The constant hum of Twitter outrage makes it all sound the same at a distance. Everyone is mad online again? What else is new?
But not all digitally conveyed ire is created equal.
Take for instance the case of J.K. Rowling, CEO of Harry Potter, Inc.—and lightning rod for controversy. What’s interesting about the outrage flash points that the author inspires is how they fluctuate between benign and legitimately concerning.
The more innocuous controversies often stem from Rowling’s habit of tinkering with her own canon. (Famously, the author announced that her character Dumbledore was gay, only after completing the seven-book saga with nary any indication of his orientation.) She kicked off 2019 by revising Potter history to include the concept that, before plumbing, wizards would simply poop themselves and disappear the evidence. Her unasked-for insistence on this matter, announced via Twitter, led to some truly bizarre early-January fecal discourse.
No feelings were hurt, however, beyond the feeling of having an appetite.
Now here we stand, at the tail end of a fantastic beast of a year, and Rowling has stepped in it again. This time, however, it’s not exactly innocuous. Instead, it’s more like the time that she defended the casting of alleged abuser Johnny Depp in her new film series, or the ongoing debate around whether the depiction of hook-nosed banker creatures in her books is anti-Semitic, or when she needlessly doubled down on Dumbledore’s sexuality earlier this year.
In other words: not great.
Dress however you please.
Call yourself whatever you like.
Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you.
Live your best life in peace and security.
But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) December 19, 2019
At first glance, the above tweet looks rather progressive. The first four lines certainly are. But they exist merely in the service of adorning the fifth statement in a window dressing of wokeness. The tweet is in support of Maya Forstater, a tax expert who was just fired by the Centre for Global Development, a poverty think tank, over some tweets questioning U.K. government plans to allow people to self-identify by the gender they please. (One of her tweets included a flat-out declaration that “men cannot change into women.”)
Whether the Centre should have fired Forstater over her tweets or perhaps offered sensitivity training instead is not the issue here, and neither is whether extenuating circumstances might remain unknown to the public as yet. The important question is why would someone so world famous, with such an ardent following among young people, decide that a woman fired for trans-exclusionist remarks needs defending on an enormous global platform?
Rowling has already raised eyebrows in the LBGTQ community by liking tweets that demean trans women (and doing so several times at that.) Given that context, the author’s tweet about Forstater seems less like a clumsy defense of unjust censure and more like a desire to introduce more questions about the legitimacy of gender identity to an impressionable audience that numbers in the tens of millions.
Currently, “JK Rowling” is the No. 1 trending Twitter topic on the morning after Donald Trump was impeached, so there’s every chance that an apology is forthcoming. Judging by many of the responses to her tweet, however, that apology will be just as disregarded as revisionist history on wizard poop.
Harry Potter and the Wrong Side of History (2019) pic.twitter.com/PRw9heyQAK
— It's Not Disney. It's Disney Prime Video. (@GetDisneyPrime) December 19, 2019