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.

2 Comments

  1. 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

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