I was talking to my friend Kate today about my blog topic for the week. Nothing political, we both agreed, and we settled on entertainment. There’s a lot going on — some of it good! Hello, Georgia. We see you, girl — and despite our mutual distaste for some facets of politics these days, we’re both rather “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” as we await word on our American fate for the next four years.
So, enter a distraction! The movie “The Witches” has experienced some backlash thanks to its depiction of three fingers as a disability. I admit it’s news to me. I’d have thought missing two fingers was a shoo in for a disability, but when you consider the underlying message — that anyone born with only three fingers wants to eat kids” — it is quite insulting.
Plus, as Kate pointed out, there’s the fact that Roald Dahl, who wrote the book “The Witches” upon which the film is based, was a known anti-semite. He also wrote “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” and apparently part of the Oompa Loompas back story was aligned to that of African slaves for what Kate called “a little wink-wink” in the fabric of the narrative. People loved it.
Now consider how often Dahl’s books/movies made back in the 70s-90s are in the remake cycle: The Witches, Willy Wonka, Mathilda was redone as a Broadway musical. None of the remakes has done particularly well, Kate says. I haven’t seen any of them. I’d like to say I knew all about it and was deliberately boycotting, but the truth is they’re simply not my cup of tea. Although now that I know what I do, guess who’s not getting a viewing or my money?
But Kate wondered why today’s directors seem so hell bent on being more accurate, and truly following the racist etc. storylines depicted in the original books. Cowardly efforts to put minorities in their place, I suggested? An attempt to “right” historical record through art?
Maybe. But that’s the dark route. My friend believes the answer is more of a willful blindness: ‘”It might be problematic, but I loved these books as a child. If I acknowledge the problems with them, it means that I loved something racist/ableist/misogynistic, and I can’t admit that.’ White fragility strikes again!”
The Dahl scenario is not uncommon. Consider JK Rowling. The bestselling author has been getting a lot of heat lately for her transphobic remarks, but putting that aside, people have picked up on the fact that the goblins depicted in the Harry Potter books are described with stereotypical Jewish features. They even run a bank. And what of the storyline where Hermione tried to liberate the school’s house elves — sentient creatures who are born to serve their master and are “happy” in that place. It might not be a version of slavery and the narrative of the happy darky, especially since in HP it’s played as a joke. But it does look suspicious af, no?
Yet how much of that is because the author is a piece of sh*$, and how much is just Rowling’s creative absorption of her environment? Goblins have been portrayed that way for centuries, right or wrong, and as Kate said, it’s not exactly a sure thing that a single mother in poverty thought “let’s create a slave class in this fantasy series for kids.” Maybe she did, but what’s more interesting to me, is the riotous response of our cancel culture to her refusal to backdown on her transphobic remarks.
I low key respect her for not whitewashing her behavior and playing nice in an effort to get back in the public’s good graces. But then, I prize honesty, and am quite grateful to her for letting us know who she is, and what she believes in. It’s far better than some mealy mouthed public apology, exhorting others to do as she has, and learn from the error of her former ways! Hmmm mmm. Riiiight.
That is sooo annoying. The race to apologize when its sheer speed of delivery suggests that you’re lying like an Aubusson rug. Just waiting to roll back onto your feet, smile polished and holiday bag outstretched for us to put more candy in it.
In keeping with this example, Rowling was never perfect. It was our choice to put her on a pedestal because she created a literary world that touched millions of lives. Then, once it was made apparent that she is indeed a human being, one who has ideas that are not always popular or good, everyone wastes no time knocking her off that pedestal and trying to strip her of every accolade and coin.
Why? Could be because people feel guilty. Like, I liked her! I bought her books. I loved them, and now this. Shakes head in despair and disappointment. Could be because they’re following the herd, the crowd gleefully watching the execution in hopes that some of the warm blood from the rolling head will splash their faces in the front row of the mob. Could be because they were jealous of her success all along, and now that there’s a chance to hurt her, why not take it with all gusto?
That’s the danger in idealizing a person. People are not Gods, nor are they ideas. They’re not missions or lofty, world-altering goals. People are people. We do wonderful things. We do stupid, ridiculous things. It’s often too simplistic to 100 percent this or that when a person makes a mistake. It’s cheap and easy, among other things.
Anyway, hopefully this ramble of entertainment nonsense has distracted you at least temporarily from the fact that, as of this writing, we still have no President.