Popularity, Pop Culture, and Potter - that yellow bastard

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July 9th, 2003

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2003.0709.1745::Popularity, Pop Culture, and Potter
Most of the people in HP fandom have already read A.S. Byatt's NYT Op-Ed piece on the Harry Potter adult readership phenomenon.

Caleb Carr, mystery/sci-fi novelist and military historian, praises Byatt's piece in a response letter to the NYT:
For those of us who have many times found ourselves trapped in discussions (if such they can be called) of this sort with adult Potter fans, but who have lacked the clarity or sensitivity to state our side of the case so well, Ms. Byatt's article is indispensable: a classic and precise piece of true criticism, neither bile nor reverence, but brilliant dissection.

Let children who love Harry read on. But let adults know that their obsessive devotion is feeding something far more frightening than the dark arts: a retreat from the complexities of adulthood in a dangerous world.

Aside from the insulting insinuation that I'm some closeted shut-in who can't really face up to things like terrorism or house payments, isn't "a retreat" what all fiction is for--evading the stress or mundanity of your current living for a brief solace of something novel or different? Even the most realistic or allegorical of fictional stories allows you to move beyond the confines of your microcosm. Why must Harry Potter, who, despite Carr's incorrect assumption, does live in a dangerous world, provide some point of reference to the horrors of everyday life? Isn't Star Wars or The Matrix guilty of the same fantastic retreat?

As for Byatt's assertions, while many have already seen Charles Taylor's A.S. Byatt and the Goblet of Bile, I'll add the following quote from Anthony DeCurtis, contributing editor to Rolling Stone, who writes in his "I'll Take My Stand: A Defense of Popular Culture":
It's often struck me that many skeptics about popular culture succumb to one of its more obnoxious aspects--the reduction of complicated aesthetic issues to a hit parade--when setting forth what they think should or shouldn't be part of the curriculum or canon, or even when just expressing their conviction about what is worth knowing. What is the point, though, of pitting one type of music, or one work of art, or one type of knowledge against another, as if in a popularity contest? That seems to me to betray even very traditional notions of the attitude an intellectual life should instill.

"I'll Take My Stand: A Defense of Popular Culture" by Anthony DeCurtis is available as a part of Dumbing Down: Essays on the Strip Mining of American Culture, but honestly, IMO, out of the five essays that I've read, it's the only one worth it so far...

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