“These are dark times, there is no denying,” says Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister for Magic, his face contorting and twisting in ways that suggest that even he doesn’t know how to feel. He says these words mostly as reassurance, to a community under threat, once again, from the forces of evil. He is framed in an extreme close up. His brow is furrowed, and his voice is busy burying under false confidence the terror that he really feels.
This is how Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1, the penultimate film in the series begins.
But what Scrimgeour, who has always been a shifty character in the Potterverse, shrewder, more cunning than his predecessor Cornelius Fudge, says next is more interesting. “Our world has perhaps faced no greater threat than it does today. But I say this to our citizenry: We, ever your servants, will continue to defend your liberty and repel the forces that seek to take it from you! Your Ministry remains, strong.”
We’ve often seen performances such as this. It doesn’t take a seasoned eye to notice the theatricality. In Scrimgeour’s case, it is exaggerated by a distractingly over-the-top Welsh accent. In the case of Prime Minister Modi, it was the tales of a former life as a tea stall vendor. And the tears.
These truly are dark times. For years, JK Rowling’s books have served as a warning, a reminder of how scarily close we always are to crumbling as a society. Her stories, about a young boy who challenges an evil wizard, the embodiment of hatred, racism and fear of the other, have suddenly taken on new relevance. What was once crafted as an allegory of the rise of fascism in Europe of the ’30s and ’40s has transformed, almost as if Professor McGonagall herself cast a spell on it, into something pressingly topical.
In the minutes leading up to the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, when the reality was becoming overwhelmingly difficult to ignore any longer, a quote by Primo Levi, the Holocaust survivor and writer, began to be circulated on social media. It read: “We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”
"It happened, therefore it can happen again" -- Primo Levi in The Drowned & The Saved: pic.twitter.com/oarYRZCNB4— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) September 26, 2016
The system might well be rigged, but the election was not. Unlike Lord Voldemort, who rose to power out of sheer force, we have continued to elect, democratically, representatives who in many ways resemble The Dark Lord. Their similarities aren’t limited to the terrible beliefs they share but extend, terrifyingly, to their actions.
Millenials, or The Harry Potter Generation as I like to call it, are perhaps the most accepting, inclusive, liberal, open-minded people to come along in years. I am proud to belong. Through our stupid memes and social media, we have become connected, despite our boundaries. And right now, we need more people like Hermione Granger, who campaigned for the rights of the downtrodden house elves in Harry Potter, in our world. We need people to stand up for the rights of the oppressed. We need people to protest what is wrong. Above all, we need people to look up to.
Which raises a grave question: Are movies (and books, and music, and all art really) important anymore? Do they still have a place in a world where each morning brings with it more terrible news than the day before?
Why, of course they are. Of course they do. Where else would we find our heroes, our role models?
There is a reason why, historically, when rigid governments take power (And they are right now, all over the world. From the Philippines to the United States to Syria to more African nations than can be accommodated in this parenthesis), they attack the arts first. It is a quiet attack, a surgical strike almost, an assassination of expression and freedom of speech, a silencing of influential voices. Sometimes, it can result in a ban on artists from enemy nations, and on other occasions, genocide (Armenia).
16 years ago, speaking to the Vancouver Sun, JK Rowling, like Harry’s divination professor Sybill Trelawney, made a prophecy. “Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good and kind and brave.” That, she warned ‘is how tyranny is started, with people being apathetic and taking the easy route and suddenly finding themselves in deep trouble.’
And for that reason alone, we need Harry Potter more than ever right now. We need to be reminded that love Trumps hate. Always.
Primo Levi was right. It happened once, and so it happened again. But we must remember that even in the magical world of Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort won. Twice. The story isn’t over yet. Harry has yet to fight back. The Battle of Hogwarts has yet to happen. This time, you are part of Dumbledore’s Army. Remember what Hagrid said in Goblet of Fire?
“What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”