Saturday, January 14, 2006

In honor of the Fourth Weekly Harry Potter Carnival

I've made some Harry Potter fans unhappy.

  • I included a link to the Second Harry Potter Carnival (HPC) in a post titled "Collected Atrocities" (and a good portion of that post had to do with issues which really did deserve the name, and ended up with a few "collected" links I hadn't done anything with in a while but wanted to note) in which I refered to it as evidence of "the utter vacuity of Western Civilization."

  • That brought an immediate rejoinder from the proprietress (and still sole host) of the HPC, Ms. Dana Huff, complaining that my comments were hastily made and uncivil. I disagreed on both counts.

  • I did follow up with a few more comments on fandom that were unrepentant but offered, I thought, some potential for opening up a discussion rather than a mere tizzy fit. I had a nice discussion with Anne Zook but none of the Harry Potter fans seem to have noticed.

  • It rested there for a while, but Ms. Huff decided to take the ocassion of HPC #3 to link back to that post (which was just fine with me, though I thought her as-yet unanswered plea for postive comments on the carnival was bit sad) and to initiate a discussion at the Harry Potter fan site DiagonAlley
    Do I/we get tired of being mocked because we fear there is a grain of truth in the criticism, or is it because we feel they truly don't understand us? Or is it neither?
    I even linked to those and suggested that my readers could make up their own minds and leave their own comments. I don't know whether it was my light, breezy tone, or just the fact that I was paying attention (particularly to the DiagonAlley discussion, which I don't think she expected) that bothered her, but Ms. Huff didn't like that, either.

  • Those links brought a number of her fans and allies back to me, as well as comments in the DA forum, most of them variations on the themes "We're harmless; why are you picking on us" and "Jerk." Actually, some of those comments went quite beyond that (see below).

  • I pointed out to Ms. Huff, both in comments and in response to an e-mail of hers (which was in response to an e-mail of mine point out the comments here to which she hadn't deigned to respond), that it seemed hypocritical to me for her and the other HP fans to complain about stereotyping when they were making snap judgements about my character based on one comment in one blog post, or about rudeness. She has bowed out of this discussion several times, trying to claim some sort of moral high ground. She keeps coming back, though, and encouraging her friends.

  • Eventually, frustrated at the tone of the comments, the lack of interest in actually having anything like a dialogue, and actual lies (claiming to have read this blog when my statmeter indicated they went directly from DiagonAlley to the initial post and never looked anywhere else), I closed comments on the initial post (not, as some of them seem to think, the entire blog) and directed them to read some of the other posts which relate to the issue and post responses there (instead of rehashing the same junk over and over). Only one has responded so far, posting a hostile and logically circular comment in an inappropriate place. It was removed, but reasonable comments, even vehement disagreement, posted to actually relevant posts here have not been. This is actually the first time I've ever had to invoke my right to control comments, aside from spam removal.

Just for fun, here's a few of the things Harry Potter fans have said about me:
  • pretentious jerk
  • dunderhead
  • a member of some fundamentalist and possibly quite nasty sect, because he obviously cannot reason in a logical manner but is high on moral judgement just the same.
  • intellectual snobbery
  • complete and utter fuckwit
  • The sucker has no real part in Western Civilization ... no experience of a live and kicking mess of a culture ... FUCK THEM, poor suckers!
  • pompous, disgruntled windbag whose opinion is inarguably the only one that matters. Closeminded people like himself ... what a waste of neurons they are.
  • an @$$l he's an utter vacuity of Western civilization.
  • an arrogant bastard with a small mind and a big mouth.
  • His opinions are obviously the only ones that matter in his little world... which is fine until he starts imposing them on other people.
They also accused me of being a snob, and a poor reader (or writer). I'm not sure how it's OK for me to have opinions but not to express them. That's all I did, after all. I didn't stop anyone from reading Harry Potter, or disrupt their discussion. Free speech, after all, is very important to me. And I've invited comments in several places, only imposing limits when I felt my hospitality was being abused.

[Note: I'm pretty sure that "@$$l" is leetspeek for a very common vulgarity, but if I'm wrong, I'm sure someone will tell me.]

So, all in all, a very disappointing experience. It's too bad, really: I'd like to have seen Harry Potter fans articulate something postive about their ongoing interest (other than "it's harmless fun" which more or less confirms my initial comment about it being vacuous) which distinguishes them from people like me who read the books, even discuss them, but refuse to fetishize them. Perhaps, now that I'm a member of DiagonAlley, some of them can send me private messages (which I promise to share here if they are of interest), and perhaps the site administrators and moderator who participated in the discussion can explain how the slurs above don't violate the forum rules.


Orac said...

I'm not sure what you expected when you took a swipe at the Harry Potter blog carnival and then fandom in general. Harry Potter fans are every bit as dedicated and--dare I say?--fanatical as Trek fans were. How did you expect them to react?

From my long experience in Usenet (where, for a while, I used to hang out in the SF newsgroups and occasionally get involved with some silly "Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek pissing contests"), and having been uncomfortable with fandom myself, I've learned that it's pointless to make such criticisms (although, having seen the blog carnival, that "Daddy's Girl" piece of art made me cringe). All such criticism does is to invite flame from fans, and that's just what you got.

BTW, this is coming from one who happens to like the Harry Potter books, as a couple of my posts last summer demonstrate. But I'm no longer big on fandom myself.

Anonymous said...

I'll echo what others have said: wandering into someone else's 'virtual house' and snickering at their collection of 'Dinner Plates Honoring Left-Handed Sports Legends' is not only unwise but rude. I am certain, if we peer into anyone's life, there will be something snicker-worthy. Polite society nods its heads and turns discussion to things of a common interest - forging social bonds based on communalities rather than mockery.

In private, however, feel free to mock away. Its only human. And fun to boot.

bill said...

Well, Anonymous, if that is your real name, from what I can tell, he did not wander into someone's virtual house to snicker at their plates.

He made a public comment about a public event. Live with it. No one is required to like, or respect, any work or the people who like that work. And fan boys and girls take a nominal interest to unhealthy places.

Personally, I'm a fan of Harry Potter. I think they're reasonably well written and a pleasant way to kill a couple hours. Anything beyond that is obsessive and arguing otherwise is pointless.

What you fanfreaks need to start realizing is that if Rowlings is as good a storyteller as I think she might be, Harry Potter has to die at the end of the next book. Better deal with that instead of inviting well-deserved snarks.

Ahistoricality said...

Bill: Thanks. I think you're right about the story, too, but I don't have a lot of confidence that Rowling will go through with it. Her fans would, as I've discovered, eat her alive.

Orac: You're right, of course, and I've got some of the same experience you do (as I noted in one of my posts), but HP fans claim that they are nice, harmless folks, and their Forum rules say that abuse and vulgarity are verboten and the Carnival proprietress is an English teacher, for crying out loud, who ought to know a little something about having a civil disagreement (not to mention a little perspective on the books). So, I got kind of blindsided. My tendency to take people at their word and assume the best until proven otherwise, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Bill: I agree - fanboys/fangirls can take their obsessions to an unhealthy level - why, I've even known some to write about football games (not just one, but say - more than one) and discuss play by play calls in detail. Say here:


As to anonymity, I'd prefer not to be introduced as it would only embarrass us both.

Ahistoricality said...

There's no way in Blogger for me to edit bill's post, a well-deserved but decidedly uncivil rejoinder to "anonymous," so I've deleted it and reproduced it here with redactions:

bill said...

Sweet jeebus that anonymous is a dumb one. Tries to call me obsessive by pointing to one of my posts where I supposedly "discuss play by play calls in detail."

[redaction] Only one call is mentioned and I see no detail. I could do better than that: Multiple Lost posts, Neal Stephenson, who wrote the Banana Boat Song; a decent insult I could appreciate, now you've just pissed me off.

The problem with YOU PEOPLE is lack of perspective. Discussing an interest is one thing, [clearly obsessive vulgar behavior] is something else.

I think I have a new hobby for the next couple weeks - picking on Harry Potter fans. [redaction]

Bill, I'm sorry, but one of the main points of my own reaction to this affair is that my tolerance for abuse instead of discussion is really low.

Anonymous said...

Wow, ahistoricality, you used TWO quotes from me! I guess I should feel special that my words had such an impact on you. You'll notice I did put a name this time, so you can't nitpick about that... although I don't know what difference it makes, my name shouldn't have any effect on my statement.
Your fans seem to be confused about your participation level in this whole fun little discussion. Just so everyone knows, ahistoricality here signed up for a Harry Potter Adult Fan Forum site JUST so he could point and laugh at us some more. You didn't go there for an intelligent discussion or you would have said, "Okay I admit I was a little harsh, why don't you guys go ahead and explain to me why exactly you like the books so much and I'll keep an open mind?" Instead you proceded to write your piece with an antagonistic air, which you surely knew wouldn't invite a civil discussion. Nobody wants to talk evenly to someone they think is mocking them.

As for your complaints that you were treated unfairly and endured name-calling, what exactly do you expect when you sign up for our forum for the sole purpose of making fun of us on our own site? Why on earth would you think you deserve to be treated with respect when you can't even give us that courtesy in our own "virtual house"? If you want an intelligent, civil discussion, we'll be more than happy to talk with you... as long as you afford us the respect we deserve. I for one love a good juicy debate, especially about something I'm passionate about. Why not give us a try instead of just writing us off as crazies? Not all of us at the forum are fanatical and spend hours writing fanfic or drawing suggestive pictures. I can agree with you on that point that it gets a little scary. Most of us just enjoy discussing the books. Give us a shot will ya?

True Crime Weblog Admin (Steve Huff) said...

Hi --

My wife will be angry with me for doing this, but hopefully what I write will contain some of the civility missing from other comments.

Considering the fact that my wife is Ms. Huff, I will make the effort.

I said she'd be angry because she doesn't want it to seem as if she sent me over here. She did not. In fact, she requested I do the opposite, because she knows I can be uncivil with the best of them.

Dana was reading the Potter books for quite some time, and every time she finished one, she would prod me to read them. One cannot tell such a thing over the internet, but my wife is not a person who 'prods' others.

Eventually I gave in. I'd made it a point to never read fiction aimed at young people -- since I was about 15 or so, in fact. It felt positively weird to even bother opening up the first Potter book.

I thought I would be in store for something primed to aim at a young person's need for the world to remain simple, something I'd not be able to suspend my disbelief long enough to enjoy. Instead I was hooked.

That said, I'm not part of the 'fandom.' I am not part of any fandom that I can think of. But I will say that I disagree with any accusations of vacuity leveled at the Potter-heads. JK Rowling had an original, unique idea, and she has managed to do something few writers have the energy to do, create that ephemeral sense of her imagined world being true, at least unto itself. By the time I read "Order of the Phoenix" I was convinced that what was going on was brilliant, because within this utterly fantastic world, Harry was still behaving like a recognizable, complex, real teen.

Insulting you is pointless, and I'm sorry that some in the fandom have done so. However, I must say that since your intellect and discernment seem to obviously be a point of pride, perhaps you could direct them both towards less vulnerable targets. I could easily dissect how the weaving together of myth, symbology and folklore have turned the "Harry Potter Universe" into the understandably entertaining and fascinating place it is, but that would probably just prompt more boring debate.

The fact is, when you take aim at something like the Harry Potter fandom, there is no way others will perceive it as anything but a kind of bullying.

The internet has made it so that sometimes that perception of bullying can be turned back on the "bully" in a big way, and that sounds like the case here.

A lot of the fans are teens, a lot of them are young, and they haven't developed particularly complex approaches to life, yet. However, many fans are intelligent adults who understand that the novels are compelling because they work on a deeper, universal level. Reading a Potter novel, I often think of a great Aunt I had who ran an antiques shop. Her home was a wealth of old knick-knacks and furniture, all neatly kept and displayed, and everywhere you looked, there was something interesting to see. And behind that object, there was inevitably a deep and meaningful history. It was the kind of place a curious kid hated to leave. Harry Potter books resurrect that feeling, for me.

Don't take either yourself or the fans giving you hell too seriously. It's only the internet. I write about people that are sometimes still free and may have committed murder. If you think some of the Potter fans are giving you a hard time, you haven't seen anything.

I will say this; if you are going to write something that is either implied or open criticism and it includes a blogger who also teaches english to gifted teens (Ms. Huff), I would recommend you go back and check all your spelling and grammar carefully. People who have such things pointed out to them want to claim that doing so is petty, but I assure you, it isn't -- as a working writer, I can tell you that every representation you make in public of your own work will ultimately matter, including your blogging.

And to have any easily-noticed mistakes of that sort is also just more ammo for anyone who doesn't agree with, or like what you have written.

Ahistoricality said...

Ashley: If I didn't want anonymous comments, I'd disable them entirely, or delete a lot more of them. If I didn't believe in the liberating power of anonymity, I'd do this under my own name, after all. .... But I didn't sign up at DiagonAlley to poke fun, but to redirect the discussion in what (as it turns out) has been a much more fruitful (and even a bit more civil) direction. I was already a subject of discussion there; it's only fair that I be able to participate. And the abuse predates my signing up, so whatever logic you're using there doesn't really stand up to chronology.

As I've said elsewhere, I've read the books and even participated in discussions of them. What you and the other participants at DiagonAlley don't seem to be able to get is that I'm distinguishing between reasonable engagement something interesting and obsession with something that is ... finite, limited, flawed ... I don't have precisely the word I want here, but I'll be back.

Mr. Huff: I'm mildly amused by the contradiction between your vigorous defense of Rowling's work and the characterization of fandom as a "vulnerable target" worthy of special protection. I do appreciate your measured tone (I well know the difficulty of being civil when those I care for are involved) and it is true that the fan base for her work is overwhelmingly children (though that doesn't seem to be true of most of the people participating in this discussion).

As far as typos and grammar go, I do the best I can. I can tell from her comments policy that it's something of a sore point with Ms. Huff; perhaps she should do what I do when I notice minor errors -- ignore them or inform the writer privately so they can be fixed.

Anonymous said...

Their mistake was allowing you to get under your skin.

In my previous (and considerable) Usenet experience, we called people like you "trolls" and killfiled you and kept right on discussing. But you can't expect the younger people who are the target audience for these books to respond in quite such a balanced fashion, I suppose. The enthusiasms of the young (how well I remember!) are treasures of the heart in most cases (however trivial they may seem to older people) and generally get defended at all costs. It would also be nice if you didn't consider your opinions law. As far as I can tell, you're not God, just another person, which makes your opinions, well ... opinions. You can't expect everyone to be thrilled you uttered them.

Ahistoricality said...

What original thoughts! And such an interesting search which brought you here.

Seriously, Ms. Aldrich, I'm very familiar with the concept of trolls, and really went out of my way to avoid what I consider trollish behavior. I kept my comments on DiagonAlley to a minimum (and was quite satisified with the level of discussion, in the end), observed the civility standards there (and here) better than the HP fans themselves, and was NOT engaging with young fans. DiagonAlley is a site for adult HP fans. That I believe in carrying out an argument to something like reasonable conclusions, that I have my own forum on which I posted my own thoughts, that I engaged with people who disagree with me: those are not trollish behavior.

The HP carnival has continued; as far as I know (I haven't been back in some time) DiagonAlley is alive and well. What's your problem?

Janet Lingel Aldrich said...

Re: my search - I was looking for a fanfic short story. Sorry that bothers you so. And such a courteous rebuttal too! ("—yet, sadly, accidental rudeness occurs alarmingly often. Best to say nothing at all, my dear man.")

I still stand by my opinion (see, an opinion, not a dicta, not law) that someone who dislikes something and deliberately goes to a place where it is discussed to provoke people who do like it is a troll. In the past I belonged to Usenet groups discussing the TV show "Millennium", Stephen King's books, Christian music and my faith as a Christian. There were frequent visitors to all four, especially the last two, to tell those of us who participated that we were weak-minded idiots contributing to the downfall of society and bringing about Götterdämmerung because of our interests/faith/discussions. Common sense should have told these folks that they weren't going to change anyone's minds; they were just stirring up the nest with a sharp stick and hoping we'd swarm. (I think I mixed some metaphors there, but whatever ...)

Anyway, that's the name of that tune. 30. Fine. The end. Enjoy your life.

Ahistoricality said...

I don't understand what's unclear about this. I didn't go to DiagonAlley until there was already an extendend and very impolite discussion underway. At least as many HP fans came here to comment as I left comments there. I made the best case I could for my views (see: views, not laws) and did my best to figure out what positive arguments the HP fans had to offer in response.

Notice: Any future comments reiterating ignorant arguments already rebutted will be rejected. If anyone wants to continue this discussion, they should read most, if not all, of the above links before proceeding.

Anonymous said...

Some things I've learned about the internet:

1) Most sites tend to be dominated by cliques who are intolerant, self-contratulatory and who dearly love to have feeding frenzies when any particular individual is identified as not a member of the group or no longer a member of the group.

2) Such feeding frenzies are usually replete with examples of the vilest behavior and insistent claims to high moral ground.

3) Fan sites are probably the worst for that sort of stuff.