Two things taking up a lot of my time and mental energy lately have been Harry Potter and my dead parents. My youngest kid is in a Harry Potter phase and my dining room, attic, and bed room are stacked with my parents’ books, letters, sheet music, poetry, and miscellaneous ephemera that I’m trying like the devil to consolidate. And this is a picture of Elizabeth Warren, looking like a normal, stressed out mom. I’m not thinking much about Warren because 1) there’s only so much room in my brain after Harry, Dad, Mom, my job, kid doctor appointments, and kid basketball games. And 2) I almost can’t bear to look at or think about her because I’m terrified. But she is the only candidate to whom I have ever given a recurring contribution. It happens in the background. I don’t think about it.
Instead I think about things like this: What the actual FUCK is wrong with all the adults in Harry Potter? I mean, seriously… They are constantly setting the kids up for something awful to happen (and I don’t mean just the Contest to the Death parts). It’s “simple” stuff like not telling them there is going to be a major social event and they have to publicly participate. Even though every bloody person in the magic community has been in this insular, inbred community their whole lives, everyone is constantly being surprised by some horrible cultural norm or ritual. Like literally no one ever tells their kids, little brothers, nieces, neighbors anything. Even though it all happens to each of them. The whole community basically all goes to the same high school and it still every year feels like being hazed into a secret society. It’s like generations of wizards have been abusing each other because they don’t know anything different.
I’m not a total hater. I did read and enjoy the books (mostly before I had kids), and have followed or lightly participated in the larger fandom on line from time to time. I totally get why the series is influential (even though the stories are weirdly racialized, culturally stagnant, and JK Rowling is apparently a TERF). But think about it: the magicking social/familial/governmental structure is a like a combination of hari krishnas, an anti-vaxxer, unschooled, organic farming commune, the David Koresh compound, and the Amish. They avoid the world as a whole, both bad and good. They apparently don’t study reading or math beyond fifth grade, and instead everyone goes to a trade school where they all learn the same applied arts curriculum specific to their own community (presumably followed by trade apprenticeships for dragon husbandry and the like), and no one has a college education. Which isn’t to say they’re dumb or ignorant individually or as a whole. But they probably have limitations due to inflexible and idiosyncratic cultural norms. And they are incredibly vulnerable to charismatic leaders, disinformation, and fear-mongering.
There’s lots of commentary out there about how the Hogwarts saga is about the struggle against totalitarianism. It’s not subtle. The last three years has been a constant stream of jokes that the Death Eaters have taken over the Ministry. I do appreciate the little grid meme I’ve seen lately analogizing all the Democratic presidential candidates to Hogwarts faculty (see first comment below). Minerva/Elizabeth as the overlooked, competent woman, Albus/Bernie as the overrated, charismatic old man, Gilderoy/Pete as the young, useless, photogenic guy, and Severus/Michael as the creepy, problematic one. Like everything else “funny” lately, the analogies also hurt, because the last three years hasn’t been at all funny. The stakes are too high to laugh anymore, and the dystopian literature is too predictive.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I realized in the last week or so that Bernie Sanders is not just Dumbledore “beloved by young people despite not helping them,” but he’s also my Dad: a legend in the minds of many, including himself, but it all happened a long time ago. My Dad was adored by hundreds of people. He was a person of immense charm, tremendous idealism, and big ideas. I don’t know what he was like in early life, but in later life he was terribly unreliable, in ways that had real consequences for people who needed him to be reliable. Since my kid wanted to watch ALL of the HP movies in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been in this uneasy hallucinatory fugue where Bernie cruises along with his wake of rabid followers chanting his praises on social media, and Dumbledore leaves Harry Potter to the mercies of Dolores Umbridge, and I wade through piles of my mother’s dusty letters and diaries, as she went from a young, idealistic, bookish woman madly in love to an overwhelmed, overworked, chronically depressed mother of young children with an unemployed husband.
Which brings me to Elizabeth Warren, and her tiny squashy baby in an ill-fitting sleeper, and the current state of the Democratic presidential field. Compared to Barack Obama or Bill Clinton, I feel like Warren’s personal story isn’t well marketed, although the facts are out there. An ordinary woman, with a very much not ordinary mind, her story of going to school with young children, and becoming a successful academic and politician doesn’t get blasted out in lights with exclamation points. It’s like “yeah, middle class white lady gets married, has kids, goes back to school. Cool.” I look at this picture and I’m seeing that it’s much more than cool.
I’m looking at these babies in the picture, and at the fatigue on Elizabeth’s mom face, and knowing that the smaller critter has recently explosively shit himself and is going to be doing so again soon. And remembering that my mother desperately wanted to go back to school and study art history, and couldn’t do it. Elizabeth made it. Her first marriage didn’t survive, but she had the combination of energy, luck, determination, and support to get through school, and on to the next thing, and the thing after that, and the thing after that, which eventually became a Senate seat. My mom barely got her kids out of the house and my dad (nearly twenty years her senior), started falling to bits.
Every time I think about the presidential race this year, I feel nauseated. Or like I’m watching a horror movie or disaster documentary and can’t bear to watch, except I’m strapped to the chair and can’t leave the room. The executive branch of our government is eating itself alive from the inside out, along with every piece of our government it can reach. The screen is a splatterfest of gore, and it’s not the kind where the mutant superhero is tearing apart bad guys. It’s the kind where the ghosts are eating the children, and forcing the parents to stab each other, and no one survives when the credits roll.
I feel like there are no heroes. No Harry, no Hermione, no Katniss, no Captain America. There’s just my Dad. A hell of a lot of people thought my dad was kind of a superhero. Maybe he was once. But mostly he wrote weird, archaic poetry and ranted. He took extreme ideological positions and explained why he was taking them, and how they would make him unpopular, but they were righteous. (Sound like anyone in the presidential field…?) People believed him. They came over and ate his cooking (it was really good cooking). They laughed at his jokes. They called him their teacher. Then everyone went home and mom had to wash the dishes.
Elizabeth Warren got out. She’s got a plan. She’s got a supportive husband now. She’s toughing it out in a painful morass of a primary that featured the women and people of color dropping out one after another so all that’s left is a bunch of gnarled men yelling. And her. Pete Buttigieg just dropped for F’s sake. Why did we have him sticking around longer than Harris, Gillibrand, or Booker? What is wrong with these people? Why is Joe Biden still here? Please, why won’t he shut the hell up and just go away?
I am so tired of old men who can’t find their way out of a piss soaked paper bag, but who are nonetheless convinced that God has anointed them to lead the rest of us. And I’m stark raving terrified that they’re all we’ll have left. Obviously, I would vote for Dumbledore before Voldemort or Umbrage, but jeebus, I’ve been watching him meander about for years now, hiring some really fragging awful defense against the dark arts teachers, failing to supervise them, and giving inspirational speeches. Why is this my choice? Can I just please have that woman over there, you know, the one marching along trying to make sure everyone gets their grades, and has their books.
I get that people love Bernie. I loved my Dad. But I would not put him in charge of a dime store ant farm, much less a battle to the death with the forces of Russian troll farms, fascism, and a hundred million willfully ignorant people. I can’t understand why that has to be my choice. Do I have to spend my time saying, “no that’s not John the Baptist and the waters of the Jordan flowing over you, it’s piss, and why in the name of gawd and little fishies did you just talk about Castro? How was that going to help?!” Can I please just have the mom who survived both the diaper blowouts and the law school exams. The one that takes no shit and gives no fucks? Please? I would just feel so much calmer knowing that someone has a plan. Is it so much to ask?