Thursday, January 27, 2022

Your Magic is Basic 

These kids were so poorly educated, they formed their own study group.

Like a lot of people, over the holidays I like to revisit old favourites. Be it music, food, books and of course, movies. For the last couple of years I’ve rewatched the Harry Potter series and I’ve made some observations.

It’s the 21st century and they still use a steam train?
The professors dress like 19th century dandies.
No mobile phones?
No Internet, only owls?

This aversion to contemporary technology in the “Wizarding World” brings to mind the well known adage of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

When they do use technology (a camera, an enchanted car, a phonograph), it looks like it came from the 1920s or a 1940s junk shop. By the time the film series concluded, “Muggle Magic” had caught up to “Magic Magic”. For example, “Luminous”, the incantation that produced a glowing wand tip evoked by magical kids is easily matched by the dumbest smart phone. Self driving cars? Tesla, the electric car maker with auto-pilot “safety features” can hardly keep up with demand, and it has GPS and satellite radio. Seeing someone’s memories? In an age of social media it’s almost impossible to not see someone’s memories, whether you want to or not. Truth serums? Too many to mention, though mostly are alcoholic in nature but as a bonus, often come with tiny novelty umbrellas. Killing someone with an unforgivable curse? Please, we’ve been coming up with ways to kill each other since Cain did in his brother. Wizards clearly don’t have dentists. One professor has never even heard of the profession and asks if it’s dangerous. Judging by the teeth of Bellatrix Lestrange and Sirius Black, Azkaban Prison didn’t even have toothbrushes, never mind any charms for dentistry. Magic moving photos in a newspaper? Animated GIFs have been annoying us for two decades now. Why would I send an owl to deliver a parchment when I can just call or text someone anywhere in the world at any time (“Hey Boo, you up?). Mobile phones plus the Internet are a Muggle’s super powers.

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
– Arthur C. Clarke

Back to “parchment” for a second. Quills, inkwells and parchment? We invented movable type back in the 15th century around the same time French scribe Nicolas Flamel turned to alchemy, probably because he could see the writing on the wall for his chosen métier. The printing press is so old it changed rules of English spelling that had yet to be formalized. Meanwhile, these wizards haven’t even come up with the fountain pen or pre-cut paper? I’m sorry but don’t waste your magic on having an enchanted quill re-write a document, I’ll have it photocopied a hundred times before you’ve even figured out your fake Latin charm.

This is minor stuff compared to the Wizarding World’s real problem with classism, racism and slavery! At one point Harry Potter frees a house-elf with a sock. If it was that easy, Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas wouldn’t have had a sock between them and the American Civil War may never have happened, saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Wizards’ problems with racism are so systemic that even the slaves are racist towards non-magic folk (see the mumbling Kreacher in the safe house of The Order of the Phoenix). Hogwarts itself was thought to have over a hundred house-elves. If they were the good guys, how bad was Voldemort?

It took only seconds to find this image.

Even before Jon Stewart and others mentioned it, I’ve long wondered how the goblins of Gringotts Wizarding Bank bore an uncanny resemblance to anti-Semitic caricatures from early 20th century conspiracy theories. I mean really? There’s only one bank and it’s run by hooked nose, pointy eared, covetous guys who just happen to look like a Goebbels doodle of a Jew?

Yet, what would you expect from these poorly educated dullards at a school that teaches potions and prophecy but not chemistry or history, nor mathematics or English? What these young wizards learned in spells they obviously lost in spelling. It might explain their complete lack of imagination. You have to admit these kids are the worst trash-talkers in sport. At one point on the Quidditch pitch, young Draco Malfoy taunts Harry Potter with the epithet, “scar head”. Oooo - what a zinger! I’ve had tap water with more kick.

Throughout history, civilizations that exploited slavery inevitably failed. Why? Well, human decency for a start, but also societies dependent on slavery and a class system always fail because they have no incentive to innovate. At some point, our Muggle technology would inevitably surpass their wands and quills. Quills! Actual feather quills, c’mon! You’re telling me they use Shakespearean technology but have never learned a single line of Shakespearean poetry? I’ve thought of writing some fan fiction wherein some wizards team up with a “Muggle” and are oddly unnerved by his powerful magic, which is pretty much a smartphone with an awesome data plan. But then I’d have to read all of Rowling’s books and make notes and references and that just doesn’t sound like a reasonable use of my time. I’m sure Potter-heads are used to all of this by now, but instead of re-naming Quidditch maybe they could take a stand against house-elf hate or demand some diversity training at Gringotts or something.

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