Harry Potter and the Nonexistent African
It has not yet been twenty four hours since the latest Harry Potter book was released. The television news reports are filled with Harry Potter stories from across the globe. One news report has it that fifty books made their way halfway around the world to Afghanistan of all places. Another story reportedly has some little Philippine girl committing suicide over a spoiler ending discovered on the internet. The hype has hit hyper speed velocity. I haven’t seen so much hype over something as inconsequential as this since a handful of weeks ago when the iPhone made its public debut.
The same script employed during the iPhone’s release is virtually the same script being employed now with this latest version in the Harry Potter saga in order to manufacturer as much hype as humanly possible without any regard to proper perspective. Television cameras show the long throngs of people waiting patiently in line for hours, even days, before the official time of release. The network entertainment/news morning shows do their reporting from outside whatever big time retailer that can benefit the most from the over hyped featured article of the day regardless of what is happening in the actual world. This is just the latest version of American culture where nearly everything we are exposed to is formulated to show the maximum benefit with absolutely no evidence of loss or pain. The way these stories are packaged and sold in our modern culture, the media formula has been sharpened to a point where it could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo in the dead of winter during the coldest peak of an ice age.
With all the hype and the oversell it should come as no surprise that there are a number of black people who are obsessed with the Harry Potter phenomenon. Yet nevertheless, I must confess to a great deal of disappointment to see black families on television succumbing to this latest pop culture propaganda.
I saw the first Harry Potter movie about a year or so after it debuted at the movies. It was probably on one of the cable networks because I know for a fact I didn’t go out of my way to pay a dime to see a fantasy movie about a young wizard and his young wizard friends. Through the entire movie the people I was watching the movie with had to explain almost every detail to me. After the movie was finished all I could say was, “Oh, so that’s what the hype was all about.” Personally, I just couldn’t get into it. And then someone suggested that I read the books to get a better appreciation of the storyline. Sorry, but in my humble opinion Harry Potter and his posse just isn’t worth the time investment.
Now the Harry Potter movies are okay for some people. But the Harry Potter saga happens without a single black actor or actress working in much of anything above a cast call role. The Harry Potter books, movies, toys, games, and any other propaganda associated with the phenomenon has absolutely nothing to offer the black community other than more of the stereotypical “white people are the only people who matter in the world” thinking that permeates every facet of the American lifestyle. I know there were a couple of black actors in the background to Harry Potter’s foreground. But I can’t recall ever seeing a single black actor being featured in any of the commercials or other materials of publicity. But sure as day there were black people jumping up and down in line along with their white counterparts adding their personal energy to and drawing energy from the entire artificial affair.
I have to confess to my own vices that continue the orthodox arrangement that black people are just the background specks to white people’s world. I have to confess to going gaga over Star Trek movies with Uhura, LaForge, Worf, Tuvok, and Mayweather playing second fiddle to Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Picard, Riker, the Crushers, Troi, Janeway, Archer, Tucker, and Reed in the foreground. Captain Sisko of Star Trek Deep Space 9, is the only black Star Trek captain regular, and the only captain who had to earn his captaincy promotion after spending his first year or two on the series as a commander. Yet I’ve seen nearly every episode of every series in the entire Star Trek universe at least a hundred times. I’ve never been to a Star Trek convention and I can happily say that I have never been caught standing in line to see a Star Trek movie at some ungodly hour. Nevertheless, I’ve done more than my fair share of participation in mindless, inconsequential, pop culture rituals. Even with the awareness of the problem, the conventional propaganda of relations between the races in pop society is difficult to resist.
It is hard for Africans in the Diaspora to find written entertainment that is truly African oriented. In the world of science fiction and fantasy the number of authors who are sensitive to the need to develop stories and characters that are ethnically accurate is truly woeful. I have to confess that I am only aware of the late great Octavia Butler. Ms. Butler’s stories are full of characters that are not just the typical, run of the mill, in black skin such as Lando Calrissian, Geordi LaForge, or Mace Windu. Take the black actor out of the picture and replace them with a white actor and the story differs from the original not one iota.
But there are plenty of Africans in the world who have the talent and imagination and skills necessary to write the next science fiction fantasy that takes the African world by storm. It just might be the young black person in the line waiting their turn to buy their copy of the next Harry Potter, Star Trek, Lost In Space or any one of countless stories of fiction that gets published or produced on a regular basis. The problem is that it’s hard for black people to focus on creating something for black people when we spend so much time enthralled in the hype of white people’s universe.