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So, I got asked for another HP interview…

…by a high school student in Houston today.

One of the questions was this: Do you think Rowling made the “dark magic” so easily distinguishable from the rest of the magic to emphasize the theme of good versus evil? And if so, was she successful in conveying this theme?

I feel very much compelled to answer this question (she asked me more questions than time allows to answer), but I suggested this one would be the best one for me to answer. While I’m thinking about it, I’m just going to answer it here.

In HP and the SS, Voldemort says “There is no good and evil; there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” I think this statement is a good place to start when thinking about this “theme of good vs. evil.” Let’s disregard the speaker for a moment. Who in HP is good? Who is evil? The answer might seem obvious, but let’s back up for a minute.

There are three “sides,” or groups of people, fighting for power in HP. There’s Voldy and the Death Eaters, there’s the Ministry of Magic, and there’s the Order of the Phoenix. We might be tempted to say that the entire thing is Death Eaters vs. Order of the Phoenix, but what about the MoM? What about those witches and wizards who don’t act? What about Cornelius Fudge? Is he evil? Or does he just not want to worry about all the terrible things happening in the world?

We could take Dolores Umbridge as a good example, too, of someone who’s not quite good and not quite evil. She gives me shivers just to think about her, but she’s just following the orders of the Minister of Magic, who is misguided, but not evil. She’s trying to prevent rebellion in her school. She’s trying to prevent kids from making out in school. That doesn’t sound evil. That sounds like what happens in any public school. And yet she’s still super super creepy. Just something to think on. Are your school administrators evil because they refuse to allow you to openly rebel against administration? That’s not what evil means, and yet many people think she IS evil because of this strange notion that there are only two ways to be in this world—“good” or “evil.” And, secondarily, people have that “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” attitude, which causes them to have a simplified view of not just good and evil in HP, but good and evil in the world. Not agreeing with the O of the P does not make people “evil,” just as not agreeing with American foreign policy doesn’t make a person or foreign government “evil.” [Oh, I’ll come back to the much more evil things that Umbridge does in a little bit.]

Think of all the people who just want Harry to turn himself over to Voldemort so that there will be “peace.” Think of the people who neither join the Order or the Death Eaters. I think that’s another rhetorical purpose of HP—to highlight what happens when “good” people do nothing, when they don’t think critically about what their superiors want and what is happening in the world, so long as they go through their lives without harm. This last refers to what Voldemort says about “those too weak to seek” power. Now, I don’t think Harry seeks power, and I think a lot of Dumbledore’s history suggests that seeking power can lead people who are predisposed to evil farther along that evil path, BUT there are also those people in the world who are too “weak” to do anything at all. They’re too weak to stand up against evil.

But, to finally get to the real question: the difference between “dark” and “good” magic? I don’t think there really is a difference between good and evil in terms of magic in HP. So, Avada Kedavra is pretty much the evilest magic that can be done. Aurors, however, are permitted to use AK against Death Eaters. And, though the text doesn’t specifically say so, I’m pretty sure Molly Weasley uses AK to kill Bellatrix Lestrange in HP and the DH. Avada Kedavra is ok if it’s used for “good,” but not for “evil.” Basically, there’s no clear delineation between good and bad magic here.

Let’s talk a bit about dementors and the Patronus charm for a bit.

First: dementors. They’re good when they’re at Azkaban (except that whole Sirius-Black-false-imprisonment thing…yeah…like Guantanamo Bay), but bad when they’re out in the world. No clear delineation between good and bad.

Secondly: Patronus. Good when HP uses it against dementors, but evil when Umbridge uses it to keep herself happy when questioning suspected Muggle-borns. Right? While it’s a good charm in some cases, it is used for evil in another. No clear delineation.

Do you get the picture? Nothing in this world can be good or evil in and of itself. Only in context can we even have an idea of good and evil, but usually it’s oversimplified as I talk about at the very beginning of this piece of writing.

So, again back to the original question: Do I think Rowling was successful in conveying the good-v.-evil thing? No, because I don’t think that theme exists. I thnk Rowling intentionally complicated the idea of good vs. evil because good and evil aren’t a binary. But there is power. There’s power that is used to stand up for human rights, and there’s power that destroys human rights, but oftentimes we get confused about who is good and who is evil. Usually we think that our side is good and the other side is evil. I’m pretty sure the other side thinks the same way. Which is why both opposing football teams pray to the same God on Sunday.

Au revoir, witches and wizards.

Thanks for being a great class this semester! I hope this class has been of some help to you, or at least (if you’re Spencer) of entertainment value. While I got to know some of you better than others (quiet ladies on the other side of the table :-] ), I’m glad that all of you were there and always contributing through talk, writing, laughter, and funny faces.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Good luck on your finals!

Harry Potter and the Incredibly Conservative Aristocratic Children's Club

Here, RR.

Tomorrow at 10:30 there’s a walkout to protest major budget cuts to ethnic, women’s, and gender studies. I think it’s mostly Latin American and African Diaspora studies, but it doesn’t matter—The text of the plea for the walkout is below. Most liberal arts professors will be amenable to you walking out and protesting—if it were during my class, I’d walk out with you. I’ll be walking out of nothing, but I’ll still be there. The funding cuts are HUGE (in the neighborhood of 40%).

The Academic Planning and Advisory Committee (APAC) recently recommended devastatingly large budget cuts to ethnic, women’s, and gender academic programs within the college of Liberal Arts. It is time to demand an end to these budget cuts. Many voices and histories will be silenced with the reduction of centers and institutions in Liberal Arts. We cannot allow that. Students have the power to make change and be part of change, and there’s no better time to organize and act!

These proposed budget cuts defy the priorities of diversity the university has mandated and harm those who come from marginalized ethnicities, cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and viewpoints.

Short Term Demands:
The students, staff and community demand the university release all records regarding the formation of the Academic Planning and Advisory Committee (APAC) of the University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts (COLA) , APAC’s review of COLA centers, institutes and departments since 2009, and APAC’s budget

Longterm Demands:
The students, staff and community demand democratic control of budget cuts in our colleges, with direct input from students, staff and the community, to ensure that future sacrifices don’t violate the universities priorities of making a high standard for diversity in higher education.


—> Walk out of class at 10:30 am and meet at the West Mall.
How does that work?: Get up and leave, but don’t be silent about it. Prepare ahead of time: spread the word via email or in person; organize beforehand to get other students or TAs in your classes to join you; let your professors know soon that you’ll be leaving and see if they’ll endorse the walk-out and rally; announce the action as you leave class to let other students know what’s going on and ask them to join you

—> Rally and picket at the West Mall 11:00 am to demonstrate our rejection of the proposed budget cuts and to demand recognition of the vital importance of cultural studies to the university. Bring a friend, bring a sign, bring thoughts to share, bring your energy.

See you there,
The Students Speak
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Go protest some stuff, like college students do.



Reply: Complaining...

Ok, I hate tumblr reply functions. Writing this just to be sure that you see it.

Sara is right—if you’re talking about how standardized testing or any other government interference in education is bad, then aiming it at politicians is a good idea. But you could also aim it at any group who thinks that government control of education is good—and there are plenty of people who think so.

If you’re talking about how Harry Potter should be used to educate, then your hostile audience is simply people who think it’s not educational—and again, there are plenty of people out there like that.

You’re limited to a hostile audience because this is a class on *rhetoric*, meaning persuasion. Rhetoric is all about argument. In argument, there’s a hostile audience. Otherwise, it’s just navel-gazing.

Now, if you choose to continue taking rhetoric courses, you’ll learn that “rhetoric” is way more complicated than that. But, for the purposes of this course, I make you choose a hostile audience so that you will actually think about who your audience is, rather than assuming that they have the same values and goals that you do. When beginning rhetoric students don’t address a hostile audience, they usually don’t do much convincing. Oftentimes, they just alienate their audience by suggesting that the audience has the wrong values—e.g. when we talked about how you don’t convince a bigot to stop being a bigot simply by telling him that tolerance is a good thing, because he doesn’t believe that tolerance is a good thing.

In order to change someone’s mind about something, you have to learn what their values are and convince them based on their beliefs, not your own. You convince bigots to stop being bigots because they’ll lose their jobs, get taken to court, or go to jail. You don’t tell them that everyone is equal, because you won’t be able to convince them of that. Doing so would be like arguing to yourself that a bigot is a bad person—it’s not going to do much for the bigot.

Another example is trying to convince Conservative Christians that HP is a good thing because the Bible’s stance on witchcraft is absurd, or because HP is fictional. They don’t care that it’s fictional, and they don’t think the Bible is absurd. What you do is go to their beliefs (perhaps other Christian values) and use things that they trust (the Bible) to convince them that HP is more Christian than not.

Without considering a hostile audience, you risk solipsism. You risk thinking that everyone who doesn’t believe the same things as you is stupid or ridiculous. AND the point of a liberal education is to counter those very risks.

So write to a hostile audience. Yes, it’s harder than writing to an audience that’s not hostile. That’s the point.


My only question is: Why to a hostile audience? Yes, I know its important to address a hostile audience because they don’t already agree with you… But do we usually read magazine and newspaper articles that are written to a hostile audience? Ok yea maybe sometimes… I feel like i’m being limited to…



Redditors talking about HP

Just some random stuff from the internet.



Reflections on Academic Article Assignment

It’s Saturday night. I live in one of the coolest cities in the United States. And, instead of going out, I’m reflecting on your most recent short paper.

The purpose of this entire unit is to have you write in different styles, which is sorta like trying on different clothes, seeing what you find comfortable, seeing what looks good. It’s also a little bit like trying on clothes and being like “whoa, dude, I seriously gained 10 lbs in the last two months. I need to work on this a little bit for this style to look good on me.” That’s ok.

So that was the original intention. But there are secondary things that I’m finding out as I grade these (with a lighter hand than usual, I admit, and that’s for a reason—I don’t think you should be graded harshly for not being able to write in a style that you have zero experience with).

The first thing to note is that I basically asked you to write in a style that I told you not to write in at the beginning of the semester—and I told you guys not to write this way because of problems with unclear prose, misused words, etc. What ended up happening is you guys ended up writing much better (MUCH BETTER) assignments, either because you learned something from clarity lessons or you began to write in a style that you found to be more comfortable. Not sure which, but it doesn’t matter.

The point is that you are all wonderful, wonderful writers. All of you have done well on at least one assignment. Some of you write best in low styles, some in middle, and some in high. Your blogs prove this, at least. Never, in any of your blogs, would I have ever written that you have clarity issues, or you’re not making any sense, or that you don’t back up your ideas.

But also, and not to get on your cases too much, you don’t do nearly as well on assignments that you’re not comfortable with, like this past one. Words get messed up, your sentences stop making sense, and you have some flow issues. Basically, what to learn from this is that whenever you write, your confidence level has a direct effect on how your paper will turn out. Being familiar with the style of writing will make everything much easier on you.

So, two things:

Read stuff that you find difficult and you will be able to write stuff that’s more “intellectual.” Familiarity will make you more confident. Familiarity also breeds contempt, because sometimes you realize that people are using much higher language than is necessary to get a point across. Sometimes word choice is for rhetorical effect, sometimes it’s not. But being familiar with what’s going on will help you write better papers.

You’re much better, even at assignments that you don’t do well on. Even the most unclear approximations of academic articles that I’ve read, where the word choice isn’t quite right, and the sentence structure is all wrong—even those are much, much better!


So, go out into the world, little duckies, and never say that you’re bad writers. Say “I’m unfamiliar with this type of writing” or something like that, but never ever say you’re bad writers. You’re awesome.

Thanks for a great semester so far, and good luck on your papers!

I AM Harry Potter: DanRad & Apatow



Sassy Gay Friend Meme