Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Harry Potter and Meditations on Hype

"I never could see anything wrong in sensationalism; and I am sure our society is suffering more from secrecy than from flamboyant revelations." G.K. Chesterton

I recently finished the final volume of the Harry Potter books, and the experience got me thinking. In point of fact, I enjoyed the book (and its predecessors) thoroughly- they are the kind of thing one would enjoy reading to one's own children one day. The conclusion was largely satisfying, and left me with roughly the same reaction as I had to the final Matrix film, viz. given the fact nothing could meet the hype, that was quite as good as could be expected and the author could really not have done better.

Of course, one has to make an effort not to expect too much with something as hyped as both of those things were (at least in their respective subcultures) which, as I say, got me thinking. For hype, that most evitable element of popular culture, is at bottom nothing less than a great and instinctive (and communal) yearning for the Beautific Vision. When a group of people get inordinately excited in expectation of some new thing, investing in it hopes that it could never possibly meet, what we have is a grass-roots form of the virtue of hope. When you hear the story of the Star Wars fan who said they were avoiding crossing roads because they didn't want to die before they saw The Phantom Menace, most of us are moved to pity the man and think he should get a life, as the expression goes. But is he more pitiable than the suicide who deliberately steps out into the road because there is nothing left to live for?

To the reply, "Its just a movie!", I say, isn't that significant? The fact that hype, quite frequently, relies on story, on some sort of narrative, especially an epic one, and the eternal question 'What happens next?' (or, in the case of The Phantom Menace, 'What happened before?') is not, I submit, unimportant. At the moment, I myself am waiting for the final episode of the present season of Doctor Who to air this Saturday, and there are great questions hanging over what will transpire in that particular long-running story. Consequently, I can't help getting a little excited. The sense that some extraordinary new revelation will be made, something that will tie together all that has come before, the great expectation of such a prospect is very human.

We long for an end (especially in the sense of a goal) that will make the journey worthwhile; some sort of ultimate destination, something that will make sense of everything, in whose light everything that has preceded will take on new meaning and purpose. Indeed, we long for what Tolkien called eucatastrophe, the great happy ending. These sorts of epic stories awaken in us that longing. Inevitably, when what we seek is eucatastrophe, bliss, the Beautific Vision in fact, we will be disappointed, because neither Harry Potter, the Matrix, Star Wars or Doctor Who can offer us those. God alone can. The whole of history must have that ultimate ending, that great revelation that makes sense of the whole thing, but it hasn't yet. We're still in Book 4 and Book 7 is a long way away. Nonetheless, the hype attached to each of these things is a signpost, drawing attention to that which will satisy the human heart. Even in a child that eats dirt, the fact that he is hungry is evidence of the existence of food.

Moreover, it is not by any means an abberation that hype is attached to particular things, particular stories, films, books. Mankind longs not for the concept of a revelation or a happy ending, but an actual revelation, an actual happy ending. Not an abstract but a particular, a specific. And if we put the book down after turning the last page, if we walk out of the theatre elated and then have to find the car, and thus have to deal with what Walker Percy calls 'the problem of re-entry', this only serves to remind us that the stories Man creates are a reflection, a sometimes quite enjoyable and marginally satisfying reflection, but ultimately only a reflection of a far greater and more ultimate reality, and it is that which the hype really points to.


Nicole said...

But in reality there are no endings, only beginnings.

GAB said...


I'm reminded of T.S. Eliot's line though- "The end of all our searching will be to arrive back where we began but to know the place for the first time."

Nicole said...

A rather appropriate quote at the moment.

Would you be interested in helping someone with their search?

GAB said...


I've sent you an email and look forward to hearing from you.