Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Thoughts on two Problematic Wizard Rock Songs

As most of you probably already know, I am currently working on a number of research projects this semester.  One has to do with Wizard Rock, a music genre of which I am rather fond and find really interesting.  Below is an edited portion of the paper I am writing.  Constructive critique is welcome, and please excuse the slightly more academic-y style than usual.

It's interesting to me that despite spending a significant amount of time Googling, I can find no criticism of the two songs I want to talk about today.  Wizard Rock as a subculture has always been, as far as I can tell, very visible and present on the internet and usually even within semi-obscure subcultures like this one there is at least a couple people engaging critically with what they love.

I guess I am going to be that person, for now. Anyone else doing this sort of thing would be a welcome contribution to my research, please link in comments!

I was disappointed (though of course, not surprised) to find that even with all the good this medium does in for a time centering marginalized characters, themes, and identities, it does not "magically" exist outside of negative US and UK social discourses.  In fact, instead, wizard rock sometimes replicates these marginalizing discourses, of which I have two examples.  Both songs come from bands who I regularly hear praised on the wrock podcasts and blogs as “brilliant” and “amazing.”  

First, we have “Ginny Gets Around” by Gred and Forge, which describes Ginny Weasley’s dating adventures from the perspective of her brothers Fred and George Weasley (which the band name is a play on).  This song is entirely independent of the content of the Harry Potter novels, which carries no hint that Fred and George disapprove of Ginny’s dating. 

There are scenes in the novels where Ginny's brother Ron Weasley becomes very upset at witnessing his sister “snogging” her boyfriend Dean Thomas (Rowling 287 - 288), his reaction in the book is clearly complicated by multiple factors, which is quite different from the straight forward perspective of the song.

The first one we noticed was Harry
But we didn’t mind
We didn’t say a word ’cause
You were still playing with fairies
Chasing garden gnomes
And putting Bill’s earring in your nose
But we should’ve paid attention
‘Cause now everybody says…

CHORUS: From Gryffindor to Ravenclaw
That Ginny gets around
Oh, Ginny gets around
From Hufflepuff to Slytherin
That Ginny gets around
She’s the easiest girl in school

Then Michael Corner, he tickled your fancy
He got in your pants, he
Was such a sore loser
And Dean Thomas was such a pansy
And very hand-sy
With his arms all over you, sis
Now we’ve started to pay attention
‘Cause we hear everyone say


And now you’re back to Harry
But we think that’s O.K.
We wouldn’t mind if you married
Then no one else could say… 


Apparently for this particular “incarnation” of Fred and George Weasley, Ginny’s dating habits and “good reputation” are of quite a bit of importance.  And for the Wizard Rocker[1] who wrote the song, slut shaming[2] Ginny Weasley is apparently a source of comedy.  Only marrying her off like a proper “good girl” to the hero of the novels (or within the novels, the hero of the entire world) seemingly will stop the mockery.  This reification of misogynistic patriarchal norms certainly runs counter to the subversive power I have at other times observed in this genre.

In a similar vein is the song “Choko Ono” by The Moaning Myrtles, a band I've seen unabashedly praised even more widely than Gred and Forge.[3]  In this case the target of the song is Cho Chang, a semi-prominent side character who Harry dates briefly.  However, the “device” used to attack Chang is her resemblance to Yoko Ono from the perspective of the character Moaning Myrtle[4] as imagined by the artists.[5]  In this song’s scenario, Myrtle believes that Harry must secretly love her and is only settling for the “second best” Cho Chang. 

When you really like someone
and your chance with them is close to none
Your next best shot’s to find someone
who’s just like them
If a gal reminds you of
the lucky girl you really love

Let’s face it,
I bet you won’t even notice
Now I’ve seen you with poor Cho
and I feel bad because I know
there’s no way that you actually like her

Honestly this girl just cries
because her gorgeous boyfriend died
There’s gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta
be some other better reason

Oh, Cho, oh, no
You see, I understand
Harry actually likes me, sorry, that’s how it goes
Oh, Cho, oh, no
Get away from my man
You’re just getting in the way
You’re my Yoko Ono
Choko Ono–you’re breaking up the band

This scenario is even less consistent with the Harry Potter canon than Gred and Forge’s admonishment of Ginny’s sex life; there is simply no corollary whatsoever to Ono’s frequent accused action of “breaking up the Beatles” with the idea that Cho somehow “stole Myrtle’s man [Harry].”  While there are hints in the book that Moaning Myrtle possibly has a crush on Harry Potter, there are also indications that her behavior stems more from the fact that she simply likes to behave in a way that vexs people.  Still, what the “breaking up the band” reference could possibly be talking about, I cannot fathom.

As with “Ginny Gets Around” there are not so veiled misogynistic elements to “Choko Ono,” directly related to Cho Chang’s expression of her sexuality.  However, there is also an element of racism here that I do not believe can be ignored.  While the song does not make any explicitly racist claims, it relies on racist social tropes which have and continue to demonize Yoko Ono as a Japanese woman partnered with an immensely popular public figure.  Ono's racial Otherness was and is portrayed as dangerous and used as a reason why John Lennon should not have been with her in the first place, thus creating an implicit parallel with the Asian[7] British Cho partnered with our leading man, Harry.  

Another disturbing element to this song is the title, an allusion to enacting violence[8] against female sexual rivals.  As there is quite literally an epidemic of violence against women both in the UK (where the Harry Potter series originates) and in the US (where The Moaning Myrtles originate), an allusion like this one is truly disturbing, and certainly not at all conducive to the “light-hearted” air the song attempts to embody.

[1] Billed as a multi-piece band it is one man named Jarrod behind this music (Gred and Forge).
[2] Here defined as: “shaming and/or attacking a woman or a girl for being sexual, having one or more sexual partners, acknowledging sexual feelings, and/or acting on sexual feelings. Furthermore, it’s “about the implication that if a woman has sex that traditional society disapproves of, she should feel guilty and inferior” (Alon Levy).” (Tekanji)
[3] In fact they were ranked 7th for top Wizard Rock bands by MTV. (Vineyard)
[4] So named because she spends her afterlife (she is a ghost) haunting the lavatories of Hogwarts crying and complaining endlessly to anyone who will listen because she was mocked and teased while she was a living Hogwarts student.
[5] A pair of young women named Lauren and Nina (The Moaning Myrtles).
[6] This is a representative excerpt from the song, not the song in its entirety.
[7] Cho Chang’s exact ethnicity is never specified.
[8] To be absolutely clear this is pronounced in the song “choke-oh.”