Harry Potter: the Anti-Geek

Harry-potter-with-wand-wallpaper Amanda Marcotte in Pandagon:

With all the excitement over the last Harry Potter movie coming out, I thought it would be a fun time to float a thought I've had about the book that often seems to surprise people when I mention it. Even recently I was talking with some folks who were plowing through the books and enjoying them, and when one of them characterized Harry as “nerdy”, I had to take issue.

“Harry isn't a nerd,” I said, “Harry is a jock.” I mean, Harry has an existential crisis that gives him some depth, but social outcast and/or geek he's not. The opposite, in fact.

I realized then that the “band of misfits” theme has so much power over the American imagination (maybe not the British, which could explain Rowling's choices) that people just sort of shove Harry and his friends into that mold, and then rely on a handful of rationalizations for it—Harry wears glasses, Hermione is a bookworm, Ron is a redhead—in order for that theory to make sense. We're used to the X-Men or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Scooby Gang, so much so that we don't see that Harry's trajectory is the inverse of Buffy's. Buffy is a former cheerleader whose magic powers actually make her a geek and an outcast. Harry is a nobody-special who finds out that he's special, and becomes not just the star athlete and hero of his school, but an actual celebrity. Sure, there's ups and downs, but his trajectory is away from being the outcast and towards being the homecoming king. Which may not be as emotionally satisfying as “my greatness makes me an outcast”, but is probably more realistic. In his world, being a badass is appreciated and he's realistically rewarded in his society for it.