Harry Potter and The Political Picturesque Realities
The moving photographs evident in the Harry Potter series hold much character and distinguish themselves as a useful device throughout the plot of the books. They manifest in the Daily Prophet, Colin Creevey’s fan photos of Harry, and more. They appear everywhere and aid the shape of the story. The believability of Rowling’s world skyrockets due to these small but significant photographs of wizarding human beings. As a magical device, the moving photographs in the Harry Potter series contain significance in that they exemplify certain realist and idealist political ideologies.
These photos may move, but they are still fixed in an idealized state, one that incorporates a certain setting. For example, in Prisoner of Azkaban the Weasley family is fixed in the picture’s depiction of Egypt, never mind what might have changed since the time that picture was taken. They wave on indefinitely at the readers of the Daily Prophet (Prisoner of Azkaban 8). Moving photographs are more limited than most in that they cannot speak like the portraits. Still, the photographs exhibit ideals over consequences in that they stick to their frozen state that still permits liveliness but limits them to the fixed environment around them. These different settings and worlds are ideal compared to the real world Harry and his friends inhabit: The environment of a moving photograph allows fluidity but only within the realm of possibility for that specific moment in time that the picture was taken. Not only that, but the photographs can float anywhere within their limits. For instance, the Chocolate Frog card of Dumbledore that Harry acquires exhibits this: “Harry… saw, to his astonishment, that Dumbledore’s face had disappeared,” to which Ron replies, “Well, you can’t expect him to hang around all day” (Sorcerer’s Stone 103). Though these photographs may have once had a body outside of the realm of pictures, they are simply imitations of their live or deceased bodies that came before them.
If the moving photographs are mere imitations, then they are imitations of souls that hail before them. This correlates to the fraud aspect of Machiavellian realism. People in these photographs imitate those they are based off of, much like ghosts are pale imitations of their once-lively physical forms, yet they exhibit animo as soul as ethos. The souls they imitate release the same ethics that their physical forms inhabited. However, these pictures are only able to act out physically what the people in the photographs are doing; unlike the living portraits, the people in the photographs cannot speak. As with Harry and the leather-bound book of photographs Hagrid gives him, Harry’s parents are “[s]miling and waving at him from every page” (Sorcerer’s Stone 304). This sentiment reflects that unspoken actions mean much more than totally reanimating a person as far as the ability to speak. Though these are simply physical imitations revoked of the magical ability to speak and think for themselves in their own realm of possibility, they remain as illusions, deceiving the observer into believing they represent life, even though the person in the picture may very well be dead. Deceit is not inherently bad: for example, it gives Harry comfort to think his family is waving at him and not just the camera, but this puts Harry himself in a false state of mind that these photographs harness the ability to retain every aspect of his parents, such as their love for their son.
However, Harry recognizes this aspect of photographic fraud when Moody, at Grimmauld Place, shows him a photograph of the original Order of the Phoenix, in which many of the people are now dead. He sees his parents “surrounded by all… waving happily out of the photograph forevermore, not knowing that they were doomed…. Well, Moody might find that interesting… he, Harry, found it disturbing….” (Order of the Phoenix 175). This links back to the photographs remaining as fixed environments, even fixed states of being: moments captured, snapshot, the people lingering only as they were in that instance of time. This suggests that these moments in time are utopias of sorts. However, they must be eu-topias, generally “good” places, rather than the “perfect” society that a utopia manifests. Not only do utopias not exist but that they do so though a specific moment in a photograph could be considered an idealist moment of unity and camaraderie; these people were still in dark times, had troubles, or other issues that were not completely erased by the click of a camera. Even a generally “good” place, though reaching for an ideal, still holds realist elements. Like Harry, other observers of these photographs will take a realist stance in the end, that no matter what environment these photographic people are stuck in, their actual selves ultimately belong to the bigger body of the world, where issues fester.
Performance peaks in the photographs. These people, as imitations, will naturally perform as though they are their live counterparts. Realism is not only a mode of action but also a style of performance (Nelson). It possibly operates under the guise that because the world is so cruel, people must go to any means to defend themselves, and that includes memorializing themselves in photographs in a time that once was not so difficult, an idealistic place in time. This is most evident with Gilderoy Lockhart: He covets fame and steals the spotlight from others who do the work with which he credits himself. He attempts to associate Harry with his fame in Colin Creevey’s photo by “tugging hard on [Harry’s] arm,” to which Harry’s “photographic self was putting up a good fight and refusing to be dragged into view,” when finally Lockhart “[gives] up and slump[s], panting, against the white edge of the picture” (Chamber of Secrets 106). Both of these imitations of souls in the photograph perform as their live counterparts, as Harry would react to being in a photo with Lockhart and as Lockhart would react trying to garner more fame by including Harry, the Boy Who Lived. Though realism is a style of performance, it does not mean that people are necessarily realistic: In fact, they may overact in photos what they do not do action-wise in real life, given photographs can be posed. Despite this, the performances are accurate to the soul of the live person because at one time this was the person, recorded in a single moment but never to exist beyond that moment in that specific photograph. These photos, when included in the Daily Prophet and other periodicals, publicize these performances.
The moving photographs also manifest a means of publicity. Publicity heightens the excitement, both good and bad, of the viewers so that they may prematurely judge others on their existence without truly knowing of their essence, as per existentialism, an idealist philosophy, which precedes existence over essence. Arguably, essence coincides with existence and therefore can there not be one without the other: Essence makes up existence, and existence manifests essence out in the open. The moving photographs exhibit both the existence and essence of the focal person or people of the photo through publicizing them in order to gage a reaction from the viewers. Sirius Black is seen as a “sunken-faced man… blink[ing] slowly at Harry from the front page” of the Daily Prophet (Prisoner of Azkaban 37); Sirius’s existence is made known, but his true essence, the morals he holds and the truth he hides, for no one will believe him, no one knows. The Dark Mark at the Quidditch World Cup is shown in its photograph as “twinkling… over the treetops” (Goblet of Fire 146), showing the imminent threat of the return of Death Eaters but scaring more than informing viewers on what a return to a Voldemort regime would be like. This shows merely the existence of the Dark Mark, of the Death Eaters, but does not delve into their true essence. Also throughout Goblet of Fire is Harry publicized by the likes of Rita Skeeter, and in Order of the Phoenix by the general Ministry of Magic—alongside Dumbledore—in ways that do not truly capture his essence but inflict hardship on his existence. Everyone may know the famous Harry Potter, but none other than his close circle of friends truly sees his essence, and this multiplies in Deathly Hallows, when Harry’s photo fills the front page for being “wanted for the questioning about the death of Albus Dumbledore” (Deathly Hallows 207). This paints Harry as the point of question, which festers uncertainty and ambiguity, ultimately turning people against him in lieu of the new Voldemort-run Ministry through an Imperiused Pius Thicknesse. This is Voldemort’s ideal, his morals showing through, turning the world against Harry so that his rise does not appear as sudden or as a cause to worry. This allows him to attempt to create a dystopia or even a kaka-topia, or “crap society,” without the masses rallying around Harry, leaving him with quite few people with which to ally himself. The Daily Prophet runs on its own ideals, which may not benefit the masses but ultimately will benefit those who center around it.
Thus, the moving photographs evident throughout the Harry Potter series contain elements of both idealist and realist politics, depending on the photograph and situation. They are fixed in an idealized state, but they are imitations of those who live or once lived in the photograph, as illusion and deceit, but also as a eu-topia of sorts, a generally “good” place, once residing in a fixed idealized state of being that leads back to the realist world. As photographs, these preach performance and publicity in that pictures perform as themselves but leave only the image of a person’s existence with the viewer and not their entire essence, which feeds into the strewed idealist politics the Ministry holds. Idealism and realism, though from two opposite ends of the spectrum, coincide in the moving photographs Harry Potter and his friends encounter, demonstrating that ideologies, no matter how different, exist side by side in their own essences.
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