Culture News

Do Harry Potter TV Rumors Contain Hidden Depths?

Are the rumors being denied by HBO and Warner Bros. executives actually strategic leaks?

The internet was abuzz Monday morning with rumors that Warner Bros. was in talks with HBO Max to develop a Harry Potter series for the streaming service.

With an incredibly expensive Lord of the Rings show in development with Amazon and HBO already working on their Game of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon already in the works, it's not a stretch to imagine that Harry Potter would have its own contender in the field. Maybe it will adapt the prequel story that fan's developed — following James and Lily Potter's courtship, along with the tormenting of young Severus Snape?

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Satire

What Movies Will God Quiz You on When You Get to Heaven?

Apparently God is a major movie buff.

Icon Productions

Chances are pretty good that if you...*checks news*...live literally anywhere in the world, you're probably quarantined and maybe dying from COVID-19 right now.

I probably am right now. Sure, some psychologists are saying, "Don't let coronavirus tip society into panic," but panic is a natural response to unseen threats that make us question our survival and why we even exist. So if you're going to be stuck in your bedroom during what very well might be your last two weeks on earth, you might as well catch up on all the movies that God quizzes you on when you get into heaven.

Wait, what? That's right, dear reader, God is a major movie buff, according to a prophetic vision I had last night while quarantined, and let me assure you that I immediately and accurately jotted His favorite titles down so you can ace the test and not be cast into the fiery pits of Eternal Damnation. Remember, if you don't die as a seasoned movie buff, God will not let you in. Look it up in The Bible.

Noah

www.youtube.com

According to God, high-budget Hollywood retellings of biblical stories are His favorite form of worship. So it almost goes without saying that Darren Aronofsky's Noah epic, starring Russell Crowe, made the list. While many of the other Hollywood bible epics take too many liberties for God's liking, God assured me that Noah is a spot-on interpretation, and that Noah's real adopted daughter actually did look a little bit like Emma Watson. God also mentioned that flooding the world was one of the coolest things He ever did, so it was pretty fun to watch on the big screen.

The Passion of the Christ

www.youtube.com

Mel Gibson's poorly received Jesus Christ biopic may be a slog to get through, but honestly, we should have seen this coming. After all, when a guy who vocally hates Jews decides to direct a movie about God's son, you better believe God's going to take notice. The funny part is that God didn't like it either. God made it crystal clear that Mel Gibson failed to capture Jesus' mannerisms and that the main point in having us watch is so we can all make fun of it together from an informed perspective.

God's Not Dead

www.youtube.com

With a paltry budget of only two million dollars, and a very silly cameo appearance from Duck Dynasty star Willie Robertson, God informed me that even though He hates to use the term, He couldn't help feeling like God's Not Dead took His name in vain. The movie's premise that God actually cares whether or not some dumb college students believe in Him was deeply offensive, especially when the only thing He actually cares about is whether or not we can pass his cinematic litmus test. He hopes that we can use take this movie as a lesson in what not to do.

Gods of Egypt

www.youtube.com

Straight up, God would not stop praising Gods of Egypt. This is a direct quote from God during my quarantined vision: "Dude, Gods of Egypt is so underrated. Realizing there wasn't going to be a sequel was the exact thing that made me start coronavirus." God clarified that while it's technically a good-bad movie, it's so good-bad that it might actually just be amazing. He's really into good-bad movies, so that's probably a useful thing to keep in mind when you kick the bucket. Also, if you happen to be Tommy Wiseau, he's going to talk your ear off. Like, he loves you, man.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop

www.youtube.com

Okay, this was a surprise. It turns out that God's favorite movie, in the history of the medium, is Paul Blart: Mall Cop. He doesn't even like it ironically; he actually thinks it's good. I asked him if he had ever seen the comparisons between Paul Blart: Mall Cop and Neon Genesis Evangelion and, I kid you not, God says, "Who do you think came up with that first?" Admittedly, when God first said that Paul Blart: Mall Cop was his favorite movie, I doubted his taste in film for the briefest moment, but oh God, did God prove me wrong. The dude is absorbing cinema at a whole different level. I mean, this is the same guy who came up with mountains and diamonds and fish, of course He knows what He's talking about. I should never have doubted God, and now I know that when I die from COVID-19, God will be gaining another little film bro in heaven.

FILM

"Little Women" Is the Cure for 2019

Try being cynical during this movie. We dare you.

When asked by well-meaning older relatives—with faith in capitalism still shining in their eyes—if I want to have children someday, I usually respond with something like, "With fascism on the rise and an inevitable resource war on the horizon? With each day of inaction marching humanity closer to utter annihilation at the hands of climate change? I don't want to ruin my t*ts, Grandma."

Needless to say, I am a cynic by nature and circumstance and definitely an insufferable smartass.

2019 only further exacerbated my tendency to look on the dark side. Afterall, how can anyone truly believe that humanity has any fundamental goodness left with Donald Trump as president, cross-body fanny packs gaining in popularity, and CATS the movie existing? It's been a long year of absurdity in popular culture and politics; so dark and absurd, in fact, that my usual go-to feel-good flicks no longer do much to assuage my sorrow. I watched Love Actually on Christmas Eve and felt as empty as Kira Knightly's sallow, wan cheeks. Not even the precious ghost dog in Coco could touch my existential dread this holiday season. I was beginning to feel that there was nothing that could make the horror of 2019 feel distant, until, hungover and full of Sunday chilli, I accompanied my immediate family on an outing to see Greta Gerwig's Little Women.

As my mother's favorite childhood book, Little Women has always held a special place in my family's collective consciousness. Despite this, admittedly, my expectations were low. I knew the story well, and while I loved its relentless optimism in previous eras of my life, I struggled to believe the endearing March family and their romantic, simple adventures could possibly shine any light on the complicated darkness of 2019. I expected it to only make me feel worse, like a person in a depressive episode seeing Christmas lights.

Little Women 2019 Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen


Based on Louisa May-Alcott's 1868 novel, the 2019 remake of Little Women stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep. As the movie began, I was immediately arrested by the piercing blue of Ronan's eyes and the adorableness of Pugh's button nose, and things only got better from there. First of all, there was something so deeply appealing about Laura Dern as Marmie, the mother of the titular little women, that I questioned whether I wanted her to give me a bath or to take a bath with her. Anyway, Freud aside, the tears began to flow around minute 11 of the movie. I touched my damp face with shock. Since the night of the 2016 election, the tears of rage and sorrow have come with less and less frequency as numbness quietly set in. And yet, here I was...feeling? In 2019? Unheard of.

Matters only worsened as my cold, dead heart was warmed by the selflessness of Beth (Eliza Scanlen), only to be broken by her illness, revived by Emma Watson's dreaminess in a pink dress, sent soaring by Jo's (Saorise Ronan) insistence on following her dreams, and stirred again by Timothee Chalamet's ass in a pair of high-waisted trousers. Suddenly, my cares seemed to melt away. As Father finally returned from war, Donald Trump's Twitter account seemed like a distant dream. When Jo cried, "My sister!" as she pulled Amy from the frigid water, in my heart, the United Kingdom was still firmly a part of the European Union. As Frederic turned to see Jo clasping her heart during the opera and a slow smile spread across his face, it was as if low rise jeans had never come back in style.

Little Women Laurie and Jo Saoirse Ronan and Timothee Chalamet


Indeed, there is something so consciously optimistic about Greta Gerwig's movie, so rebelliously pure, that even I—infamous for lamenting the scientific improbability of balloons lifting a whole house during a screening of Up at 12 years old—couldn't find any foothold for cynicism. It almost made me want to give in to my biological drive to reproduce and justify it with "maybe my kid will cure cancer!" or, more accurately in that moment, "maybe my children will put on adorable plays for the other neighborhood children like the little women!" Essentially, the movie dares to exist outside our collective exhaustion and despair, insistent on coaxing us into a kind of childhood delight, but it's also not without political, impactful moments that are presented so cleverly amidst the earnestness that they don't feel part of the monotonous drone of "political" cinema. Of course, part of the credit for the brilliance of Little Women must be given to Louisa May-Alcott, who managed to craft a comforting salve for heartache out of a story that, on the surface, is often devastating. But it was a stroke of genius by Greta Gerwig to make this movie now, in the midst of a time of international tumult, to offer audiences two hours of genuine relief from the brutality of 2019.

If you feel yourself (like me) retreating into your cave of sarcastic jokes, existential dread, and black turtlenecks, go see Little Women and let yourself enjoy it without guilt. It serves as a vital reminder that as long as we have each other, good stories, and deeply-needed respite from the real world, we may be able to gather just enough strength to make 2020 better than 2019. Maybe it'll even be great.

CULTURE

Emma Watson’s “Self-Partnership” Reminds Us: The Single Stigma Needs to End

Maybe it's time to reevaluate why we view romantic relationships as more important than all our other relationships.

Emma Watson has referred to herself as "self-partnered" instead of "single," thus effectively shattering stigma for single women everywhere—and making headlines across the globe.

For the record, she wasn't exactly trying to redefine what it means to be single by calling herself "self-partnered." She said it in an offhand way in her interview with Vogue, as part of a much larger statement about the anxieties she's facing about turning 30. "I was like, 'Why does everyone make such a big fuss about turning 30? This is not a big deal…'" she said. "Cut to 29, and I'm like, 'Oh my God, I feel so stressed and anxious. And I realise it's because there is suddenly this bloody influx of subliminal messaging around. If you have not built a home, if you do not have a husband, if you do not have a baby, and you are turning 30, and you're not in some incredibly secure, stable place in your career, or you're still figuring things out… There's just this incredible amount of anxiety."

She added that it's taken her a while to get to a place where she can be content on her own. "I never believed the whole 'I'm happy single' spiel," she said. "I was like, 'This is totally spiel.' It took me a long time, but I'm very happy [being single]. I call it being self-partnered."

Hello Magazine



Since Watson first made this statement, the Internet has latched onto the term "self-partnered," viewing it as an alternative to the negative implications that come with the word "single." It's true that society can make things quite hard for single people. We live in a romance-obsessed world, one that feeds us Disney-movie weddings from an early age and tells us we have to shape ourselves around our romantic relationships.

So through this lens, in true #HeforShe fashion, the fact that Emma Watson has said that she's learning to be happy while single is inspiring, if unsurprising. Watson's been a proponent of various forms of self-love for a while (she was an ambassador for female pleasure website OMGYes) and has always been a proud feminist leader.

It's true that "self-partnership" shouldn't be our end-all, be-all gospel. After all, we all need relationships, love, and support from others. But so often, the world we live in doesn't encourage us to value the love we share with family and friends as much as we value romantic love. It doesn't encourage us to value our spiritual communities or our relationships with our artwork and our own bodies and minds half as much as it tells us to value our partners. It doesn't tell us to truly value ourselves.

What if there was a paradigm shift? So many of us grew up in homes where we bore witness to negative relationships, watching parents stay with each other unhappily because they were wedded (literally and figuratively) to the idea of their partnership. Particularly for women, many of us still struggle to find the strength to leave abusive relationships, instead staying with people who don't treat us right because we're too scared to be alone.

But what if we started valuing activism in the same way that we value and idealize romantic love? What if we valued everyday acts of kindness like we value relationships? These statements might seem incredibly idealistic, but the power of cultural expectations shouldn't be underestimated.

In general, we're in need of a shift in terms of how we view and understand relationships, both to others and ourselves. In some ways, the change has begun. So much has been written about the importance of developing one's relationship with ourselves before loving others, and the "love yourself" mentality has been peddled with increasing frequency.

Self-care is great. Going on dates with yourself, taking care of your space, recharging, exercising, focusing your energy on your health or craft, political organizing, or literally anything else besides dating are all perks of being single (or I guess "self-partnered" is the proper term). Watson's statement has inspired many women to share their own stories of why they love dating themselves.

Still, too often, the "love yourself" mantra is painted through the lens of neoliberal capitalism. Just paint your nails and take some selfies! the Internet yells at us. Love yourself and if you don't love yourself, you're failing! While self-care is important, it's rooted in an isolationist, black-and-white, selfish mentality that can often just make us feel worse in the end.

But what if instead of focusing on shallow self-love based in loving our appearances and parading our happiness around, we focused on long-term healing, deep connection, and growth within ourselves and our communities? In her book All About Love, bell hooks defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." What if we used this definition of love instead of the traditional one?

hooks' definition is pliable, just like love itself. Love is amorphous and alive and it happens on a different timeline for us all. Of course we don't just find our one true love at 29 and sail off into the sunset. (The sunset is and was always an illusion created by Walt Disney and Coca Cola). Another extremely desirable bachelor, Keanu Reeves, 55, just started dating for the first time in years—and his girlfriend, 46-year-old Alexandra Grant, has some relevant advice for everyone, whether in a relationship or self-partnered. "I don't think we can help other people until we work on our own healing, or else we are going to keep promoting inherited or naturalized belief systems that aren't useful within the work we do," she said. "I think that we really are in a time where we need to love those who are different than we are, and take action and responsibility towards that."

Emma Watson's and Grant's philosophies don't imply that they want to be single forever or that they're anti-love, but they do imply that both of them feel it's important to focus on their growth, starting with what's on the inside. This is an important distinction, as there's a big difference between being happy being single in the moment and being totally closed off to the possibility of love; and there's a difference between feeling unworthy of love and committing yourself to growing, so you can be a better partner and person.

You don't have to be euphoric about being single, just like you don't have to be miserable about it, their statements imply. Whether you're in a relationship or not, you don't have to be anything. Regardless of how you feel about it, if you don't have a partner right now, you're not alone in that. The number of singles around the world has never been higher—and we've never been healthier. Some are worried about this trend, but others feel it could be a good thing, a step towards deconstructing the unsustainable and isolating structure that is the nuclear family.

These are just a few of the many reasons to embrace being "self-partnered." Plus, some of us just really, really enjoy being alone.



Sony Pictures

Greta Gerwig is tugging at our heart strings yet again, bringing an emotional adaptation of Little Women to the big screen.

The writer-director may be the 8th to adapt the Louisa May Alcott novel into a film, but it's a perfect second feature for the Ladybird Director. Gerwig is collaborating with Saoirse Ronan (Jo March) and Timothée Chalamet (Laurie) again. Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, and Meryl Streep are also set to be a part of the all-star cast. The trailer for the much-anticipated movie features a moving performance from Ronan. As Oscars season approaches, Little Women is sure to be a favorite for critics and fans alike.

Enjoy the magic below.

LITTLE WOMEN - Official Trailer (HD) www.youtube.com

Culture Feature

Fandom for the Faithless: How Pop Culture Is Replacing Religion

From Star Wars and Harry Potter to My Little Pony and Supernatural, fan communities develop their own ethos, codes of behavior, and networks of peer-mentoring that turn art appreciation into worship.

New York Post

In January 2019, President Trump's ban on transgender people serving in the military was approved by the Supreme Court, which meant the worst had happened: Albus Dumbledore would be ashamed of us.

It gets worse. In England, Europe's fourth most LGBTQ-friendly nation, there are 175,000 self-professed Jedis who are appalled at America's anti-trans legislation. As "instruments of peace," Jedis believe "in a society that does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or circumstances of birth such as gender, ethnicity and national origin."

Temple of the Jedi Order

If you're not moved to action by framing today's socio-political turmoil in terms of fictional characters, then you are not a true Jedi or diehard Potterhead. You may just be a fan of the franchises, which is not what fandom is about anymore. Nowadays, these active communities create full-on belief systems, leading the most dedicated fans to see the real world through the lens of their favorite franchise. When fandoms replace religion, fan communities develop their own ethos, codes of behavior, and a network of peer-mentoring that turns art appreciation into worship.

According to census surveys from England, Australia, and Czech Republic, over 250,000 Jedis currently roam the earth, which is definitively too many followers for a brand of fictionalized metaphysics solely designed to earn Lucasfilm $4 billion. But the Temple of the Jedi Order (a.k.a the Church of Jediism) touts on its website, "Jediism is not based in fiction, but we accept myth as a sometimes more practical mean of conveying philosophies applicable to real life."

John Henry Phelan is a Jedi through the Temple of the Jedi Order, which means he helps run the most trafficked website on Jediism in the U.S. He told Details magazine in 2013, "I think we're heading to a point where we're going to see a physical Jedi temple sometime in the next 10 years...probably something like a monastery, where Jedi monks will live and where other Jedi can visit. I'd be surprised if that didn't happen." To date, it sadly hasn't (but there are a good four years left for this runaway train called reality to fly completely off the tracks, resulting in a Jedi monastery next to your local mosque and synagogue).

To be fair, the distinctions between a fandom and a religion are surprisingly blurry as far as sociologists are concerned. With social media building bridges between like-minded individuals, fandoms aren't just online subcultures; they're "participatory cultures." If we're looking at patterns of human behavior, so are religions. Henry Jenkins, Professor of Communications at University of Southern California and professional super nerd, breaks down the facets of participatory culture:

1. Relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement.

2. Strong support for creating and sharing one's creations with others.

3. Some type of informal mentorship in which the most experienced members pass along their knowledge to novices.

4. Members who believe their contributions matter.

5. Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members' opinions about their contributions.

Among Jediism's official 16 teachings and 21 maxims is dedication to civic engagement ("each Jedi improves the world with each deed they perform") and support of their community ("have faith in your Jedi brothers and sisters" and "defend the way of Jediism"). When the Pacific Standard's Ben Rowen interviewed self-professed Jedis, he acknowledged the easy ridicule of the "faith" but sought to understand its appeal: "Beneath the surface—once the lightsabers are stowed away in their protective cases and the business of spiritual belief begins—Jediism is quite paradigmatic of trends in modern religious practice. Jedis have a strong argument that their fictional, pop-culture-inspired canon, with its aliens and futuristic technology, has given rise to a religion worthy of recognition here in reality."

Berlin Church Holds Star Wars Service Getty Images

Of course the Jedi order is not the first or even the loudest fandom community waving its flag on the Internet (no one's ranking fandoms here; please don't @ us). In 1997, J.K. Rowling published Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and proceeded to print herself $650 million over the next 20 years. Global readers of all ages have turned the Potter fandom into a life philosophy originally dictated by an elderly homosexual wizard who mentored an orphan boy by giving him cryptic advice that read like slam poetry.

At its worst, well-meaning Potterheads discuss the most fraught and divisive issues of our time in terms of Harry Potter references in an attempt to enlighten others. Aside from presupposing that the Harry Potter series is an unproblematic, universal touchstone (which it definitely isn't), doing this is annoying. So much so that the phrase "read another book" has entered online lexicon as shorthand for, "Please take the Harry Potter series 75% less seriously than you currently do."

UrbanDictionary

For example, some inappropriate uses of Harry Potter references include: protesting those who refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the LGBTQ community by comparing it to the imaginary community of muggles...

...leading the fight for gun control with illiteracy...

...and incisive political commentary on the persecution of journalists.

As Patton Oswalt points out, books featuring elaborate fantasy worlds are excellent for escapism and even light-handed allegories, but they're not conducive to interpreting world politics: "It's a cool book with some wonderful passages but it also has ghost sex & giants & super babies & demons. It's why we don't make laws based on Game of Thrones, My Little Pony or Legend of Zelda."


So why are some treating fandom like a faith? One twentieth century sociologist whose knowledge about people was as voluminous as his facial hair was Émile Durkheim. He defined religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden–beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them."

In the same way, sacred objects are the pillars of fandom. In Star Wars, the lightsabers and hooded robes are just symbols of the civic duty, compassion, and self-awareness promoted by Jedi creed (which, to its credit, is said to be adapted from the actual Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi). Harry Potter merchandise is rife with the Deathly Hallow symbols and the house crests of Hogwarts because they represent the hero's journey – with the poignant twist that unassuming heroes are everywhere (Hufflepuffs are just as strong as Gryffindors, we get it).

Is there danger in conflating fandoms with religion? To society as a whole, no – aside from causing mass annoyance on Twitter, consumers aren't generally at risk from neurotic people taking fandoms too seriously. In fact, as far as public sentiment goes, the people who pose the most danger are those who don't believe in anything.

In Casey Cep's article in the New Yorker, "Why Are Americans Still Uncomfortable with Atheism," she recounts how identifying as "faithless" has been a source of social shame throughout history and still remains so, to some degree, today. So much so that stigma against atheists can overshadow stigmas against other religious beliefs. According to 2018 surveys, "Americans, in large numbers, still do not want atheists teaching their children, or marrying them." She continues, "They would...prefer a female, gay, Mormon, or Muslim President to having an atheist in the White House, and some of them do not object to attempts to keep nonbelievers from holding other offices, even when the office is that of notary public."

Cep adds, "Such is the slippery label of 'atheist' in the American context: slapped on those who explicitly reject it, eschewed by unbelievers who wish to avoid its stigma. Both atheists and their critics often make a hopeless muddle of the category, sometimes because it is genuinely complicated to assess belief, but often for other reasons."

Fans play real-life version of Quidditch in London Evening Express

In Britain (where Jediism was the seventh-largest religion in 2015), "atheism" was on the decline in 2018. However, the number of self-reported Christians hasn't risen; rather, more people are reporting to believe in "some sort of spiritual greater power." In fact, according to a 2017 poll by WIN/Gallup International, the U.K. and Czech Republic (with 15,000 self-identified Jedis) are among the ten least religious countries. As Cep describes, Americans' reluctance to identify as "atheist" has always resulted in dubious polls, but recent surveys note an upward trend in U.S. atheism overall.

And as psychologists like to remind us, "higher levels of religious belief and practice (known in social science as 'religiosity') is associated with better mental health." But what it actually comes down to are the basic benefits of any "participatory culture," be it religion or a fandom subculture, from Star Wars and Harry Potter to My Little Pony and Supernatural. The social benefits that Jenkins describes include the simple but crucial element of social validation: "Members who feel some degree of social connection with one another and care about other members' opinions about their contributions." But as Cep points out, "Atheism, however, is not a single identity, ideology, or set of practices." It's just nonbelief.

So according to the data collected by nerds who specialize in the the random, chaotic patterns of human behavior, we're living in increasingly faithless times. But when that outlook is still stigmatized–not to mention statistically correlated with higher rates of depression and anxiety–it almost seems natural to look for an alternative belief system. For some, that's the Force. For others, it's WWDD ("What Would Dumbledore Do?"). And because reality is so much odder than fiction, they're both technically good for you.

Medium


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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