Monday, October 22, 2007

Don't ask, don't tell...


...and don't give the colored folks anything significant to do or say.

That's what came to mind when I first heard the following news: J.K. Rowling Explains Why Uncle Dumbledore Never Got Married, from EW.com via Defamer.

Responding to a question from a child about Dumbledore's love life, Rowling hesitated and then revealed, "I always saw Dumbledore as gay." Filling in a few more details, she said, "Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald.... Don't forget, falling in love can blind us."


The second thing that came to my mind was this: Law and Order's Southerlyn Comes Out on Her Way Out, by Sarah Warn at AfterEllen.

In one of the most famous—and puzzling—conclusions to a Law and Order episode ever, Assistant D.A. Serena Southerlyn (Elizabeth Rohm) was unexpectedly outed at the end of “Ain’t No Love,” which aired on January 12, 2005, when she reponsdeed to her dismissal with the question, “You're not firing me because I'm a lesbian?”

Southerlyn’s unexpected outing is one of the few episodes in Law and Order’s 15-year history that has included a lesbian or bisexual character. Although Law and Order aired episodes about gay men beginning in its very first season, lesbians rarely made appearances on the crime drama until its ninth season in 1999...

To out Southerlyn in her final scene on the series feels a little like having your cake and eating it too: Law and Order gets to expand its diversity of characters and lay claim to a token lesbian among its cast, but avoid the ramifications of it because the character leaves the series immediately after her sexuality is revealed.


In the words of Stephen Colbert--after finding out John Edwards would be challenging his favorite son status in his one-state Presidential bid in South Carolina: What the bleep, y'all?

It's convenient that Ms. Rowling reveals this 1) with hesitation 2) after being asked by a child, 3) after the seventh and final book came out three months ago, and 4) after Dumbledore was killed in Book 6 by the gayest villain since Scar in The Lion King. Apparently it was a-okay for every other character in the Harry Potter series to be as straight as they want to be. But God forbid anyone in the books display any homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender identity, or hint of queerdom at all. It was fine for Ron to whore it up all through Book 6, having a purely physical relationship with Lavender Brown, while unfairly chastising Hermione because she had one date two books ago with Viktor Krum. Dumbledore could have at least alluded to a past relationship, or the special feelings he had for this Grindelwald guy.

I own all seven books, along with the four DVDs that have been released. That doesn't mean I have to like the WASPy, heteronormative patriarchal regressive world that J.K. Rowling ripped off from other books, movies, myths and legends. How original is it to write a fantastical story about an orphaned white Anglo boy who has to save the world? Yes, there's Hermione, the token girl; Kingsley, the big black guy in the Order of the Phoenix who functions as a bodyguard; and Cho and Dean, the vaguely ethnic love interests whose entire existences have been erased by Book 7, so that [SPOILER ALERT!] Harry and Ginny (who has no real personality of her own) can be together in holy white matrimony. The straight white guys get to have all the fun.

17 comments:

Irwin Handleman said...

Bianca's response to other headlines:

"Tom Brady Passes Patriots to Victory"

Bianca: "And God forbid they give the colored folks credit for catching those passes!"

"Britney Spears Loses Custody of Her Children"

Bianca: "And why aren't they talking about K-Fed's other kids...is it because they're half black?!"

"Fires Tear Through Southern California"

Bianca: "The white man is oppressing the black man through natural disasters now!"

Bianca Reagan said...

1. I'm not into professional (men's) sports franchises.

2. No one's talking about K-Fed's other kids because their mother is at least semi-competent. She's also the winner of the Celebrity Rapping contest on MTV. I didn't watch one episode, but I did hear Big Boy in the Morning talk about it regularly.

3. I'm pretty sure there are both white people and black people in San Diego. Though I'm not so sure about Malibu.

Stephanie said...
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Bianca Reagan said...

stephanie, geekiness is cool with me. I think that has been my defining characteristic since . . . birth.

JK's world is detailed in the same way that Pokemon characters have clever names. It's very familiar and onomatopoetic.

I haven't read that far, so I didn't know that Dobby died. Thanks. I didn't care about any of the elves, but I did like them more than Jar Jar.

"she did not specifically site what race or ethnicity a character was and yet you still 'got it'" because most of the characters were white. The ones who weren't white had a non-Anglo name like Cho or Parvati. Or they were simply described as "black" like Kingsley was in Book 7.

Regarding the Mudblood analogies, this isn't The Twilight Zone in the 1960s talking about racial discrimination by giving white people pig faces or putting them in zoos on other planets, because they couldn't put too many black people on TV. This is now 2007. One should be able to talk about ongoing issues directly using actual representatives of groups who are discriminated against. It's the same reason I don't watch The Daily Show anymore. You can talk about discrimination all you want by pointing fingers at other unabashedly bigoted people. But when most of the important people in your book or on your staff are white and/or male, you are part of the problem.

I'm not saying that Dumbledore should have thrust his relationships or lack thereof in Harry's face. I'm saying that almost every other character in the books was blatantly heterosexual. Whether someone's relationship "was on a romantic level or friendship level" was the entire thrust of the interaction between Hermione and Ron. So this differentiation is important in general.

"acceptance of all people" is indeed an important theme of this series. Except instead of including more types of people, the author decided to use elves and trolls and giants and centaurs to demonstrate this quality. She chose to talk about magical creatures instead of confronting the colonialism that has made England grudgingly diverse.

Ron is one of the most sympathetic characters in the book, meaning that people identify with his poverty, middle child syndrome, and second banana status. The attitude taken in the books about his sexual proclivity was not one of disdain; it was more "boys will be boys, and girls better be chaste." He isn't to be admired, but no one calls him on his behavior. It just keeps going until he tires of Lavender and casts her off. Then for some reason, Hermione forgets Ron's "get thee to a nunnery" attitude towards her, and starts dating him. Why? I don't know. Because she's supposed to? Yeah, she could do better. I don't dig guys that hold me to inane double standards.

I haven't finished Book 7. If you recall from my recent post, "Smithsonian Magazine's The Last Word": "4. The last book I read was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I'm on chapter four."

Hermione is indeed a hero(ine). Harry would be nowhere without her.

The rest of my response is this: I haven't read the rest of Book 7 yet.

Also, I was whining about my day to C-Dog while I was composing probably my fourth email to you tonight, so I entered this week's episode of Gossip Girl after the 23-minute mark. I'm liking Dan's maybe-partially-black (based on her mixed appearance and black show credits on IMDb) best friend Vanessa. She seems like the coolness. How could she have rejected Dan? I would have been all up on that. And what is Jenny doing with Chuck?! Argh!

Amy's Brain Today said...

I totally agree with you on the overwhelming whiteness and heterosexuality of Hogwarts and the rest of Harry Potter's universe, Bianca. It showed up especially strongly to me in the films, (I saw Order of the Phoenix recently) where the few people of color--Cho, the Patil sisters, Kingsley--were so clearly minor characters and window-dressing. Kingsley may end up as "the head of the whole wizarding world" but when he has two lines in the entire film, that's tokenism.

I was so disgusted to recently finish Deathly Hallows and find out that, not only is it a festival of straight pairing off, it's also ALL about the breeding! There's no mention of what the main characters have done with their lives between the end of the story and the epilogue, except have a bunch of offspring. Not exactly what I'd want a child of mine to see as the only and/or most important outcome of what the characters went through.

And while I agree with you, Stephanie, on the positive developments in Hermione's and Ginny's characters as the series goes on, I think that it would not have been very difficult for Rowling to include some other gay/lesbian characters. I mean, I'm a lesbian, and it never occurred to me that she meant Dumbledore to be gay. And it's completely unrealistic to present any high school, magical or not, without ONE SINGLE STUDENT who has a crush on a member of the same sex. Same-sex relationships among the students could have been presented in passing and chastely, without causing much of a fuss. The people who get upset about teh gay--namely, right-wingers--already hate Rowling and the whole series because it's evil and pagan. So it's not as though she needed to worry about losing readership--all the good white liberal mommies and daddies would have been thrilled for Junior and Becky to have sterilized, backgrounded gay/lesbian relationships in their storybooks. The fact that Rowling didn't do this doesn't lend much support to her recent weak outing of Dumbledore. It's tokenism, again, pure and simple.

Stephanie said...
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Stephanie said...
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Bianca Reagan said...

Thanks for your comment, Amy! I too was horrified by the breeding in the epilogue. As if that is the only important thing at end of a series about fighting "The Dark Lord." Hmph. Nice title to describe evil.

stephanie, if the message is tolerance and acceptance of all people, then "all people" should be represented in this fantasy world that the author chose to create. Making most of your world's characters white and/or male is antithetical to that message.

Most children's books--and adult's books--don't have gay characters. However, our population has more out gay people every day. There are many children who know gay people, have gay parents and family members, and are gay themselves. Yet they are not represented. Also, Dumbledore's gayness is not in any of the books, and I doubt it will be included in the remaining two movies. It was reluctantly mentioned during a PR event, which conveys its priority to the creator of the series.

Change can't come quickly enough for some of us, considering that some of us continue to be left out of our media, despite the fact that our ancestors have been in our country for over 500 years. I'm not saying that the Harry Potter stories had to be about colonialism. I'm saying that if JK wanted to comment on discrimination, she didn't have to make up elves and giants to do so.

And how do you state race in your books so that readers don’t just assume they are white? (Sad but true!)

This is exactly what I'm talking about stephanie. Two years ago, I actually wrote a letter to pamie about one of her July 2005 posts, which I can't find now because her archives aren't working. She posted a screenplay excerpt that reflected actual scenes from her life, in which she described one man as "African-American." Yet the other characters in the scenes had no such ethnic/racial description. She responded by stating that she didn't mean to offend anyone, but most scripts are written like that, with the nonwhite people glaringly pointed out. At the time, I thanked her for her reply, and told her that I have the same problem with JK Rowling's methods in Harry Potter, but JK didn't have a blog for me to complain on.

Two years later, I have no qualms about saying that I am offended by this method of writing. I don't care if every American script and novel is written this way; it's wrong. Who are white people to see themselves as the default race, when they are an "ethnic" minority on the planet Earth? Maybe people won't assume that your characters are white, because, Newsflash, not everyone in the world is white, including the people reading your book. If you need to talk about someone's "race" because it is integral to the story, then state it. But remember that "white" is a "race" too, and you should address the issues that go along with that.

You can show me your writing if you like. You can also ask our mutual friends about the short story of mine that I made them read. That will give you even more perspective inside my brain.

I don't need to focus on the positives of the Harry Potter series, because it's clear to anyone that knows me that I enjoy it. I have dragged my friends, some under duress, to see every one of the movies with me.

I don't know of any books or television shows or movies that address all of these issues accurately. That is a function of the bigotry inherent in media corporations. These stories are being written, but they are not being distributed because the people running these corporations don't want to sell them.

I'm criticizing JK Rowling because she knows full well that if she had written her novels, under her birth name Joanne, about a character like Hermione or Cho or Dean, or even a series about the backstory of Dumblebore, she wouldn't have a billion dollar franchise on her hands. She played by the rules of the white male patriarchy, wrote a story about a straight white boy, and broke no molds while doing so. Therefore I don't give her that much credit for writing an "original" story about Good vs. Evil and promoting "tolerance"; as if people like me are something to be tolerated. And exactly who is doing this tolerating? Think about that.

Catherine Avril Morris said...

I'm not even sure I want to wade into this, because I don't know how to word anything I've been thinking about regarding it all...but I've been thinking about this post a lot, and the ensuing discussion, so I guess I do want to comment.

First, I think Bianca, Stephanie and Amy's Brain are all correct. But not Irwin. And I'm not sure that what Stephanie and Bianca are each saying is mutually exclusive. And I love Stephanie's deconstruction of HP! Wowee!

It just keeps jumping out at me that the people in these discussions (on Bianca's blog as well as in other forums of my life) who keep arguing that things aren't as bad as some people say they are -- that racism isn't such an issue anymore, that homophobia doesn't exist, that misogyny isn't a problem, etc. -- are almost always white and hetero, and often male. Meaning, being of the non-oppressed race, sexual orientation and/or gender makes it a lot harder to see injustices and inequalities, because we white hetero folks have a pretty comfy position in America that doesn't require us to do the uncomfortable work of looking around and seeing the underlying meanings of things (or sometimes the extremely overt meanings).

Stephanie, of course, is a woman (and I don't know that she's hetero, I just assume so from what I've read of her blog and comments on Bianca's blog, which probably I shouldn't do). And women are part of the oppressed masses for sure. But, I don't know, it seems like of the groups of people oppressed by the American white male patriarchical system, women are the most complacent about their oppression. I'm sure you could argue very eloquently otherwise; but I know more than a few women -- smart ones, and all hetero -- who don't call themselves feminists because they're "uncomfortable" with it; who got married and changed their names without even once considering not doing so; and I could name countless other examples of their complacency about their oppression. (And my personal theory of why they do this is they still want to have sex with men -- they want to remain palatable to hetero males, which means openly accepting their oppression to some degree. That's why I think it's easier for lesbians to work against all that shit -- because most of them aren't trying to be sexually appealing to men. But that's another theory for a different discussion.) The point is, I don't know any non-white people who claim racism isn't a problem or who seem complacent about it, or any non-hetero people who claim homophobia isn't an issue these days.

All of which I point out because Stephanie isn't a white male, she's a white female, so there is some level there of oppression and being able to personally relate to others' oppression. And I can tell she's sensitive to these issues and is thinking about them. But I'm pretty sure Bianca and Amy's Brain are right -- that JK Rowling, as B said, played into the white dudes' system in order to cash in more than she would have if she'd made Hermione the lead character, or made other changes B has pointed out.

On the other hand, Bianca, Stephanie is right: Is it right to expect that every single book and movie and whatever else have an equal balance of white, black, brown, other, straight, queer, able, disabled, hearing, non-hearing, etc. etc. characters? No, I don't think so. That would be pretty hard to do, and not representative of most people's real lives. It wouldn't serve every story, by any means.

However, I think the issue with JK Rowling's books is more about the fact that it's yet another glaring example of this persistent, putrid unfairness of the world: that the biggest, most profitable and talked-about icons of our global culture almost always are by, about and for white folks who mostly ignore people who aren't just like them.

Bianca Reagan said...

Thank you for your insight, catherine! You make some good points, and it's okay to wade.

First, I think Bianca, Stephanie and Amy's Brain are all correct. But not Irwin.

Hee!

I don't think that every movie, book or TV show should have a representative of every color and orientation. However, even if every media project starting now had equal representation, it still wouldn't make up for over a hundred years of exclusion.

Stephanie said...

Thanks Catherine! You are much more eloquent than I. I had a huge long response but it sounded harsher than I intended so I wasn’t going to post it since I do totally respect and agree on some points with Bianca. But I feel you encapsulated all of our points quite nicely.

Is it right to expect that every single book and movie and whatever else have an equal balance of white, black, brown, other, straight, queer, able, disabled, hearing, non-hearing, etc. etc. characters?

Awe, why couldn’t I have phrased it so tight and succinct? There are tons of people in our world who are mistreated, looked down upon and prejudiced against because they are different. If we just focused on race or sexuality it is still a disservice to others who are discriminated against. What about the disabled, little people, old people, various religions, mental disorders and obese people?

As Chuck on Pushing Daisies said, “Here, we thought we just had one big problem, but really we have tons of tiny ones too.”

That is why I think the allegory in JKR’s work is still important even if she did buy into the white patriarchal society. Above all else this is a Children’s book. Children deal with getting picked on day to day for various reasons. And by making the derogatory term “mudblood” which is a non-wizarding person means that EVERY reader can identify and relate no matter what the color of their skin is or the sense of injustice they actually face. It also teaches them that name calling of any kind isn’t acceptable.

Maybe my Pollyanna complex is working overtime.

Sometimes I feel in our efforts to prevent people from being judged we in turn become the biggest judgers.

Catherine Avril Morris said...

Oh! I wanted to say one more thing. I was still thinking of this post and our discussion while I was shopping for a supportive strapless bra this afternoon! Which I think speaks to what an interesting topic Bianca brought up, and what an interesting discussion we're having, no? Anyway, I thought about the fact that -- it's OK to be critical even of things we like. Like HP. I love those books. Love them. But I can still see that what Bianca and Amy's Brain are saying is true, because it is. We have to be able to look critically at all things, not just things we dislike. Bianca, I think you're leading by example in this way. You're good at calling out authors/actors/whoevers while still admitting you like them. The world isn't two-dimensional. It's pretty complex. That's my big revelation from the bra store.

And thanks, Stephanie, for saying I was eloquent! *blush* That was real nice of you.

Bianca Reagan said...

Disabled, little people, old people, various religions, mental disorders and obese people all come in different colors, too.

I'm not denying that the allegories present in series are important. I'm saying that when you teach children and adults about acceptance by using a cast of mainly straight, white and/or male characters, you are teaching them other lessons as well. You are teaching them whose stories are important and which people are normal.

I think part of the disconnect between my and stephanie's arguments is that stephanie is seeing the glass as half full, whereas I am demanding a whole lot more water, along with a bigger glass. It comes back to my previous post about who is "we". Admittedly, the Harry Potter books do explore some progressive issues. However, the books do reinforce certain beliefs, societal structures, and restrictive roles. I'm not satisfied with the status quo, so I complain. How else do you expect change to happen?

I'd like you all to also note that I don't dissect things like the Dr. Phil franchise or Glenn Beck's programs because they have no merit. I most deeply criticize the things that I have enjoyed at some point in time, and I expect more out of them. Yet I do post an occasional O'Reilly clip to remind myself of the crazy out there.

A separate bra conversation is necessary, because my goodness. They are expensive, and I can rarely find one in my size. No wonder most of the poor population is wonder. A huge chunk of our income goes to necessary clothing, medication and personal supplies that men never have to buy. Level playing field my tuchis.

Catherine Avril Morris said...

Separate bra discussion = yes. I didn't even know they made strapless bras in my size, so I was verrrry surprised to find one that was not only supportive, it's MORE supportive than my regular, strapped bras! Wowee! Things have changed in the lingerie business since I last frequented an actual, designated lingerie shop, instead of the Gilligan O'Malley aisle at Target. :)

baby221 said...

I've done a lot of thinking about this one too, outside of my own post about it -- and my final conclusion (to be tinkered with randomly and without notice) is that yeah, it's just about meaningless. I mean, for a series that's supposed to be about tolerance (re: the whole pureblood vs. half-/mixed-blood vs. muggleborn thing), you've got the whole unsolved dilemma of the house elves, the flat-out dismissal of goblin culture, oh, and everybody who matters is straight and white (and male -- Hermione's nothing more than an enabler and a token, if you ask me, and Ginny doesn't even really exist until book six).

Except for Dumbledore, who's post-canon gay, whose orientation suffers from a lack of textual embededness that practically guarantees that in three, five, ten years nobody's going to remember that he was gay except for the lgbt community and the fangirls.

There was kinda-sorta something going on with the whole Lupin's a werewolf thing, but the only thing that came of that was BAYBEEZ, and well. Aside from falling completely flat and shattering fanon expectations, that didn't amount to much either. Not that poor Hagrid, on whose behalf Hermione also crusaded ("nobody cares that your mum was a giantess!"), got that far. But still.

Everybody makes a great big deal about how the books are about diversity and tolerance, but really, giving passing notice to five kids of colour (Dean, Lee Jordan, the Patil twins, and Cho -- lemme know if I'm missing any, I think Blaise and Angelina might also be poc) and one crotchety old post-canon queer who dies beloved but unloved in a heteronormative whitewashed (species-ist) world doesn't cut it.

Bianca Reagan said...

Thanks for your comment, baby221!

one crotchety old post-canon queer (Hee!) who dies beloved but unloved in a heteronormative whitewashed (species-ist) world doesn't cut it.

You are cracking me up!

Before any of you get any ideas, baby221 is not me in disguise, trying to drum up fake support. I don't have that kind of time, considering I spent almost all of tonight tracking down this artist and this song which I can't find on MySpace.

baby221 said...

Before any of you get any ideas, baby221 is not me in disguise, trying to drum up fake support.

Haha nah, I've already got my Hallowe'en costume thanks -- and besides, if you've got time to maintain two blogs, you're not a Bianca either, you're Superwoman :p