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Acronym meme, emotionalism - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Acronym meme, emotionalism
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Okay, coming over from hp_essays and saeva's post on Harry Potter and its relative Britishness, I kind of got off on a tangent in my replay about general "Anglo" culture... not necessarily English or British as such, but the kind of general cultural traits that are common throughout the Anglosphere.

True confession: I was born and raised within the much-maligned "WASP" culture. I've lost the "Protestant" part of that and become a Jew, but I'm still a WAS_. (Good thing I didn't convert to Hinduism. Saying "I'm a WASH" would have weird colloquial connotations. "WAS-J"is at least impossible to pronounce.) Deeper confession: While I don't feel that this is some vast and superior method of living for every human being on the planet, I also don't feel any need whatsoever to "correct" it in myself. I like me the way I am.

The point is, the emotional world of Harry Potter is one that very much rings true to me. People behave emotionally the way I'm used to them acting, and I understand the cues. What's more, I suspect a lot of people do. JKR doesn't dumb down the emotional aspect--she doesn't make people hug and kiss and cling to one another all the time in order to convince us that they're fond of one another. She trusts us to pick it up from the cues that she gives. When Harry does give in to his emotions--as with OotP CAPSLOCK!Harry--you know that he's close to the edge psychologically, and that's supposed to be the message. The tone of OotP isn't, "Wow, at last Harry's learned to express himself! Good for him!" but "For G-d's sake, will someone listen to this kid before he boils over and does something incredibly stupid?" On the matter of physicality, the attention given to hugs is interesting--despite being quite close to the Weasleys for about four years, the first time Harry is hugged by Molly is at the end of GoF. Ron is flabbergasted when Hermione hugs him after the cat/rat fight, and I don't think that's just shippy, or I think it's shippy in a very specific way: She has just crossed a very distinct and well-marked cultural boundary, and he recognizes it.

"Arm's length" isn't an arbitrary phrase. Studies (which I'm too lazy to look up just now, of course) have looked at cultural patterns of conversation, and "arm's length" is, in fact, the distance at which Anglos and other northern cultures typically converse in non-intimate relationships. I can tell you from experience living in a non-Anglo part of the country that it's very nervewracking to have people within what you perceive as your own space, even when they are nowhere near what they would consider "too close." (The difference may be a matter of six inches or so, but it's the difference between having a pleasant conversation and feeling claustrophobic.) Public displays of affection are generally very limited and reserved to a peck on the cheek between marrieds, maybe an arm around the waist or handholding for a couple, etc. Yes, since the sixties or so, there's been a move to force physical intimacies on people who don't want them (hmm, it strikes me that there's a legal word for people who do this)--the soppy group-hug thing--but the boundaries are still there.

Which strays far from Harry Potter and the Totally Gratuitous Hug.

Whatever is or is not true in contemporary Britain, Hogwarts is part of the old world, and has cultural values that pre-date the 1960s, and aren't influenced by contemporary pop-psych. No one doubts that Harry and Sirius love each other, but they don't greet one another or take leave of one another with bear hugs. Dumbledore has never embraced Harry, and neither has Lupin. Hermione gives him a hug when he gets to Grimmauld Place, but then immediately gets down to business. Molly holds him for comfort in GoF. And of course, there's Cho. And that's it--his surrogate sister, his surrogate Mum, and his girlfriend. I could see him, in a moment of stress/relief as accute as the one in the Shrieking Shack and after a twelve year separation, hugging Ron. Not however, after a couple of months of fighting and a brief reconciliation, after which--to Hermione's pop-psych annoyance--they just fall back into their routine.

He's not going to hug Dudley, or even Seamus or Dean, and probably never Neville. And if he did, any of those people would look at him like he was stark, raving mad. And if any of them did it, Harry would look at them the same way. And teachers maintain a professional distance. McGonagall would not be "Yo, Professor M!" or "Dr. Minnie." No matter how cool everyone thought Remus was in DADA, he would remain Professor Lupin. And his lack of hugging Harry did nothing to suggest he didn't love him... it simply wouldn't have been at all proper. (Anyone who's been hugged or kissed by a boss returning from a vacation or whatnot knows why--the person in a position of less power can't say much, and you can't really lodge a harrassment complaint as it might be a case of culture clash more than harrassment.)

These rules are simply intrinsic to the Potterverse. There's not even an appreciable culture clash over them, which makes me suspect that they may be part of the authorial world-view as well, though I wouldn't presume to analyze a woman I haven't met. Whatever their provenance, though, the rules exist in the books, and are part of the culture being portrayed. And when the movies start adding all these touchy-feely moments--apparently afraid that if they don't, the audience will be too stupid to catch on that there's something big and emotional happening--you start to warp the way the characters think and behave. What is true about hugging is also true about yelling and other moments of losing one's temper. Lupin, when angry, doesn't yell--he becomes quiet and stern. Snape, until he really snaps at the edge of sanity, just keeps getting more and more quiet. McGonagall gets, if you'll pardon the pun, catty. Harry gets sarcastic. Lily gets coldly authoritative. Hermione gets even. Only the Dementor-wrecked Sirius loses his temper loudly, at least until Harry absolutely snaps in OotP... and the first time he does this, the twins make fun of him for it ("thought we heard your dulcet tones"), because it's not done.

Anyway, that's why I hate the Hagrid hug. And if a rumor I've heard about PoA is true, I will spend much time muting the volume on certain scenes.

I feel a bit...: bored bored

21 comments or Leave a comment
From: anatomiste Date: May 26th, 2004 05:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you. That needed to be said by someone, I think.
pookizegreat From: pookizegreat Date: May 26th, 2004 06:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well said, well said. *applauds*
silverhill From: silverhill Date: May 26th, 2004 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well said (as always).

Also, the hug was cheesy. It was really awful. Even if Harry et al were huggy types, it still would be a bit off because it was so hokey.

But the relationships in Harry Potter don't need artificial hugs. They're strong enough and well-developed enough already.
mincot From: mincot Date: May 26th, 2004 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
HEAR, HEAR. Thank you.
myf From: myf Date: May 26th, 2004 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very well put. And now I'm scared to know what the film!PoA rumour is, because I'm afraid I haven't heard it.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2004 06:25 am (UTC) (Link)
The rumor I heard--from someone gushing about Remus finally behaving believably or some such--was that in the scene where he chews Harry out about the Hogsmeade visit, instead of speaking to him with quiet brusqueness and whiplashing his guilt--a somewhat sadistic but very effective means of disciplining Harry--he yells at him. Otherwise known as the least effective means of reaching Harry ever devised.

Hopefully, it was just the reviewer hearing a yell because Thewlis's performance is so good that she hears this effective rebuke much more loudly than he actually says it. That's possible, right?
From: alouette Date: May 27th, 2004 12:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh yes. I completely agree with you. And I've also always found the books' culture right when it comes to touching and displaying emotion. I remember once on the Quill there was a topic about how Harry needs to get around touching people more because he hardly ever touches anyone and that must be a part of his problem. It had never occurred to me that there was something wrong with his lack of touchy-feeliness, because that's how it's in my culture, too. We control our emotions; we show that we care mostly in other ways than saying it out loud or giving big hugs to everyone; we only touch other people (other than handshakes and such) when it means much. Hell, I and my best friend have known each other since we were 11, we've been meeting each other regularly (we're originally penpals) since we were 16, and the first time we hugged was when we were 20.

It's made things difficult in France, really, because the private space is less respected here than in Finland. The standard greeting among people who are friends or friendly acquaintances is this sort of a cheek kiss where you press your cheeks together and make a kissy sound in the air (I can't think of anything more stupid). That felt so alien to me and I still hate doing it in most cases - that sort of faked cheek kisses with almost anyone you know seem to really degrade what should be a meaningful emotional message. Of course, some guys take the advantage to actually kiss your cheek, which is even worse! Public displays of affection (ie. exchanging saliva in plain sight) are at least ten times as popular here as in Finland, and they really disgust me because I think that sort of thing should be done in private. Not because I think kissing is wrong, just because I don't think it belongs to the public sphere. I also keep noticing that the notion of appropriate distance here is somewhat smaller than in Finland, because every now and then I find someone standing uncomfortably close to me when e.g. waiting in the traffic lights, and they obviously think nothing of it.

Sorry to go off on the tangent, I just found the cultural differences in this matter a very interesting topic. :) But film directors ought to understand that this is cultural, rather than just Rowling forgetting to write a few hugs in there, and respect those cultural conventions. The culture of these characters is a part of who they are and what their world is like, and I don't like to see that messed up just because the directors don't understand (or think the audience won't understand) that there can be other ways of showing emotion than touching or being otherwise direct about it, and that hugging and other touching can be all the more powerful when it's rare.
riah_chan From: riah_chan Date: May 27th, 2004 02:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Not this has anything to do with HP but I found your comment interesting... from your description of France, I'm glad my first living-out-of-country experience was in Japan where you don't really touch people you don't know... you bow at them. It felt, and still feels, very comfortable to me.

From: alouette Date: May 27th, 2004 06:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, bowing would be a lot more comfortable than fake cheek kisses, yes.
riah_chan From: riah_chan Date: May 27th, 2004 02:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I agree with what you said here... some people aren't touchy feely and don't like others to invade their space.

atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: May 27th, 2004 05:32 am (UTC) (Link)
Fern, you've hit the nail on the head (as usual). Coming from a middle class English background the emotional clues in HP are so familiar to me that it was a surprise that anyone could think there was something "wrong" with Harry for not being more demonstrative about his feelings. He feels deeply, and he shows his feelings - no one in the books has trouble interpreting them - just in a particularly Anglo-type way. His emotional outburst in OotP was not a healthy thing IMO; it was a sign that he is beginning to reach the end of his tether and people need to start giving him full information or he is going to end up doing something incredibly foolish. It is a frustration to me that the films have been emotionally 'dumbed down' through the addition of needless inappropriate and empty gestures.

On a small factual point, I think Molly has hugged Harry before GoF. I am just in the middle of reading PoA and came across these two lines:

" Mrs Weasley kissed all her children, then Hermione, and finally Harry. He was embarrassed, but really quite pleased, when she gave him an extra hug" (pg 58 UK version)

I was surprised, because I originally thought the same as you. I think perhaps the barrier she crosses in GoF is to hug him like a mother (which she has certainly regarded herself as ever since she sent him his first Weasley jumper IMO) rather than just as one of her childrens' friends.

I am going to friend this essay community - sounds like there are some thought provoking posts going up over there :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2004 06:16 am (UTC) (Link)
Ack, you're right. He was definitely surprised by it, though.
atropos87 From: atropos87 Date: May 27th, 2004 06:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I know. I think, as I say, its because in GoF its a different kind of hug.
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fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: May 27th, 2004 09:47 am (UTC) (Link)
I am American and I'm shaken by this sort of thing. It's of very recent vintage (1960s or so--older than I am personally, but my formative life was in a multigenerational home in which my great grandmother set the tone), and I wish it would go back where it came from.

Well, it's not entirely modern everywhere. I think in the south, they've always been a bit more huggy. But the particular pest we're dealing with is, I believe, the huggus fuzzicus Californicus, an invading parasite that attacks through claims of moral and psychologocal superiority. Its only known competitor is the reservus yankeeus, which is being aggressively hunted to extinction.
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keeraa From: keeraa Date: May 31st, 2004 09:53 am (UTC) (Link)
This topic is really interesting. I'm from North Carolina, and I have to admit we can get pretty huggy sometimes, but I still didn't find anything strange about the lack of physical touching in Harry Potter. I agree whole-heartedly that it's just natural for that culture. Like someone said before, cultures differ.
gobsmackit From: gobsmackit Date: May 27th, 2004 01:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
This was very well thought out and interesting to read, thank you! I grew up in Connecticut and for better or worse, I'm a WASP. Well, at least a WAS?. For one thing, family business stays within families, and things that friends of mine would share with each other, I wouldn't share. I was never huggy with my friends, and only rarely with my mother and grandmother. In high school though, after I moved to Massachusetts, people started hugging much more, which was weird for me to adjust to - I don't really mind hugs if they're brief and with friends, but beyond that...bleh. When I started college last year, people I barely knew and who barely knew each other were hugging within weeks, and even saying "I love you," which I couldn't bring myself to say to new friends, so I started to actually verbalize the whole internet phenomenom of "hearting" people. That led to friends at school actually calling me a WASP, and making little "buzzing" noises - all in good fun, but apparently I'm obviously uncomfortable with such "intimacy". It's not really intimacy, though, in my opinion. If it can be cast about to anyone, what makes hugging your best friend any different from hugging your new friend's roommate? From my own biased viewpoint, I prefer the more subtle ways of relating to people, observing body language and listening to the ways people react, and though that's why WASPs are stereotyped as being emotionally frigid, it's just another way of relating, not necessarily inferior, but probably not superior, either.
miranskeeper From: miranskeeper Date: May 27th, 2004 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, very interesting topic. :)

I, too, grew up a WASP - or at least a WAS(P?) - and was never very comfortable with much touching or hugging or whatever outside of my parents. Not even with my best friend of ten years, which can be awkward sometimes. I'm currently in college, and suddenly everybody here is a lot more open about touching and saying "I love you" very casually and I've been having to adjust to that. Although for me personally, I feel that I'm making up now for what I never really did growing up.

So anyway, in the movies there's no arguing that there's a lot more contact between characters than in the novels or, arguably, real life - *especially* in the third one. I haven't seen the actual film yet, but there are very few trio moments in photos or in video clips that *don't* involve touching. Some things can probably be attributed entirely to Steve Kloves, but I think that a good deal of it is Alfonso Cuaron's direct influence. In Mexican culture, accepted "personal space" distances are a lot smaller than in Anglo culture - I'm feeling lazy myself right now, but I think it's as close as 6-10 inches or so. My Spanish professor has stories of being backed around a room by her Mexican friends when she went on study abroad, because they kept trying to get closer while she kept trying to back up - the comfortable distance levels during conversation were significantly different.

So a lot of it was probably just what Alfonso was used to, and it may not have always been all that conscious, either. IMO, there's bound to be more touching in a film with Cuaron than there is in one with Chris Columbus, and a film by Chris, too, is probably going to have some more touching than one by a Brit, if not to the degree that Alfonso would include - thus, the very minimal hugging in the books, compared to the infamous Hagrid hug of the second movie, compared to the constant Triolove! of the third. Culture has everything to do with it.
readerravenclaw From: readerravenclaw Date: May 27th, 2004 09:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
The fact that Harry doesn't just go around hugging people definitely made the hug even worse, but the hug was terrible even without that consideration. It was a terrible ending - completely inappropriate. As you say, though, the fact that I instinctively know this is not something that Harry would do made it much worse. Harry in particular - with the lack of affection during his childhood - would never initiate a hug - and even an ordinary boy would never have hugged Hagrid - and certainly not in public!!!! (And I DO hug my family and close friends - so to be honest, Hermione hugging Hagrid would not have felt strange to me at all - but a boy hugging anyone except perhaps his mother - and even then only in certain special cicumstances, if he was the one initiating it - would just seem completely wrong.)
21 comments or Leave a comment