We stick up for Harry Potter and for pop culture that doesn't enrich but merely entertains, never mind the scornful wrath of Harold Bloom
There is a bit of embarrassment when I say I am a Harry Potter fan and that I've read all the books, some of them more than once, and that I've seen all the films, and that I can't wait for July 15. That's when the final film of the long-running series will be out and the rest of the world that does not care for Harry Potter can finally stop raising a ruckus about us heathens who have — in their eyes — made mountains out of JK Rowling's pitiful molehills.
These people, I think, are the reason for my embarrassment — these people who do not care for something and cannot be large-hearted enough to shrug their shoulders and turn the other away and not spoil it for the ones that do care. They make me think that the problem is with me, a grown-up whose face sprouted whiskers more than two decades ago and who, depending on the person you ask, is either in early middle-age or well into it today. I should know better — that is what these people say.
They may have a point...
And when these people are people such as Harold Bloom, people who know so much and have written so much and have read so much and are revered so much, I almost think they may have a point, that I have indeed squandered a million brain cells on the literary and cinematic equivalent of mulch. In a Wall Street Journal article from 2000, Can 35 Million Book Buyers Be Wrong? Yes., Bloom contended that Rowling's prose is clichéd and makes no demands upon her readers. “In an arbitrarily chosen single page — page 4 — of the first Harry Potter book, I count seven clichés, all of the ‘stretch his legs' variety.”
Then he asks me, because I am one of those 35 million book buyers, why read Rowling. “Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do.” Do you know of another single sentence that's been weighed down by so much withering scorn? Eleven years later, in his latest book “The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life”, he's still lashing out at “the lemmings who devour J K Rowling... as they race down the cliffs to intellectual suicide in the grey ocean of the Internet”.
Not only have I been informed that I'm a lemming and that I'm in the wrong for reading Rowling, but my brow has been singled out for lowering itself. He then moves in for the kill by asking if there is any redeeming educational use to Rowling and why read if what we read will not enrich mind or spirit or personality.
Now that the last Harry Potter book is in the past and the last Harry Potter movie is in the near future, I'd like to stand up for myself and anonymous others like me, clear my throat, raise my eyes from the points of my shoes to the people in the circle around and say: My name is Baradwaj Rangan and I like Harry Potter. I don't read always for redeeming educational use and not always for enriching my mind or spirit or personality. There are times I read just because the reading brings me joy, just as I listen to a vacuous pop tune because of the way it enters my ear and my brain, and triggers a few electrical impulses that result in a state of mild euphoria, the kind I feel when sucking on a piece of unredeeming and uneducational and unenriching hard candy.
Simply enjoy it!
Pop culture, sometimes, is just hard candy, preferably orange- or strawberry-flavoured, and it's not to be grappled with, like a shard of spinach stubbornly stuck between the teeth, but simply enjoyed as it dissolves on the tongue. There are Harry Potter equivalents in all walks of life, and I wish I didn't have to feel embarrassed when I say I like this Harry Potter-like song or this Harry Potter-like slice of television or this Harry Potter-like work of bubblegum art.
Or that on July 15, I will be among the first at a theatre screening the last Harry Potter movie with light tears in my eyes at the last scene upon leaving behind a part of my life forever — seven books and seven movies about a boy with glasses and a girl with large front teeth and big brains (not that you'd know it from the films though, at least the bit about the large front teeth) and a best friend with red hair and a fatally ineffectual villain, the only one, probably, in all of pop culture without a nose. Surely there are greater sins than being temporarily in thrall to a piece of candy.