Update 6/16/20: With the addition of Rowling’s most recent comments, I am no longer claiming to support this author–previously, I needed a bit more evidence to determine what her views really were. However, my point still stands that the online rumor mill is doing no good by inventing reasons to get upset and using simple, malicious attacks. Rowling has many good points, and I believe that she can come to know better. Educating ourselves and each other goes much farther than what spewing Nazi-support rumors and name calling will ever do.
Recently I came across a Pinterest thread discussing the Harry Potter series. The Pin in question was a Tumblr post, where the author made a snarky remark about JK Rowling making stuff up for attention after the books were published. This post isn’t unique. There are many online blog posts where authors are making fun of Rowling’s tendency to drop new facts about her beloved book characters. And it seems like they are just going after her because they are attacking her ideas on a social issue. But is there really a problem with Rowling’s ideals, or are people being quick to make assumptions? Maybe both, depending.
Internet discussions and rumor mills have allowed these debates to spiral out of control. Of course, it’s not just books. It’s also the same stuff that drives the (in my opinion, unwarranted) fear mongering about the coronovirus and false information seeping into debates of political candidates. But the harm from this false hysteria is the same: people start to believe things that aren’t true for the wrong reasons, and sometimes people on the other end are treated accordingly.
It started with one concern: that J.K .Rowling is transphobic. This is mostly old news now; her Tweets in support of certain users have gotten controversy, and it’s not unfounded.
Then the “J.K. hate” began to snowball, at least in this Pinterest discussion. Accusations were now being thrown that she was anti-semetic; a common place where these debates end up. Another user than said, “It was never about the readers. It was all about her money!” when, in fact, she is one of few people to lose her billionaire status by donating money to charity and even has her own foundation. Personally I have yet to see concrete evidence that Rowling is an evil villain promoting a political agenda. Yet, users keep acting like she is on the basis of these rumors. These attitudes can be seen when keyboard warriors use the alleged fact that she is transphobic as an excuse to attack Rowling for unrelated things, such as coming out with “ridiculous” behind-the-scenes facts. I have seen people insult her for everything, from being bad at math (??) to inconsistent dates.
Following that progression, we can see how needless rumors begin. We have gone from “Rowling is (perhaps) misunderstood about being transgender” to “Rowling is a bad, lazy writer” to “Rowling has an agenda, only cares about money, and her work belongs to us now.” Readers later started criticizing Rowling for being lazy in that she answered’ readers questions after she published the books, claiming that she couldn’t fix the plot holes.. In years past, it has been my experience that these bonus “reveals” were things to look forward to. For me, they kept the world alive. It is strange that after all the excitement of having bonus material to consider, people are now starting to attack Rowling for coming out with them. While it’s certainly possible that she is trying to go for Diversity Points (another unproven rumor brought on by fandom assumptions) by saying that Anthony Goldstein is Jewish, I am also inclined to believe that these are just fun facts, just like it’s a fun fact that Ginny became a professional Quidditch player, or that Luna married Newt’s grandson. Furthermore, as I wrote last year, I think complaining about a lack of diversity in this series is a waste of time.
It’s worth noting that a BuzzFeed article pointed out the Goldstein tidbit a while back. However, this headline, something along the lines of, “J.K. Rowling Has Announced There Is At Least One Jewish Person at Hogwarts,” intentionally paints Rowling in a bad light so readers will get upset and click it. Sometimes it’s the sources that spur the drama, and we should keep that in mind. (Just ask the Daily Prophet staff during the end of the Fudge era, or Luna Lovegood.)
Random attacks also harm the fandom. Harry Potter is a community, with video games and fanfiction and thoughtful discussion. When people spend most of their time attacking the author (sometimes the Potter fandom refers to this as “divorcing” Rowling), this sense of community is lost. And, ultimately, we do have to respect the writer’s work. This means that we can’t claim ownership of the characters, as one Tumblr post in particular tried to do. Readers need not feel bad about continuing to read the books—after all, we still read books by Hitler and far more questionable people as literature. But if you’re still going to read the books and participate in the community, it seems in poor taste to constantly use that time to attack the author. I know it’s been less fun for me to be a a part of, just because of all the vile hate-spewing. However, I also know (er, knew?) at least 2 people who are transgender and if there are allegations against Rowling, they too should be taken seriously—as long as they’re not just rumors spurned by readers. The problem is, who knows what to believe anymore?
When it comes to author (or any) controversy, readers would do well to look at the evidence and decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Otherwise, rumors begin to snowball and the online hivemind decides to “take over.” Sometimes I wonder in an era of cancel culture whether we are too quick to make mountains out of molehills. Users who are into social justice might even use the issue at hand as a starting point for discussion rather than to create more harassment that they claim they are against. It’s good to stand up for equal rights, but let’s do it in a productive way while making sure that we are getting sources about things an author says or does from reliable places instead of from reactive online users.
What do you think? Are you a Potterhead? Has the experience changed for you at all?