Harry Potter the Jock
I’m going to write a few posts about Harry Potter in anticipation of seeing the latest, and final, film.
Amanda Marcotte has a smart observation about Harry Potter and his band of non-misfits:
I realized then that the “band of misfits” theme has so much power over the American imagination (maybe not the British, which could explain Rowling’s choices) that people just sort of shove Harry and his friends into that mold, and then rely on a handful of rationalizations for it—Harry wears glasses, Hermione is a bookworm, Ron is a redhead—in order for that theory to make sense. We’re used to the X-Men or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Scooby Gang, so much so that we don’t see that Harry’s trajectory is the inverse of Buffy’s. Buffy is a former cheerleader whose magic powers actually make her a geek and an outcast. Harry is a nobody-special who finds out that he’s special, and becomes not just the star athlete and hero of his school, but an actual celebrity. Sure, there’s ups and downs, but his trajectory is away from being the outcast and towards being the homecoming king.
She goes on to list the evidence: Harry is captain of the Quidditch team; his girlfriend is beautiful and popular; Hermione is also beautiful and popular (if bookish) and dates a major international Quidditch superstar; Harry’s father, James, was similarly popular and both his parents were attractive and well-liked; and so on and so forth.
“Let’s face it,” writes Marcotte, “if “The Social Network” took place at Hogwarts, Mark Zuckerberg would be in Slytherin and the Winklevoss twins would be in Gryffindor. Case closed.”
Well…almost. Potter may be a chip off the old block, but he’s not an arrogant bully like his father was. Likewise, Potter may not be an outcast himself but he attracts outcasts. Hagrid, Neville, Luna Lovegood, Dobby – these are all social outcasts attracted to Potter because he gladly welcomes social outcasts into his circle, and because he identifies with them in spite of his own celebrity (or perhaps because of it).
Marcotte uses the Snape/Potter animas as an example of the nerd/jock tension, but I don’t think that holds out either. That mutual hatred was born before Harry was a twinkle in his father’s eye. Snape hates the part of Harry that is a reflection of James. If Snape and Harry were classmates, instead of Snape and James Potter, it’s quite likely things would have gone differently between them.
Nevertheless, I agree with Marcotte’s larger point. Harry is no social outcast himself, even if he doesn’t really recognize his own popularity or use it to gain advantage over others. He’s not your typical pop-culture jock either, or your typical hero. His greatness has been largely thrust upon him. More importantly, his success is almost always thanks to the help of his friends. It is his loyalty and his friendship that defines him and bulwarks him against his enemies, not his role as a jock or an outcast. He is Frodo-like in this regard, doomed to failure without the faithful Sam to carry his burden for him.