Saturday, February 03, 2007

They're just wild about Harry!

The purpose of the news media is to sell advertising not to disseminate news. It is a business and there is nothing wrong with that. It is only when people foolishly assume that the media is always reporting the facts that confusion arises. Often the media reports a hysteria.

For instance I picked up a local paper and see a story today about a woman crusading against a tower for cell phone reception because he wants to “protect” her children from any dangers to their health. There is no danger to their health and the woman is a batty as get go. But its consider a story. No one is interviewed challenging the batty woman’s theory even though reams of scientific evidence exist that such things are not harmful.

And I have read a dozen or so stories in major media outlets that would imply millions of parents are up in arms because Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe is baring all in the stage production of Equus -- see photos here and here.

Now knowledge of Radcliffe’s performance has been widely known in the UK, where the play is being staged, for months. But with the release of the publicity shots for the production the American audience has discovered this fact. Now that the media had something to show people it became real -- Americans watch the news they don’t read it. And now there is an uproar -- supposedly.

Here is my take on it as a refugee from American insanity. First, I sincerely doubt that there is much of an uproar anywhere in the world except in the United States. Radcliffe’s role was widely publicized in the UK for months with hardly anyone taking note. So I suspect this is mostly an American problem.

Second, what evidence do we have that there is any major public movement in opposition to the play? All the media report that parents, an unspecified number, have posted complaints to Harry Potter fan web sites. Somebody needs to tell the media that doesn’t mean anything.

I can go to 10 web sites in 10 minutes and post the same complaint. If a few dozen other people do it suddenly that becomes an international firestorm. Even if the web sites saw a few hundred complaints what is the universe from which they are obtained. How many millions of people use the web and what percentage whined about the play?

Some lunatic fundamentalist group sends out a notice to their members urging them to write protests and post them to web sites. The obedient followers do as instructed. Then the media is alerted to this and reports it as if there is a groundswell of opposition to the play and to Radcliffe.

The complaint goes that Radcliffe played Harry Potter, stupid children think Harry Potter is real (most kids know better). Now Harry Potter, not Radcliffe, is standing naked on a stage in London. Horrors!

My first advice to said parents is this: don’t take your kids to London and fork out the money to buy them tickets. Problem solved. Yes, Radcliffe will be naked on stage and no one will be in that theatre who hasn’t paid for the opportunity to be there. Small Harry Potter fans won’t be dragged in off the streets, capes pluming behind them, and get their glasses fogged up by Harry’s wand. That just isn’t happening.

So the crux of it is that 99.999999999999% of the kids who a fans of the books and films will never see Radcliffe naked.

What is happening here is that people are upset knowing that Radcliffe will be naked not that they are worried about their kids seeing it. And if they weren’t making such a big deal out of it a hell of a lot of kids wouldn’t even know about it. They are publicizing the very thing they don’t want their kids knowing about thus making sure more kids find otu. They can only be upset about their kids knowing about the role since we have already determined their children aren’t going to be in the matinee boxes for the performances.

But there is a final question which I would ask my fellow Americans -- again very few other people in the world are upset about this except perhaps some Islamist nutters. So what? Really, what is the problem?

Let us assume the worst and the precious little darlings of these crazed parents somehow discover that Daniel Radcliffe has genitals. Exactly what is the harm?

Americans are sexophobic to the core -- that’s one reason porn sells so well in the US. America’s fundamentalist Christian culture is obsessed with sex. They simultaneously find it fascinating and repulsive. So you get the evangelists like Swaggart preaching against sexual sin while being obsessed with porn and hiring prostitutes at the same time. Ditto for the Haggard’s preaching against homosexuality while partaking at the same time.

There is no evidence that seeing naked people is harmful to children. And the issue in America is not harm but sin. It is a religious value that is being expressed not a scientific one. They assume knowledge about sex is evil because they assume that sex is evil.

Much of the opposition against gay people is rooted in an inability to see gays people in any light other than that of their sexual activity. What defines a person as gay is their sexuality and so the Americans can’t but help think about what gay people do in bed together. So gays, unlike straights, create sexual imagery in the minds of the typical American. And sex is bad! Okay! Sex is really bad! Okay!

If they could see gays without thinking of sex much of their distaste would disappear. But to the sexophobics just thinking about sex is bad. Nudity is apparently about sex even though most nudity is never sexual. Those obsessed with sex can’t see a naked body without lusting after it.

We have little evidence that there is any harm, other than raising questions, if children happen to see sexual acts. For thousands of years, before the age of prosperity brought about by modern capitalism, people live in tiny huts and cabins. Often they were one room houses. You lived, cooked, ate and slept in the one room -- together. Only the toilet was outside. Bathing was done with little or no privacy. And children grew up with their parents having sex only a few feet away without a wall in-between. Often childlren slept in the same bed as their parents.

And since most families grew their own food if the kids didn’t catch on to what was going on with daddy and mommy they certainly witnessed plenty of copulation in the front yard with the farm animals. Nudity and sexuality were not hidden from human children for most of recorded history and there is no indication that this harmed them. Privacy and shame about such things is a relatively recent construct in social history.

So what would I do if I were a parent? Well, if a kid of mine happened to mention something about Harry Potter being naked on a stage in London (highly unlikely I suspect) I would tell him or her the following. First, Harry Potter is a fictional character. There is no Harry Potter. In the movies the person who pretends to be Potter is Daniel Radcliffe and he makes a living pretending to be other people in movies and plays. He is doing a play in London where the person he is pretending to be has to be naked for a few minutes to tell the story. And that is it.

Doesn’t sound so dire or dramatic when you break it down does it? The whole thing is a tempest in a teacup promoted by people who probably ought not be having children to begin with. These are people who are acting out their own psychological problems in a public forum. One can only hope they get some counseling before they do any more harm to the kids.

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