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Fantastic Beasts and 1920s Fascination

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From Downton Abbey, Great Gatsby and Boardwalk Empire to the new Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts, fans are flying back to the 1920s. But what's the appeal? How does 20s culture reflect our own and what does it reveal about history and its cycles? (Presented at Clockwork Alchemy, May 29 2016, San Jose, CA)

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Fantastic Beasts and 1920s Fascination

  1. 1. Fantastic Beasts and 20s Culture History Repeats…
  2. 2. Setting • Newt’s story takes place in 1926. • This was the jazz age, a time of hedonism and fun • The start of the modern era, as everything changed.
  3. 3. A New World • This seems a sudden shift in Potter’s world, but it actually fits well into recent culture.
  4. 4. • “The 1920s were a time of social change and wild financial speculation, and the entire world seemed gripped with futurist fever. German auteur Fritz Lang's science fiction epic, Metropolis, was in theaters. Czech writer Karel Čapek invented the word "robot," and group of amateur fiction writers in the U.S. founded influential pulp magazine Weird Tales, which started publishing dark, bizarre stories of undersea aliens by a young man named H.P. Lovecraft.” (Newitz) • 1920s style science fiction like Andrew Niccol's In Time, Woody Allen's time-travel idyll Midnight in Paris, and Cloud Atlas was blossoming.
  5. 5. The Great Gatsby • Propriety over secret affairs and frustrations • Jay Gatsby remakes himself with a fantastical backstory, and a double life • Newt’s friendship with a Muggle shows him letting a single person into his world, battling the constant pretense with a single friendship, much as Gatsby does with Nick.
  6. 6. Downton Abbey • A new world, the old traditions passing away. • No one knows what the rules are now
  7. 7. Boardwalk Empire (2009-2014) • Temperance lecturers, jazz, silent movies, and all the trappings of a world long vanished. • dual worlds – respectable politician vs gambling, smuggling and murder. • Likewise, the Wizarding World have their own legal system under the public one. Newt even smuggles forbidden goods into the US, though they’re magical animals, not liquor. • “Nucky” Thompson who ruled Atlantic City, during Prohibition introduces fans to a world as celebratory as it is dangerous. Salon’s Heather Havrilesk comments: One of the unexpected joys of “Boardwalk Empire,” though, lies in the way the show revels in the oddities of its time, peeling back the layers of polite society to reveal a giddy shadow world of criminals and politicians collaborating to keep the liquor flowing. As the old system crumbles, it challenges the bonds between rivals and friends, and new alliances are formed as a more chaotic age dawns. Just as you think you understand a particular character or a situation, the ground shifts underneath you.
  8. 8. Glamor
  9. 9. Nostalgia • Years ago, some critics were positing that this world of simpler times was part of Harry Potter’s draw. ceremonial robes, candlelit rooms, no cellphones or social media. • There’s also modern kids loving modern fandom and fashion. •  
  10. 10. Parallels to Now • “In the 1920s, many people's lives had been destroyed by World War I and the global disruptions of 1919. Then, the decade ended with the Great Depression.” • “The 2000s began with the 9/11 attacks and ended with financial crisis and mortgage meltdown. Now, in the teens, we are living in the aftermath of both events.” • “Revisiting the 1920s could be a way of thinking through the upheavals of the last decade.” • “there's the wild popularity of the Hunger Games franchise, which are a callback to the hungry years of the 1930s.” (Newitz)
  11. 11. Wizard Headlines
  12. 12. Class Gap This year, big business is taking charge. It was the same in the 1920s under the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations. Their Secretary of the Treasury, banker and businessman Andrew J. Mellon, argued, for cutting the rich’s taxes and decreasing regulations. Sadly, his version of trickle-down economics didn’t work and workers and farmers did not benefit from the upper class prosperity, widening the divide.
  13. 13. Age Gap • 1920s youth culture and college hijinks • The first stark generation gap • “Kids who had grown up with technologies like telephones, movies, and electric lights were accustomed to a radically different world than people who grew up with horse-drawn carriages and gas lamps. And so those kids began to create their own culture.” (Newitz)
  14. 14. The Dark Undercurrent…. • Fear of immigrants led to a rise in the KKK in the US and fascism abroad.
  15. 15. Prejudice • Harry Potter: house-elves “treated like vermin” and werewolves denied work • All echo Grindelwald’s wizard supremacist campaign of World War II. Dumbledore describes “Muggles forced into subservience” and a revolution “all for the greater good” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 716). • Anti-immigrant backlash against Jews, Poles, and other Eastern Europeans including a new racial quota in 1924 • 4 million people joined the KKK in the 20s • In this intolerant climate, those who seek alternate ways of life, like many goblins and house-elves, go underground, hidden in dark corners like the Blind Pig speakeasy. This represents a closeting not only of magical people, but also of homosexuals, artists, and those who seek unusual paths.
  16. 16. Wizard Backlash • MACUSA is as stifling as the New Salemers, brutally wiping the memories of all who try bridging their two worlds. • Metaphorically, this is a type of brainwashing, a thought police who eliminate the progressives in their own world. A memory-based- execution mirrors this imagery. • They destroy Credence rather than redeeming him
  17. 17. Down with No-Majs • Mutual fear: “Magical beasts are terrorizing No-Majs. When No-Majs are afraid, they attack.” • Eugenics’ US popularity peaked in the 1920s, responding to the massive influx of immigrants. “By the end of the 1920s, 24 states had passed laws permitting eugenic sterilizations, and about 12,000 sterilizations had been performed” (Davis 256). Similar to forbidden intermarriage • “Grindelwald preaches Wizarding Rule through racial superiority, a program that clearly echoes Hitler’s agenda. The same time, the same country, the same ideology, the same defeat in 1945: can we doubt they were partners?” (Frankel 208).
  18. 18. Fundamentalism • Scopes trial, jazz, hair-bobbing and short skirts worried people. • Many reacted to 20s modernity with public campaigns and protests. • The word “fundamentalist” appeared. • Fundamentalists fought for creationism, temperance, modest dress, traditionalism, and above all, the Bible. These are the anti-wizard Second Salemers. • On the corner, they shout “We want a second Salem” and hold signs saying “No Witchcraft in America.” • “Heed my warning and laugh if you dare: Witches live among us!” Mary Lou Barebone insists. “We have to fight together for the sake of our children—for the sake of tomorrow!”
  19. 19. Mary Lou • Barebone’s last name indicates her starkness • Adopted children have Puritan “virtue names” Credence, Modesty, and Chastity. • The whole family has chilling, creepy stares, augmented by ominous music and shadows. The world calls them old-fashioned and “freaks” • Little Modesty embraces brainwashing, and sings chillingly about witch burning. • One child asks if another has “the witch’s mark,” eager to turn on his own foster sibling.
  20. 20. Trump Copied the Style • Campaigning, Trump used “the prophetic style—that speaks to evangelical voters at a primal level. The prophetic style points to decline—but also to a path toward salvation. It is defined by a conviction that the faithful possess higher truths, sealed off from and immune to critique from evidence-based sources of authority.” • He campaigned on the “higher truth”—that white Christians are being betrayed and targeted. (Anderson) • In May 2017, VP Pence said that Christians are among the most persecuted religion in the world. • Christianity is “under siege,” as Trump said. • Trump’s ‘School Choice’ Plan: Religious Fundamentalism At Taxpayer Expense • Global Gag Order
  21. 21. Shaw • Senator Henry Shaw fights modernity on behalf of moral values: “So just as the odious saloons have been banished…so now the pool halls, and these private parlors…”
  22. 22. Credence • Credence’s plot is a metaphor: “When he is rejected, repressed, and his essence is denied, what happens with him is a reflection of what can happen in greater society” (Heyman). His swirling cloud of blackness echoes the cruelty and anger that have filled his life but also echoes the mistrust building between the two communities. • The obscurus, murdering the intolerant, represents all that is marginalized and forbidden, created when a young wizard suppresses his power. • Auror Percival Graves only flatters him to use him. “Credence” means belief or trust, emphasizing his tragedy when he’s betrayed by all the series’ adults. Aurors, Mary Lou, and Graves all try to control him to further their own agendas—only ostracized Newt and Tina try to save him. • Now he’s primed to be a Voldemort
  23. 23. Graves/Credence • Graves charms Credence—whether his coaxing is that of a wizard mentor or homosexual lover—thus he queers them both, presenting them as society’s rebels and outcasts. Thus Credence’s wizardry becomes a metaphor for the homosexuality some fundamentalist parents make their children repress until it turns into self-torture. • Grindelwald is most likely gay, so his anger appears a demand for equal rights as he rallies wizards to come out of the closet, instead of pretending they don’t exist to let others feel more comfortable. • Producer David Heyman adds: “The thing about Grindelwald is, I understand what he’s saying. When Grindelwald talks about living in the shadows and why should we live in the shadows, I understand that…So he has the ability to persuade, to seduce, to make you come on the side of what he is thinking. That is scary” (Han).
  24. 24. Grindelwald • As Grindelwald and Credence struggle against the restrictive society that can’t see the queered wizards but persecutes them nonetheless, war is indeed approaching. • Likely it will be the marginalized misfits – the four heroes as well as Dumbledore himself – who will turn the tide when more virile heroes fail. Together they can bring about a society of tolerance and cooperation, even in a time of prejudice and war.
  25. 25. Citations • Anderson, Theo. “Why Evangelicals Are Flocking To Donald Trump” In These Times, 22 Feb 2016. http://inthesetimes.com/article/18902/donald-trump-evangelicals • Davis, Edward B. “Science and Religious Fundamentalism in the 1920s.” American Scientist, vol. 93, no. 3, 2005, pp. 253-260, Academic Search Premier. Accessed 30 Nov. 2016. • Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. HarperCollins, 1995. • Frankel, Valerie Estelle. Harry Potter and Myth: The Legends behind Cursed Child, Fantastic Beasts, and all the Hero’s Journeys. LitCrit Press, 2016. • Grant, Abigail. “Harry Potter and a World of Words: Back to Basics in a Time of Advance” Harry Potter, Still Recruiting: An Inner Look at Harry Potter Fandom, ed. Valerie Estelle Frankel, USA: Zossima Press, 2012, 5. • Leinwand, Gerald. 1927: High Tide of the 1920s. Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001. • Newitz, Annalee. “Why Is Pop Culture So Obsessed with the 1920s?” Io9, 13 Feb 2013 http://io9.gizmodo.com/5983062/obsessing-over-the-1920s. • Reuters. “US Hate Crimes Up” NBC, 14 Mar 2017. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/u-s-hate-crimes-20-percent-2016-fueled-election-campaign-n733306.
  26. 26. Please visit VeFrankel.com or Amazon for more works by Valerie Estelle Frankel

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