Friday, May 12, 2017

DePaulPotter notes- Defending Tom Riddle

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 academic keynote was delivered by Dr. Christopher Bell: "Defending Tom Riddle: The Failure of Albus Dumbledore".

We start out with a discussion of why Voldemort is such a satisfying villain, but also start thinking about how he got that way.
  • In order to have a really good villain, they have to believe they're the hero.
  • The wizarding world is intensely racist/classist.
  • "And then, at the age of 11, he's allowed to carry a deadly weapon with him at all times."
Discussion of Durkheim's concept of anomie, how it relates to crime & suicide:
  • The idea of a "primal self" that's held in check by moral institutions.
  • Different cultures measure success differently; in the West that's "achievement" tied to consumerism
  • Distinction made between consumerism (constantly needing new things) and capitalism (just get some things and keep them).
  • "Opportunity is unevenly distributed".
  • These create "strain" in Durkheim's sense; some individuals will move towards self-harm or towards harming others.
We move on to the concept of "othering":
  • "Societies need difference;" we live in a negatively defined society, not based on similarity but on what we're not.
  • The Cat in the Hat song Calculatus Eliminatus. "The way to find a missing something is to find out where it's not."
  • This leads to a "pure & original people" theory, the basis of racism and moral disengagement (which we'll return to)
  • Riddle's early behavior matches up with Reactive Attachment Disorder, which comes from neglect.
  • Bell notes this is not the same as psychopathy, and talks about the idea of psychopathy as a "zebra diagnosis" that we shouldn't be too quick to hand out—it's far more likeable people are acting because of more common (and more treatable) conditions.
  • RAD is very treatable if caught young enough, Bell gives examples from foster care system.
We get a brief defintion of dystopias, "broken societies". Examples include The Maze Runner, Ready Player One, The Hunger Games.
  • The wizarding world is dystopic, argues Bell: intensely classist and racist, heavily militarized, wide access to weapons.
Next we get the idea of moral disengagement, which is used both before and after otherwise-unacceptable behavior to justify it to the actor.
Not to be confused with.
  • Exploring the way that we can morally disengage from the conduct itself, its effects, and/or the victim.
  • Moral disengagement as a necessary component of sexual assualt, as well as allowing many military actions (let's bomb "the terrorists") by blinding us to others' humanity.
  • We're introduced to some cute monkeys, and asked how many different personalities we can remember and keep track of before they all blur together. Bell says that science points to 37 as the average number of people we can really deeply connect with, terms this "the monkeysphere".
  • Abstract numbers become abstract at a lot smaller amount than most people realize.
  • Voldemort's monkeysphere has only 3: himself, Bellatrix, and Nagini.
We move to a specific critique of how Dumbledore screwed up and allowed/helped Tom Riddle to become Voldemort.
  • He misses every "point of intervention" with Tom that might have saved him.
  • Every single thing he does for Harry Potter he could have done for Tom Riddle
  • (an aside on how Gryffindor bravery works, Pettigrew's bravery, how there are types of bravery we don't like to talk about, like suicide bombers.)
  • Dumbledore joins the Hallowed Hall of Horrible Mentors.
  • Bell puts him right next to Yoda for this, goes off on a brief tangent about how Yoda created Vader, comparisons made between the Jedi & the Taliban—extreme suppression of human nature resulting in violent outbursts.
  • The problem is forcing people into a space where all they know is anomie.
  • "If we can deal with it in Harry Potter, maybe we can deal with it in real life." If we can see Voldemort not just as a dehumanized villain to be destroyed, but as someone who was once a child who could have been turned from this path, maybe we can rethink things in our society that create school shooters, suicide bombers.
  • Voldemort vs. Vader—redemption moment.
  • "This story doesn't work without a dystopia, anymore than we have 377 mass shootings last year if we aren't living in a dystopia."
We're encouraged to check out the PCA/ACA Southwest in Albuquerque, where they have a large Potter scholardom, and also the Chestnut Hill Potter Conference in October. Journal of Potter Studies coming soon!

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