I’m A Grown Up, Get Me Out Of Here!

The Arts


Every morning I climb through the Harry Potter fans who queue to have their photographs taken standing beside a brick wall with a piece of luggage trolley sticking out of it (what is it that makes them all raise their left leg?) and swear never to cut through King’s Cross Station again. Every morning I forget, and curse JK Rowling’s name again.

The queue is so long now that it has handlers organising it. Harry Potter is funding entire industries; a friend of mine runs a wand-licensing division of the corporation from plush offices in Covent Garden; not a career he had imagined himself in. It’s not entirely the author’s fault. Success begets success. Rowling wrote a pleasant magical schoolboy book which, the theory goes, found successful word-of-mouth because the national divorce rate had just peaked and single parents had started reading to children again. Driven by grass-roots readers, the series had the great good fortune to be selected by Warner Brothers in a gamble that payed off handsomely.

That doesn’t explain the phenomenal global success of the franchise. The most obvious theory is that the time the series took to produce mirrored the ageing of its readership/audience. Another theory;  economic downshifts led to the arts returning to their old safety nets, the end of subversion and satire, the return of nostalgia and the rise of ‘fan service’ – artistic endeavours that give you exactly what you want, no more, no less. Everybody’s happy remembering happier times, job done.

But Rowling was doubtless pushed by vested interests to continue, so we’ve got a new film series of period America-set adventures with echoes of Potter, a series of detective novels now coming to TV, a pair of very expensive plays and who knows what else? The lady is indefatigable.

But the self-replicating spread of ‘fan service’ pushes other more adventurous and adept writers and filmmakers off the ladder. Star Wars, Blade Runner, DC comics, Marvel comics, Alien spinoffs and a dozen other franchises, some dating back over 100 years, have absorbed Hollywood’s energies because they work on the dual levels of adult nostalgia and new child fandom. So for the time being if it’s new and fresh, it’s pretty much doomed. When the dust settles from this artistic period we’ll see just how infantilised it became.

Instead of looking outward, we look backwards and inwards. Serious themes, ambitious designs and mind-stretching philosophies shrivel and vanish as we turn back to magic and super-powers and the myths of free will in a society that no longer values individuality or original thinking.

Every member of Trump’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities has resigned in protest at his comments on the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, but merely resigning does not solve the problem of restoring ambitious, experimental arts projects. As Michael Bywater explains in his excellent book of essays, ‘Big Babies’, we’re all children again, and some of us may find our adult selves.

So I daily watch Japanese couples in their mid-twenties in Potter hats, clutching dolls and wands, being corralled by security guards. Clearly Pottermania fantasies fund employment. They’re not meant to get us thinking. And the mantra goes that they got kids reading. Perhaps that’s why, as we grow older, we return to books, this time for more demanding sustenance.

13 comments on “I’m A Grown Up, Get Me Out Of Here!”

  1. Jan says:

    I was working up in N.E. London when I first saw this luggage trolley thing sticking out of a pillar on one of the minor local train platforms at Kings Cross. Cos I’m Queen of the Thickos the penny took its time in dropping. I think I went up to it to examine what was going on. It was very early in the A.M. and there was no queuing back then I’ll tell you. Just one numpty tugging at this thing thinking it’s stuck. I know it’s half in the pillar I thought that’s why ….

    Penny did drop and despite looks of pity/disdain from early morning commuters and train staff I was well made up. Thought it was lovely such an easy obvious but smashing thing to have created in tribute to the books. Though I must say this H.P. memorial has got about a bit since then. They have shifted it round a few times I think. The original site which might have been Platform 12 or 14 near the proper magic platform would have been completely blocked up by queuing visitors.

    Loads of theories as to its success in your spiel Mr. F. I reckon the books sold originally cos H.P. simply captured the imaginations of a generation of kids growing up. The boys took me to the first films showing at their after skool club when they were very young infants and juniors. Jonjo was reading one of the later books at 14 or 15. when he came to visit. On holiday with him and a coupe of his mates we watched the DVD of the film with the Weasley fireworks that many times. To think this all came out of one woman’s imagination. The knock on from that original idea. The dosh, the tourism one great (money) spinning self perpetuating mega idea. I didn’t ever get it that this could all come out of one person’s mind. Did any of us?

  2. Jan says:

    See that proves everything you say Mr. F your shrivelling brain theory is undoubtedly correct —

  3. DC says:

    The world is a much faster place these days. Multi-media, multi-channel, streamed endlessly in box sets binged to excess. We have traded slow build tension for cheap thrills.

    There is plenty of “plastic” junk out there. All bangs and crashes with 2D people in glorious 3D with plot holes the size of the Albert Hall (to misquote the Beatles), and special effects that defy common-sense and physics. I’d say the Potter stories are a somewhat better quality of plastic. Besides once you’ve done the books, audiobooks and the films, then you have the fancy dress, computer games and amusement parks.

    With a bit more effort you’ll get there, Admin. “The Bryant and May Experience”: Take a trip round the PCU and dodge the holes in the floor and don’t fall over the Daves. Hear Raymond having a good moan. Have Madam Blavatsky tell you your fortune for only a fiver. How about a pie and a pint in our traditional London pub… before it disappears. Perhaps a tea and a rock cake at Alma’s Place. I am sure we can work on some fun rides, involving yellow Minis, Mr Punch and scary Kasavians.

    Your shop could do a roaring trade in sales of fluffy boiled sweets, herbal remedies(!) and weird books. Every kid will be leaving having purchased their very own authentic grubby overcoat, thick glasses and a pipe.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    I enjoyed sharing the stories with the students at my school. I loved having the “quiddich” broom on the wall and kids asking if I could make it fly. It was fun. It’s still fun, although I wouldn’t do the picture at King’s Cross thing because I wouldn’t have been sent to Hogworts. I wish JKR could resist all requests for more and shut the door, the way she tried to at the end of the novels. Sure there were logic holes in the books, there is in every fantasy, but that doesn’t matter because for the time you’re reading or watching good and evil are clearly labeled and you know where to direct your energies. It helps us to focus in the real world.

  5. Brian Evans says:

    Cor, Admin, don’t you look young on this!

  6. David McLean says:

    Hi not the right place or this but …there was no other way to contact you. With the Americans pulling down all the statues they don’t like ( destroying history) How many London statues would have to be removed. There must be heaps around the UK but we are more tollorant.

    Thanks you
    David McLean

  7. Chris Webb says:

    Unfortunately the films, merchandising, spinoffs and cult status have masked the fact that the books themselves are a remarkable intellectual achievement, as well as having a strong moral message. I get the impression that JKR is a rather private person not entirely comfortable with her fame and success.

    At the end of the day it’s just a bit of fun for kids, and more than a few grownups of course. You can’t begrudge people a bit of fun can you?

    The Cormoran Strike books are very good, and exist in a world not a million miles away from that of Bryant and May. I saw a trailer for the BBC series the other day, can’t remember when it’s starting but obviously soon.

  8. Bill says:

    Infantilization. An interesting subject! Seventy and more years ago, in the US, as soon as you had hair on your body and were capable of reproduction (though soundly not expected to reproduce TOO readily), you were graduated into the lower levels of adulthood. You might have finished school early, and you went to work, and, you could do well. If you were graduated from high school, you had a really good chance of going up in professional circles. College graduates were in a level of very rare expectations. Anyway, you became an adult early.

    When I was in college, a sapient girl told me anyone under the age of twenty-seven was still a boy or a girl (she was referring to the obnoxiousness of calling young and not so young women “girls”). Now, with no real wage increases for a generation plus, and the burdens of hideous education debt, thirty-five might be the cut-point. There is a massive popular culture push that insists on a lack of public dignity (point fingers were you wish…). And somebody figured out that the modern equivalent of bread and circuses ( extreme, and extemeley vapid, popular culture, a generation of young men who believe game-playing is the equivalent of real experience) serves to dumb us down. As it has. Leading to a moron in the White House (oh, that he will announce his resignation tonight!)

    H.P. and so much more, came about because, whether by design or happenstance, US culture, and, following its example, much of western culture, became debilitated by lowered expectations, by the expectation that adults aren’t adults, and we can all be spoon-fed. H.P. isn’t just a children’s story.

    And then we have a huge swath of non-Western culture, never with anything as mad as a popular culture such as ours, promising things well beyond the moon for compensation, but rather just driving in a message of servility to an ideal that requires lack of thought and self-subjugation. And success may follow. It has been going on for centuries.

    And put the two of them together, and whatta ya got?

  9. admin says:

    Interesting point, Bill.The promise of rewards is inherent in everything , and especially in fiction.
    Chris, I have nothing at all against Rowling, who has handled success with aplomb; it’s the idea publishers and producers have that a cash-cow must be milked and all else pushed aside.
    David, I’ll look into the statues. Some must have been taken down in the past, but we didn’t have a war so clearly divided along lines of colour.

  10. Peter Dixon says:

    The ‘posh school’ story has been with us a long time, especially in Britain. How can you explain the popularity of the likes of Billy Bunter at Greyfriars, Winker Watson, Mike and P’Smith, Jennings and Darbyshire to an audience of working class kids in terraced housing in grim working towns?
    I lived in Jarrow, the neighbours were downstairs and either side – you could hear them through the walls, William Brown and his ‘Outlaws’ lived in some sort of 1930’s wonderland where all of the houses were detached (and I mean by an acre of grounds, not the 3ft that seems to constitute detached by modern builders).
    I think the attraction of the ‘school story’ for kids was the idea that you could go away somewhere and be away from your parents for months at a time. The masters and lessons seem to have little influence on events except for sport and the whole thing was just an excuse for japes and general tomfoolery.
    The working class kids lapped this stuff up – Rowling added the extra element of magic and wizardry at just the time that CGI made the movies believable.
    Good luck to her, at least people read the books. Personally I prefer Molesworth who never had a fillum made about his excellent life, chiz, chiz.

  11. Jan says:

    Mr. McLean if you look carefully at lots of the architectural features on the waterfront buildings, warehouses and offices, in Liverpool and Bristol it doesn’t take you long to realise what you are seeing is representation of the slave trade. Just look at the carved panels for a bit and it’s quite shocking.

    Off hand I cannot think of any statues in the UK that have a similar resonance in history to the sort of statues which have become an issue in the U.S. Except in Oxford they want to get rid of a statue /bust of Cecil Rhodes don’t they ?
    Dunno much about the Oxford thing just remembered it now as I was typing.

  12. Jan says:

    Another thing about H.P. is the magical lore, potions and notions spells and their history, herbal ingredients everything from the quest for the philosophers stone to appearance of the basilisk. Many of the magical elements which form the back drop to the story. All seem to have been really thoroughly researched. Even the names of the teachers carry resonance with characters supposedly involved in different types of magic. There are published books concerning the sorcery of H.P.(Gettit? I’m on it today I really am)

    This research has been extraordinarily well done.

    I’m not going to over labour this (for a change) but before Freud ruled magic out of bounds by classifying it firmly as a wrong unhealthy thought process. Magic was still found in amongst folklore and folk remedies. Herbal lore was the available medicine of the masses. Don’t forget the Elizabethans employed what was essentially a magic man a scryer to find lost items in their homes and work places. The church declares magic blasphemy but copies it wherever it can. That’s why even now in Catholic churches there’s a relic incorporated into the altar. From the times worship was held in secret catacombs or a carry over from previous pagan worship who really knows? The mass itself may be a copy of former practices.

    One last quick thing. Both Tolkien and Rowling spent some of their formative years living close to the Forest of Dean. This is a truly wonderful place beautiful, foreboding and maybe magical. Also extraordinary in that people born within the precincts of the Forest are its Freemen. Their animals can graze there, they can create charcoal and they can mine there it’s their right for life.

    All this sounds anachronistic. Now there are very, very few Forest Freeman as the maternity hospitals are elsewhere! Some still exist though and this remnant of the oldest of traditions may have been absorbed by both writers. I’m not saying they envisaged a future in charcoal burning but the old traditions carrying on into the modern world must have had some small influence.

    Just a thought.

    Another thing about the Forest from before the 18C when more organised mining was carried out within and close to its precincts and from the larger scale mining efforts from the main Industrial revolution times right up to around the 2nd WW water was used as part of the mining process and was also its byproduct. The whole place was almost literally awash. Very high water table. Now I might get details wrong here. But as I understand it because of the availability of the vast amounts of water released from the mining Tetley the tea company moved in the late 1940s or 1950s into Lydney a town on the Severn Estuary not far from the F of Dean. The product created there – teabags which is a bit of a link into the post 22/8. Lydney is an interesting town Roman ruins ,a pre Roman place of importance but thats another story.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    Funny, when I think of statues of confederate generals I wonder why they were put up – because they lost, after all. Oh, and Seattle has a 14ft tall statue of Lenin in its Fremont district. The Seattle mayor is wanting to remove it but I think it’s on private property so they can’t. Anyway, when I think of slavery decor in Bristol my immediate thought is that they must be left as a reminder of involvement in the trade. Odd.

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