1000 Words on Ron, Hermione, and the Widening Class Divide Between Them

Posted February 3, 2014 by jsmyth
Categories: Literature, Politics

SOOO JK Rowling just stated (in an interview for a magazine Emma Watson guest-edited) that she regrets pairing up Hermione and Ron, and that Hermione should have ended up with Harry instead. (As always she apparently didn’t have anything to say about Ginny.) This vexes me on multiple levels, and whether an artist can break through the fourth wall from the outside and change a piece after everyone’s already appreciated it (a classic philosophy of art debate question, and fwiw I think the reader’s agency/free will must be respected as well) is the -least- of them. ACCIO ESSAY:

1. To be honest I don’t think Rowling should have paired ANYONE up.
A. Aesthetic Reasons: Harry Potter was awesome when it was a fun magical detective story with plentiful parodies of modern life that starred good-hearted, well-rounded characters. As I wrote six years ago (https://www.facebook.com/notes/james-smyth/j-k-rowling-is-the-worlds-1-harry-potter-fanfiction-writer/5608952890) the first three books are the strongest because they’re the leanest and most faithful to the series’s natural strengths. The romances as she wrote them distracted from rather than strengthening the story’s themes, made the characters seem thinner rather than deeper, and should have been cut down or left out. (Protip: don’t get famous until you FINISH your fantasy series unless you have insanely incorruptible artistic integrity like Tolkien.)

How fun would it have been to go all the way through the story with flirting between all the characters and then let the fans keep chatting about who worked best together after that? When the author forces closure by tying together unnaturally, she limits the readers’ imaginations.

B. Moral Reasons: It’s so 16th century to think everyone needs to be paired up by the time the story’s over. Any of these characters could have had a perfectly fulfilling life as a single person as well (like Hagrid or ::cough:: Dumbledore), or met a special someone from the Muggle world off-camera. Students especially, the target audience of HP, are already full of anxiety about having to find someone to love by the time they graduate and these books reinforced that. Quick romantic pairings in epilogues also give the impression that love is easy or just happens when you’ve got things figured out when it’s actually a whole other huge lifelong adventure.

2. That said, she did pair them up, so what really makes Rowling’s new perspective depressing is how classist it is. Harry Potter and the Specter of Social Stratification? Harry Potter and Elite Self-Segregation? I know she doesn’t think of it that way but, especially after reading the Ross Douthat class warfare article from yesterday, this is how it looks to me:

What changed here is not the characters but JK Rowling herself. Once a single mother who wrote stories on napkins, she has now been one of the richest and most famous people in Britain (always a more stratified society) for 15 years, which means she’s spent years immersed in a totally different, wealthier world than the world from which this series sprang up. In other words, the J.K. Rowling who wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone no longer exists.

When the Muse wrote the books she chose Ron-Hermione and Harry-Ginny (now Rowling is making it look like she created Ginny just to give Harry a girlfriend, which is capital-T Terrible, but let’s move on.) 2014 Rowling describes Ron-Hermione as “wish fulfillment” that she wanted to be true but which couldn’t actually work. Harry and Hermione could definitely have worked! But so could Ron and Hermione. There’s enough chemistry and space between the lines for either relationship to be fulfilling, and for either one to be “wish fulfillment”.

What this latest statement looks like to everyone who reads it is “Ron isn’t good enough for Hermione (and Ginny isn’t good enough for Harry)”, not least due to its Hermione-centrism. How are Ron and Ginny not good enough, though? That case looks really classist to me:

Hermione is a genius and the only child of a pair of dentists. Harry grew up poor but is now a wealthy heir, a sports hero, and The Chosen One. (Also an only child.) Ron is the youngest son of a big, poor-and/but-happy (Catholic?) family and has a serious inferiority complex. Ginny is the youngest child of this family, is painfully shy, and isn’t “the best at anything” either.

The two elites in this group, in terms of achievements, money, as well as character traits associated with success, are obviously Harry and Hermione. But is the closest match/complement in these characteristics what matters for a relationship?

Not to be too maudlin, but I think of how loving the Weasley household is and how comfortable Hermione was staying there all summer (I wanted to be there too!). How Ron isn’t too intimidated of Hermione to make fun of her, but also how much he admires her and is supportive of her. How much integrity both Ron and Ginny had. Ron and Hermione had communication problems but so do people in every relationship! Who’s in love with each other? That’s the unpredictable and way more important thing, and if Ron and Hermione loved each other in JK’s imagination she doesn’t get to say years after the fact that they shouldn’t. (Besides, Adult Ron with things figured out would be at least as awesome as Young Adult Rupert Grint, right? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-2108756/Harry-Potter-selling-ice-creams-Rupert-Grint-fulfilling-childhood-ambition.html)

Why does all this matter? Because while the increasing intensity of social and economic stratification is undeniable, more and more “successful” Americans are looking for romantic partners who are their equals in these same categories and limiting their associations with those in the lower classes.

And even if, like me, you think success is defined by how far you carry a cross and not having nice jobs in the Ministry of Magic and sending your kids to a nice school like Hogwarts, you find that society perpetually pressures the “less successful” partner in a relationship and you appreciate any relief from that stress that you can get.

So, motion denied, J.K.

Top 10 Dream Jobs of Japanese Kindergarten and Elementary School Students, according to Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company survey

Posted July 6, 2013 by jsmyth
Categories: Business, Education, Japan

Top 10 Dream Jobs of Japanese Kindergarten and Elementary School Students, according to Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company survey

(1) Soccer Player (2) Scholar (2) Police Officer/Detective (4) Baseball Player (5) TV Star, including Anime Voice Actor (6) Astronaut (6) Restaurateur/Chef (6) Train/Bus/Car Driver (9) Doctor (10) Fire Fighter/EMT

(1) Restaurateur/Chef (2) Nurse (3) Kindergarten/Nursery School Teacher (4) Doctor (5) Florist (5) Teacher (Elementary or above) (7) Animal Husbandry/Pet Store Owner/Animal Training (8) Piano/Keyboard Teacher, Pianist (8) Police Officer/Detective (10) Designer

Dai-ichi Comment: This is the 16th year in a row Restaurateur/Chef was girls’ #1 choice. Since the Great Tohoku Earthquake, children have had much more interest in jobs related to saving lives and protecting others, such as police work and nursing.

Number in parentheses = the rank of that occupation the year before.

Source: http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/atmoney/news/20130705-OYT1T00910.htm?from=main1

The Somber Ten-Year Anniversary

Posted March 21, 2013 by jsmyth
Categories: Politics, USA


March 20, 2003. Watching bombs over Baghdad in the high school cafeteria just as the NCAA tournament began. Not believing my antiwar friends’ predictions of the future, which would indeed come to pass over these ten years as our messianic dreams died by the sword. I’m sorry. I wish for peace for our servicemen and the people of Iraq and ready to advocate peace for the rest of my days.

Microinequity and Vicious Cycles at Home and Abroad

Posted March 10, 2013 by jsmyth
Categories: Japan, Politics, USA

Tags: , , , , ,

Ta-Nehisi Coates’s latest column-post-comments combo is worthwhile reading.

The thread explores two ideas I’d like to say a little more about:

1. Microaggression and microinequity – that is, the constant little events that underline someone is different or of a lower status – fuel bad feelings and inequality and have a corrosive effect on the person on the receiving end, even if the person on the giving end has no intention to hurt.

Microaggression is a really common talking point in the English-speaking expat community in Japan. Here’s one example.

I’ve had friends tell me they couldn’t stay in Japan or Taiwan anymore because they couldn’t handle never being fully accepted. It took me way longer than it should have to connect this frustration with the feelings American minorities have in their own communities. Then the little things that happened here felt really small. In fact, it became clear that Western foreigners in the East are a privileged minority.

James Baldwin describes the way the disrespect of others can poison one’s spirit in his essay “Native Son”, which I also happened to read this week:

This isn’t just a macro (societal) issue, though. Little differences in treatment are in my opinion a major cause of family rifts. Anyone who feels looks down upon (say, for having less “success”) resents it and things quietly get worse and worse.

2. We need to be more aware of how systemic inequalities created the world we have today and how we ourselves contribute to the perpetuation of suffering.

This sort of thing also happens in home life, too. Say you have an overweight family member, and everyone’s always telling him he needs to lose weight…and yet when there’s food left over after dinner, everyone shovels it onto his plates. The people complaining about the problem are themselves perpetuating it!

Likewise, social ostracism fuels antisocial behavior. For example, yakuza membership is largely made up of (1) children of yakuza (2) graduates of teenage biker gangs, who mostly come from broken homes (3) the burakumin, or untouchables (4) ethnic Koreans and other ostracized Asian groups. People that society rejected find their best opportunities are in crime.

One thing I’ve learned this month is that “the ghetto” is the result of public policy. From The Warmth of Other Suns: “The story played out in virtually every northern city – migrants sealed off in overcrowded colonies that would become the foundation for ghettos that would persist into the next century. These were the original colored quarters – the abandoned and identifiable no-man’s-lands that came into being when the least-paid people were forced to pay the highest rents for the most dilapidated housing owned by absentee landlords trying to wring the most money out of a place nobody cared about.”

Black neighborhoods got the worst of everything from city hall in infrastructure and services. (Hello, broken window theory.) No one was allowed to move out, and government housing authorities redlined/hugely undervalued their holdings as owners even as they paid out the nose as renters – which meant their wealth was being constantly devalued.

More Ta-Nehisi on how ghettos were created by elite discrimination:



Since inequitable urban policy reaped so much destruction, couldn’t equity go a long way to solving problems? Couldn’t city halls take a much more active role in identifying addressing inequalities?

I’m wondering now why the demographic differences between Indy’s Marion and Hamilton counties have always been so stark and thinking my own hometown is a place where there is much legitimate urban renewal to be done.

There’s much to do here, as well. Immigrants from Southeast Asian countries in particular deserve more equitable treatment. Personally, I’m resolved to never look down on anyone. I admit I’m not there yet. To never feel contempt, I’ll have to examine my conscience daily.

Two heroes of Japanese liberalism have passed over to the Grey Havens

Posted January 3, 2013 by jsmyth
Categories: Art, Japan, Literature, Politics


Keiji Nakazawa
Asahi Shimbun Obituary

When Keiji Nakazawa was 6 years old, the Hiroshima atomic bomb vaporized nearly his entire family.

He portrayed this experience in a comic book.


As far as I know, Barefoot Gen is the most famous anti-war work in Japanese history. Search for it in Google Images and it will imprint itself in your mind as well. The art style, typical of fun adventures, makes what is depicted inside feel even worse. Perhaps if a book like this were required reading in American junior high schools, we would not declare another war of choice. Irrespective of America, Nakazawa’s work has doubtless been monumental in Japanese culture. My junior high school there had a student performance of it every few years.


Beate Gordon

Read the New York Times’ obituary. It’s one of those that’s so astonishing you wonder why you’ve never heard of this person before.

Beate Sirota Gordon introduced women’s rights to postwar Japan, writing the clauses specifically guaranteeing them into the Japanese Constitution, emancipating 40 million people, when she was 22 years old.

Gordon studied other nations’ constitutions and drew on her childhood experiences in Tokyo and wrote the articles in a week. A sleepless week. Imagine all your learning and moral training and ethical thought suddenly being put to the test, now, and you have to lay out the future legal status of millions of historically marginalized people.

And then she kept her role a secret for decades.

All she did in the meantime was introduce the West to every kind of traditional Japanese art and every style of Asian performance art she could find. It’s amazing to think of how little even Americans in the highest reaches of power understood of Japan when they began ruling the country after the war. And pre-WWII cultural globalization mostly meant Westernization. Ms. Gordon was very important to turning on the East-to-West cultural flows and contributing to the cultural relations between Japanese and Americans today.


With her parents and Kosaku Yamada in Tokyo in 1928 (source: http://www.shinyawatanabe.net/atomicsunshine/ny/beateintroduction.html)

Mr. Nakazawa, Ms. Gordon, rest in peace. May our generation, too, have people as amazing as you.

A Land of One-Man Islands, or Shootings are a Symptom of Social Sickness

Posted December 16, 2012 by jsmyth
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s a rare beautiful winter morning in Taipei, but after checking my feed, my first thought of the day is, “May God have mercy on our souls.”

The last time this happened, many people asked me what it is about America. Generalizations are never Gospel truth, but my opinion is we have a widespread Mental Health epidemic, abetted by unnatural medication and environmental and dietary contamination but ultimately caused by family and community breakdown.

I believe only a one-man island, someone without any healthy people close to him, caring for him and knowing his activities and state of mind, could do a thing like this. And almost every town in America, from Newtown, CT to Carmel, Indiana, is full of one-man islands.

Even those who never attack another person suffer alone daily. They fall and no one hears the sound.

This story, and the additional detail that Lanza’s own brother hadn’t been in contact with him since 2010, following a 2009 divorce splitting the family in half, tells the tale of Adam Lanza in very broad strokes:

“A relative told ABC News that Adam was `obviously not well.` Family friends in Newtown also described the young man as troubled and described Nancy as very rigid. `[Adam] was not connected with the other kids,` said one friend.”

Lanza’s brother called him autistic. In reality, due to the explosion of home entertainment and the Internet in recent decades, all of us are more autistic than ever. We interact with other people face-to-face less frequently, and it’s easier than ever to avoid other people for a long period of time. Independence is part of the American ethos, which is why we’ve gone this direction faster than other countries, but we’ve also seen troubled, isolated killers crop up in more communitarian societies like China and Japan.

Here’s what we can do to make things better.

1. More love, more connections, more community organizations. This is what we can all do personally, do passionately, and do right now. We should reach out especially to estranged family members and people we find disgusting or troubling and bring everyone into the fold and into positive lifestyles. We should try to ensure no one falls through the cracks.

Let’s try to be as heroic as Donnie Andrews, the original Omar, was:

2. Most people on my wall are discussing gun control. That’s fair. But prior to a total ban, I’d like to look into how these weapons are sold. The killers aren’t going to the corner store to a vendor who knows them and their families well and can use discretion; they’re buying weapons by mail from people who couldn’t care less. A criminal background check tells you much less than enough about a person.

If we want to ban assault weapons, then we also have to disarm our police departments, because they are weaponizing to a terrifying degree. Otherwise, we will make the paranoid more paranoid. Almost every country suffered a mass police or military slaughter of civilians at some point in the 20th century. People don’t buy assault rifles to blow bigger holes in burglars’ heads; they do it to head off a future 228 Incident.

3. As I alluded to earlier, America is physically contaminated, and we need to clean it up. So is the rest of the industrialized world on a lesser scale. Besides unhealthy food and water there are even clothing problems – look up “Greenpeace and Zara and Levi’s” – and ATM contamination – look up bisphenol A. I could go on forever. My parents are part of the vaccine-reform crowd; they say US vaccines are made using tissue from aborted fetuses and some kids react to that. Environmental and consumer protection should be mass movements, not niche ones.

America is also by far the most medicated place in the world. Which makes everything worse. I mentioned our prescription pill plague two weeks ago. Besides that, we’re the Ritalin generation. You must know of others who suffered from this.  When I taught in Japan, the number of students on medication for mental health issues was practically zero…and by and large the kids were doing fine.

All these chemicals and tampering are making us sick. And physical and mental health are connected.

Every generation sees evil and suffering. The proper response is not despair but positive reform. Thank you for reading, and God bless you as you move forward tomorrow.

Proportion of Japanese Men That Are Lifelong Bachelors Breaks 20% for First Time; Rate has Octupled in Last 30 Years

Posted May 1, 2012 by jsmyth
Categories: Japan, Translations

Proportion of Japanese Men That Are Lifelong Bachelors Breaks 20% for First Time; Rate has Octupled in Last 30 Years
Yomiuri Shimbun: 生涯未婚の男性、2割を突破…30年で8倍
May 1, 2012

As of 2010, the proportions of Japanese men and women who had never been married at age 50 were 20.1% and 10.6%, respectively, it was announced today. This is the first time that the 20% and 10% barriers have been broken.

This information is to be included in “Children and Child-Rearing” white paper which will be confirmed by the Cabinet in the beginning of June.

In 1980, the proportions of the single-for-life were 2.6% for men and 4.5% for women. Now, more than 8 times more men are lifelong bachelors, and more than twice as many women are lifelong bachelorettes. The numbers of the unmarried have surged since the 1990s.

By age group: 71.8% of men and 60.3% of women age 25-29 have never been married. 47.3% of men and 34.5% of women age 30-34 have never been married. And 35.6% of men and 23.1% of women age 35-39 have never been married.


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