For many years, J. K. Rowling has enjoyed a position of favor in society. Her work on Harry Potter gave her millions of fans across the globe, and she has historically had good interactions with those fans. Rowling also had a reputation for being a liberal icon. But recently, things have been going the wayside.

With recent events, it seems like Rowling has lost her footing and can’t seem to regain it. Every time you see Rowling in the news, it’s for another misstep. Is it time to revisit our adoration for J. K. Rowling? Should we be more critical of the people we admire?

J. K. Rowling & The Liberal Reputation

J. K. Rowling is, of course, famous for writing the Harry Potter series. The books shaped a generation as they grew up and learned alongside Harry, and Rowling deserves a lot of credit for creating such a beloved franchise. Studies have actually shown that fans of the series are more tolerant and accepting, contributing to Rowling’s liberal reputation.

Of course, Rowling’s reputation doesn’t just come from her work on the Harry Potter series. She also made a name for herself as an individual. Rowling is a major philanthropist, giving large sums to various social issues through her Volant Charitable Trust. She donated so much of her money that she actually stopped being a billionaire for a time.

J. K. Rowling
Courtesy of J. K. Rowling on Twitter.

And Rowling has made a name for herself on Twitter, as well. She’s very active on Twitter and never hesitates to wade into politically charged territory. She often advocates for social issues and calls out conservative politicians for their views. Rowling has been especially vocal in the era of Trump. This has led to her getting into some pretty fierce Twitter battles.

So for many years, J. K. Rowling enjoyed a reputation as a liberal icon. She was what an author was supposed to be: vocal about the issues that matter, interactive with fans, loving and supportive. Her reputation was a leading light in liberal circles, a talented author who created a magical world. So what went wrong?

Becoming a Problematic Fave

Somewhere along the way, J. K. Rowling stopped being an icon and started moving more into the problematic fave territory. A problematic fave is someone famous (or a fictional character) who you like, but you also recognize has their faults. So how did Rowling get to that point?

There were a few major missteps that popped up over the past few years, along with fans rightfully pointing out long-standing issues that were overlooked in Rowling’s golden age.

Curses & Queerbaiting

One of the first missteps came with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The Cursed Child was eagerly anticipated, as the continuation of the story of the Boy Who Lived. Fans of Harry Potter were ecstatic to hear that there would be more material to enjoy, and the prospect of a stage play added a new element to the excitement.

Although Rowling didn’t write the play, she did contribute heavily to the story and it is, after all, based on her world and her characters. It also, sadly, sucked. Rather than the highly developed and intricate wizarding world we were used to, it read more like a (really bad) fanfiction. It also faced accusations of queerbaiting.

J. K. Rowling
Courtesy of New York Stage Review.

Queerbaiting is a fandom term that refers to when a relationship between two people of the same gender is romantically coded, but not made explicit. It’s a problem in many fandoms, where LGBTQ representation is lacking. In The Cursed Child, many fans read the relationship between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy as romantic, only for that to fall through by the end of the story.

In and of itself, this wouldn’t be the end of the world. Fans are, for better or worse, used to queerbaiting. What makes this firmly problematic is it’s not the only time Rowling has given fans poor representation.

There are no explicitly LGBTQ characters in the Harry Potter series. Rowling revealed after the fact that Albus Dumbledore was gay, but it doesn’t play a huge role in the story. It felt like cheap representation for token points. Now, Rowling has confirmed that Dumbledore won’t be explicitly gay in the Fantastic Beasts movies, despite the story focusing largely on him and his would-be lover, Grindelwald.

Fantastically Problematic

The Fantastic Beasts franchise is where things started to really go downhill for Rowling. The not-really-gay Dumbledore is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Rowling’s issues. First and foremost is the casting of Johnny Depp as the antagonist Grindelwald. Depp has been accused of domestic violence, and many are calling for a boycott. Rowling, on the other hand, is vocally supportive of Depp.

Even if Rowling and Warner Bros. had given in to calls to recast Grindelwald, it wouldn’t redeem the many problems with the Fantastic Beasts franchise – problems that keep adding up. The movies take place in wizarding America, which let Rowling explore a new mythology. Unfortunately, she borrowed heavily from Native American culture to establish that new mythology.

j. k. rowling
Courtesy of Pottermore.

An Irish witch formed the American wizarding school, Ilvermorny. However, Ilvermorny uses Native American folklore as the basis of its structure and naming system. It upset fans to see Rowling display such insensitivity, and accusations of cultural appropriation flew.

Now, the latest Fantastic Beasts news shows that Rowling learned nothing. The latest information for The Crimes of Grindelwald reveals that Claudia Kim’s character is none other than Nagini – Voldemort’s snake from the original series. Apparently, Nagini was originally a human witch, but suffered from a disease that trapped her in the snake’s body.

It was intended as a cool, interesting reveal. Instead… it wasn’t. People were upset to hear that a woman of color is canonically kept as a pet by a white man who is Nazi-coded. Plus, the reveal that the disease is blood-based and only affects women is uncomfortable. Add in the fact that Nagini comes from Indian mythology, but is being played by a Korean woman, and fans aren’t happy.

Not New, Just News

Of course, fans of color have long been decrying J. K. Rowling as a fake progressive. There have always been problems, they’re just getting more attention now.

The Harry Potter books, while lovely and telling a good story of good versus evil, are not terribly diverse. Fans have chosen to see characters as different races, with this even going so far as to see Hermione Granger cast as a black woman in the stage production of The Cursed Child. But in general, there is a distinct lack of non-white faces at Hogwarts.

j. k. rowling
Courtesy of J. K. Rowling on Twitter.

Instead of admitting that her writing lacks representation, Rowling has chosen to shoehorn in representation after the fact, which has upset many fans. The “Dumbledore is gay” reveal won Rowling brownie points, but it’s not actually terribly good representation if it’s not made explicit and you never want to address it.

Dumbledore isn’t the only character to get this treatment. When asked if there are Jewish wizards, Rowling named a wizard from the books with a Jewish-sounding last name, but no other characteristics to identify him as such. The Nagini reveal (Nagini was a woman of color all along!) feels cheap, in addition to uncomfortable. You can’t retcon representation and expect praise.

Even Rowling’s liberal social media presence is starting to fade. Arguments with her own fans show that Rowling is unable to take constructive criticism. It’s a sour moment for fans. It’s never easy to see your heroes crumble.

Cancel?

J. K. Rowling gave us Harry Potter, and she deserves our thanks for that. But that isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. She isn’t excused from accusations of queerbaiting or cultural appropriation or racial insensitivity. She isn’t a mythical goddess none dare to criticize. As fans, it is our duty to be aware of what we are consuming, and what we are putting out into the world.

We can still love Harry Potter. I will always love Harry Potter. For Halloween, I will dress up as Hermione Granger. I love the story, I love the characters, I love what I got out of the experience. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be critical. We can, and should, speak out when our faves become problematic. We need to hold them accountable, and show that they need to own up to their mistakes.

J. K. Rowling isn’t perfect. No one is. But it’s about time she admits that, and lets other people speak their minds. She would benefit a lot from letting the marginalized groups she keeps trying to shoehorn in speak for themselves. We all would.

6 Comments

  1. Larissa

    March 16, 2019 at 4:12 am

    Bit surprised that this article was published by the same website that wants to call out toxic fandoms so eloquently in another article. And both articles are by the same writer. The mind boggles.

    While I do believe that diversity is a good thing, this reads almost like a personal attack and a call to arms to dogpile on a creator. This is never appropriate, even in the name of a good cause.

    It seems the real issue is creators’ relationship with social media. Becoming more accessible has destroyed any boundary between creator and fans and fans seem to think that they have contributed as much to the process of creation as the writer (and therefore have as much say.)

    Why attack Rowling who has made, at best, mild errors or missteps while ignoring the huge amount of misogyny in other books and comics? For example, The Boys and Preacher tv series are both based on comics that have gratuitous amounts of sexual violence, racism, sexism and problematic portrayals of LGBT characters. But those seem to get a free pass while Rowling is attacked.

    It seems to speak more of the people’s commitment to the Potter series than their commitment to certain causes.

    Demonizing Rowling allows her fans to distance her from her work (in their minds) so that they can mentally claim her work and world as something that belongs to them, not the creator.

    Reply

  2. thedailygob

    January 11, 2019 at 11:52 pm

    It’s terribly interesting to see J.K Rowling shunned by most all these days. The “right” leaning crowd dislikes her for her rampant and extreme liberalism and pandering and now also the “left” is calling her out for not being liberal or diverse enough. However, this article was terribly disappointing. I’m not exactly a fan of Rowling’s politics, but she does seem like a nice person and the world she created is wonderful, creative, and something I grew up with and will always love. This doesn’t mean I’m against criticising mistakes where it’s due however. My disappointment lies in the fact that the article attacks her and her work on idiotic and baseless claims and as such I thought I’d go through a few of them.

    1. “Rather than the highly developed and intricate wizarding world we were used to, it read more like a (really bad) fanfiction. It also faced accusations of queerbaiting.”

    Whilst I won’t dispute that The Cursed Child was a rather poor contribution to the Wizarding World, I find it odd to mention queerbaiting as one of it’s major problems. Reading it myself I never really interpreted Scorpius and Albus’ relationship to be incredibly romantically charged and it’s a very common thing for fans to “ship” characters and get upset when it’s not stated to be canon. This really seems more like a case of fans reading too much into it and blaming the author/work for not confirming their hopes.

    2. “There are no explicitly LGBTQ characters in the Harry Potter series. Rowling revealed after the fact that Albus Dumbledore was gay, but it doesn’t play a huge role in the story. It felt like cheap representation for token points.”

    Why does it matter if there are any explicitly LGBT characters in the series? The central themes of the books are mostly about morals, struggles, growing up, etc. A characters sexuality has very little relevance to the plot and having two or three gay/trans/bi characters forcefully showed in and given time to explore their sexualities would detract from the story and just feel like a weird tangent that dilutes the series. As for Albus having been revealed as gay, being a bisexual myself, after the series was over didn’t bother me at all. It just seemed like a little neat factoid that worked with story and added somewhat greater depth to Grindelwald and Dumbledore and their struggle as it shows they were both willing to give up on their love for their ideals.

    3. “The not-really-gay Dumbledore is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Rowling’s issues. First and foremost is the casting of Johnny Depp as the antagonist Grindelwald.”

    Personally I’ve always been of a mindset of judging the art by itself and not really taking into consideration the artist. If Rowling turns into a nazi or if it was revealed the Potter series was actually written by Hitler I would still love the franchise. However, I won’t really bother to defend Depp’s casting as Grindelwald, not because of the controversies from his personal life, but rather because I don’t think he fits the character at all and I can’t imagine him playing the character well.

    4. “The movies take place in wizarding America, which let Rowling explore a new mythology. Unfortunately, she borrowed heavily from Native American culture to establish that new mythology. (…) However, Ilvermorny uses Native American folklore as the basis of its structure and naming system. It upset fans to see Rowling display such insensitivity, and accusations of cultural appropriation flew.”

    I’m not entirely sure what the problem here is. Rowling expanded upon the wizarding community, and more importantly the wizarding school, of America and incorporated elements of Native American folklore into the lore of the universe. I, as a fan of Native American history, find that incredibly neat that she’d include it into the franchise and don’t really understand people who decry Rowling for her “pho-diversity” and her lack of any real effort, but when she actually neatly works diversity into the world in a natural and realistic way she’s apparently “insensitive” and “culturally appropriating”.

    5. A “People were upset to hear that a woman of color is canonically kept as a pet by a white man who is Nazi-coded.”

    Oh the horror? Why is this a problem? I mean from Nagini’s end it’s entirely consensual and I’m not sure why it’s such a big deal that a white nazi coded character has a consensual asian female as a subordinate/partner-in-dastardly-deeds.

    B “Plus, the reveal that the disease is blood-based and only affects women is uncomfortable.”

    Why? Throughout history and folklore there are many mythical creatures that are only one sex or mythical diseases/curses that only affect one sex. It’s actually pretty faithful to traditional folklore.

    C “Add in the fact that Nagini comes from Indian mythology, but is being played by a Korean woman, and fans aren’t happy.”

    To get technical with you here, Naga/Nagini as a word originates from India as a word although it refers to normal snakes or more usually King Cobras. Naga/Nagini as a mythical half-snake half-person creature is common within Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism which was widely practiced around Asia and including, yes, Korea. As a basic example there are statues depicting nagas/naginis at the Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, Thailand for example which shows that it’s not something exclusive to India. Dwarves, for example, come from Norse mythology but I nor any other Norwegian person is running around saying people like J.R.R. Tolkien are appropriating our culture, although we’d have a pretty decent case. (Fun fact, most of the dwarves from Thorin’s company and Gandalf got their names from a Norse list of dwarves)

    6. “The Harry Potter books, while lovely and telling a good story of good versus evil, are not terribly diverse. (…) But in general, there is a distinct lack of non-white faces at Hogwarts.”

    Not really? We don’t get descriptions on the vast majority of the students. In the books we’re given the names of a lot of students and physical descriptions of only a handful of those. If you wanna talk movies, off the top of my head I can remember three black guys, at least one black girl, two indian girls, and two asian girls, all of whom have speaking roles. Considering that Hogwarts is located in Scotland with students from all over Britain, which is 86% ethnically white, I’d say that’s fairly diverse.

    There are some other minor things, but overall as said previously this article is just disappointing. It’s contradictory in what it wants from Rowling, makes very few arguments to back up it’s claims and generally seems to have just jumped onto the Rowling hate train because she’s not hard left enough.

    Reply

  3. […] Beasts 2’ Remove Johnny Depp? Fans Are Asking For a New Grindelwald”, Bustle, 18/11/201712. C. Etman, “Is It Time to Cancel The Problematic Fave, J.K. Rowling?”, Comicsverse, 2…13. T. Spangler, “‘House of Cards’ Season 6 Ratings: U.S. Viewers Drop From Prior […]

    Reply

  4. […] J. K. Rowling gave us Harry Potter, and she deserves our thanks for that. But that isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. She isn’t excused from accusations of queerbaiting or cultural appropriation or racial insensitivity. She isn’t a mythical goddess none dare to criticize. As fans, it is our duty to be aware of what we are consuming, and what we are putting out into the world. — Colleen Etman […]

    Reply

  5. victorvsteel

    October 24, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    HI Colleen, I just want to say, I don’t appreciate your call to action.

    “We need to hold them accountable, and show that they need to own up to their mistakes.”

    I’m sorry, but who are we to hold anyone accountable? What responsibilities does she have to us? What obligations give ”””us””” the duty you claim we have?
    On top of that, what authority, what morally absolute and universally true standards are you judging her mistakes by? Because not a damn thing in your article made me think any less of her as an individual. She is a person, and if I’m supposed to hold her accountable, then should I be holding you accountable too, for your error in writing this article?

    Reply

    • jared

      October 25, 2018 at 7:01 pm

      Here Here!

      Im not even particularly a fan of JK Rowling and was kind of hoping for an article that dug up some unscrupulous dirt on her, but this? this is just fandom. fans being upset that the creator of something they love doesnt fully embody that fantasy 24 hours of the day and continue to reshape the books she once wrote to keep up to date with the current PC trends is inane.

      a fans duties is to enjoy something. they dont have duties to tear things down. if you dont like it, leave it to die, but wanting to organize a pseudo-campaign against an artist for there literal opinions is shameful.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *