Editorial: Stanford Daily Invokes Jo Rowling in Appalling Piece of Satire


Feb 22, 2006

Posted by: Melissa Anelli | Comments


This is a rare editorial piece here on Leaky; as such, a few warnings apply. Parents, the discussion material contained in the quoted article is not suitable for young children. Kids, if you have questions about this you should go directly to your parents/guardians.
Yesterday, The Stanford Daily, Stanford University’s daily newspaper, ran an article that is ostensibly satire on terrorism. However, when this article was brought to our attention, and it became clear that it was gaining a readership among Potter lovers, we knew we couldn’t stay silent.

It is highly inflammatory, vivid and at times grotesque, and purports to give ideas to terrorists who wish to run effective terror campaigns. Press being (thankfully) free, it does of course have every right to exist and be published – but that precious, sacred right does not exempt anyone from responsibility for what they pen. About three-quarters into the article, we find this (parental warning here):

“[Terrorists should] kidnap J.K. Rowling and hold her hostage. It’s the perfect climax for this unfortunate series of events. The world has gradually nursed a cancerous addiction to Harry Potter over the last decade, and tension is running high as the entire world awaits the seventh chronicle with bated breath. When the terrorists release footage of Rowling gagged and tied to a chair, surrounded by vaguely Middle Eastern-looking men carrying large firearms, blood will run in the streets as Potter fans accidentally stab each other while waving plastic wands in an attempt to curse the terrorists to death. “

And more. To say this is upsetting is, of course, an understatement.

Now, this is written by a college journalist who probably doesn’t expect to be quoted worldwide. However, to make an article public is to make it accessible to Harry Potter fans, our readership, and it’s become clear that some are upset by it.

As a small disclaimer, no one here thinks he was literal about it; no one thinks he really wishes these things, or that he’s giving terrorists any ideas they can’t come up with themselves. And some of us even think that without certain deplorable elements, it could have been well done, and funny. But even in satire there are images that are just inappropriate.

I was a college journalist, and so I know where Mr. Lin is coming from; it’s an exciting thing, to get your first taste of free speech, to test the boundaries with your audience, to be inflammatory because you can be, and not because it contributes something intelligent and worthwhile to the national debate. In our college newsroom we were as arrogant as any other college newsroom – we were right, the world was wrong, and why could no one see that? That time is important – it’s an exhilarating and crucial pressure cooker, during which many journalists develop their tone and sense of responsibility.
But it also comes with many sharp lessons. This article is available on the World Wide Web, and now has a global audience; when you invoke the language of terrorism, and the one person (besides a fictional character) upon whom you wish violence is someone so known, so famous, so beloved, so benign, and so important to children and adults, it’s important that it’s not ignored.

I’ll be honest – I had to sit and calm down before writing this article. It’s easy to use similarly violent language to lambast the Stanford Daily for writing something so insulting, so inflammatory, and so irresponsible. How they can take someone who is loved worldwide; who has only ever done good things with her wealth and power; who this moment is preparing to host a charity ball at Stirling Castle to help the fight against Multiple Sclerosis; who just yesterday was responsbile for more than 30,000 GBP benefitting a literacy charity; who campaigns to end children’s suffering around the globe; who is a mother; who writes books about virtue, generosity, compassion, love, valor, honor, friendship, loyalty and bravery; who has done nothing but succeed to land in this writer’s pen, and who would never wish them the same, is beyond me.

It would be beyond anyone. Substitute J.K. Rowling’s name for one of your own loved ones’, in that article, and then describe your response. I particularly hope Mr. Lin, the writer of the article, will do so. No one, not a soul on Earth, deserves such a horrific thing said about them – and when the person you mention has been a beneficient presence to millions, it only makes it that much more reprehensible. Even in satire. Especially in satire.

You don’t like Harry Potter? Fine, that’s your right, and your right to say. You think a Harry Potter love is something to be called cancerous? Fine, that’s your right, and your right to say. No one is asking everyone in the world to understand why this series has such an avid following – no one is making apologies for loving it, either. But to use such a love, such an example of fun and goodness in literature, a worldwide community who are rarely anything but understanding and loving, and the figure who means the most to them, as a reason to will violence, is horrendous.

Freedom of the press is a wonderful, honored, treasured thing – but it comes with a heavy onus of responsibility. It comes with knowing you are its trusted guardian. It comes with knowing that when you put something to the public in print, you are responsible for it and the feelings you invoke because of it. To not claim such responsibility is to use the press as a shield – it’s an act of cowardice. With that in mind, the Stanford Daily owes deep, humbled, abject apologies to:

-J.K. Rowling, for obvious reasons
-J.K. Rowling’s husband and children, for forcing them to contend with such disturbing imagery
-The millions of children who love J.K. Rowling, who cannot understand why someone would wish her such ill
-The millions of adults who love J.K. Rowling, who unfortunately can understand why such an article was written
-The parents who will have to explain this to the kids and teens who have found this article
-The Stanford students, many of whom probably started reading Harry when they were in their early teens, who grew up with it and love it and cannot see why their own newspaper would even jokingly wish such an atrocity on J.K. Rowling and her readers
-Those who have been victims of such senseless acts of terrorism; people like Jill Carroll, a reporter who certainly knows how precious her rights are now, as her family and colleagues plead with madmen for her release
-Those who have died in such sad, terrible circumstances; those who have lived the horror the Stanford Daily so easily satires as something that should happen to J.K. Rowling
-Those victims’ families, for making a mockery of their loved one’s suffering.
-Then those victims’ families, again

Note that we’re not asking you to apologize for disdaining a subject we love; that’s fine, and that’s your right. Could we make the same sort of statements about you for doing so? Absolutely. Would we? Absolutely not.

The issue here is using a real person; even using the character of Harry Potter, though people would hate that as well, is different; it’s a symbol that does the same work without the same level of gruesomeness.

When I first read this article, I was furious. Now, I’m simply sad that such a response needed to be written. To the editors and writers at The Stanford Daily – you have a new acquaintance with the press, and as such you have inherited a tremendous right and responsibility to treat it with the revere it deserves. Please do. Please continue to write things that push envelopes, that challenge ideas, that contribute to the worldwide debate on such important issues as terrorism – not squander it on statements that only inflame, not inform.

Please show why these freedoms are important, not why some people shouldn’t be trusted with them.

We ask readers to be respectful in the comments.

Finding Hogwarts

The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.