Digital Culture

The Boy Who Lived and the Author Who Never Dies

Annabel Mulliner

They say you should never meet your heroes, but surely there is no greater pedestal-fall in recent memory than that of J.K. Rowling. One of the most notorious victims of ‘cancel culture’, Rowling was disowned by large factions of the Harry Potter ‘fandom’ following her (still ongoing) transphobic outbursts on Twitter. 

The rise of cancel culture revives the age-old question of whether we can ever detach the artist from their art. And the answer in the age of author-as-corporation has to be a hard no.

Astonishingly few victims of ‘cancel culture’ are truly ‘cancelled’, and for many it simply equals publicity. In the case of Rowling’s latest novel Troubled Blood, her work is directly perpetuating her troubling prejudices against trans women, and it soared to the number one spot in the UK book charts.

Harry Potter has extended far beyond being a series of novels, into a full-blown franchise. The majority of Rowling’s revenue comes from Universal’s Wizarding World theme park and the Cursed Child stage play. 

It’s impossible to buy Harry Potter memorabilia without contributing to transphobia. Rowling’s income, and ever-expanding empire, provides her with infinite revenue from which she can create more content to pedal her troubling world view. Money equals power, no matter where it’s coming from.

Undoubtedly, the question of whether Potterheads can enjoy new branches of the franchise is more wrought than that of other fantasy fandoms. Lovers of Lovecraft have long had to contend with his racism, but the question is much more urgent when the bigoted author in question is still profiting off of their franchise. Some have suggested that a donation to a trans rights charity offsets any negative impact on the community. But this is about as effective as carbon offsetting a luxury flight to Barbados – it’s far better to not do the damage in the first place.

Money aside, the Harry Potter books are a product of Rowling’s narrow worldview. Her feeble attempts at LGB and BAME representation fall flat under the mildest pretense of scrutiny, whether that be her claim that Dumbledore was gay all along (she just forgot to mention it) or that Hermione could have been black (except, she forgot to mention that too). 

This isn’t to say that fiction is bad unless it is representative, but children’s literature has a responsibility to form role models for all children. The Guardian revealed last year that animals are eight times more likely to appear in children’s books than BAME characters. Any reader of Harry Potter will be able to recall a far greater number of magical creatures than non-white wizards. Representation matters, and it’s time for more representative children’s franchises to have their day.

Rowling’s initial failure to represent minorities was only the first sign of trouble. The Harry Potter series’ failure to represent its minority fans, and the franchise’s inevitable perpetuation of bigotry, proves that art cannot be taken out of context.

Image Credits: Warner Bros