Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Le Monde: French for 'wrong' 

Something in Eloise's post got me to thinking.
An instructor from a French teachers training institute (doesn't that image give you the shudders) has read the tea leaves (a.k.a. the blockbuster Harry Potter series):
Capitalism is now trying to shape, after its own taste, not only the real world, but the imaginary world of its consumer-citizens.

The world of Harry Potter, he is reported to opine, "glorifies individualism, excessive competition and a cult of violence."

But fear not, Le Monde printed a rebuttal; instead Harry Potter can actually be read as a "ferocious critique of consumer society and the world of free enterprise." Harry is "the first hero of the anti-global Seattle generation."

Leave it to Le Monde (Merde in France sometimes calls it Al Jazeera on the Seine) to have a debate and have neither side correct. Those of us who support capitalism have long thought well of Harry Potter, as has Diane Durante.
By means of the theme, plot and characterization--particularly as they involve the hero--every children's story implicitly addresses such broad questions as: Is the world fundamentally a benevolent or a malevolent place? Can one rely on one's own mind or not? Is life to be eagerly embraced or fearfully skirted? Can the good succeed or does evil ultimately win?

The Harry Potter series appeals to so many children (and, incidentally, adults) because the answers it gives to these questions are overwhelmingly positive. It shows a world in which happiness can be achieved, villains can be defeated, and the means of success can be learned. When my seven-year-old races around the dining room table swathed in an old bathrobe, with a broomstick made of a mini-blind wand and cardboard, she is not expressing an interest in witches or the supernatural. Rather, she is trying on the personality of an independent, courageous, intelligent individual who conquers evil. She is enthusiastically endorsing a positive philosophic perspective on herself and on the world.

It is a story's abstract meaning, not its physical setting, that influences the reader. The Wizard of Oz, for example, is set in a land inhabited by witches, Munchkins and talking trees--but it really is about the determination of Dorothy and her friends to attain difficult goals. Little Lord Fauntleroy is not a manual for how to inherit an earldom, but a portrayal of a child whose honesty and integrity see him through adversity.
It strikes me as perfectly clear why the French dislike this. Expressing optimism and hope is not the liberal way. I am not Limbaugh's biggest fan by a damn sight, but when he says that liberalism is a coward's choice, I could not possibly agree more. Liberalism says you cannot defeat your demons by yourself, that you need the help of Society or Community or a Village to do this. In contrast, Harry develops his own confidence in his own powers. (My wife and I disagree on whether God is present to provide Harry's powers, but that's another argument.) Fear is overwhelmed, cynicism is set aside -- exactly the things France cannot do.

I recall an email exchange here once in which I discussed the defeat of communism: I received in return a letter attacking me for excessive "triumphalism". So we shouldn't celebrate the ending of a system that killed 100 million in a century, I asked? More sneering ensued. Durantyism is alive and well on America's campuses. They will say that communism hasn't failed because it hasn't been tried, but they know this is wrong. They know without understanding, and so cynicism is all that's left to the Left. If their dream of the Village is gone, they will raze all the others. This is why they hate Reagan, who told them before it happened that it's "the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people." Denial isn't just a river that runs through Egypt. It passes through Paris, through SCSU, through academia.

Don't believe me? Click on the Fraters' Deserve Victory bumper sticker (I still want one guys!) and ask yourself -- what would happen to the Peugeot in Paris or the SUV at SCSU that has this on the bumper? Incroyable!