Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Birds, and Bees

In case you were vacationing in the darkest regions of some uncharted nebula, Harry Potter was released last week.  This wasn’t just any Harry Potter.  It was the first part of the final chapter in this Brobdingnagian franchise which has now become the most successful in film history, (not adjusting for inflation.)   And it wasn’t just released.  It exploded onto the silver screen with an eruptive force that could make Krakatoa look like a children’s pop gun.  In its opening weekend it took in over $125,000,000 placing in at number 6 on the highest grossing opening weekends of all time.  If only I was on the Warner Brothers payroll.  Even if you don’t like Harry Potter you would have great difficulty arguing against its cultural influence and impact since the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in June of 1997.  Since that time the book and its sequels have been international best sellers, and the film adaptations have grossed dollar amounts in the billions.  Scores of children wear Harry Potter inspired costumes each Halloween, and words like muggle, Quidditch, and expecto patronum have become household terms.  Many of us dream of some day visiting the likes of Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, or the Weasley’s Burrow, (but maybe not Azkaban.)  Needless to say, it is a different world since Harry Potter and his friends have entered it.  On top of this the world of Harry Potter is unique because it appeals to children and adults alike.  I just saw HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part I over the weekend, and I would say that there were more adults in the theater than children.  So, knowing its influence on young and old alike what is Harry Potter’s role in our culture?  Where do its boundaries lie?   As Uncle Ben once told a teenage Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  What is Harry Potter’s responsibility to his fans, and is it possible that the film franchise has become too sexy?

B cup to C cup?  You decide.
My question is a curious one and is rooted in recent events, but we must go back a few years to track its origins.  Curiously, during the run of HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX a question arose concerning the representation of Hermione’s pubertal development on publicity art for the film.  It would seem that Hermione’s chest appeared larger in posters for IMAX screenings of the film when compared to the exact same poster labeled for traditional screenings.  Now I guess one might argue that of course Hermione’s chest looks bigger, it’s in IMAX, but some did not find the possible photoshop by Warner Brothers’ art department as amusing, accusing them of anything from poor taste to something as heinous as child pornography.  (Emma Watson was still under 18 at the time the photos were taken.)  Regardless of the truth or intent the story was generally nothing more than an interesting anecdote, and it seemed to fade away quickly, unless you frequented message boards on the internet, which can go a long way beating a dead horse when they are in the right frame of mind.

Ahh, the lady in red!

Now jump ahead to the recent past.  As Warner Brothers’ prepares for the release of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part I they release a teaser trailer featuring our three stars walking briskly through the streets of London.  Though they appear to be on the run, (from what we can imagine but aren’t sure) they are well dressed and Hermione is wearing an elegant red dress.  The trailer reveals little of the plot of the film and seems to be more about grabbing our attention, especially with mostly muted colors and Hermione’s eye popping evening wear.  With this installment of our discussion I think we can blame TWILIGHT.  You see, we had already been exposed to two TWILIGHT films and were about to be hit in the head with a third.  I think it was the publicity department’s way of saying, “Hey teen fans of TWILIGHT don’t forget that Harry, Ron, and Hermione are also all grown up and so are their adventures.  If you like Bella and Edward you are going to love our trio even more.  Keep us in mind come November.”  Again, aside from a few bloggers laughing at the similarities this story also faded with little if any real fanfare.  As if Harry Potter really needs to compare himself to TWILIGHT in order to gain viewers.

Hey you.  Get your damn hands off her!
That brings us to the present day and the anticipated release of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part I.  After widespread screenings of the film the media airwaves came alive with discussions of a particular scene featured in the finished film.  (WARNING, MINOR SPOILER AHEAD)  It would seem that while Ron is attempting to destroy the locket horcrux it defends itself by attacking him with his greatest fears.  After he jumps away from an army of approaching spiders he bears witness to Harry and Hermione, obviously nude, in a tight embrace.  After an initial moment of bewilderment he composes himself, charges through the image, and drops a mighty blow on the horcrux with the sword of Godric Gryffindor.  Now, as far as I remember from the novel, no image was as explicitly described in the written word as was shown on screen.  Nevertheless it was there, and many are talking about it.  Whether or not this story gains momentum or fades like the previous two remains to be seen.  So in the meantime the question is this, “Is it too much?  Knowing that there will likely be younger children in the theater could the scene have been muted with the same effect?  Could Harry and Hermione be in the same position, but wearing clothes?  Well the debate and opinions are likely endless, but I hope to justify my position adequately in the next few paragraphs.

Younger and simpler times
First I would like to restate that the Harry Potter world is unique because it continues to appeal to the young and old alike.  With that in mind please picture this.  You are an 11 year old child, and your aunt just gave you a new book for Christmas, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  She knows you like fantasy and adventure and the woman at the bookstore told her that you would probably like it.  Well you most certainly fell in love with it and wanted to read more, but you had to wait.  There weren’t any more, at least not yet.  As you grew to become 12 so did Harry in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  As you grew into a teenager and became interested in girls so did Harry.  As you grew into early adulthood and took on more adult responsibilities so did Harry.  You see, you were in the unique position of growing up with the books because you had to wait for their release.  In addition, the first film didn’t hit the big screen until 2001, and you had to wait for that too.  Like Harry at the age of 11 you were innocent and completely infatuated with the wonderful world of magic, but as the two of you grew older your interests changed.  Yes, new and exciting worlds opened up to you, but with new options came newer and bigger responsibilities; such is the blessing and the curse of aging.  However, like Harry you were developmentally ready for the challenge.  Now, imagine that you are 11 today, and you pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because your friend said that it was really cool.  It is absolutely the coolest thing that you have ever read, and you immediately read the rest of the entire series.  You jump into your Netflix cue and move all of the available films to the top.  After watching all of them in rapid succession with a drooling ear to ear grin, you drag your parents to the theater on opening night for Deathly Hallows, Part I.  You do all this over the span of a few months and are chronologically and developmentally still 11.  You did not grow up as Harry grew up.  You did not gradually progress from one world to the next.   You flew through them at breakneck speed without looking back.  Because you were bombarded with thoughts and ideas at such a rapid pace and at such an escalating level of maturity you were unable to process them adequately and became frustrated and confused.  As a result you find yourself in a world that you do not understand and aren’t sure if you truly like anymore.   You have been forever changed.  Maybe this is a good thing.  Then again, maybe it is not.

Snogging Harry Potter style
Now let’s translate this into our current situation and re-ask the question, “Has Harry Potter become too sexy?”  In my opinion, the correct answer is no.  While I do feel that the scene that launched this verbose discussion could have been diluted with the same effect I do not have a problem with it being present in the film.  Harry Potter is not too sexy.   He has become a young adult and is behaving as such.  He likes Ginny Weasley and she likes him.  When teenagers like each other they kiss.  In addition, Ron likes Hermione but is afraid to show it.  He fears that Harry is more appealing to Hermione than he is.  As a result he becomes petty and jealous.  Eleven year old boys don’t kiss eleven year old girls.  Eleven year old boys don’t become envious of their friends over eleven year old girls.  At eleven girls still have cooties, but things change at 17.  Harry Potter’s problem is that he is forever adding to his fan base, and some of them may not be ready for his later adventures.  Despite this fact, many fans are exposed to them anyway, so where does the responsibility lie?  Well, it lies where it always lies, with the parents.  Keep in mind, in the United States HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, Part I is rated PG-13.  This is an advisement to parents that the MPAA feels that some of the film’s material may be inappropriate for children under 13.  Parents must be active in their children’s lives.  They should ask them what they are reading.  If they are concerned about a particular film they must do the appropriate research before saying yes to a trip to the theater.  There are many websites available that will objectively give parents a blow by blow description of a particular film so that an informed decision can be made.  Parents know the strengths and weakness of their own children best and have the ultimate right to say yes or no.  Parents should not pass the buck onto Hollywood because they are too complacent in their own lives to play an active role in the lives of their children.   That’s just selfish and downright lazy.

That’s my opinion, and I’m sticking to it.

1 comment:

  1. You bring up some very interesting points, I do think a lot of the responsibility lies with the parents as they know there children best and each child is different...
    But I also think that the film maker are somewhat responsible as well, I think films can be a very powerful medium and they should be more mindful of what they produce, I don't think people give enough thought to how images from films can be affecting especially at a young age, people just think of it as entertainment...
    anyway, sorry about the rant, and great work as always.

    And as for these films that are obviously designed to please a specific age group (such as teenage males) as in Machete which I watched recently, that's something I've been giving a lot of thought to recently, but maybe that's for another time...