I recently listened to a fascinating podcast series called, The Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling, produced by The Free Press. This seven-part series chronicled the rise of Rowling, the success of the Harry Potter books and her clashes with extremists ranging from radical Christians to radical transgender activists. It framed the various controversies swirling around Rowling through the prism of the burning of witches throughout history.
One aspect I found particularly intriguing was the rise of the internet and it’s affect on politics as we know it today. The actions and language of the current progressive movement can be traced to the rise of Tumblr, circa 2012. Tumblr is a microblogging site where many groups of various identities shared their feelings and experiences. Terms like, “Safe space,” “Microagression,” and “Triggered,” gained popularity on Tumblr. According to the research done by Megan Phelps-Roper, author of the Rowling podcast, Tumblr was populated overwhelmingly by females.
At the same time, another social media domain called 4Chan was mushrooming. This site was populated largely by males and prided itself on being as politically incorrect and offensive as possible. It largely resembles the right as we know it today.
These two sites seem to operate in complete polarity to one another. Yet, they seem to represent the perfect example of the Horseshoe Theory. This theory posits that the extreme left and extreme right may appear to be far apart, but upon close inspection, they are actually close together in their actions and underlying views, much as the two ends of a curving horseshoe are in relative proximity.
If you listen to the entire podcast series (which I highly recommend), you can see how this works. One might think that Christian extremists and trans radicals have nothing in common, yet in their tactics and outward demands, they share a great deal. One of the most obvious points of commonality is that they both tried to have J. K. Rowling canceled at various times.
The examination of Tumblr and 4Chan also makes me think of a comparison between our two political parties. I once heard Jonah Goldberg posit that the Republican Party was like a father figure, while the Democrat Party was like a mother figure. Dad is concerned about keeping your doors locked at night, arming for proper defense, paying the bills on time and forcing the kids to take risks now and then in the hopes that they will flourish. Mom wants to make sure the kids eat their vegetables, play nice with the other kids, keep their room clean and protect the kids from being hurt.
These notions rely on stereotypes to a degree, but they are also rooted in thousands of years of tradition. This pattern also helped to distinguish the two genders from each other. Now, with the rise of the digital age when norms and customs are being redefined, things that were once thought of as normal are now considered dangerous. This explains the propagation of the term, “Toxic masculinity,” in leftward circles.
But what about toxic femininity? What about the idea of safetyism to the exclusion of the traditional values of western civilization such as free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion? Could the erosion of individual rights in the name of protecting the historically vulnerable and marginalized be acceptable? For a growing number of people, particularly the young who have grown up entirely under the umbrella of relative security, the answer is sadly, yes.
This is why the success of Rowling represents such a threat to so many. If she can withstand attacks from both ends of the horseshoe, are they really effective? The recent popularity of the Hogwarts videogame in the face of an attempt to cancel it, and plans to produce a new television series based on Harry Potter in the face of more protests seem to suggest that Rowling is too big to cancel.
But what about the little people who aren’t the most successful author in the world? What about the academics, the cubical workers, the journalists, the programmers and scores of other workers who don’t have Rowling’s resources? Many of them choose to stay silent in the face of the fear of cancelation. Others who do speak up quickly find themselves marginalized and suddenly on the outs. Some who witness this growing phenomenon decide to throw their lot in with another figure who seems too big to cancel, Donald Trump.
It’s a vicious cycle that threatens to tear at the fabric of our democracy. The ends of the horseshoe poison the middle until too many people find themselves forced to make a false choice that is suddenly all too real. Choose right or left. Choose toxic masculinity or toxic femininity. Choose Door #1 or Door #2. Behind either door is the same monster wearing different garb; fascism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism. Call it Voldemort, or Darth Vader, or Daenerys Targaryen. Either way, the threat is the same.
As for Rowling, I admire her for sticking to her values. Yes, she’s famous and rich and does appear to be too big to cancel. But if you listen to her speak in the podcast, you can hear her voice waver with emotion as she describes the assaults she’s had to endure in her life. She may be cancelproof, but she’s still a human being who hurts.
I also feel anger on her behalf. As SI prepare for another read of the Potter books, it strikes me that she has given an extraordinary gift to the children of the world, and to many adults. She gave us a universe full of rich characters, wonderful friendships and daunting challenges. In return, many have told her to, “Suck my big, fat trans dick.” Others have applauded those sentiments, or have stood silently by. It really does hurt my heart on her behalf.
I do believe that Rowling will ultimately be vindicated. I think the trans movement is a time bomb that will eventually explode sometime between now and when we know more about the long term effects of children transitioning with surgery and puberty blockers. The explosion will come in the form of lawsuits against the medical establishment who has too quickly decided to champion a trendy cause over their patients.
Rowling’s efforts to maintain safe spaces for biological women will also eventually be seen as a no-brainer, but how many more women will be assaulted by biological men in women’s prisons, battered women shelters and even in locker rooms in the interim? Far too many; more than I care to ponder.
And…since I’ve started writing this, Tucker Carlson was fired from Fox News. Everyone was quite startled to learn that Tucker was not, in fact, cancelproof. I have no sympathy. Next to Donald Trump, Carlson is the living avatar of the toxic right. There are a lot of rumors floating around as to why Tucker was abruptly canceled. We may never know the reasons, but whatever they were, he discovered the same hard truth that Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Megyn Kelly and others learned. No matter how big you think you are, nobody is bigger and badder than Rupert Murdoch.