In the end, it hasn’t been the knowing, self-referential, and media referential placard slogans, such as ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Thatcher’ that have marked the tone of the student protests out as different, nor has it been the age of the protesters. The 2002 and 2003 Stop The War protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq included a number of under 18’s only demos, and inspired placard slogans such as ‘Leave Him Tony, He’s Not Worth It’ and ‘Every Time We Bomb Iraq A Kitten Dies’, and on the student left there’s also been student occupations in sympathy with those in Gaza in the past 12 months. No, what is new is the presence of Harry Potter on the marches.
Think about it for more than a few minutes, and anyone familiar with either the books, the films, or both will see that the attraction is irresistable: The good vs evil, with shades of grey, narrative, the young vs old motif that is linked to this (The Death Eaters are, after all, mostly of an older generation to Harry and co), plus the educational link: the threats to Hogwarts throughout the Potter chronicles are frequently conveyed as being just as serious as the threat to the characters themselves. Perhaps crucially though, it’s also suggested throughout the books that many of those at Hogwarts, despite it being an exclusive boarding school, are there on merit and despite bank balance: No one asked the Weasley’s to pay £9,000 a year per child we are to presume.
This isn’t the first, or presumably the last, time that the Potter books and their author have been used for political ends. Remember how both the Labour and Conservative parties courted JK Rowling for endorsement in the run up to the 2001 General Election? Given Rowlings failure to endorse either, it is perhaps apt that Harry Potter has become the poster boy for the student protests.
The NME recently penned a piece lamenting the lack of a soundtrack to the student protests, recognising that youth rebellion in whatever form usually comes accompanied by a suitably revolutionary soundtrack, and that this is as important as, if not more so, than the reading list. I did see ‘Cam out, Gaga In’ on a placard in Manchester on the 30th, but compared to the number of placards mentioning or referencing Harry Potter, it’s nothing.
Let’s get the obvious point in quickly: Nobody was ever going to be inspired to March, riot, or scream ‘TORY SCUM!’ by Coldplay or any X Factor alumni. I’ll admit that at the height of ‘Clocks’ over exposure I did consider smashing up the TV on a regular basis, but that was out of despair, not rebellion. NME has John Lennon on the cover this week, and despite it being the anniversary of his death, I can’t help think that his presence on the cover suggests more than they would probably like to admit: Possibly that there’s a strong yearning for the rebellious rock stars of the past in their office.
The tone adopted by many of the writers and commenters in the Guardian displays a related nostalgia: for the strikes and protests of the 1980’s, as well as a barely concealed glee that The Yoof have woken from their slumbers and are well and truly kicking against the pricks, whilst at least acknowledging that The Yoof are getting well and truly kicked by the pricks as well. There’s something a bit questionable about people standing on the sidelines and yelling ‘Go on! Yeah! Revolution!’ from the safety of their West London penthouses, as they hide behind the lucrative security of their media careers. I have noticed that it isn’t the Guardian stalwarts on the marches, in their thermals, dodging batons to cover the days events: it’s the cub reporters. Whilst that is how it should be, it does make the pose adopted by star columnists such as Suzanne Moore harder to take.
I’m very conscious in writing this of being both 31 and of having only been on one of the demos. My aforementioned protesting friend (see earlier posts) did make it to London yesterday, he is a PHD student, and has been involved with the Roscoe Occupation as well as the marches. I texted him last night to see if he was O.K. He replied “On coach, unhurt. Only a third of us made it back, everyone else got kettled. Numerous accounts of police brutality. Lots of protesters injured.” I have checked the Roscoe blog, but it hasn’t been updated since before yesterday, so can only assume that they’ve either been evicted, or are still in London. Fond regards whichever is the case.
Whilst the only (one can only assume coincidental) outcome of the NME’s yearning for a soundtrack to the student protests so far has been the uniting of Morrissey and Marr for the first time in years, not in support of the students but in banning David Cameron from liking The Smiths, Billy Bragg has been supporting the students, but it’s getting to the point now where musical support, much like NUS support, seems to be one of those things that is just detail. The students have utilised Facebook, their blogs, and twitter, as well as text messaging and the more traditional pickets, posters and flyers to recruit supportors, and they’ve done it largely without the support of their union, so the support of a few musicians and columnists is also, presumably, addition not necessity.
As for their poster boy, well, Marx is useful sometimes, but often dismissed, and the Suffragettes in this case are seen as only partly representative. The boy wizard serves as a sort of catch all everyprotester: Beyond class, beyond gender, the quintassential hero, battling evil.
(Note: Since I wrote this, the Roscoe Occupation have been back online. You can read of their response to the fees bill being voted through at http://roscoeoccupation.wordpress.com/ and they also discuss their current and future plans)