I’m A Grown Up, Get Me Out Of Here!
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.