This insightful point/counterpoint appeared in The Times today, comparing two of the most popular little-boy-icons, Harry Potter and Bart Simpson. Both have movies coming out this summer. In my snobby estimation, both belong in the ranks of pop-culture-characters-who-are-also-worthy-of-high-culture-criticism. They appeal to a ridiculously wide range and large number of people, yet also warrant multi-layered analysis. This piece does a good job of hacking away at those layers. But who wins? I have a hard time deciding…but as I value a sense of humor, I’ll choose Bart. Harry takes himself too seriously. Granted, he’s perpetually in mortal danger, but all the same – take a chill pill, Potter! Plus, I don’t much fancy British lads.
Both writers hint at what each character represents in terms of national character – the British stiff upper lip and sense of nobility, the American propensity for rebellion and unconcern for birthright. However, these stereotypes are getting outdated at both the individual and national level, perhaps because of globalization, perhaps for some other reasons. I can’t quite articulate what I mean at this point – maybe I’ll write a refutation of American/British/European stereotypes a bit later, if I can drum up stats and anecdotes to support me. For now, I’ll just say that national characteristics die away as individuals homogenize across cultures. Not completely, but I can see it trickling in, especially in urban areas. At the same time, nationalism in general may be stronger than ever (see Gordon Brown’s push for Britishness last year). This is just a gut sense I have for a complex issue.
Anyway, I’m going to deviate from the rest of the world in its dislike for the fifth Harry Potter book. It might actually be my favorite, even with all the new plots and characters and all the darkness. Somehow, the revenge on Dolores Umbridge, encompassed in Fred and George’s escape from Hogwart’s and in her humiliation at the hands of the centaurs, was the most satisfying part of the whole series for me (could change after the 7th book comes out). I’m sure it will it be even more satisfying on film.