Over the last few days, J.K. Rowling got herself into disability-related trouble. The basics of the case are here. The TL;DR version is that Rowling tweet-attacked Trump over mistreatment of a disabled child, the child’s parent corrected Rowling, and Rowling deleted the tweets and apologized to the family but not Trump.
The TL;DR version of MY blog post is: keep up the good work, Joanne. Don’t let this setback change the way you advocate for society’s most vulnerable. Parents like me are counting on you. We love you.
Prior to Brexit and the U.S. election of 2016, Rowling barely tweeted. Ever since, she has demonstrated unusual virtuosity with her twitter megaphone as well as unusual fluency with current events. A year ago, I would not have had any idea that Rowling even reads the news regularly. Now, I would guess that she probably did read an article like the New York Times article titled “J.K. Rowling Just Can’t Let Harry Potter Go” from June of 2016. Now that I’ve seen her penchant to reply to random commoners who “@ her,” I can speculate that perhaps Rowling even read some of the comments. One of the 12 comments to the piece that the Times recommended went like this:
Rowling has resisted Brinks trucks’ worth of temptations: no TV adaptations, no cartoons, no board book versions, nothing for parents of kids too young to see the movies. Yes, she doesn’t need the money, but with a wave of her wand a few dozen TV producers/”my first book” publishers would be set for life.
Where she has permitted brand extension, she has generally explored deeper and darker themes, unlike the Star Wars universe or the “muppet babies” or the Disney princesses or many other brands that go from refreshing and interesting to cloying and cutesy. The cynic will reply that “she’s just protecting the brand” without explaining why no one else with that sort of intellectual property has been similarly protective.
Thank you, Ms. Rowling, for all you’ve done, AND for all you haven’t done. It’s all tremendously appreciated.
That person really made a good point, right? All right, you figured it out; that was written by me.
Rowling’s worldwide esteem is not only based on the fact that the press consists of writers and Rowling is the most financially successful living writer. It is not only based upon her “rags to riches” life. It is not only based upon Rowling’s general ideological affinity with the “liberal media.”
Rowling’s esteem is also because she generally knows what to say and what NOT to say. On twitter, she’s hardly a blabbermouth. She comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, but not all the time. She preserves her power partly by using it sparingly.
And that’s why, as the parent of a nonverbal autistic child, I’m hardly bothered by this latest flare-up. If the world’s most powerful author is going to err, she erred on the right side. As Rowling explained, “My mother used a wheelchair. I witnessed people uncomfortable around her disability, but if they had a shred of decency they got over it…So, yes, that clip of Trump looking deliberately over a disabled child’s head, ignoring his outstretched hand, has touched me on the raw.” Later, she tweeted: “I very clearly projected my own sensitivities around the issue of disabled people being overlooked or ignored onto the images I saw and if that caused any distress to that boy or his family, I apologise unreservedly.”
Advocating for the handicapped isn’t exactly new territory for Rowling. She gives much of her fortune to some very worthy charities. And her books cover some of the same themes. One example that movie-watchers don’t know is the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare, or S.P.E.W., a major plot point of the fifth book that was cut out of the movie adaptation. Ah, the power of metaphor: Rowling need not get down into the weeds of the specifics of slavery or disability, but instead, poignantly invoke and explore themes surrounding slavery and disability through the figure of Dobby the Elf and his fellow elves.
As a side note, Rowling’s books have basically been proven to help slow readers become faster readers. She’s already helped the disabled community more than anything any of us will ever do, and I could imagine my own kids, both of them, benefitting mightily from her labors in a few years.
Now, I don’t see everything in terms of Harry Potter-world. In a Times column from a month ago, commemorating the 20th anniversary of the first publication of the first book, Ross Douthat claimed that way too many liberals have been mapping their Manichaean struggles against conservatives as part of the Potterverse, or in a phrase, naively positioning themselves as Harry or Hermione while positioning Trump as Voldemort. (Really? I would have said he was more like Joffrey in “Game of Thrones.”) Douthat talks about “endless liberal memes,” but I pay fairly close attention to the media and social media, and before reading his piece I had never seen or heard of any of them. Nonetheless I don’t believe in magical thinking and don’t believe it helps liberals to think of themselves as wizards and conservatives as Muggles or Azkaban refugees.
However, I do believe in J.K. Rowling. I don’t need to agree with everything she says; she doesn’t have to get everything right. She has proven that she’s willing to make the effort and for that we should be grateful. And I hope this incident doesn’t make her hesitant to continue to make the effort.
Maybe it’s just the fact that I’m in my 40s, but to me Rowling seems SO young, so full of productive years ahead of her. I hope we in the disabled community can look forward to many more years of her support.