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WHAT THE FUCK JUST HAPPENED

Well, fuck, America. I don’t even know what to say. I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to write about THIS. FUCK.

As I begin to write this, the results aren’t quite in yet – mainstream news networks are holding off on calling the result but a Clinton victory is looking more and more impossible. Including in Pennsylvania, where I am from, and where I honestly was shocked to see the level of Trump support but still was not expecting him to win the state (right now they’re still saying it’s too close to call, but Trump is leading).

Never mind that, Hillary Clinton has apparently conceded. Goddamn it. We’re officially in Brexit Mark Two.

(By the time the post was finished he’d won outright anyway. Fuck.)

I’ve been refraining from writing about politics for a long time, despite being somewhat tempted, because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I started trying to draft a piece on what watching the Trump phenomenon was like, as a male person who has been sexually assaulted (I don’t call myself ‘survivor’ because it was comparatively minor and I was never in danger), but couldn’t finish it. I am also ethnically Jewish – which doesn’t often mean a lot to me, as I’m an atheist, but is starting to feel more and more like it is going to matter (and not in a good way) thanks to all of the anti-Semitic dogwhistling that Trump has been promoting and voicing himself. Let us not forget that of the very few newspaper endorsements Trump received, one was from the Crusader, the official paper of the Ku Klux Klan (because apparently that is still a real thing that exists). This man is a fucking terror. He is a racist, misogynist bully and has already established himself as the sort of person who enjoys taking advantage of his (perceived? actual?) power as a celebrity to do things he would not otherwise get away with. He is also demonstrably a pathological liar. America has just decided to give that person a hell of a lot more power.

Plus the power to make Supreme Court appointments, given to a man who has already promised to find “another Scalia” and claimed he knows of 20 such people (which is almost certainly an exaggeration and a lie, but still, that is the intent he expressed). This is a sad day for anyone who has any kind of marginalised identity whatsoever, and for any white person with the barest modicum of self-awareness. And let’s not forget that the entire Republican party made that happen, by declaring by fiat that President Obama’s final year in office didn’t really count and that therefore they could block him from making any such appointment at all.

Now it’s true that the presidency is not a dictatorship. All the evidence you need for that is to look at President Obama, who was rendered ineffectual by Republican stonewalling in the House and in the Senate. But again, Americans have fucked ourselves, because both legislative houses are also under Republican majority control. I will acknowledge this: it is true that many Republicans claim not to have wanted Trump, and came out publicly to repudiate him, but it is also true that many of those who did also turned around and voted for him because EMAILS!!!! or something similarly stupid. I have no confidence in House or Senate Republicans’ not being on board with a Trump administration, because these are the people who created him, were unable to stop him, and eventually just went belly-up like the dogs they are (all due apologies to our actual canine friends). We have given this man power, and we are going to feel the effects of it.

Let’s look at some other scenarios – if any of the upcoming trials against Trump (including the child rape case, and the Trump University scam – don’t forget about these, America!) don’t go his way, and this somehow leads to an impeachment, we’ll be left with Mike Pence. A Christian fundamentalist theocrat who, in Indiana, has had women thrown in prison for having miscarriages. I am genuinely unsure whether a Pence presidency would be any improvement; as some people have already pointed out, he is less likely to start a nuclear war, but that’s about the only thing that can be said in his favour. Trump is stupid, self-serving and evil; Pence is just self-serving and evil, and has the skills to actually enact policy.

Is this what the Romans felt like, when they elected Caesar? The Germans, Hitler? How long does it take before it is obvious whether the democratic system will survive the election of a would-be tyrant? And will we like the answer once we know? It will probably be too late by then.

So let’s also remember who is to blame for this. People are going to blame Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for various reasons, and I suppose in a technical sense there are ways in which, had they acted a bit differently, some numbers might have tilted a little and the outcome could have been changed (because let’s face it, this is one of the closest elections we have ever had). People might blame the Electoral College, and there might be a bit of something to that too. But let’s not forget that half of voting America VOTED FOR TRUMP. Even if Trump had lost, that would still be true. I saw a lot of think pieces in the run-up to this election of people musing about how we’re going to deal with the angry mob Trump fomented once Trump lost, because once the explicit bigotry is out from under the rock it’s very hard to shove it back under again, and yes, that was something I worried about. I didn’t quite manage to worry about what would happen if there were just enough of them to tip the scales the other way; none of the polling data made it seem like that was at all likely, and I suspect it could be interesting to see the statisticians try to work out what it was they overlooked. But we have a bigger problem, because there are a lot of these people and they are angry AND THEY ARE IN POWER.

If you voted for Trump, I have no sympathy for you. I don’t care why you voted for him, nor how distasteful you thought Hillary Clinton was or for what reasons. This is on you. If you don’t like what he does to this country, BLAME YOURSELF BECAUSE IT IS YOUR FAULT. If you were watching mainstream media go on about EMAILS and supposed Clinton scandals that were (certainly comparatively and, I would argue, absolutely) of a severity level comparable to a tempest in a teapot, and parroting and promoting these narratives, THIS IS YOUR FAULT. If you were one of those reporters who thought Trump made such good TV it was okay to promote him over other candidates, THIS IS YOUR FAULT. If you, at any point, justified the false equivalency narratives between Clinton and Trump, THIS IS YOUR FAULT. FUCK YOU. As far as we’re concerned, if you voted for him you are also a sexist racist piece of shit.

If you didn’t vote, I have to seriously wonder what’s wrong with your priorities (obviously excluding people who were disenfranchised by ‘voter ID’ laws, ran afoul of voter intimidation, and the like; if that’s the case you have my sincerest sympathies). Could you not tell the difference? Do you just not care? I honestly think ignorance cannot be an excuse here, despite the absurd levels of ignorance I’ve found myself confronted by when talking to people about this election. THIS SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN HARD.

And then there’s the FBI, whose baseless and partisan intervention the week before the election may well have thrown it to Trump. FUCK YOU. I don’t know what is even happening any more, but that does not bode well for the future either.

I live in Pennsylvania, which is one of the more difficult states to do early voting in (the only early voting in PA is by absentee ballot, and they don’t send the ballots in time to vote early) and in which absentee ballots are not guaranteed. I am currently in Wales, visiting Loten [hi guys; we expected our joint posts to be about wizards, not this shit]; we’d been planning this trip for a long time, and it was perhaps foolish of me not to factor election day in, but there was literally no other time we could make this work and it had been far too long since we’d seen each other. I applied for absentee ballot and – this was the mistake – because I expected it to arrive in time to vote early, I had it sent to my US address. It arrived an hour after my plane left, because the universe hates me and wants me to suffer.

So I didn’t get to vote. I didn’t get to vote for Hillary Clinton, who I enthusiastically supported and think would have made a fantastic president. I didn’t get to vote for Katie McGinty, either, who I thought looked quite promising (and now we are stuck with Pat Toomey). And Pennsylvania ended up being a very close race, one of the last states they called and, possibly, the state which pushed Trump over the 270 threshold. I’ll be wrestling with guilt over that for a while, I think. [Emotions are irrational and I’m not letting him explicitly blame himself.]

I can barely process this.

We’re all fucked.

 
14 Comments

Posted by on November 9, 2016 in mitchell

 

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I’m an American, get me out of here!

I can’t apologise enough for the lack of posting recently; my life has been kind of a mess for a while now and I haven’t had a whole lot of coherent things to say that people might care to read. I’m not sure that this will be, either, but I need to get some things off my chest before I suffocate. That’s what blogs are for, right?

The title of this post may go without saying, as it’s how I’ve felt for quite some time trapped in this hellhole of a country. But bugger that, let’s talk about the New Job. I promise it’ll come full circle soon enough.

The new job is a bit odd to explain – basically this company is a sort of intermediary recruitment agency that helps to retrain people for technical positions (mostly software-related) and then hires them out to client companies in exchange for a cut of the salary the client would otherwise pay. The training they offer is meant to fill in the knowledge gaps employers would otherwise be requiring the ubiquitous “2-3 years’ work experience” for “entry-level” positions for, and it seems a sound enough proposition. They don’t pay much during the training period but they do provide housing, which is actually decent enough. I don’t plan on naming them at present for various reasons, even though I have little if anything that isn’t positive to say about them thus far (in point of fact I’m going to use pseudonyms for everyone discussed in this piece and try to be nonspecific as to location as well; I don’t want to identify people here). If nothing else, I’ve appreciated their willingness to be open and honest with me.

In any case, what I want to complain about is (naturally) the living situation in which I currently find myself. (Admittedly this is only temporary, as it’s only for the training period which should be at most two months… but that doesn’t absolve it of its issues, since I still have to survive that period.)

The company provides apartments for people to stay in during the training period, and they are actually rather nice (or at least the one I’ve been placed in is; I haven’t seen all of them and I’m given to understand there is some variation). Unfortunately they are also rather crowded; they have six of us living in a single flat. Though it does have three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a small kitchen, the bedrooms are small and taken up almost completely by the beds, so aren’t good for much aside from sleeping, and the modest living/dining area ends up being where everyone ends up while they’re here (and isn’t really big enough to be comfortable). And because the bedrooms are shared (and small, and the doors are thin) there’s really no good place to retreat if I want privacy; I definitely feel very exposed here no matter where I am.

That might not necessarily have been the worst thing, if it weren’t for a few other details about the people I’ve been stuck with. Or, at least, some of them; three of them have done nothing yet, and seem like perfectly nice people thus far. Then there’s the uber-capitalist Libertarian in his fifties who insists on turning every conversation into an argument with me (I made the mistake of mentioning in his presence that I identify as some sort of communist/socialist) and WILL NOT FUCKING SHUT UP, oh, and the self-identified Neo-Nazi 4chan Gamergate dudebro. Let’s call them Schmuck and Putz; why waste time coming up with realistic-sounding pseudonyms when I can just use various words for penis?

Anyway, I have never been particularly fond of tech culture, which will probably come as no surprise; that said, I allowed myself to succumb to the naivete of distance and time, and find myself surprised at the intensity of my culture-shock and revulsion. I’d expected to have some issues but hoped they’d be more manageable; that said, this is at least an improvement over the Job From Hell to which I’ve alluded in the past (where I lasted an entire six days before quitting because the bosses/managers were also hateful bigots and fostered an environment of bullying and harassment), though not as much of one as I would have liked.

In addition to the tech culture aspect, though, there’s also the fact that this job is located significantly further south than I’m used to living, and while it’s not in the Deep South or anything it seems like a lot of the people they recruit are from there and many of their eventual placements end up being there as well, so in interacting with people here I’m finding another level of culture shock as well; I seem to be the only person anywhere left of centre, at least amongst the people whose political views I’ve been acquainted with, which is equally alienating. I don’t want to take stereotypes too far here, because there are definitely plenty of people in the South who aren’t right-wing bigots, etc, and with whom I’m sure I’d get along swimmingly (and I’m sure those people don’t care for this stuff any more than I do, so I certainly don’t want to dismiss them as part of the problem; I certainly don’t want to make anyone else’s situation more uncomfortable!), but thus far I don’t seem to have encountered them.

In any case, let’s talk specifics. Schmuck I’ve mostly summed up, I think, except that he seems to hold ignorant or obnoxious opinions on pretty much everything you can think of, and insists on opining loudly about them to everyone around as often as possible. (For fuck’s sake, last night he was going on and on about how he believed there really were alien spacecraft at Roswell!) Disagreeing with him just makes him double down and argue more vehemently, which is frustrating because I don’t want to sit silently and have to listen to his opinions going unchallenged, but neither do I want to get involved and cause him to escalate (especially because when I do he doesn’t take it too well, either). He just never shuts up. And he loves to bring everything back to his pet economic issues… I do wonder if I’m being a bit hypocritical in getting so pissed off at this guy, because some of the things I’m complaining about are like a funhouse-mirror reflection of myself (I too am talkative and opinionated and irascible, and like a good argument sometimes, though of late I find it harder and harder to tolerate people whose disagreement with me is this fundamental – I’d rather debate interesting nuances with people I respect than try to demonstrate people should be entitled to food and healthcare), and I’m not sure I’ve handled the situation as well as I could have. I’ve tried setting boundaries and disengaging, both implicitly and explicitly, but it doesn’t help except in the short term (he’ll just pick up later where he left off, and there’s often noplace to run in any case) and I really don’t think Schmuck knows what a boundary is. I’ve tried explaining that I’d like my living situation to be relatively conflict-free, but all I get in response is a disingenuous “but we were just having a conversation! I like talking about/debating things like this!” Well, bully for you, Schmuck; I don’t like you and I don’t like talking about them with you, so go get your jollies elsewhere. Consent is fucking fundamental in my view of ethics, thank you very much, so take your virtual argument-penis and stop shoving it in my ears, you can perform mental masturbation just as effectively on your lonesome. (“If you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours, consult a physician immediately.”)

He also gets accusatory and plays the victim (at one point he went off about how rude I am) if I disagree too strongly with anything he says, try to put an end to a conversation, or just ask him to leave me be. Because of course he does; why should I expect him to be a decent human being? “Are you calling me stupid? Because a professor at [insert name of prestigious university] once told me I was a very deep thinker. How can you be so arrogant and think you’re so much smarter than everyone else?” Yep, argument from authority fallacy everywhere too, and he really didn’t like when I pointed that out either. For the record: Yes, Mr. Schmuck, I do think you are stupid and your ideas are stupid, and I actually think you are quite a shallow thinker as well. I don’t like to say so to people’s faces, especially because I’ve been walking on eggshells around you for some time because I’d like to minimise anxiety in my living quarters, but as long as we’re being honest with each other here and you’re never going to read this I’ll say what I fucking mean. You’re so full of shit you may as well be a sewer.

And then there’s the guy I’m calling Putz. Who is actually perfectly civil to me most of the time, and can carry on a perfectly decent conversation without touching on ideological disagreements for the most part, so he’s a lot more tolerable. Which is weird, because his views are probably even more odious. In an attempt to break the ice I decided to tell an anecdote about my father’s freshman roommate at university, which was about the worst possible roommate situation a university could create – Dad’s Jewish (I think he was the only Jew in his class), and they put him with the son of a member of the Hitler Youth. Immediately in response to this, Putz tells me he’s a neo-Nazi. I took it as a joke at first, but apparently he’s perfectly serious… the 4chan connection explains where he learnt it, I suppose, but it’s still very disturbing. For the most part he seems to regard me as a curiosity at present, which I’ll survive (he’s said he finds my views fascinating and well-thought-out even though he disagrees with me on practically everything…). But he’s still claiming to be a Nazi, going on about the evils of “cultural Marxism” (whatever the fuck that means; background here and here ), and hinting around the edges of Holocaust denial. Needless to say, I am not amused.

(Also, I should probably not make any further jokes about Sabbath elevators and the like around self-identified neo-Nazis like Putz. I hadn’t realised when this particular gentleman told me such that he actually meant it, because for better or worse I have a bad tendency to assume people I’m interacting with are basically decent and couldn’t conceive a reason other than shock value for anyone to say such a thing. Ironically, for such a pessimist, I tend to be irrationally optimistic when interacting with new people; I think I might project too much.)

That said, I’m not sure yet whether I need to be watching my back, and if so what for. (If I do turn up murdered, though, please mention this connection to the investigators.)

And of course they also looked at me incredulously when I told them I’m a feminist, because the rest wasn’t enough yet. (Both of them support Donald Trump for president, too, which says quite a bit about them I think.)

In particular regarding feminism, I’m not sure whether the underlying issue in many of these people’s cases is an inability to properly identify the scope of the problem, or a deliberate choice to be on the wrong side of it. In many cases you can tell which of those buckets a person falls into (if not both to some degree), but not always. I’m also not sure which is worse to deal with – with people who are openly and deliberately bigoted, it’s at least easy to know where you stand, whereas the (willfully or not) blithering blinkered ignoramuses are frustratingly obtuse and just deny/gaslight everything away. Where economic issues are concerned it’s easier for me to see how people end up with the beliefs they do even if I think they’re equally nuts and harmful, and liable to drive me insane (or moreso than I am already anyway); when it comes to racial or sex/gender-based bigotry, I just don’t understand these people.

I’ll admit it’s entirely possible I’m contributing to the problem here, despite the fact I’ve been acting surprisingly conflict-averse (for me at least) and have been trying to keep my head down. Maybe it’s partially my fault for caring about these things and being sensitive enough to find them painful to listen to. And there is the concern that I could be being hypocritical here… but regardless, these two gentlemen feel like just the tip of an iceberg and I’m already feeling trapped. It probably doesn’t help that these particular flavours of right-wing ideology feel particularly American to me (though it might not be entirely; I do get the feeling that especially online it’s a major export of ours, and 4chan etc isn’t confined to any particular location), and just in general I feel surrounded by reactionary nastiness. My escape can’t come soon enough, and yet I’m likely stuck here in the States for quite a while yet (if all goes well I’ve agreed to a two year commitment with this company, after the training period; I’m just hoping that wherever they place me will be more pleasant than here).

In the meantime, I’ve been drinking like a fish.

 
13 Comments

Posted by on August 4, 2015 in mitchell

 

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Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: Chapter Four

You should all go and read Mitchell’s latest post reviewing a much better book than this one. This chapter is not nice. Trigger warning for assault on a child, and for body shaming.

Chapter Four: The Keeper of the Keys

PS4I have transmogrified from a giant Kirby to a giant horseshoe
magnet. And this isn’t even my final form. Also sadly I am not
being hanged by my own scarf, though I definitely deserve to be.

The dramatic BOOM of someone pounding on the door continues, and wakes Dudley up. The narrative calls him stupid for asking ‘Where’s the cannon?‘ despite the fact that this booming noise is meant to sound like a cannon and they are, after all, at sea. In fact, I’m pretty sure some coastal defences and storm warning systems still use cannon-esque noises to send signals, and there is a storm going on currently. Besides, at least Dudley is asking questions, instead of just sitting there vacantly as Our Hero is doing.

Continuing to show that the Dursleys are frankly better people than Harry is, Vernon comes flying into the room with his implausible new rifle. He demands to know who’s outside and warns them that he’s armed. The mysterious visitor smashes the door off its hinges in response and steps into the room, just barely squeezing through the doorway.

Meet Hagrid.

“A giant of a man… His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.”

We will never get an explanation of why he’s semi-feral and unable to brush his hair. Just as we will also never get an explanation of why he talks in such a horrible way. According to the Harry Potter universe, only certain foreigners and Hagrid have any kind of accent and all British people speak perfect BBC English (even though the author is Scottish… go and look up a Glaswegian accent sometime). This is also the only time he’ll have to duck down to get through a doorway and the only time his head will nearly touch the ceiling, since Hagrid is one of the many people and things throughout this series that will change size constantly. He re-hangs the door (even though doors don’t work like that) and then demands that someone make him a cup of tea. As his opening line of the main plot and his introduction to Our Hero, this lacks panache.

I would like to point out here that Vernon makes no attempt to shoot him the second the door falls over. Pity. Harry also provides no narrative voice and is apparently not even mildly startled by the door being smashed down, let alone being scared of the huge terrifying stranger who’s just broken in.

The giant stomps over to Dudley and orders him to move over, ‘yeh great lump‘. Listen, you arse, you have no room to be calling anyone names, particularly not a fellow Kirby. Dudley, once again far smarter than his cousin, stops being ‘frozen with fear‘ and runs to his parents and their gun, whereupon the giant ignores them and starts fawning over Harry, who still isn’t frightened. He informs Harry that he looks just like his father, except for his mother’s eyes. Get used to this, virtually every character in the series is going to tell us at least once, to the point where even Harry finally gets tired of hearing it.

Vernon demands that the giant leave, because he’s breaking and entering. The giant ignores this extremely true accusation and insults him before reaching across the room, grabbing the rifle out of Vernon’s hands, tying it in a knot and throwing it away.

Firstly, you can’t do that. I could believe he snapped it, maybe, but not tied it in a knot. (I don’t know much about guns but assuming Vernon had taken the safety off, it might have fired at this point? If only.) Secondly, Hagrid has no reason to know what a gun is and there’s no reason why he would know it’s a weapon he needs to take away from Vernon; to him it would just look like a funny stick since he knows Vernon is a Muggle and thus can’t have a wand. Third, Vernon has made no attempt to shoot him or even threatened to do so.

The giant then returns to fawning over Harry, who still isn’t scared despite what he’s just seen, and pulls a whole, full-size birthday cake out of his coat pocket. Damnit, Harry. Petunia’s already shown an awareness of Stranger Danger, I’m sure she warned you about people giving you candy.

Showing a brief spark of awareness, Harry asks who this guy is. Sadly we’re told he meant to say thank you but failed, so asking a reasonable question is actually just him being rude. The giant realises he hasn’t actually told anyone anything, laughs, and says he is Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwarts. I was going to point out all the reasons why Hogwarts doesn’t need keys or a groundskeeper, but I hate this chapter and I can’t be bothered. Hagrid’s job is almost entirely pointless make-work, let’s leave it at that.

Hagrid then returns to his demands for refreshment. He lights the fire (we don’t learn how, just yet, but later we find out his broken wand is inside an umbrella inside his coat, so that means he’s actually using advanced wandless magic here despite being incapable of any magic at all after the next chapter to the best of my recollection) and starts pulling a lot of stuff out of his pockets, including a kettle, a teapot, a poker, a packet of sausages and a bottle of spirits; I’d forgotten the drinking starts this early in the series. I think Rowling was going for a whimsical Mary Poppins bottomless-carpet-bag feel here with Hagrid’s pockets, and if it was any other wizard this would all be perfectly possible, but it’s just a little stupid here.

He starts cooking sausages and Dudley fidgets. We’re meant to see this as him being greedy and food-obsessed, of course, but do remember that in the past 24 hours – at least – he’s had one packet of crisps and a banana. Of course he’s hungry, they all are (including Harry, who is sitting holding a chocolate cake but hasn’t tried to eat any of it despite being cake-deprived and also not having eaten for a day, because he’s a moron). Vernon warns Dudley not to touch anything Hagrid gives him, which is an extremely sensible thing to say, and Hagrid responds by laughing.

“Yer great puddin’ of a son don’ need fattenin’ any more, Dursley, don’ worry.”

Rowling, I hate you. I genuinely, sincerely despise you. That said, this actually isn’t bad characterisation for Hagrid, who never gets to feel superior to anyone normally. If only that was the actual motive, and not just the narrative continuing to body-shame an eleven year old.


Deviating from our joint sporking for a moment, I’d like to say here that I am fat, and likely to be that way for the rest of my life. I grew up fat due to medical reasons that started when I was five years old. Now, at 27, I’m finally more or less happy with myself most of the time (though certainly not always… it never goes away entirely), but my childhood and my teenage years were utterly miserable due to constant fat-shaming from the people around me and in the media, and it’s certainly a significant contributor to my depression. Rowling is telling us to hate Dudley for being fat and to hate his parents for being supportive and not hating him. Because she is an awful, awful person. He’s eleven fucking years old. His treatment here is going to fuck him up for years, and any fat children reading this will unconsciously be absorbing this message even if they’re not aware of it at the time.

All right, I’m getting off my soapbox for now, but we’re not done with this topic and there will be other topics that will necessitate bringing the soapbox back.

– Loten


Hagrid gives sausages to Harry instead and ignores the three other hungry human beings. These sausages have been cooked by spitting them on a poker and held in a fire, so they’re probably burnt on the outside and raw in the middle. Harry unfortunately does not contract salmonella or E. coli poisoning or pick up any fun parasites and spend the next two or three days slowly puking and shitting himself to death, making this the third specific instance where he should have died but didn’t (Voldy should have killed him, he should have died of exposure on the doorstep). Don’t try this at home, kids, undercooked pork is often more dangerous than undercooked chicken – and re-heating rice is more dangerous than either, but I’m digressing again.

Alternately, assuming Hagrid takes the time to cook this food properly, sausages take a good ten-fifteen minutes to cook. That’s a long time for everyone to just be standing there watching him. Harry continues not to ask any questions, the Dursleys make no attempt to sidle into another room and jump out of the window and get back to their boat, Hagrid continues not to explain anything.

Finally Harry remembers how to speak, and finally admits he knows nothing (Jon Snow). Hagrid then proceeds to explain nothing at all while being astonished that Harry knows nothing, as the Dursleys cower. He says Harry knows all about Hogwarts already and is horrified to find out this isn’t the case. He yells at the Dursleys that Harry knows nothing about anything, which is the smartest thing Hagrid will ever say and deserves a round of applause. Harry protests that he ‘can do maths and stuff‘, which probably puts him ahead of most wizarding children in all honesty, but that’s not what Hagrid means.

Hagrid’s getting pretty incoherent now, roaring at the very very frightened Dursleys and saying vague things about Harry’s parents, before finally seeming to get the message and asking if Harry knows what he is. Er, an idiot?

Vernon intervenes at this point. Despite being terrified almost literally out of his wits, he yells back at Hagrid, ordering him not to tell Harry anything. We’re meant to see this as cruel Big Brother behaviour, but honestly I think most people should actually be okay with not telling a young child that his parents were horribly murdered by an evil wizard who’s probably not actually dead and will be coming after him at some point. I’m no expert on parenting but it seems like that probably isn’t something you tell a ten year old. Besides, if Harry had grown up knowing he was a wizard he would have done something very stupid and blown himself up before he was out of nappies. He’s at about the right age to be told the truth now even without mysterious school letters, but being told by a psychotic maniac who’s been stalking and harassing them for days and smashed his way into the house yelling is not the way to do it. Vernon should absolutely be trying to stop Hagrid here and I applaud him for trying to defend his nephew despite being petrified. He argues with Hagrid, briefly, before being shouted down. Petunia’s only contribution to all this is a ‘gasp of horror‘, before Hagrid nonchalantly tells Harry he’s a wizard.

There’s no dramatic pause or anything here. The movie handled it much better. Here, Hagrid tells Harry’s guardians to go and boil their heads, then tells Harry in the same breath, ‘yer a wizard‘. Harry almost, almost has a normal reaction here, replying with “I’m a what?” but once Hagrid repeats it he accepts it and asks no further questions as he takes a copy of the latest letter.

This letter is addressed to “Hut-on-the-rock, The Sea“. One, I highly doubt that’s what this place is called. Two, which sea? Around Britain there’s the North Sea, the Irish Sea and the English Channel. You can’t have a letter so precise it knows Harry’s slept on the floor but somehow doesn’t know which sea the floor’s located in.

Here is the letter.

HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT AND WIZARDRY

Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)

Dear Mr Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Please find enclosed a list of all necessary books and equipment. Term begins on 1 September. We await your owl by no later
than 31 July.

Yours sincerely,

Minerva McGonagall
Deputy Headmistress

In the US version this is presented as an actual letter, with a letterhead and a written signature, which is a nice touch; the UK edition just gets plain text.

I can’t fathom why the letter starts off with a list of Dumbledore’s titles. Particularly since we’ll never find out what most of them mean (I wonder if many American readers caught “Grand Sorcerer” in that list and wondered whether it was connected to the Sorcerer’s Stone? [Mitchell adds: I don’t remember considering that at the time, though this time around I did have to check to see if it’d been changed to “Grand Philosopher”. And it hadn’t.]). And how is he managing to run the school if he has all these other things occupying his time? Rowling really doesn’t understand that being a headmaster or headmistress – or being a teacher at all – actually involves a lot of work. More on this later.

I’m equally puzzled by McGonagall’s signature here. The addresses of these letters are clearly automatically generated, but apparently she writes the actual letters herself. In which case how has she not realised that Harry probably doesn’t know anything? She told us in Chapter One that the Dursleys were horrible evil Muggle scum, and she doesn’t seem to know they’re his relatives so probably assumes they have no knowledge of the wizarding world. And we’ll learn later that Dumbles has agents watching Harry, he must know our hero hasn’t got a clue about anything. Yet the actual letter is considerably less than informative; I sincerely hope Muggleborn students get more of an explanation than this.

Harry is silent for a while. We’re told his head is full of questions, which would certainly be understandable, but given that he doesn’t ask any of them I suspect his head is actually just full of fluff. Of all things to pick, the one he does ask about is them awaiting his owl, whereupon Hagrid does a comical forehead-slap and produces an actual live owl from his pocket, along with parchment (as I mentioned last time, Harry shouldn’t know what this is) and a quill. But no ink, which makes his next action pretty impressive; he writes a brief note.

Dear Mr Dumbledore,
Given Harry his letter. Taking him to buy his things tomorrow.
Weather’s horrible. Hope you’re well.
Hagrid

Snort. This is kind of cute actually. I’m puzzled by Mister Dumbledore, though, he’ll be Professor or Headmaster to Hagrid from next chapter onwards (and this has, in fact, been changed to “Professor Dumbledore” in the US version). The letter also displays more education than we’re meant to think Hagrid possesses, since we’ll learn shortly he’s unable to spell less complicated things than ‘Dumbledore’.

He then ‘throws the owl out into the storm‘ to go and deliver this letter. Poor owl. We’ll be pausing frequently throughout the series to comment on how terribly post owls are treated and how Rowling really doesn’t know how they work, but for now let’s just say this owl is either sensible and roosts in the roof of this hut until the storm ends, or it tries to fly back to the mainland and ends up drowning because owls have very soft and absolutely not waterproof feathers.

Vernon makes another attempt to defend his nephew at this point, saying Harry’s not going. I agree, Vernon, I wouldn’t want any child under my care attending a deathtrap run by psychotic madmen. Hagrid says a great Muggle like Vernon can’t stop him, and Harry finally takes the hint after listening to this weird word repeatedly for a while and asks what it means; it means someone who doesn’t have magic. Though it’s going to be used throughout the series as a racial slur.

Fun fact, it’s also 1960s-70s slang for a user of marijuana. The more you know.

Vernon retorts that “we swore when we took him in we’d put a stop to that rubbish, swore we’d stamp it out of him!” and Harry finally catches on to the fact that hey, his aunt and uncle totally knew all the time and chose not to tell him for a lot of very good reasons. He gets outraged and Petunia remembers that she’s in this scene, revealing that yes, her sister Lily was a witch, and she wasn’t, and their non-magic parents were very proud and focused on the special daughter and ignored the non-special one. “It was Lily this and Lily that.”

So, let’s review – Mr and Mrs Evans favouring one child over the other one is totally okay and absolutely how the world should be. Their daughter copying their behaviour and doing the same, as they taught her to do, is horrific evil child abuse and worse than Satan. And of course, since Petunia is making a reasonable point and is clearly justifiably hurt by the way she was raised, she has to be described as ‘ranting’ and ‘shrieking‘ lest anyone actually agree with her. She also says James and Lily got blown up, which tells me Dumbledore never bothered telling her how her own sister died and she had to read about the exploded house later and draw her own conclusions.

Harry responds by saying they told him his parents died in a car crash. Yes, Harry, and now they’ve told you that isn’t true. Try to keep up.

Hagrid demands, “How could a car crash kill Lily an’ James Potter?” Well, let’s see… broken neck, internal injuries, being impaled on a piece of the car, head injuries, severed arteries… wizards aren’t immortal, you prat. He rants about it being an outrage and a scandal that Harry doesn’t know who he is, even though Hagrid was present when Dumbledore explained he wanted Harry to grow up not knowing who he was. Harry asks what happened – well done, Harry, a realistic question asked in a timely fashion – and Hagrid stops screaming at the Dursleys and turns all worried, saying he had no idea Harry wouldn’t know anything. Again, Hagrid, the entire point of you taking Harry to the Dursleys in the first place was that he wouldn’t know anything.

Massive infodump exposition story time. Are you all sitting comfortably?

There was a bad wizard (this is literally how he’s described. Bad). People are still scared to say his name and Hagrid can’t spell it to write it down, so he eventually puts on his big boy pants and manages to say it: Voldemort.

DUN DUN DUUUUUN! …sorry.

It is insane that everyone’s too scared to say Voldy’s name. Even the younger generation who never lived through the war, even Muggleborns like Hermione who’d never heard of him during most of their formative years. I assume it was put in to show how SUPER BRAVE Harry was for being the only one who dared to say it, along with Dumbledore. More realistically everyone would be using his name much the way people talk about Hitler now, using it to insult one another and be sarcastic about how terrible situations are and things. (Especially since Voldy’s really not that scary. He was a glorified serial killer. You might as well make people too terrified to say Charles Manson.)

I know I’d feel like a prat constantly saying You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (I’d love a canon character to start saying Voldemort and when everyone gasps in horror just say exasperatedly, ‘It’s quicker.’)

We’ll learn in a later book that Hagrid actually went to school with the boy who would later become Voldemort, as did a few other characters. This will never be brought up, none of them will never say anything about it and nobody will ever ask.

Anyway, twenty years ago Voldemort gathered some followers and some power and started doing unspecified terrible things, taking over and turning people against each other. Hope you didn’t want more details, because you won’t get them. He was killing people, as evil villains tend to do. Hogwarts was apparently one of the only safe places, because Dumbledore is just so awesome, you guys, and Voldemort was totally scared of him. And James and Lily were so awesome that one day Voldemort went to their house and killed them, and he tried to kill Harry too but somehow it didn’t work and that’s why Harry’s awesome.

We’re told here that the lightning bolt scar on Harry’s forehead is what you get when a powerful evil curse touches you. Several characters will repeat this throughout the series but we’ll never meet anyone else with special My Little Pony stamps, and we’ll meet some pretty scarred wizards. Now, if Harry’s meant to be anonymous, why on earth didn’t Dumbledore stick something on his head to hide the damned thing? Or at least Petunia should have insisted he keep makeup smeared over it or something. Funny-shaped facial scars attract attention no matter how often the narrative refers to his messy fringe that’s apparently meant to hide it. Of course, we get no explanation at all of why he even had a scar when anyone killed by this specific curse that we don’t know about yet dies without a mark on them, let alone a scar shaped like a lightning bolt, of all things…

Technically, a scar ten years old would be faded and white and would barely show at all by this point no matter where it is on his face, but given how many times people suddenly seem to notice it, clearly Harry’s Special Scar of Specialness is a glorious beacon proclaiming his identity for the world to see. Which interestingly means that Dumbledore spent those ten years telling everyone that he has the Special Scar, since of course he wasn’t living in the wizarding world. Not to mention that it was lightning-bolt-shaped when he was what, a year old? His head would have doubled in size more than once since then, and the skin would have stretched quite a bit so the shape could have easily been distorted significantly (although I suppose “lightning bolt” is general enough that it could still look like one). Not to mention it’s unrealistic how people are always noticing him – I’m certainly not that observant on a daily basis; do all wizards go around carefully inspecting everyone’s foreheads as a matter of course just in case one of them happens to be Harry Potter so they can pay proper deference?

I digress. Evil wizard, evil curse, James and Lily snuffed it and the house exploded but Harry was fine. Harry then decides that not only can he remember a flash of green light but now he remembers evil laughter. No, Harry, no you don’t.

Vernon tries to intervene, stating that yes, something’s always been weird about Harry, “probably nothing a good beating wouldn’t have cured” – thus making it pretty obvious they never actually beat him, sit down fanfic writers – but it’s just because his parents were weird and got mixed up with the wrong crowd (which is perfectly true) and they asked for it and the world’s better off without them. Frankly I think this is also true, but mostly this tells me he’s met James and Lily and knew quite a bit about them and that there seems to be some nasty history here. Hagrid interrupts by threatening him with violence.

I wish Petunia was permitted any more dialogue, as this is her sister everyone’s talking about, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t get to speak again for the rest of the book; she’s certainly had her allotted speech for this chapter.

I have no idea what Dudley’s been doing this entire time, by the way, but this is all completely new to him too and he should be asking whether it’s really true and how come Harry’s a wizard when he isn’t and no seriously what the fuck is happening why is this maniac threatening Dad?

Harry ignores the fact that his new friend is threatening an unarmed man with violence for disagreeing with him, and ignores everything that’s just been said about his parents, and instead demands more storytime. He wants to know what happened to Voldemort, and because he’s a good little brainwashed muppet he’s already using the phrase You-Know-Who instead, which is going to get really annoying very soon.

Hagrid says nobody knows. Some people say he’s dead, which Hagrid doesn’t believe. Some people say he’s going to come back, which Hagrid also doesn’t believe. I’m not sure what Hagrid actually does believe at this point, since those seem to be the only two options and since the entire point of most of the conflict in later books is that Dumbles and company are the only ones who do believe Voldy’s coming back, but at this point he’s adamant that Voldy’s floating around in the ether too weak to return. I know Hagrid’s an idiot, but he’s also one of Dumbledore’s most faithful minions, so I assume he’s been ordered to lie here.

I have no idea how Harry feels here. Angry, confused, upset? We’re told he doesn’t feel ‘pleased and proud‘ on being told he defeated Voldemort, which is stating the obvious because seriously nobody would be after hearing this weird mess of a story, but we’re not told what he is feeling, if anything at all. He says Hagrid must have made a mistake and he’s not a wizard, which is pretty realistic but really ought to have been said sooner, and Hagrid replies that no, he is, because look at all the weird stuff that’s happened to him over the years, and we’re treated to a laundry list of the exact same examples we had a couple of chapters ago.

There you go, then, says Hagrid, you’ll be famous at Hogwarts (oh, joy). Now you’ve had some candy, little boy, let’s get in my van and go to magic school.

Vernon makes one last attempt to stop the creepy dangerous man kidnapping his nephew, and Hagrid says no, Harry’s name has been down since he was born (making Hogwarts sound very much the upper-class public school that Rowling was insistent on mocking last chapter, incidentally) and he’s going. Vernon retorts that he’s ‘not paying for some crackpot old fool to teach [Harry] magic tricks‘… you all know where this is going, right? Vernon says a very mild insult – Dumbledore calls himself far worse things quite happily throughout the series – and Hagrid’s response is to grab his umbrella, which we’ll learn illegally contains his wand, and attack Dudley, who has been standing silently out of the way all this time and done nothing.

Hagrid uses magic on an eleven year old Muggle boy who hasn’t got a hope of defending himself, in retaliation against the boy’s father. He gives the boy a pig’s tail, effectively assaulting and physically mutilating him, and causing him to ‘howl in pain‘.

Understandably, the Dursleys make a run for it, at least as far as the next room. Hagrid comments calmly and with no sign of remorse whatsoever that yeah, he shouldn’t have done that, “but it didn’t work anyway. Meant ter turn him into a pig, but I suppose he was so much like a pig anyway there wasn’t much left ter do.

No. Fuck you. He’s an innocent child you chose to attack for no fucking reason. I hope you die slowly.

Later in the series we’ll see that this horrific unprovoked violence is a perfectly normal Gryffindor response to someone being very slightly rude. Harry will demonstrate this extremely clearly in the final book, it’s one of the few lessons he bothers to learn.

Hagrid adds that he doesn’t want Harry to tell anyone, because he’s not meant to be using magic. I’m not surprised, you fucking psychopath. Harry asks why, without showing any signs of fear or concern over his poor cousin, and Hagrid says he was expelled but refuses to say why then changes the subject and tells Harry to go to sleep because tomorrow he’s dragging him off fuck knows where.

That’s the end of the chapter, so we assume Harry shrugs this off and goes to sleep nicely without being fucking terrified of this dangerous lunatic criminal, leaving his petrified family trying to cope with what’s just been done to their son.

I hate this chapter.


How to fix this? Send literally anyone but Hagrid to explain things sensibly, without threatening anyone or attacking anyone. Which is actually the fix I suggested for last chapter, so this one wouldn’t have happened and we’d all be much happier about it.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in loten, mitchell

 

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Signal Boost: “How to Be a Strategic Asset for Bullies”

This is brilliantly written and anyone who spends time in spaces on the internet should read it.

(via Shakesville)

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2014 in mitchell

 

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