Tag Archives: pop culture rants

Daredevil update (and wild speculation)

I turned out to be slightly off in my earlier post. Daredevil #17, released yesterday, is the second-to-last issue of the run, not the last; there’s one more issue to go before the new creative team takes over. So, how do things stand? (Spoilers ahead, obviously.)

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The Fire Nation and the problem of Slytherin

*Spoilers below the cut for Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Also for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but come on, it was a cultural phenomenon and you’ve had seven years to catch up. Whereas at the time of posting the Korra finale has been out for less than a week.*

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What do they teach in those Muggle Studies classes?

This is sort of a follow-up to my earlier post on wizards’ lack of interest in Muggle technology, but here I want to talk more about the social angle. Wizards failing to take advantage of Muggle innovations is just a symptom of the larger trend of wizards completely isolating themselves from Muggle society.

Honestly, this trend gets creepier the more I think about it, because we’re told that “pureblood” wizards are an increasingly rare minority. The majority of wizards are Muggleborns or half-bloods (or quarter-bloods, or some other fraction). This majority will only become more predominant over time, as pureblood families either marry into Muggle lineages or die of inbreeding. And yet wizarding society, Muggleborns, half-bloods, and all, seems to exist in near-total isolation from Muggle society. I think this is one reason that pureblood snobbery is allowed to persist. Modern, enlightened wizards understand that racism against Muggles is wrong, but they aren’t interested in getting to know any flesh-and-blood Muggles.

Granted, we don’t get to see how a Muggleborn wizard might live as an adult, and I wonder if there are any who cultivate Muggle friends, follow Muggle news, or stay abreast of Muggle advances in technology. If there are, where are they hiding? The wizarding world as a whole is so ignorant about Muggles that compared to his peers, Arthur Weasley qualifies as unusually well-informed. Do non-pureblood wizards keep in touch with their Muggle relatives at all? Surely even just seeing them at holidays and family reunions would result in some cultural osmosis.

Come to think of it, how do half-blood wizards even happen? When do wizards and witches have any kind of social interaction with Muggles, let alone get to know one well enough to get married and have a child? Some half-bloods, like Harry, have one parent who’s a Muggleborn witch or wizard, but there are certainly canon cases of wizards marrying Muggles–Seamus Finnegan’s parents, for example.

You know what else never gets addressed? What happens to magical Muggleborn kids who turn down Hogwarts. Mostly this goes unanswered because we don’t see any examples of this actually happening–well, of course we don’t, almost by definition. A kid who didn’t attend Hogwarts would never have crossed Harry’s radar. But remember Justin Finch-Fletchley? He was down for Eton, and came within a hair of going there instead of Hogwarts. What if he had made a different choice? I suppose young witches and wizards can’t be left to wander about totally untrained, but I can’t see Albus “our choices mean more than our abilities” Dumbledore forcing someone to attend Hogwarts against their will. Now there’s a spinoff story I’d like to see. “Untrained Wizards: Where Are They Now?”

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Computer science for wizards

This tumblr post makes an interesting point about wizard elitism and the over-reliance on magic in the Harry Potter world, and what I wonder is why none of the Muggleborn students have done anything about it. Many wizards, like Harry and Hermione, spend their childhood years as Muggles, but as adults they all assimilate into wizarding society and abandon Muggle innovations. Sure, magic interferes with electronics, which eliminates a lot of Muggle technology. But wizards are so isolated from the modern world that they still use quills. Seriously, why hasn’t some Muggleborn kid brought a pack of ballpoint pens to school?

And, honestly, I think there must be a way around the problem with electronics. I remember reading Rick Cook’s Wizard’s Bane, in which a computer programmer is transported into a magical world and revolutionizes magic by inventing a compiler for spells. If wizards in the Potterverse made the effort (and knew how computers worked, which I grant you they mostly don’t), they could do something similar. Once they had invented a way of building logic gates using magic instead of transistors, they could pretty much construct a computer from the bits up.

I wonder if Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality will ever get around to that.

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Homework: watch these 55 films. Hand in by your 13th birthday.

Hopefully not all of what I post here is going to be commentary on something I read in Entertainment Weekly, but that’s what it is today. Specifically, on their list of movies your child must see before turning 13.

Now, I will admit that sometimes I’m the person who goes “You haven’t seen/read/played it? I must fix this.” But it’s unnecessarily prescriptive to assemble a list and assign it to everyone as cultural homework. I’m judging the list by its stated purpose:

This isn’t a list of the 55 “best” kids movies, nor a compendium of hidden gems. Rather, it’s a survival-guide syllabus of films that we all need to know to be able to speak the same pop-cultural language, listed in order by when they might be best introduced.

So this isn’t just a list of “good movies you might like to show your kid”; this is meant to be a list of movies that are fundamental to the pop culture conversation. Movies you must make sure that your child has seen on pain of… being a bad parent, presumably.

Is it really required that there be a canon of films everyone in society has to watch? This isn’t meant to disparage any of the films on the list, many of which are classics, but with a list that long, most people are bound to have missed a few. I went through and counted: of the 55 movies on the list, there are 21 that I’ve seen versus 26 that I haven’t. (Plus 8 more that I’m not sure about, or have seen parts of without watching from beginning to end.) That doesn’t make me deprived, uncultured, or unfit to discuss pop culture. And if it turns out that I’m missing something, it’s not too late to watch the ones I haven’t seen yet.

Which is the other issue: what’s this about “before they turn 13”? Is after age 13 too late? I’m relatively young, and I can still count 10 movies on the list that hadn’t been released when I was 13. Anyone older than me is screwed. Heck, The Lego Movie is on the list, which means there are 13-year-olds now who couldn’t possibly have seen all these movies before their 13th birthday.

(Side note: I’ll try not to quibble about the specific contents of the list, because no two people are ever going to agree on which films are “essential” and which aren’t. And I’ve heard good things about The Lego Movie. But it only came out five months ago. Can we agree that it might take slightly longer than that to determine if it’s going to stand the test of time?)

If a kid doesn’t see all these movies before turning 13… so what? If it’s really important, they can catch up later. There’s even a certain joy in those moments when you get to introduce someone to something they’ve been missing. (“You haven’t seen Mean Girls? Fire up the projector, we are watching it right now.“)

More importantly, it’s OK if they’re just never interested. Individual tastes will vary. There are plenty of movies among the 26 I’ve missed that I’d like to see, but there are also some that I can’t be bothered to care about. Life’s too short and there are too many other movies out there to make time for ones I’m just not interested in. As the site name suggests: I read (and watch) as inclination leads me.

Anyway, regarding the inherent problems of this sort of list, John Finnemore explains it much more wittily than I could.

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