Aggression, well-being and social success in Harry Potter


Discussing the benefits of aggression to social adaptation, Bukowski and Abecassis use Harry Potter as an example (“a highly popular character who is not free of aggressive acts” (p.204)). They write:

“…one does not need to turn to the ideas of social scientists to find ways of understanding how aggression and adaptation are interrelated. Instead, sometimes one can turn to the list of “best-sellers” to find stories that enlighten. Of all the stories ever told about a young person, few have captured a world-wide audience as thoroughly as the story of Harry Potter…. Millions and millions of readers, many of them young and all young at heart, have followed the adventures of the bespectacled English early-adolescent as he has made his way through life in his school. …Over time… most… have come to see the story about Harry as a parable about friendship, goodness, and the process of growing up in the company of one’s peers. By nearly any definition, Harry is competent, if not extra-competent. He is well-liked, helpful, appropriately competitive, clever, smart, engaging, funny, loyal, sociable, and, yes, at times, a bit aggressive (at least by some definitions). He revels in the warmth of the active, chaotic, and dynamic energy of the Weasley home, his adoptive family. At school, Harry is willing to fight for the good when circumstances call for it. His aggression is regulated and serves functions that most people would regard as acceptable. … Harry is not excessive, self-centered, or indiscriminately harmful. Harry uses aggression as a means of self assertion to achieve goodness when all else has failed. These moments of aggression are not antithetical to the many traditionally positive features we all see in Harry. Instead, they complement them. No one objects when he stands up, even aggressively, to the dreaded and nasty … members of Slytherin, or to Voldemort. … Harry’s readers are with him as they wait, anxiously, for the anticipated moment of his fateful face-to-face encounter with Snape, and, of course, with the extra-evil and horrid Voldemort. Will Harry be aggressive, or even destructive, when these moments arrive? We don’t know yet, but many of us, in our least-pretentious moments, probably hope so and we wouldn’t blame him if he were.” (pp.204-205)

(What did Voldemort do that we felt violence justified?)

“…to some degree, self-assertion and competitiveness are necessary for adaptation, as they promote one’s ability to achieve personal goals. Perhaps by definition, however, acts of aggression contradict one’s capacity to function with others.Insofar as aggression has been often defined as intent to harm, being aggressive means that one is acting against others. …We propose that individuals who do not assert themselves are at risk for being taken advantage of by others and they fail to garner critical resources. Persons who engage in self-assertion to the point of hurting others, however, not only disrupt group functioning but, in doing so, they deny themselves opportunities for basic forms of human relationship. …Although aggression should be discouraged in many cases, at some times it may be an adaptive or even necessary response.” (p.205)

Ref: William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis (2007) self, other, and aggression: the never-ending search for the roots of adaptation. Pp.185-205 in Aggression and Adaptation. The bright side to bad behaviour. Harley, P, Little T, Rodkin P. LEA Publishers London

Vigilante justice and the legal culture of arrest on suspicion


I’m interested in the concept of vigilante justice. It seems to me that vigilante justice of a sort is reasonably common in young adult fiction and urban fantasy. Anyway, I read an interesting opinion piece on the topic; Meena Radhakrishna considered several incidents in India represented as vigilante justice by the press, even though in each case those treated to this form of ‘justice’ all proved innocent of the supposed crime.

Radhakrishna writes: “Recent incidents of lynching in different parts of the country have to be viewed in the context of the law itself allowing the arrest of innocent people on mere suspicion, especially denotified and nomadic people.” (p.16)

“, various sociological explanations have been given for occurrence and recurrence of such incidents. The Bihar lynchings in September 2007, especially, aroused a lot of comment. Horrified national and international reactions largely included denouncement of the inefficient and callous law and order machinery in the concerned state (mainly the police), and the failure of the criminal justice system. This analysis reasoned that a public fed up with delays in dispensation of justice decided to take the law into its own hands and “settle scores with the miscreants”. The solutions to this state of affairs were then seen to be, predictably, gearing up of the police, speedier trials and more self-restraint on the part of the public, however provoked.” (p.16)

However, Radhakrishna explains: “There are some commonalities which will bear pointing out emphatically. Firstly, in all the five cases, the communities suspected of theft (in the case of pardhis, of rape and murder), were nomadic/denotified communities. Secondly, in all the cases it is mere suspicion of crime, not the proof of crime which seemed to justify the public killings or other forms of punishment like rape or burning down of a whole village. Thirdly, in all the cases, the mob was not made up of unknown, nameless ‘citizens’ or a faceless ‘crowd’ as implied in the press, but was constituted of identifiable people. …Fourthly, the law and order keepers in all the …cases [described in this article] were actually present or were informed of the incident well in advance and they did nothing to stop the beatings in time to save the lives of those who were caught by the mobs. …” (pp.16-17)

There are no issues of justice to be settled here since we are talking of crimes here which the accused did not commit. In other words, innocent people have been caught and handled recklessly and in a most barbaric manner. How has any “justice”, mob, or instant, or vigilante, been dispensed?
A point to be emphasised here is that the Indian law itself allows apprehending of innocent people under mere suspicion, and denotified and nomadic people are regularly rounded up by the police under the mob was not made up of unknown, nameless “citizens” or a faceless “crowd” caste members of the concerned region. certain preventive sections of the Indian Penal Code (ipc). This gross injustice is something the rest of the civil society is witness to without questioning, encouraging a state of affairs where suspicion will continue to substitute for hard evidence for vulnerable groups. However, this daily injustice on these communities by the police machinery is not the reason for such group violence. It merely helps in justifying it for its perpetrators in the likes of cases cited above.” (p.17)

Thought-provoking stuff!!! This same culture of suspicion standing in for hard evidence is something children face, too, at least in New Zealand and other English-speaking countries I’ve been to. How wide-spread is such a culture?

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Meena Radhakrishna (2008) Crime of Vigilante Justice Economic and Political Weekly 43 (2) Jan. 12-18, pp.16-18

Book to check out – Bloody Murder


Bloody Murder

The Homicide Tradition in Children’s Literature

Michelle Ann Abate

Publication Year: 2013

Given the long-standing belief that children ought to be shielded from disturbing life events, it is surprising to see how many stories for kids involve killing. Bloody Murder is the first full-length critical study of this pervasive theme of murder in children’s literature. Through rereadings of well-known works, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and The Outsiders, Michelle Ann Abate explores how acts of homicide connect these works with an array of previously unforeseen literary, social, political, and cultural issues. Topics range from changes in the America criminal justice system, the rise of forensic science, and shifting attitudes about crime and punishment to changing cultural conceptions about the nature of evil and the different ways that murder has been popularly presented and socially interpreted. Bloody Murder adds to the body of inquiry into America’s ongoing fascination with violent crime. Abate argues that when narratives for children are considered along with other representations of homicide in the United States, they not only provide a more accurate portrait of the range, depth, and variety of crime literature, they also alter existing ideas about the meaning of violence, the emotional appeal of fear, and the cultural construction of death and dying.

History as fiction and truth


The following words are from the prologue to Andersen’s Dossier Secreto:

“This book – like the work of those who documented the Holocaust is meant to ensure that the fictionalized account left by the military as their official record of events in the 1970s and 1980s will not be allowed, sometime in the future, to replace fact.” (p.6)

The texts narrating Argentina’s history of violence are interesting to me; with regards to ‘truth’/fiction; with regards to history and historicism; representations of violence; among other things…

Ref: Martin Edwin Andersen (1993) Dossier Secreto; Argentina’s Desaparecidos and the Myth of the ‘Dirty War’ Boulder: Westview Press

The Myth of Evil


Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2

From Dusk Till Dawn – Helyer


I quite liked what Ruth Helyer had to say about Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Till Dawn (which she compares to American Psycho):

American Psycho […] leaks into differing categories, demonstrating characteristics of comedy, autobiography, spoof horror, bleak social commentary, conventional horror, and pornography. When Patrick carelessly shoots a street musician, the action accelerates into a “cops and robbers” type chase, complete with tires screeching, bullets ricocheting, and innocent people dying. Patrick’s self-parody is complete as he finally begins to discuss his brutal actions in the third person, referring to himself as “Patrick,” “Bateman,” and “he,” when throughout the previous narrative he has been “I.” The potential for characters within modern Gothic narratives to parody not only the genre, but themselves
suggests that the title is no longer a convenient genre “label,” evoking affected eighteenth-century novels, but a new and modern representation, or rather a fissure between representations, through which we can look back, to multiple scenes. Patrick encourages this by constantly filming everything, including himself.
Quentin Tarantino’s film From Dusk Till Dawn shows a similar irreverent mixing of seemingly established genres, suggesting that their “established” status is under threat. This text alludes to the western, the thriller, the black comedy, romance, the horror/vampire movie, the road movie, the buddy movie, and other film genres. Like American Psycho, Tarantino’s film attempts to portray the violent excesses of criminality and its ruthless and perverted desires. Actor George Clooney, despite [-p.742] his matinee idol looks and his fame as a star in a hugely popular television show, makes a parody of his role as “hero” by robbing banks and killing people. The quality of camera shots of his breathtakingly handsome face are at times quite stunning, again undercutting our ability, or inclination, to view him critically. The glorious use of color and clarity remind us of Patrick’s insistence on graphic, visual description. Within the narrative the brother of Clooney’s character refuses to die, and in keeping with the postmodern Gothic demonstrates a “coming back,” a “re-visiting.” Like American Psycho, From Dusk Till Dawn exposes contemporary culture as a mix of violence and “apparent” reality.” (pp.741-742)

Ref: Ruth Helyer (2000) Parodied to Death: The Postmodern Gothic of American Psycho MFS Modern Fiction Studies, 46(3), Fall, pp.725-746