Friday, May 12, 2017

DePaulPotter notes- The Banality of Evil

Last Saturday, I got to attend the illustrious DePaul Pop Culture Conference, this year focused on Harry Potter. I took some notes on a few sessions.

The Banality of Evil: Collaborators and Appeasement in Harry Potter
Michi Trota- Chicago Nerds | Uncanny Magazine | Raks Geek
Matt Peters- Chicago Nerds | Since Last We Spoke | Digital Dumpster Diving
Jennifer Cross- Just Write Chicago
Kate Lansky- Writer

I have to admit that I was primed for some Arendt/Potter crossover in this panel based on the title. Wound up not getting to that, but check out The Banality of Evil from Arendt's coverage of the Eichmann trial if you're interested--contains some cutting insights on how evil functions (less out of villainy, more out of pettiness) in ways that closely mirror the Potterverse and the present-day issues the panelists were addressing.

  • Opening question is "what's the most evil/frightening thing to you in Potter". Answers include Umbrage, Piercy's ass-kissing nature, and the complete lack of poli-sci classes (or larger political awareness) at Hogwarts.
  • Reference to a Twitter thread on "How Evil Actually Functions" by Abigail Nussbaum.
  • Villainy doesn't always wear the "obviously evil cape".
  • Discussion of the Ministry of Magic & Cornelius fudge, the "ostrich approach" to problems, issues of irresponsible/easily distracted media coverage. "Who could have thought that clickbait journalism could harm society?"
  • "Being on the right side is not enough, you have to be *doing* the right thing as well."
  • Comparisons between "appeasement" strategies in pre-WWII Europe and Potter, as well as how the history of bullying (and institutionally not addressing bullying) contributes to the Dark Lord & his return.
  • Noting failures of teachers/administrators to step in for "Mudblood" insults, and how casual racism pervades the wizarding world.
  • "Voldemort is the Red Skull."
  • Harry's refusal to talk about Dolores' torture the earmark of systematic abuse.
  • The growing sense in books that "adults can't be trusted", the way that even "good" adults don't trust/listen to children--lines up with common YA themes, but also the problem of characters refusing to share info long after it makes sense.
  • How much evil is allowed to take root because no-one is willing to confront it directly.
  • Even Hagrid's disclosures are by mistake, he's kind of an archetypal "trustworthy fool".
  • Nobody saying Voldemort's name, thus refusing to look at the real problem, compared to how people shy away from words like "racism" or "transphobia".
  • The problem of collaborators, party lines & confirmation bias. Again, the idea of "lawful good" as leading to evil by maintaining privilege in system.
  • Evil hiding by wearing pink or a nice suit, the problem of respectability politics.
  • Questioning how effective the books are as a warning against complacency against rising evil, given Voldemort's presence as "clear evil".
  • The problem of Creeper-Snape, and how we're made to sympathize with a one-sided case of obsession. It's ultimately valorized/made tragic, not really critiqued.
  • Problem of love potions as inherently non-consensual.
  • The idea of blood purity as a kind of evil in the books, and how well that's addressed. "A very clumsy way, but a way, to address racism."
  • Lots of these threads are set aside to pick up at the whitewashing panel later in the day.
Good panel, and there may be video forthcoming. You can also check out the #DePaulPotter/#BanalEvil tags on Twitter.

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