COMM 401Interpreting Strategic DiscourseWeek Four Power/Ideology
Meanings of Ideology Ideology = the study of ideas (earliest meaning) Roots in the French Revolution Contemporary uses Ideology = the ways in which meaning serves to sustain relations of domination (Thompson) Ideology = the political language that defines a community, dictating parameters for collective thought and behavior (McGee)
Assumptions of Ideological Analysis Ideological formations (expressed in discourse) reflect power relations Power is related to knowledge through rules of discourse (Foucault) Members of a society may be complicitous in their own subjugation (hegemony)
Ideological Test How many of you will change your name to the surname of your spouse upon marriage? What will that change involve? Why will you make the change, or not?
Studying Ideology Strategies of subjugation: Categorization = societal groupings; definitions Exnomination = the process of naming and not naming as a source of power Metaphor = defining social/political relationships by virtue of comparison Narrative structures = using the tools of narrative analysis as a means of understanding power relationships.
Studying Ideology Studies of Institutional Power Three levels: Industrial/ institutional level—markets/competitive relationships Organizational level—norms and habits of organizations Individual level—impact/power of key individuals
Harry Potter and the Paradoxical Critique of Celebrity Culture Trevor Parry-Giles University of Maryland
Harry Potter as cultural celebrity Seven books (4,224 pages) 400 million copies; 67 languages Seven films; eighth released July 19th Theme park opened in 2010 ‘Pottermania,’ write Terego and Denim (2006), ‘has reached epidemic proportions [and] the whole world is wild about Harry.’
Meanings & Messages Many themes and messages emerge from the 4,224 pages of the seven Harry Potter books. Their author, J.K. Rowling, uses the books to comment frequently on politics and oppression, social norms and identity issues.
Other Meanings in HP My focus here is on another dimension of the messages put forth through these tales. Following the lead of critics Waetjen and Gibson (2007), I strive to identify and examine the ways that the Harry Potter novels speak to the culture industry and offer a commentary on a specific dimension of cultural production in contemporary society, namely the identification and construction of celebrity.
I examine how the Harry Potter novels articulate a deep and sustained critique of celebrity culture on two different levels (the affectivity of celebrity culture and the commodification of the cultural celebrity) even while celebrity works as a dominant theme in the stories. Examining how Rowling’s celebrity critique is manifested throughout her novels, I seek to explain how they ultimately construct an ideological representation of celebrity rooted in dichotomies between celebrity and hero, image and reality, fake and authentic.
Celebrity and the power of affect A defining characteristic of celebrity discourse in contemporary culture is the dominance of affect and emotion in the creation of celebrity meaning and power. We react to and understand celebrities not because their discourse is rationally superior or because the discourse about them appeals to rationally derived ideas or concepts. Instead, our reaction to celebrities is affective, characterized by the non-rational, the emotional (Marshall, 1997)
Affect in HP The critique of celebrity affectivity in the Harry Potter tales emerge primarily in the fleeting and changing emotional reactions that Harry’s celebrity status in the magical world provokes from a range of other characters. They reflect what Evans (2009) calls ‘cathexis’ where ‘emotional energy and meaning’ are invested into people and objects and ‘away from self.’
Affect in HP Initially, Harry’s celebrity is constructed in emotionally positive terms. ‘He’ll be famous—a legend—I wouldn’t be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future—there will be books written about Harry—every child in our world will know his name!’ (Rowling 1997, p. 13).
Affect & Anxiety in HP ‘Everyone thinks I’m special,’ he confides to Hagrid, ‘but I don’t know anything about magic at all. How can they expect great things? I’m famous and I can’t even remember what I’m famous for’ (Rowling 1997, p. 86). Similarly, Harry discovers that one of his teachers, Potions Master Severus Snape, also dislikes him, calling Harry ‘Our new—celebrity’ and warning Harry that ‘fame clearly isn’t everything’ when Harry is unable to answer unreasonably complicated Potions questions (Rowling 1997, pp. 136-137, emphasis in original).
Celebrity and the power of affect Harry constantly quests for real virtue, actual accomplishment, true heroism, throughout all seven of the novels, and Rowling establishes this search for the real and the authentic as opposed to the extended and unrealistic expectations of his fame and celebrity. At every turn in Harry’s adventures, people react to him as a celebrity, usually in highly emotional ways, and all the while he is working to ignore or reject such reactions, preferring instead to be ordinary or truly virtuous and brave rather than simply well-known.
Celebrity and the power of affect Ultimately, though, the affectivity at work in Rowling’s construction of Harry Potter’s celebrity speaks to the critique of contemporary celebrity culture that the author represents via the novels It is Harry’s perpetual quest for authentic heroism that evidences most clearly Rowling’s critique of celebrity—Harry sees through the fickle and often cursory affective reactions that his celebrity occasions and spends considerable energy striving for true, real acclaim.
Celebrity and the power of affect The paradox in Rowling’s critique of the affectivity of Harry’s celebrity, of course, stems from the very dependence upon such affectivity in the public, ‘real’ reactions to the Harry Potter cultural phenomenon. Fans and consumers of Harry Potter books and films (and merchandise) are invited into his magical world not because of its rational, measured discussion of contemporary problems or issues and not because of the aesthetic or distinctive quality of the narratives.
HP as Celebrity Commodity Central to the affective power of Harry Potter as a cultural celebrity is the self-evident goal of the phenomenon’s affectivity—namely, the sale and perpetual marketing of a cultural commodity. As with all cultural celebrities, ‘Harry Potter’ is relentlessly merchandised and marketed and the range of commodities bearing his imprint is endless. Such commodification is not uncommon—indeed, commodification is a defining characteristic of historical and contemporary celebrity discourses.
Commodification Marshall (1997) argues, the commodification of cultural celebrities is also valuable for what it tells us about social structure, the exercise of power, and the creation and maintenance of relationships of domination and control. Celebrity culture and the commodification of celebrities are about more than just marketing and selling and profits. The very industry (and the development of that industry) that markets and manifests cultural celebrities operates on a discursive domain as well, and indicates important and powerful dimensions of contemporary social life and identity.
Celebrity Commodification Despite the absence of the usual commodification industries that dominate postmodern ‘Muggle’ societies and that are responsible for the cultural performance and circulation of celebrity, the Harry Potter novels still manage to indict the cultural commodification of celebrity. This rhetoric largely emerges from the novels’ discussion of the practices of book publishing and journalism.
Celebrity Commodification The most egregiously superficial, commodified celebrity in the entire Harry Potter series is Gilderoy Lockhart, a wizard who has published a series of books recounting his adventures around the globe fighting demons and dangerous magical creatures. Lockhart’s celebrity is clearly constructed within the commodification systems at work in the magical world—namely through his authoring of several books and through his consistent level of exposure in newspapers and magazines.
Celebrity Commodification Lockhart’s perfidy identifies Rowling’s critique of celebrity and its commodification in contemporary culture. Operating alongside Harry’s perpetual quest for an authentic or real fame and honor, Lockhart’s artificial, manufactured celebrity is condemned for its hyper-constructedness, for the fact that it worked and that Lockhart and the publication outlets that supported him profited from it.
Celebrity Commodification Rowling’s critique of celebrity journalism is most fully developed through the depiction of celebrity journalist Rita Skeeter throughout the series, but especially in HPGF. Skeeter is a stereotypical celebrity journalist, prone to exaggeration and hyperbole and unscrupulous in her reporting methods.
Celebrity Commodification Ultimately, Skeeter is exposed for her illegal methods of collecting information—she is an ‘unregistered Animagus,’ or a magical person with the ability to transform into an animal at will. In Skeeter’s case, she transforms into a beetle, enabling her unobtrusive eavesdropping on private conversations. Rowling makes much of the ‘bugging’ metaphor as she details Skeeter’s methods, though the metaphor is also useful as another insight into Rowling’s critique of celebrity culture.
Celebrity Commodification Rowling’s indictment of celebrity culture, here in terms of its commodification, is rooted in a distinction between ‘reality’ and artifice, between genuine, authentic achievement and that which is manufactured. Harry, at every turn, is concerned with finding the true and the just, whether it be in his quest to survive the Triwizard Tournament or to defeat Voldemort, and at every step, he is opposed by individuals who either react to him in purely affective ways that belie his true purpose or who believe lies written about him (and others, e.g., Gilderoy Lockhart) in a cultural industry of book publishing and celebrity journalism unconcerned with truth and honor.
Celebrity Commodification The irony, indeed the paradox, of Rowling’s critique of celebrity culture and the commodification of celebrities should be obvious. Harry Potter’s success is, in no small measure, due in part to celebrity journalism (in newspapers, magazines, and on the Web) that generates countless stories about Rowling, the books, the films, and the various actors and actresses involved in their production. Thus, even as Rowling indicts these industries and their role in manifesting a bankrupt vision of celebrity in Harry’s magical world, that world would not exist for many were it not for those very industries that endlessly promote and circulate meaning and information about Harry Potter.
Celebrity in HP Rose (2003) maintains, ‘the response to celebrity always harbours a political subtext,’ (p. 206) and such a subtext is powerfully present in Rowling’s reading of celebrity culture as well as in my reading of Rowling. As I indicate here, following a similar tack by Waetjen & Gibson (2007), Rowling’s critique of celebrity culture is paradoxical precisely because of her reliance on that culture for the success and circulation of the Harry Potter phenomenon.
Celebrity Critique in HP Rowling’s cleverness, though, does not absolve her hypocrisy even though hypocrisy may be the inevitable, paradoxical price of celebrity culture critique. In many ways, the most meaningful critiques of celebrity culture come from those who are subject to it, who live within it, and who reap its benefits. So thorough has celebrity culture become, so immersed are we in that culture and its trappings, that critique is most compelling from within and is only meaningful for audiences who consume it.
Celebrity Critique in HP Metaphorically, Harry’s scar stands for many things in the novels and one of those representations is Harry’s role in the celebrity culture of his magical world. The scar is the prime identifying feature that people use to appreciate, value, and condemn Harry’s celebrity, both interpersonally and through the magical world’s culture industries. At the same time, the scar is a source of evil and pain, emblematic of Rowling’s embedded sense of the dangers of celebrity culture. Only at the end of the last novel is the pain erased with Voldemort’s demise. Not unlike celebrity culture in Rowling’s vision, the scar is both a source of power and pain, representing both good and evil.
Celebrity Critique in HP So compelling is Harry’s scar as a metaphor for Rowling’s vision that it operates as the final, lasting image of the seven novel series. Her concluding image also works to explain how the problems and paradoxes of celebrity culture are resolved in and through the Harry Potter phenomenon. As Harry waves at his son as the train drifts away, ‘he lowered his hand absentmindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.’ Knowing that his children will be safe at Hogwarts, the last line of the novel and the series remarks ‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well’