Friday, 2 May 2014

Harry Potter and the House Elf Emancipation Proclamation

The Harry Potter series is a story that encompasses a number of themes: the struggle of good versus evil, the changes brought on by puberty and the passage into adulthood as symbolised by magic, the strengths of friendship.

And why it would be totally awesome to discover you're a wizard at age 11 and go on a train to a wizarding boarding school with ridiculously lax safety regulations and teachers who deliberately put you in danger just cause.

"Well, the only logical punishment for children caught walking the grounds at night after curfew is to take them into the Forbidden Forest... which we forbade them from going into... because there are lots of things in there which would kill them without a second's hesitation... but we took them at night so that the viscous creatures which live in the forest will be asleep... possibly." - Professor McGonagall.

But Harry Potter is more than simply a coming-of-age story set in a world where magic is real, owls deliver mail, and reckless child endangerment is considered normal.

Rather, it is tale of a battle for equality and the end of discrimination fought entirely by middle-class white people against Magic Hitler.

He has no nose because a fascist dictator has to look ridiculous somehow.

The parallels aren't that subtle either. Voldem- He Whom Must Not Be Named views muggles as subhuman and persecutes, tortures and murders them without any mercy or compassion because he sees them as beneath him. Not too dissimilar to Hitler's hatred and persecution of Jewish people. And like Hitler, He Who Should Never Be Named Because He's Totally Scary And Stuff is of mixed blood.

While Hitler's mother was a Jew, That Guy I Thought We Weren't Going To Talk About's father was a muggle who spurned his mother's affections because by all accounts from various magic historians, he was quite the dick.

"I never knew my father... I just killed him." - That Guy We're Still Apparently Talking About

Furthermore, Magic Hitler's use of fear and intimidation by means of violence, torture, disappearances, fostering an atmosphere of distrust, and murder -not to mention propaganda (Magic is Might)- in order to control a populace are all tactics from out of the Nazi playbook.

Even more on the nose (ha, nose joke), Magic Hitler's famous groupies, the Death Eaters, take their dress sense from one of the most infamously racist organisations of all time, the Ku Klux Klan.

"Why do people think we want to burn crosses where-ever we go? Is it the hoods? It might be the hoods... maybe we should lose the hoods. I'll have a talk to Magic Hitler about maybe redesigning the hoods." - Death Eater #1

With their questionable fashion choices, the Death Eaters essentially are a metaphor for every extremist elitist prejudiced group in terms of their irrational hatred of a group of people for no other reason than those other people exist and that offends them. It's just that Magic Hitler and the Death Eaters (why is that not a heavy metal band name?) hate non-magic folk instead of people of different races, women, and/or homosexuals. They hate all muggles equally regardless of gender or race.

And it is this equal opportunity ethnic cleansing that Harry and his pubescent Dumbledore army of friends are fighting  against.  In addition to all the death being eaten. Oh, and they're also fighting for freedom from Magic Hitler's fascist regime. Can't forget freedom.

But the movies neglect a very important part of Harry and his magical freedom fighters struggle against prejudice, namely slavery. To be precise, the slavery of house elves.

"When will the oppression of my people end?"

In the books, house elves are slaves who are bound to the family that they serve until they die or are set free, whichever comes first- death, the answer is nearly always death. This form of insitutionalised slavery is even more cruel when you realise that most of the household tasks house elves do could easily be done with a simple cleaning spell or flick of the wand.

And often house elves aren't allowed to use their own magic. That's like being forced to pick up spilt salt with your fingers while your boss watches holding a vaccuum.

Who say what now?

While the cruelty towards house elves is touched upon in the movies, it's kinda glossed over to make space for other things more central to the main plot. Like taking time out for Harry and Hermione to dance to a Nick Cave song in a tent. To be fair, it's hard not to get your boogie down when Nick Cave is playing, but house elves are still enslaved and denied basic necessities, like clothes.

That is how oppressed house elves are: they are free only if they are presented clothes by their master. To recap, they are not allowed to properly clothe themselves because only people wear clothes and if house elves wore clothes they might think they're people instead of the non-human slaves they are. Then they might start asking to be treated fairly and equally which is ludicrous because then we'd have to give them rights or worse... pay them.

In the books, Hermione, perhaps because she is muggle-born and muggles had already abolished slavery and thus had a head-start on the wizarding world, is shocked at the poor treatment of house elves and sets up the Society for the Promotion of Elvish Welfare, or S.P.E.W.

And while her efforts achieve negligible results in terms of getting wizards to treat house elves as sentient beings instead of wrinkly little slaves in stained tea-towels, S.P.E.W is important in the context of the Harry Potter universe because it seems to be the only attempt to establish equality for human-like magical creatures by a main character. I mean, Harry doesn't like the way house elves are enslaved but he doesn't really actively do anything about it. 

He was too busy at the time.

But the lack of S.P.E.W in the movies is also bit of a problem as it would have expanded on the main theme of equality and the fight against discrimination which Harry and company supposedly are fighting.

Also, it meant we missed the opportunity to hear Emma Watson repeatedly say the word 'spew', which is a tragedy of epic proportions.


Harry Potter Wikipedia page

Politics in Harry Potter Wikipedia page

Hermione Granger Wikipedia page

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