Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oh, no! Dumbledore was Gay!

This message is brought to you by the Praxis Institute, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Church of the Orange Sky.

First off, an update on my last post, in which the Roberts dynasty totally lost the plot and went off in search of extravagant vacations, teenage sex toys, and political influence: God has issued new orders to Oral Roberts University and president Richard Roberts has departed on a "leave of absence." The Church of the Orange Sky welcomes God's intervention in worldly affairs but calls upon all parties involved to stop invoking God's name in vain.

I was going to write about the demise of TV-links, which I used to use to watch all of my favourite TV shows, and how the entertainment industry has forged a disturbing new link with state power in the West. (It's a bizarre alliance of state and entertainment which is much more interesting than Marx's alliance of state and capital.) In the last few years we've seen servers and individuals arrested and charged in various countries, and their property seized by the government, even in the complete absence of actual criminal activity: DVD Jon, the Pirate Bay, now TV-Links, and so on. But this is a religious blog rather than a political one, so you'll have to ponder the declining relevance of civil rights and habeas corpus elsewhere.

In the meantime, one of my friends has brought to my attention an even more exciting development: Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore was gay. This constitutes new post-canonical doctrine from Her Obscenely Wealthy Excellency, J.K. Rowling. Answering questions in Carnegie Hall, Rowling apparently earned great applause for a short, bald answer to a question about whether Dumbledore had ever fallen in love: "I always thought of Dumbledore as gay". Allegedly this helps explain Dumbledore's early friendship with the fictitious wizard doppelganger of Adolf Hitler - i.e. he fell in love with the guy and was blinded to just what was really going on. I expect this new twist will generate great excitement over the next five or six days before fading away again, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon of public commentary, though with what I anticipate will be a bit of a different slant.

First off, it's worth noting that I personally think Rowling is a bit of an ass. A few weeks ago, she wandered off the reservation and attempted to sue an Indian group for the heinous sin of building a replica Hogwarts castle at a Hindu religious festival. (The attempt failed, which gave me a little respect for the Indian courts system, but didn't alleviate my disgust with Rowling, who apparently now feels that she owns the exclusive use of non-existent magic castles.) Now, she's attempting to add some ex post facto wisdom to the Harry Potter series in order to seem a little edgier. Falling into obscurity with her billion well-earned dollars obviously isn't enough.

My quick Google search for "slash Dumbledore" indicates that plenty of fan fiction writers have already come to the conclusion that Dumbledore was gay - or at least that he indulged in sex with other men, which in the tawdry realm of Internet fanfic is a very important distinction. Rowling claims that she's always had this idea in her head and even insisted on edits to the movie scripts in order to prevent Dumbledore from being accidentally pinned down as a straight guy. She even claims that "if I'd know it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago." Uh-huh. I suspect either her publisher told her she wasn't allowed to say that publicly until after the seventh book was published, or she's only recently decided to experiment with generating more controversy. Rowling is an intelligent woman, I think, and not naive about the effects of her public comments.

The new statements were greeted with a wave of self-righteous and self-congratulatory remarks from what I suppose could be termed the liberal wing of the Harry Potter fan world. This blogger, for example, who may or may not be influential and widely read (my Google search for "dumbledore gay" isn't necessarily a reliable method of determining popularity), writes that the event "proves... to be correct once again, as we've always maintained that Rowlingw ould be, for lack of a better word, a 'liberal' Christian." The lengthy list of comments, which makes the following of our blog seem small and humble indeed, contain various references to expected great reactions from American right-wing Christians. A few otherwise sympathetic writers suggest that Rowling has caused them to doubt their support of her books (here).

The real conservative response has so far been muted, possibly because they're sharpening their pitchforks but more likely for a host of other reasons, one of which is that they just haven't had time to prepare a lengthy response yet. One blogger suggests that people who were pleased to hear Dumbledore was gay should be subjected to "intense psychological investigation," since evidently homosexuality is beyond the pale in a "children's fantasy book." In addition, this writer believes that "every scene involving Dumbledore... will unavoidably be colored by this revelation."

Personally, I don't see why anyone should care whether Rowling sees Dumbledore as heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or anything else. My partial readings of the series suggests that his sexuality plays absolutely no meaningful role in any aspect of the story. Why it should matter, therefore, is completely beyond me, and in my mind anyone who is either elated or disgusted by the announcement has missed the point. The real message ought to be that we should stop trying to place sexuality at the center of our identity as human beings. I merely disagree with this in relation to gay pride and other like-minded groups. But I am totally confused when certain religious groups attempt to do the same, essentializing gay and lesbian people as sinister, inherently promiscuous hedonists on the one hand and, on the other, trumpeting the wondrous glory of monogamous heterosexuality as God's not only intended but expected and possibly required way for humans to enjoy themselves.

If indeed Dumbledore should be understood as a gay man, then the lesson is that we can understand and relate to people without first having to ponder the implications of their sexuality. I personally find that much more refreshing than this notion that we now need to revise our reading of a children's book series in order to celebrate - or condemn - the fact that the author thinks a school principal happened to be gay.


Travis Prinzi said...

Just for clarification on the place where you quoted me: I am not, myself, a "liberal" Christian; I've just always maintained that she would lean that way. The response was, in partilar, a defense against the charge from Christian culture-war Potter-haters who were gloating over what they thought was ironclad proof that they'd always been right about the Harry Potter series being evil. Hardly self-righteous and self-congratulatory.

The comment thread as it is now (which is presently at 129, by the way), contains its share of "conservative" reaction and over-reaction.