Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Harry Potter and the Suburbs

Another interesting element of the Harry Potter series is its depiction of the suburbs.  Through the Dursleys, Harry’s Aunt and Uncle, suburbanites are portrayed as completely narrow-minded, conformist, and career-obsessed.  This echoes the criticism that many American observers have made of suburbs since the 1950s.  After the emergence of the post-WW2 Levittowns, intellectuals like David Riesman, Betty Friedan, and others have attacked the suburbs as repressive centers of boredom and homogenous thinking.   
For a half-century, films like “American Beauty” and numerous others have echoed and reinforced this criticism.  For instance, it has been a subtle theme throughout the films of Steven Spielberg.  Think of the shot of Eliot’s suburb in “E.T.” which shows a sea of look-alike houses.  Spielberg’s critique of the suburbs reached its peak in “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” when a nuclear test destroys a model suburban community in Nevada. The Potter series reveal that at least some British observers feel the same way about their suburbs.

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