlows here have two sisters to support,” Tim gave them a bright glancing look, not altogether devoid of malice. “So I suppose we’ll all be there freezing on the stands whilst Sally-Ann Perks and the two best-looking boys in Gryffindor share a nice warm music-room. It’s enough to make me take up that old-time religion.”
The story also featured a refreshingly different perspective of Draco and the rest from a non-Harry POV (I may also have a soft spot for Draco after watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for my birthday in March). Altering the POV and highlighting new voices really does allow you to reimagine differently. Is this why I love retellings of all kinds? The potential to expand my imagination? The Hufflepuff POV in this story, a house which is much denigrated in the books, also reminds me that I need to watch Puffs, an off-Broadway play which is available on Prime, which documents the series from the Hufflepuff perspective.
4) Fan podcast – Witch, Please “The Chamber of Whiteness”
The co-hosts believe that the effeminate representation of Draco and Lucius Malfoy signifies bad whiteness. They were aristocratic slave holders and evil. There’s also a link between the Malfoys, the Nazis and the Slytherins. The villains are coded as dandys and queer (Voldemort as well). Snape is also coded is a bad example of whiteness, though in a very different way. I wonder about the class implications of this as well as the blood-status implications. The bad guys congregate in Knockturn Alley which presents an orientalised aesthetic, for example, the objects in Borgin and Burkes. All this is contrasted by Harry’s good whiteness where he comes from a poor background and doesn’t have the Malfoy-level of wealth and privilege supporting him. The Malfoys keeps slaves, Harry liberates them. One is a bad way to be a white person, the other is an example of a good white person.
However, as they mention in later episodes, Harry is also privileged. Perhaps not with the Dursleys, but certainly in the magical world. He inherits wealth and valuable objects as well as cultural and social status. While he liberates Dobby and is eventually nice to Kreacher, he doesn’t seek to upend the status quo or the system of house elf slavery in the way Hermione does. He develops empathy for those ostracised by witches and wizards – such as goblins and giants who live on the margins of the magical society – but he doesn’t take any radically inclusive measures. (The Jewish co-hosts also identify the anti-Semitic stereotypes of goblins and the overall lack of Jewish characters in the magical world).
They note that in the movie, the Burrow is vibrant and welcoming whereas Privet Drive is plain and boring. The country is glorified over the suburbs and lower middle class in the suburbs versus lower middle class in the country is very different. They discuss the class commentary of the architecture and visual choices in movies.
Throughout their podcast, the co-hosts critique the pedagogy employed in Hogwarts. When it comes to the bad teaching in Hogwarts, o students from wizarding families have more of an advantage because they are assumed to have some skills and knowledge? Or even if they don’t acquire these skills and knowledge in school, their family will take care of the necessary education? This has class and race implications, which is similar in real-life educational institutions.
In terms of gender, they point out that while Hermione in the books is flawed, in the movies, she’s portrayed as god-like. She’s given Dumbledore’s line, not too much is made of her crush on Gilderoy Lockhart, she is physically more attractive as opposed to the books – and just generally she isn’t as flawed and embarrassing as portrayed in the books. They argue that in movies, women are constantly shown as flawed and we rarely get perfect female characters, so on the one hand, it is good to have Hermione as a strong young female character. However, there aren’t enough women characters in popular media to be able to have both – flawed and perfect characters. We would like both characters who we want to aspire to be – perfect and flawless – as well as those we identify with – flawed and complex. Men often don’t have to choose between the two because there’s room for multiple representations.
5) Fan podcast – The Gayly Prophet “Witch Please Meets The Gayly Prophet: An Interview with Hannah McGregor”
Podcasting is a way of disseminating information about feminism. It is also a way to maintain long-distance friendship. Much like Witch, Please, I’m using my PhD podcast to do a bit of both. Hannah McGregor says that podcast listeners and engaging with a community taught her a lot. For Jaime, she’s been having these conversations (like the political feminist ones on Witch, Please) with her leftist queer community in the real-world. Unlike Jaime, I didn’t have access to these conversations in my real life so I am forever grateful for the internet for expanding my mind. Hannah believes that beginning to think critically about things changes your relationship with media in general as well as that thing in particular. You either decide you now hate the thing or continue loving it and enjoy critiquing it. People like having their ideas expanded. This has definitely been my experience.
However, not all ideas are appreciated by everyone. Listeners didn’t like Witch, Please‘s reading of anti-Semitism in Harry Potter nor did they agree with their reading of fatphobia against the Dursleys. Hannah also pointed out that UK listeners don’t see the absence of Jewishness as a sign of religious erasure because they argue there is no religion in the series despite the series being framed around Christianity. This is similar to discussions about racism in the UK, as pointed out by Woke Doctor Who, where British people seem to think that racism is only a thing which exists in the US. Fat shaming “bad” people even among people on the left is seen as acceptable (Trump, for example).
Podcasting can act as a community-building site even if the text and creator are problematic. Podcasts act as accessible scholarship where knowledge is shared not just by academics podcasting but also non-academics podcasting. For example, Lark acknowledges that he doesn’t have a college degree. His education comes from talking to people and from the internet. This doesn’t make his voice any less important. Even though I’m researching for a PhD, a lot of my knowledge is derived from the internet as well. I’m still uncomfortable about calling myself an academic because I have a very certain idea of academic knowledge and I don’t feel like I fit into this mould. The internet offers different forms of media to make knowledge accessible to people who aren’t privileged enough to access these through institutionalised means.
However, as Hannah points out, open access to scholarship isn’t embraced by everyone. Many institutionalised spaces seek to protect and hoard their knowledge. Holding onto privilege, Hannah argues, is a white supremacist act because it links “expertise to wealth and other forms of privilege” – wealth and privilege which in Canada, like many Western countries, have been historically concentrated in the hands of white men. This elitist gatekeeping of knowledge provides the argument that free knowledge/free tuition decreases the “specialness” of knowledge, an idea which needs to be protected. Podcasting breaks down the barriers between who gets to create and disseminate knowledge. It also allows you to talk to more diverse people beyond the limited group of people within educational institutions which usually includes only those who have access to these spaces and resources. Hannah asserts that theory suffers from not exploring lived experience and becomes too abstract, irrelevant, and ivory towerish. I think this reflects my own uncertainty with and perception of academia.
The episode discusses that queer people seem to love Harry Potter which they argue may be a combination of the timing of the series release and the birth of digital fandom. Fans took ownership of the series regardless of what Rowling thinks/says – this is particularly relevant and evident now. They also propose that fans seem to have more ownership of genre fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror) where they play around in the world as opposed to literary fiction where the writer’s word seems more sacrosanct.
Two fan text recommendations from the conversation:
- An online zine – Harry Potter and the Problematic Author
- Web series – Hermione and the Quarter Life Crisis
6) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds “Fanfiction (Don’t Judge)”
The popular perception is that fanfiction is trashy and terrible when actually, there is a lot of high quality fic out there. And anyway, even among published books, there are so many terrible books out there! Eric interviews a woman of colour who reads/writes fanfiction because she finds it full of more diversity than mainstream media. Most creators of mainstream media are straight white guys (in the West). Fanfiction expands the possibilities of who creates stories and includes a diversity of perspectives, something that the host Eric hadn’t considered at all. Even for a critical and open-minded thinker, it’s easy to fall prey to cultural stereotypes.
There is definitely a gendered element to this denigration of fanfiction. When men wrote fiction inspired by Sherlock Holmes way back when, as one of the guests points out, the practice wasn’t denigrated. But as soon as it becomes a practice popularly employed by women, censure and mockery abound. Female fans of Star Trek wrote some of the first fanfiction as it is seen today – including slash fic – and they were dismissed by male fans for liking the show too much and for the wrong reasons .
“Where women were more interested in the relationships between the characters rather than the high concept scientific ideas.”
Slash fic is proposed to be a way of writing a lot of queer literature to fill the missing gap in mainstream literature. One of the guests also believes that slash ships written by women allow for equality in relationships i.e. it becomes a way for women to navigate gender politics without the baggage. However, I’ve also come across critiques of this because without doing the proper research, writing about a culture you aren’t familiar with can be problematic. A lot of slash fic tends to be about attractive men – largely white men – written by straight women, and intersectional identities are missing. Not that the whole idea needs to be tossed out, but there is room for questioning it rather than simply touting it as progressive.
Fanfiction displays an alternative framework to creating stories – communal writing where betas act as voluntary editors and writers take feedback into serious consideration which informs their subsequent chapters and how the story goes. Many fans even prefer fan works to canon which throws into question – what is canon anyway if fanon is equally well-received by a certain portion of people? Archive Of Our Own is a fan-run platform for fans to host fanfiction. It was started in 2007 and won a Hugo award in 2019. Online fandom can be more accessible than offline conventions, which can be expensive and inaccessible to many groups of people for many different reasons.
A guest speaks about the tension between fanfiction and its commercialisation wherein companies are trying to monetise fanfiction (hello capitalism) which changes the subversive, subcultural practice of fanfiction by making it more conventional and heteronormative to suit the demands of the marketplace. Another tension is about fan entitlement where media creators hold fan backlash responsible for their creative choices. However, historically fans haven’t had large amounts of institutional and financial power. Now, through their fan works, they are able to respond to the media and critique decisions which further marginalise under-represented groups of people – something which some media creators like more than others.
To quote Sam Winchester: “At the end of the day, it’s our story. So we get to write it.”
7) Fan podcast – Imaginary Worlds “Fan fiction (special edition)”
This episode featured an interview with Francesca Coppa, one of the co-founders of Archive of Our Own. She pointed at Sherlock Holmes and then Star Trek as the origins of fanfiction. Women played a huge role in the Star Trek fandom but they weren’t taken as seriously – they were writing fictional stories but were regarded as writing the show incorrectly. Fanzines and sharing VHS tapes was another way of sharing fandom and forming a community. The internet followed.
Why bully teenage girls for doing something they love?
She also spoke about the gender politics of fanfiction and how it’s mocked for being an arena so largely populated by teenage girls playing with their favourite worlds and characters. She points out the hypocrisy by drawing parallels to garage bands where people get together to play covers of their favourite in their garages. Just like fanfiction, the quality of these creative outputs differs wildly – with some great and some terrible productions. Even when it comes to the idea of Mary Sues where people criticise wish-fulfillment stories written by young girls and women, it overlooks the fact that so many of mainstream male heroes are wish-fulfillment Gary Stus as well – Luke Skywalker and Bruce Wayne, for example. A lot of fanfiction responds to the sexist aspects of their favourite media where there are no female friendships and women are primarily defined through their relationships with men. Slash fic is used to negotiate gender politics by using fictional characters and exploring the relationships between them. Francesca contends that prose allows you to explore feelings in a deeper way than movie/TV. Being a woman on the internet is fraught with risk anyway.
“Anything women do is funny, anything teenage girls do is funny, anything women do with erotica is especially hilarious.”
Archive of our Own was started by fans to own the platform where they wrote fanfic on. Its co-founders were mostly adult women from different skill backgrounds – coders, lawyers, writers. They designed the structure and software from scratch and included things they considered important – spoiler warnings and trigger warnings, for example. It won a Hugo award in 2019.
Francesca also talks of the benefits of having beta readers acting as editors to improve the quality of the stories online. Many fans are professional writers and an editor is always helpful to all kinds of writers. However, from my own experiences as a teenage fanfiction writer on MuggleNet, I remember that sometimes the community is much more authoritarian. I wrote a very Out of Character fic about a sitcom version of Voldemort and the Death Eaters and the first chapter received a few nice comments, but then the second chapter as well as the fic itself was deleted for not being in character which was extremely demoralising! I shared it on another platform too but it put me off writing more – I don’t have thick enough skin!
Francesca outlines the limits of the marketplace which in turn limit the kind of stories writers on TV shows/books can tell. Fanfiction doesn’t have this problem where there’s room for all kinds of stories. However, the increasing allure of commercialisation of fanfiction due to it becoming mainstream can be fraught with risk. She warns of the dangers of money coming into fanfiction whereby it will be governed by the dictates of the marketplace and advertisers, just as mainstream media is. But considering that a majority of fic writers are female, shouldn’t women be paid for their work? Francesca wants to preserve the playfulness and not make it a job. It is complicated as she admits.
8) Fan podcast – Black Girl Nerds “Geek Misogyny, No Totally” (Segment 1 until 1 hour 6 minutes)
The episode explores examples of sexism and harassment while cosplaying. Cosplaying as a woman appears to be fraught with risk (doing anything being a woman is fraught with risk!). Safety from harassment depends on the space; in conventions, it is more frequent in some places than others. They point out the male entitlement where male fans think female fans are there for their benefit and not just because they are fans themselves and cosplaying is simply their expression of fannishness. Women aren’t there just to be attractive to men or get male attention. Is fandom seen as a space for men by these male fans? And that women are just interlopers? Such behaviour makes nervous fans more uncomfortable and can dissuade them from doing this again. It’s a way of gatekeeping who belongs and who doesn’t. When this sexist behaviour is called out, male fans become upset. Conflict is risky in these spaces because just like elsewhere, you don’t know how men will react and when it can get violent. It’s an outright dismissal of women’s experiences and agency and sense of peace!
As they point out, making space for conversations about this harrassment is important. Giving space for marginalised voices in ALL the contexts is important, especially when they are challenging dominant norms and behaviours which people may have traditionally taken for granted. This isn’t just true in fan spaces, of course. Fan conventions themselves are often spaces with children and young people too and this is a terrible example to set for them. You can offer such a better experience! Why can’t people just be better?!
I have a very limited experience of fan conventions. My only experience of a con was Eastercon where there seemed to be many measures in place to make it as inclusive as possible. I’ve just been to that one so far because I haven’t been able to afford to go to more, but I hope to in the future because I love the idea of them! I was on some panels at the convention I’d been to and most of my interactions with people were just brilliant. However, since I’m a chronic over-preparer and was super nervous, I’d done a ton of homework. In one panel, this included having a PowerPoint full of images of the books I was talking about because I like showing visuals to people. At the end of my panel, an older man came to me and said, “Oh every time I see a PowerPoint, it just puts me to sleep.” What a thing to say to someone! One of the young female-presenting volunteers overheard this exchange and quickly said that she likes having a visual to support the panel since she doesn’t always catch what the panelists are saying. Is it only up to women to look out for each other?
The harassment is especially worse if women inhabit other intersectional identities which mark you out as “different”. On the podcast, they speak about racial and body diversity while cosplaying. Plus size cosplayers have even more anxiety while dressing up as their favourite characters in a fatphobic society. It’s something that’s so conditioned – considering fatness as shameful and less than. And not treating fat people as you would a non-fat person. People undergo such different experiences of marginalisation. In terms of fatphobia, it’s only something I’ve recently discovered and I’m still learning about, after hearing an episode about it on Woke Doctor Who and then reading a book called Happy Fat.
The fake geek girl discourse is a form of cultural gatekeeping by male fans. Male entitlement manifests itself in deciding who does or doesn’t belong in the fan space. Women are targeted by men for not knowing everything about everything; the same doesn’t happen to other male fans. Female fans are treated differently, not just by men but also women with internalised misogyny. Again, this isn’t something I have come across myself just because of the spaces I inhabit. However, I’d internalised male expressions of fannishness when I was younger. I thought I needed to know everything about a series or movie to count as a “real fan”. And it’s taken a few years for me to be all right with my expression of fannishness, which might differ from the male-controlled norm. Shows with huge male fandoms are taken more seriously than those with huge female fandoms. Women (or anybody!) shouldn’t have to prove their fannishness and the value of their interests to anybody. We don’t need men to allow us into their exclusive fan club. Why do some fans have to prove their fannishness? We’re not doing this for approval. Being a fan, playing games, dressing up – we do it for ourselves! Because it’s fun.
Does this reflect male insecurity? Is it a form of dominant culture insecurity about having to share space with new people, about having other kinds of people and stories they have to engage with? This is also similar to broader social, cultural and political spaces at large. The guests point out that the dominant culture becomes angry/offended when marginalised fans create their own space – even though the dominant norms are still prevalent everywhere. They also outline the differences between male fandom (i.e. collecting merch, trivia, knowing the canon) versus female fandom (i.e. transforming canon because they are dissatisfied by their lack of representation). Transformational fandom is usually practised by people on the margins of mainstream culture as a way to insert their own perspectives which are otherwise erased. It is so important to form a community with fellow marginalised fans because they’re concerned with the same things you are within a space where you’ve all gathered to chat about something you love. Diversity isn’t a threat to the things the dominant group likes! It just makes space for more things which others can enjoy. Inclusion doesn’t need to be a contentious issue.
9) Fan podcast – The Gayly Prophet “Three Owls In A Trench Coat: POA Chapter 3” (Listen from 37 to 57 minutes)
Something I hadn’t considered – Stan Shunpike has a class-signifying accent in the UK context. He is portrayed as working class and the character isn’t very flattering. Hagrid has a different regional class accent and is marginalised in different ways. The Weasleys’ lack of money is different from a truly working class lifestyle. Mr. Weasley seems to have a pretty stable job at the Ministry. The hosts don’t think they come from working class backgrounds based on the cues provided about Molly’s family. These are things you wouldn’t pick up on unless you were familiar with the UK class politics. But there are parallels in India with accents and regional variations where urban accents and English is privileged. The series, like much mainstream media, is written from an upper class/middle class perspective which is quite uncomfortable.
What is the cost of education at Hogwarts? Do all wizarding children go? Is there a cost factor which prevents people from going? Tom Riddle got some sort of scholarship, didn’t he? What about the Gaunts? It may not just be tuition but also buying all the things which go with it. Do you also pay for boarding and food? There’s also the class connotations of boarding schools. In India, my parents and some friends’ parents used to threaten us that if we were bad, they would send us to a boarding school. At the time, we had no concept that a boarding school was more expensive than regular school (and perhaps, the threats rang a little hollow). In the UK, of course, boarding schools seem to be entirely connected with poshness.
The hosts wonder whether the Knight Bus is a form of transportation only for poor people? It’s an uncomfortable ride, and people seem miserable. Are there different kinds of transportation based on your level of wealth? How much are Portkeys and magic carpets worth? Apparation is free, I suppose, but you assume a level of education. Can you learn to Apparate anywhere other than Hogwarts? Is it restricted only to students who have access and resources to education? You can read Muggles/Muggleborn children as coming from a lower class background because of their lack of access to resources and knowledge. And everything else is so much harder for them in the magical world. Even though Harry was raised by Muggles and was largely impoverished, in the magical world he isn’t financially insecure. As the hosts point out, in Prisoner of Azkaban, he is asked to stay at Diagon Alley in an inn on presumably his own dime and has to pay for his own meals. This presumption of wealth with no consideration given to money matters implies that money is no problem.
10) Fan podcast – Reading, Writing, Rowling “Revela Draconem: Draco Malfoy Revealed” (Listen until 27ish minutes)
Draco and Dudley have certain similarities. They are both bullies, and their behaviour has class implications in terms of their families. Both are over-indulged by their parents who have their own toxic ideas of privilege and wealth and status – though the Malfoys are much more aristocratic than the Dudleys. This has an impact on both Draco and Dudley as well as on Harry. This parenting is also very harmful to both boys; a different kind of neglect and abuse than the one meted out to Harry. Both change as characters by unlearning their family’s social conditioning and develop empathy for other perspectives. They both also undergo traumatic experiences as the series progresses. Draco is depressed in Half-Blood Prince which is born out of expectations and pressure to fit in with parents which he may not necessarily agree with. Being in Slytherin definitely didn’t help him question his beliefs and preconceived ideas. As the hosts in The Gayly Prophet point out in an episode, he would have done well to have been sorted into Ravenclaw and be friends with Luna who would probably have questioned his really problematic ideas.
11) Fan podcast – Harry Potter and the Sacred Text “Failure: Dumbledore’s Army (Book 5, Chapter 18)”
They discuss Hermione’s failure with SPEW where she didn’t consult with the house elves and decided she was going to liberate them based on her own ideas. It was reflective of white feminism and a white saviour complex, both of which were presented uncritically. One of the hosts believes that she’s developed leadership skills and organisational capabilities thanks to her SPEW efforts, which she goes on to apply to the DA in Order of the Phoenix. But she doesn’t actually apply any of these lessons to SPEW. She has a condescending attitude towards house elves and doesn’t talk to them, but she is better prepared with her peers in DA. Is this some unquestioned biases at play even within Hermione – where she considers her human peers more equal than house elves and more able to understand her plans and concerns? Dobby bears the brunt of her good but clumsy intentions – he has to clean Gryffindor tower by himself because none of the other house elves want to be tricked into freedom. Hermione’s tactics show a shocking ignorance and lack of consideration of house elf culture, attitudes, and beliefs. She thinks she knows better than the house elves about their own lives and behaves accordingly. The hosts also believe that it’s important to confront friends when it comes to activism and social justice movements. Harry should have talked to Hermione about her SPEW failures. Looking at her plans for DA, we assume she has learned, but she may not actually have gleaned any lessons.
In terms of gender dynamics, they discuss the DA where Hermione gives up control to Harry even though she’s the brains behind the operation. This might be a problematic diminishing of female labour but can also be read as needing collective delegation and leadership – a different way of expressing leadership. They also talk about Angelina Johnson’s stint as the Gryffindor Quidditch captain. Vanessa asserts that women are held to unfair standards compared to men especially in terms of men’s comfort versus women’s comfort. The players didn’t complain as much when the previous captain Oliver Wood put them through discomfort. When Angelina has practices in the pouring rain, she earns the intense ire of the entire team. In Hogwarts’ blindly multicultural society, Angelina’s race may not have played a role but in real life situations, the fact that she is a black woman may have had consequences on how the rest of the team follows her lead.