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The Particular Strangeness of J.K. Rowling's Anti-Trans Agenda

Has the world's most powerful TERF finally murdered her career?

J.K. Rowling's anti-trans agenda has been well-documented.

Her bigoted statements have provoked waves of #IStandWithJKRowling hashtags—as well a backlash of #RIPJKRowling satirizing the death of her career. Then there's the recent announcement of Rowling's latest book:

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Can We All Just Pretend Daniel Radcliffe Wrote "Harry Potter?"

Harry Potter himself has a message for certified TERF J.K. Rowling: "Transgender women are women."

The Harry Potter franchise might've made some well-rounded points about race and government, but author J.K. Rowling's views are known to be horrifically outdated when it comes to the transgender community.

By now, Potterheads who spend a lot of time on Twitter know that Rowling can be classified as a TERF: a trans-exclusionary radical feminist. She's proudly publicized her absolutist view of sex, which coming from her especially, is a colossal embarassment; if you can hypothesize a world where goblins, merpeople, house elves, and animagi exist, why is a transgender person such a difficult concept to grasp?

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What Is "The Ickabog" and Why Is J.K. Rowling a TERF?

How can we ever take J.K. Rowling's triumphant stories about good defeating evil seriously again, knowing full-well the hatred she supports?

J.K. Rowling
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The Warner Bros Studio Tour in London has a thrilling attraction—the Gringotts Wizarding Bank set from the Harry Potter movies!

You too can experience the wonder of entering through vaulted bank doors and handing your hard-earned coin to greedy, money-grubbing little men with long, crooked noses, receding hairlines and shifty eyes.

Okay, when it's written out like that it sounds very anti-Semitic, but don't worry, these aren't Jews. These are goblins. Sure, the goblins' traits sound similar to Nazi-era propaganda, but that's probably because they both play off banking tropes. It's not like they look similar.

Oh damn. The Gringotts goblins are totally coded as anti-Semitic Jewish stereotypes.

Here's the thing. JK Rowling almost definitely didn't do this intentionally. If anything, the Harry Potter novels are, by and large, anti-fascist in nature. Voldemort is a dictator aiming to eradicate half-blooded wizards—it doesn't get more blatant than that. Rowling also borrowed and pastiched from all sorts of fantasy and folklore while writing Harry Potter, so it's likely that a lot of the goblins' more anti-Semitic features are actually related to older fantasy fare surrounding bankers. It just so happens that those were probably inspired by anti-Jewish propaganda.

Of course, the intention hardly matters. The fact of the matter is that the Gringotts Goblins are absolutely coded as anti-Semitic Jewish stereotypes, propelling an image that has been and continues to be used against Jewish people by supporters of racist and nationalist ideologies. This goes beyond mere physical imagery, too.

In Sorcerer's Stone, the caring Hogwarts groundskeeper, Hagrid, who raises monsters as a passion, warns Harry about goblins before he enters Gringotts: "They're goblins, Harry. Clever as they come, goblins, but not the most friendly of beasts." This is especially biting considering the fact that in the world of Harry Potter, goblins are not "beasts," but rather a fully sentient, intelligent race much like humans.

In Goblet of Fire, we learn about goblin creditors who hold debts in the highest regard and are willing to pursue a debtor to the end of the earth, taking everything he has if he cannot repay them, as was the case with Ludo Bagman.

In Deathly Hallows, Griphook, the only goblin we come to know personally, betrays Harry by turning him over to the Gringotts guards when Harry tries to destroy one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. This happens after Harry saves Griphook's life, showing that goblins have little loyalty outside of that to money.

Ultimately, the depiction of goblins in Harry Potter is extremely negative. Not only are they physically repulsive, but they are sneaky, dangerous, and disloyal, caring only about themselves and their money. These traits are identical to the anti-semitic propaganda that's been spread throughout history.

Again, none of this is to say that JK Rowling is anti-Semitic or even realized that she was propagating anti-Semitic stereotypes with the Gringotts goblins, although she did actively consult on all of the films (meaning the goblins' appearances definitely made it past her, but so did this TERF tweet).Therein lies the danger of prolific propaganda like that of the "Greedy Jew." Once evil imagery becomes widespread enough, it practically propagates itself.

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A few months ago, in one single, incredibly disappointing tweet, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling outed herself as a TERF.

The acronym TERF stands for "Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist" and is reserved for people who seem to stand for liberal feminist ideologies in regards to women's rights while simultaneously espousing transphobic sentiments.

Rowling's Tweet under the hashtag #IStandWithMaya is in reference to the case of Maya Forstater, a London-based tax expert who sued the charitable organization she worked for after they decided not to renew her contract over transphobic tweets. The case hinged on whether or not Forstater's Tweets, which included trans-exclusionary and absolutist sentiments like "men cannot change into women," were protected under the 2010 Equality Act.

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From Internet Trolls to Reboots, Entitled Fans Are Why We Can't Have Nice Things

By and large, franchises aren't perceived as art. Yet, in the ethos of fan culture, many perceive themselves to be the sacred gatekeepers of their favorite franchises. In reality, it's not that serious.

Through the black magic of Twitter and the open comment section of Rotten Tomatoes (RIP), fans become more than mere critics; they become self-appointed co-creators.

In the feedback loop created by Comic-Con, fan conventions, and the cacophonous online blogging community, franchises have practically started crowd-sourcing their scripts. Juggernauts like Marvel or Star Wars keep an ear to the ground for what fans want to see next (read as: what will reap the most profits), but, as AV Club notes, "Fan service has gotten almost too good of a rap as it has worked its way into mainstream film, often with considerable skill." The nature of fan entitlement lies in the bizarre, pseudo-intimate exchanges between creators and consumers.

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While the Internet is a toxic wasteland where strange life forms occasionally cling to each other for survival, targeted hate is often a sign of fan entitlement at its most toxic. Before Captain Marvel earned a record-breaking $1 billion in the box office, a flood of Rotten Tomatoes reviewers attempted to cancel the Brie Larson flick with negative reviews before the film was even released. The backlash was flagged as a misogynist response to Larson being an outspoken female superhero. Commenters attempted the same sabotage in 2018 against Black Panther's all-black cast, and the year before that against the female-lead in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As Birth.Movies.Death critiqued, "These fans are treating stories like ordering at a restaurant - hold the pickles, please, and can I substitute kale for the lettuce? But that isn't how art works, and that shouldn't be how art lovers react to art."

But, by and large, franchises aren't perceived as art. To casual consumers, they're escapist fodder; to creators, they're capitalist endeavors (or, to many writers, they're a way to barely eke out a living). Yet, in the ethos of fan culture, many perceive themselves to be the gatekeepers of their favorite franchises. After all, fan experiences are only becoming more immersive, from interactive Harry Potter amusement parks to bars with Game of Thrones or Doctor Who themes. You can fill your bedroom with Funko Pops, live tweet while watching your favorite series and attend fan conventions on the weekends. Between merchandise and social events, pop culture is always trying to get personal. For some, it becomes private, fervent, and ideological, at which point fandom isn't just about loving a character and the fictional world they inhabit; it becomes a belief system.

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In response, real creators are paying attention to fan posts, rants, and questions. Avengers director Joe Russo's live-streamed Q&As through Instagram features, stars like Chadwick Boseman log in to answer fans' questions live on Facebook, and Shazam's Zachary Levi live-streamed himself scolding the trolls who attacked Brie Larson on Captain Marvel's Rotten Tomatoes page. Entertainment media isn't just interacting with a screen anymore, as fans unify to find their voice and creators listen to what the public wants.

But so far, that's resulted in pandering to fandoms' lowest common denominators. Franchises resort to recycling profitable hits, leading to this record-breaking year for reboots. Major studios like Disney are literally banking on 90s kids' nostalgia and the latest CGI technology to dazzle movie-goers with live-action remakes of Aladdin and The Lion King. Meanwhile, adaptations of beloved books to film target established fans of post-apocalyptic worlds and love stories featuring dying teens.

To be fair, fan service has also given Hollywood incentive to develop projects with more inclusive representation. As one screenwriter describes: "Before fan conventions became mainstream events, before social media, it was a simpler time. For minorities, crappier times. For example, LGBT+ kids who lived in tough environments didn't have such easy access to a safe space online, like they do now. Fan platforms have made it so much better for many people who now know they're not alone." Would Marvel have produced its megahits Black Panther and Captain Marvel were it not for woke™ Twitter? Possibly. Public sentiment is certainly driving the studio's development of its first LGBTQ+ superhero for its 2020 release The Eternals.

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On the other hand, plenty of fans are still dissatisfied–and loudly so. Disney's Frozen 2 doesn't look like it's actualizing the Tumblr-driven movement to #GiveElsaAGirlfriend, and Harry Potter fans aren't shy about perceiving racist or sexist undertones in the Fantastic Beasts series. That's not to mention the Potterheads who are perpetually vexed by J.K. Rowling shoe-horning minority representation into her series. And while some praise Marvel's development of an LGBTQ+ hero, others' intolerance has already generated a petition demanding that the studio kill the project so as to "not indoctrinate children with homosexual ideology."

At best, fan service incentivizes Hollywood to be more representative of diverse identities. At worst, entitled fans hijack the creative process of filmmakers, inject culture war politics into escapist entertainment, and ruin all that is good and precious about mindless consumption of media, including Jason Momoa's bare chest.

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

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