Lessons Against Cancel Culture from “Harry Potter”
Earlier this week, MuggleNet released a statement concerning its coverage of Johnny Depp. Shortly after the initial allegations were made in 2017, I contributed an opinion-based editorial, discussing whether J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. had a moral obligation to recast Johnny Depp, whom I described as “problematic.” I have since recognized that I demonstrated a serious error of judgment in writing the editorial and that it was irresponsible of me to take any stance on the issue based on my limited knowledge of the allegations. During the time that I’ve been writing for MuggleNet, I’ve contributed several articles opining controversial talking points regarding the wizarding world, J.K. Rowling, and the fandom, all of which can be found at The Wizard’s Voice. My opinions are my own and do not represent the views of MuggleNet.
While abuse of any kind is a plague on society, as individuals, we should not let our emotions get in the way of our ability to think critically about any allegation before pulling out our pitchforks and demanding justice. The Harry Potter series is filled with lessons against cancel culture, especially Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I described in 2018 as “the most relevant Harry Potter book right now,” a book that shows how irresponsible coverage of events by news media can influence society for the worse.
The Harry Potter books contain cautionary examples against jumping to conclusions right from the start of the series in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. At the climax of that book, the readers – along with Harry – learn that it was Quirrell who was attempting to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone, not Snape. The trio’s dislike of Snape clouding their judgment became a common theme throughout all seven books as readers wondered whether he was on the side of good or evil. Eventually, in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Snape’s loyalties are revealed, and he is given a redemption arc. That isn’t my interpretation of the character but an acknowledgment that that was Rowling’s intent for the character. To borrow a quote from Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” Closer to home, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Lupin explains why Harry is determined to hate Snape.
With James as your father, with Sirius as your godfather, you have inherited an old prejudice.” (HBP, ch. 16)
When we are first introduced to Sirius Black in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, he is portrayed to be a supporter of Voldemort and a convicted murderer, having been sent to Azkaban for the murder of “thirteen people with a single curse” (PoA, ch. 3). Throughout Prisoner of Azkaban, the entire wizarding world believes that Sirius is a dangerous criminal, and during the course of the book, Harry comes to believe that Sirius played a role in the death of his parents. However, as we learn at the climax of that book, Sirius was not the evil, Voldemort-supporting mass murderer that everyone thought he was.
Moreover, Prisoner of Azkaban introduced readers to Remus Lupin. In the previous book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Rowling brought prejudice and discrimination into the wizarding world with the introduction of the term “Mudblood” and the fact that Filch is ashamed to be a Squib. However, with Lupin, we got a deeper look at how prejudicial attitudes can affect people’s lives. When we first meet Lupin, he’s described to be “wearing an extremely shabby set of wizard’s robes that had been darned in several places” (PoA, ch. 5). Lupin had been shunned from society his entire life because he was seen as a danger due to his being a werewolf. At the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, Lupin resigns as Defense the Dark Arts professor, explaining that parents would not want someone like him teaching their children.
Cornelius Fudge, whom we are first introduced to in Chamber of Secrets, is a character whose desire to maintain his position as Minister of Magic causes him to act recklessly. In Chamber of Secrets, Fudge sends Hagrid to Azkaban without any evidence against him except his tainted reputation just so Fudge could be seen doing something to address the crisis at Hogwarts. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Fudge is prepared to let the Dementors perform the Kiss on Sirius but is thwarted by Harry and Hermione. The Dementor’s Kiss is eventually performed off-page in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on Barty Crouch, Jr. against Dumbledore’s wishes.
But he cannot now give testimony, Cornelius. He cannot give evidence about why he killed those people.” (GoF, ch. 36)
Fudge’s contempt for the judicial system extends into Order of the Phoenix when a biased criminal trial is conducted to address the issue of underage magic. Another character who shows contempt for due process is Barty Crouch, Sr., who would have been Minister instead of Fudge had his reputation not been destroyed by the scandal of his son being a Death Eater. In Goblet of Fire, we learn that it was Crouch who sent Sirius to Azkaban without a trial. Crouch’s downfall from the Ministry is a cautionary tale against mob mentality in the name of justice.
Crouch’s principles might’ve been good in the beginning. […] And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the Dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side.” (GoF, ch. 27)
Although the Daily Prophet had been introduced in Book 1 and we had seen in Prisoner of Azkaban how the news media could influence society’s view of a person, it wasn’t until Goblet of Fire that media bias and misinformation became a prominent theme in the Harry Potter series. In Goblet of Fire, we’re introduced to Rita Skeeter, who publishes articles in the Daily Prophet defaming Harry and other characters. In fact, Skeeter’s false portrayal of Harry is essentially the basis of Fudge and the Ministry’s smear campaign against him in Order of the Phoenix. Due to Skeeter publishing lies about Hermione toying with Harry’s heart and alleging that she used a Love Potion on him, Hermione receives hate mail containing undiluted Bubotuber pus by readers of the Daily Prophet who had never even met her but were basing their opinions of her on Rita Skeeter’s article.
You are a WickEd giRL. HarRy PotTER desErves BeTteR. GO back wherE you cAMe from mUGgle.” (GoF, ch. 28)
Even Molly Weasley – who had met Hermione and should have known better than to believe Skeeter’s lies (earlier in Goblet of Fire, she chastises Percy for blaming his father for Skeeter’s coverage of the “scenes of terror at the Quidditch World Cup” (GoF, ch. 10)) – is influenced by her article.
Percy’s letter was enclosed in a package of Easter eggs that Mrs. Weasley had sent. Both Harry’s and Ron’s were the size of dragon eggs and full of homemade toffee. Hermione’s, however, was smaller than a chicken egg. Her face fell when she saw it.” (GoF, ch. 28)
‘Hello, Hermione,’ said Mrs. Weasley, much more stiffly than usual.
[…] Harry looked between them, then said, ‘Mrs. Weasley, you didn’t believe that rubbish Rita Skeeter wrote in Witch Weekly, did you? Because Hermione’s not my girlfriend.’
‘Oh!’ said Mrs. Weasley. ‘No – of course, I didn’t!’
But she became considerably warmer toward Hermione after that.” (GoF, ch. 31)
Throughout the Harry Potter series, these lessons against cancel culture show us that even though we may have the best of intentions when we take a stance against perceived wrongdoing, we owe it to ourselves not to let our emotions get in the way of our ability to think critically before we jump to conclusions.