During winter break, I continued a holiday tradition that I have cherished since I was a wide-eyed elementary schooler: a Harry Potter marathon. I may be older than I was when I first became mesmerized by the magic of the Wizarding World, but it never ceases to brighten up the season, especially when I need some downtime outside of the festivities and familial visitations. I can simply relax with my old friends, Harry, Ron and Hermione, while they laugh over a cup of butterbeer. Although this year, I must confess that despite being overwhelmed by sensations of nostalgia, there was a tugging at my heart, questioning if I was wrong to feel the way I did.
On Dec. 19, prior to enacting my seasonal ritual, J. K. Rowling tweeted, “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill.” The tweet was speaking out for Maya Forstater, a woman who went to court claiming she was fired for her belief that gender is not an identity but biological. All over the media, Rowling was labeled as transphobic, and more specifically, a TERF, defined as trans-exclusionary radical feminist.
This is not the first time she has made allegedly trans-phobic remarks and her representatives have played it off as middle-aged mess ups. Many on the internet have been calling for Rowling to be “canceled.” But is the cancellation of a person a way to truly stop the continued perpetuation of hate and abominable misdeeds of a celebrity? From there, I decided to examine what it actually means to cancel a person and examine what it has accomplished with celebrity controversy.
Canceling someone or something means to cut off any support for them. Whether that be avoiding movies featuring actors who make ignorant comments, or avoiding patronage at restaurants like Chick-Fil-A who contribute to homophobic organizations, or refusing to support artists who have committed obscene crimes like R. Kelly. The practice of canceling can bring awareness to important issues and condemn behavior deemed unacceptable. But cancel culture itself can be toxic. Often, it is a means for the media to have a common enemy which takes attention off the issues. It also draws gray lines, creating hypocrisy.
For example, I have stopped listening to R. Kelly altogether. If “I Believe I Can Fly” comes on, I leave the room because I believe he must be punished for his abominable crimes. Whereas when the King of Pop’s iconic Halloween song “Thriller” comes on, I raise my hands up like claws of a ghoul, forgetting that Michael Jackson committed very similar misdeeds to Kelly. It shows how complicated cancel culture is. One person can go canceled and another can continue to have a legacy. Typically reasons behind someone going “uncanceled” can range from apathy shown by the public, status held by the potential canceled, or pity garnered from a sad past or decisions made due to a twisted psychological rationale.
So the question remains. Should we cancel J. K. Rowling? I guess for me, the question really is: should I cancel Harry Potter? I, though I can not speak for everyone, must give an affirmative to the first question and a hard no on the second. Despite my love of Harry Potter, whenever I discuss it with fellow Potterheads, I almost never talk about Rowling herself. Once, in my life as an aspiring novelist, I looked up to her as the writer of the most successful book series of all time, the first billionaire writer and the woman who gave me the character of Hermione, without whom I would not have fully embraced my identity.
I cannot condone hateful language, so I refuse to sing direct praises to Rowling anymore. In a way, at least for me, the world of Harry Potter lives outside of her. Harry Potter may have begun living because Rowling sat in a coffee shop and penned it, but it is the fans that continue to give it life. People may argue that the message of Harry Potter is a sham because Rowling does not live up to the morale of acceptance and unconditional love. But do all authors live what they write? Since there are plenty of examples where this is not the case, I think this where art can be separated from the artist. Harry Potter did not teach me how to love, but showed me a world I wished to see, where anyone who is different is loved unapologetically and together fights back against bigotry. Maybe it is time Rowling takes a look at her own gospel and considers what side of history she wishes to be on. Does she wish to be with Dumbledore’s Army who fights for justice and what is right, treating others with kindness and respect no matter their walk of life, or will she be remembered as a death eater, a hypocrite incapable of understanding what true acceptance looks like?