Literalism (or, Have We Forgotten How to Read?)
(This was inspired by yet more recent criticism J.K. Rowling has taken concerning diversity and representation)
Last year I read an article in BookRiot written by someone who clearly had an axe to grind. The article was about LGBTQ representation in literature and what she felt to be a scarcity of same said. I thought to myself, "Oh, great, here we go..." because as a member of the LGBTQ community myself and also a writer, I do find myself having to weigh representation against the right of the author to write whatever comes to him or her. In short, my personal take is that it's wrong to try badger or shame authors into shoehorning a gay character into their story that didn't come to them organically and naturally the way any character should. If I feel there isn't enough rainbowness in the lit I read, it's my responsibility to fix that, not someone else's.
But the article didn't stop there. The writer posited through the article a hypothetical question of "What if I am asking that every book with a large enough cast of characters must contain some sexual diversity?" That's where I started looking around and getting ready to say, "Yeah, I'm gay, but I'm not with her."
And then the other shoe dropped.
She used as her example the Harry Potter franchise. Very large cast of characters, and yes, no actual LGBTQ people to be seen. And this was where my question about this person's axe to grind shifted because in the article it was made known that she manages the children's section of a large bookstore and is clearly sufficiently interested in literature as to be writing this article for BookRiot. I was gobsmacked at the idea that she would choose, of all franchises, Harry Potter.
She even said, "There are more basilisks than gay people in this story and that's offensive."
Offensive. Fuck me... The most prostituted word of 2016, but that's a different story.
I realized that this women had completely missed the point of Harry Potter because of too literal a take on her read, which I can only assume is her usual take: literalist. How had someone with her education, work-background, and interests failed to see that every single person with magic in the world of Hogworts is QUEER. All of them. Every single one. They have to live in a hidden seperate world, away from "muggles", and for fuck's sake, HARRY LIVES IN AN ACTUAL CLOSET when he's in Muggle Land.
She'd gotten her militant, literalist, LGBTQ party-oriented knickers in a twist over a franchise that is all about being othered. The whole damned, fucking thing. I am a gay dude in real life and in the read of this story I am also Harry, and Ron, and Hermione, and Hagrid, and Luna, and Dobby, and yes, even Voldemort, because in him lies a message about how being othered can damage and even a destroy a person, so yes, he is also me.
How the fuck did she miss that? Of all the franchises to pick, a franchise that is literally meant for every child who felt like he or she could never belong because of being different, and she picks this one to talk about, "Oh, there's not a gay kid. This is completely offensive."
Is this the direction reading is going? Are readers - inundated with a constant barrage of media input - losing their ability to read beneath the surface story? Has everyone become so circumspect about fact-checking that creativity in the reading and writing of fiction has been shoved aside as too much like a "non-truth" to be suffered, since the deeper read of a story is about subtext and putting together the bigger picture?
Is that where we're going? Is that where we are?
Feel free to give your thoughts.
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