A Harry Potter Reboot Is The Tipping Point For A Nostalgia-Mad Monoculture

In 2001, cultural theorist Svetlana Boym published "The Future of Nostalgia." In it, she theorized that two types of nostalgia exist within our collective culture. One of these was restorative, which centers around our desires to relive particular parts of our life by reconstructing them with modern elements. The other was reflective, a longing for our past, but one that looks forward into the future and how our past shapes who we become throughout our lives. That same year, Warner Bros. released the first installment of what would become one of their most influential franchises — "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." 

Hollywood has used these nostalgic thought processes in their big releases to varying levels of success. Some revivals of movies or television shows have been praised, while others have been written off as cynical cash grabs. Of course, adapting IP is far from a modern pop culture trend, but since there are more avenues of communication nowadays, it often feels like a new reboot/remake/legacy sequel is announced daily. There is nothing inherently wrong with nostalgic retoolings of media from childhood, as long as they're done for a good reason.

So, what happens when one such reboot with arguably dubious intentions is announced? We might find out soon, as Warner Bros. Discovery and HBO have officially announced that a new series rebooting the "Harry Potter" franchise is in the works. While the project still has many details being kept under wraps, its existence alone could signal something dangerous for our artistic culture, and not entirely in the way you might think.

The Potter problem

There was a time when the name "Harry Potter" was associated with magic, fantastical worlds, and the idea that anyone could be a hero no matter what struggles they faced in life. However, that's not necessarily the case anymore. Instead, the "Harry Potter" franchise is primarily associated with the ongoing and seemingly never-ending culture wars — author J.K. Rowling's support of transphobic rhetoric and policies and a re-evaluation of the actual series itself has thrown its widespread legacy into question. From antisemitic stereotypes in its goblin bankers to a werewolf's curse being an allegory for AIDS, the once-beloved series has been rightfully criticized alongside its author's real-life beliefs. Not to mention the racist naming conventions of characters like Cho Chang and Kingsley Shacklebolt (or the Irish Seamus Finnigan's love of making alcohol and blowing stuff up), which itself has become a meme template.

However, with that criticism comes another camp, which has primarily claimed that the series and Rowling have been the victims of the cancel culture boogeyman. Online figures declared that purchasing "Hogwarts Legacy," a video game based on the franchise, was a way to "own the libs," while others boycotted it all together. Perhaps advocacy groups and marginalized communities are just overreacting or reaching; at least, that's what this other side argues. So, much like Dr. Seuss's books or the M&M mascots, "Harry Potter" has been forced to become a bizarre litmus test for modern politics. It isn't a stretch to say that this will remain a part of the franchise's legacy for years to come, and it won't be easy to reclaim it from the bigots that use it to defy the so-called "woke agenda."

The age-old question

These issues beg an important question: what are the limits of separating the art from the artist? Art should always be judged subjectively, as interpretive groupthink isn't healthy and goes against what art is all about. With that being said, what exactly do you do if the beliefs and thoughts held in a piece of art seem to mirror those held by its creator in real life? Is it still possible to separate the art from the artist, then?

As the "Harry Potter" reboot news posits, the corporate answer is yes. Rowling is expected to be a producer and consultant on the show, with the reboot aiming to follow more closely to her books than the movies were. While certain aspects of the original books should have been included in the films, there are just as many things that they smartly kept out or readjusted. For instance, the framing of the S.P.E.W. scenes from "Goblet of Fire" would not have worked well in live-action, so the idea of them returning as part of Rowling's complete vision is a very real and potentially stupid possibility.

Cycling through the past

It is fitting that a series about realizing that your magical home can still be brutal and oppressive has been given this place in our current cultural landscape. It symbolizes millennial nostalgia, representing a period of history where nobody knew what the future would hold. Between the economic crashes, 9/11, pointlessly bloody wars, the rise of the school shooting epidemic, and everything in between, "Harry Potter" was used as an introduction to escapism for so many fans. However, when the franchise decided to move on with "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," there was too much differing itself from its mainline series for fans. With the world still in a state of panic and fear, it would only make sense that these same fans would again cling to the same story of The Boy Who Lived, problematic aspects and all.

Unfortunately, we can't keep ourselves comforted through nostalgia. At some point, we need to realize that there are other things in life we can focus our attention on, whether it is helping out our fellow humans or a new fantasy world we can visit through art. Allowing ourselves to be kept in the confines of what's comforting is regressive to ourselves and the creativity we unleash onto the world. This is doubly so if that nostalgia is manufactured by those accused of bigotry and oppression. If we don't embrace change and reject shallow comfort, we will create an artistic monoculture. With the announcement and likely release of a new "Harry Potter" reboot, it's only a matter of time before that oppressive sameness becomes commonplace.

Letting the past die

Of course, the blame cannot all be placed on individuals seeking comfort in times of sociopolitical turmoil. A sizable part of this impending nostalgia-driven culture is driven by studios, whether those in tune with cultural shifts or those just wanting to milk a property for all its worth. To ignore the capitalist roots of these projects would be disingenuous, but at the same time, executives need to get their ideas from somewhere.

Ultimately, media based on intellectual property will always be a mixed bag. For every positive pre-release response to "Barbie" or "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem," there will exist an opposite response to projects like the "Moana" or "Vertigo" remakes. However, the fact is that they will be inevitable in our cultural landscape — it is simply how we approach them creatively that will determine our output moving forward.

The solution is not to completely reboot a controversial franchise to better suit a flawed original vision. Instead, we need to approach reboots or adaptations with a fresh mindset. How can they be elevated beyond their name to tell a new, original story? If that isn't possible, we need to move on, creating new stories or adapting those that deserve to be brought to the screen. A "Harry Potter" reboot series throws that mindset out the window, paving the way for more of the same retreads that barely allow for growth or creativity. 

Unfortunately, it looks like this cultural repression will be welcomed with open arms and raised wands.