Gagflex: Harry Potter and the American Manchild

I saw a grown man dressed like Harry Potter this week. He was wearing the glasses and the cloak and waving a plastic wand that made noises when he shook it at me.

I remember thinking “Wow, this wand must really work, because this man has somehow made his integrity completely disappear.”

Not all Harry Potter fans are as “special” as that guy, but he really isn’t exceptional in the grand scheme of the delirium. The latest movie has made a ton of money, bookstores held late-night parties for the book’s grand arrival and people of all ages can’t stop talking about the wizard child and his battle against evil.

I get asked all the time if I read Harry Potter, and the answer is no. I don’t have a real answer as to why I haven’t joined in the festivities, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I’m not 12 years old.

Recently, when I was chatting with my friend Farmer McGregor, I thought of the possibility that it’s not so much that Harry Potter is really great, but that people feel bonded through the fact that they’ve actually decided to read something. And yeah, there’s a perpetual stream of nonfiction, motivational, self-help, religious and political titles that catch fire with the public and sell rather well. But the majority of all best-selling fiction lists are filled with writers like James Patterson and Nora Roberts, who have been there for the last 10 years.

Literary discovery isn’t a high point of our culture; so Oprah is due a bit of credit for at least attempting to toss a few nuggets of thought provoking literature such as Andre Dubus’ House of Sand and Fog into her book club’s mix.

According to a survey done in 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts, less than half of American adults read literature, and I’d be willing to go out on a limb and guess that a much smaller number than that read consistently. So you’ll have to forgive me for not being excited about a bunch of adults going gaga over a children’s book.

I’ve heard plenty of Potter fans argue for the sake of the writing and for the deep underlying meanings. And they’re right, the writing is great, and there probably are plenty of messages involved, but it’s all fantastic on a junior high level. Seriously, no great high school teacher could ever assign Harry Potter, because the students should have graduated well beyond the simplistic themes.

It seems that the adult mindset in America has regressed to some odd juvenile phase, and only the most superficial aspects of our art and culture get any sort of wide recognition. Feel free to see what movies are in the top five, what music is selling and what literature is being read, and I can almost guarantee you’ll see entertainment dumbed-down for the childlike mentality.

It might be possible that in our newly regressed culture, I might be the one who is wrong; maybe the standards have changed. Maybe Harry Potter is great literature, and maybe Transformers is one of the greatest movies ever made. If only I could drift off to Hogwarts and use some of that magic to shrink my emotional state back to the age of 12 so I could enjoy it all.


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