David Cameron is Voldemort. No, seriously.

I’ve lost count of the number of articles on the student demos that start like this: Where did the passion come from? Why are students – schoolchildren – teenagers – taking to the streets in their thousands to protest, all of a sudden? Isn’t this the apathetic generation who doesn’t care about anything?

Frankly – no, no it’s not. I don’t think it ever has been. But the popular media has told itself, and the rest of us, a very sad story about young people that isn’t entirely true, and it’s not a surprise to see the mainstream media startled by a sudden, vocal proof that one of their favourite narratives just doesn’t work.

The mainstream media delights in telling stories about terrifying, terrible youth. Soaring youth crime and inner-city gangsThe fattest teenager in Britain. Pregnant at 13. Asbos. Yobs are taking over the streets. 12-year-olds encouraged to have sex early. Drug-infested schools. And yes, these are cherry-picked, but it’s easy to find dozens, hundreds, thousands of stories like this, many with the same or similar headlines. It’s much harder to find positive stories on youth that feed into such well-known narratives – a good news story about young people is framed as an anomaly, proof that our Asbo-ridden drug-taking pregnant yobbish terrible youth is not quite as broken as we all, of course, thought.

Sure, the media reports prodigies too – and then delights in their downfall. And when a child star fails to fall, there are gleeful attempts to toss them down – vile upskirt photos of Emma Watson on the front page of the Star; jeering at the temerity of Daniel Radcliffe to appear naked on stage. Positive, uplifting role models for our teenagers, that we rip apart for sport. For newsprint.

But for thousands of young people the stories just don’t hold true. They aren’t pregnant at 15, or drinking on street corners, or morbidly obese, or on heroin, or committing knife crimes. They’re just trying to grow up. And for those children – the ones we see marching on the streets now – there’s another story that resonates much more strongly with their lives.

So let’s talk about Hogwarts, Harry Potter and the Idealised Transition Into Adulthood. Let’s talk about the series of books that has defined a generation’s relationship to its school days, to its society, even to itself. The teenagers on these demos are far more likely to have read Harry Potter than any newspaper, at all – not only because the books speak to them but because the media speaks about, of and for them instead, and not in a very pleasant way.

Harry Potter offers an escape. It offers a world where Broken Britain barely intrudes at all, and the realities of everyday life – broken homes, morbid obesity (Dudley), vicious child abuse – are left behind Harry as soon as he enters Hogwarts – as soon as he enters education. And within those walls is a world where bullying is rife and problematic, sure, but teenage pregnancy, drugs, alcohol, knife crime, all the myriad vices that the Daily Mail ensures us are endemic in today’s teenage culture – they simply don’t exist. Here’s a story that helps middle-class kids make sense of themselves without telling them they’re failures. Harry Potter is even a pioneering ground for participatory media – it’s not such a huge leap from fanfic and forum roleplay to the sorts of joined-up stories and easy control of narrative that pervades the UCL occupation.

Most importantly, let’s talk about the Deathly Hallows, the final book in the series, where education (in the form of Hogwarts itself) has finally come under such strenuous and sustained attack that our heroes decide to go rogue. Throughout the whole series politicians are weak, easy to manipulate, refusing to listen to children until it’s too late. They appoint Dolores Umbridge. They fail to notice the return of Voldemort. They fail to act decisively. They fail.

And throughout the series the children’s appeals to authority fail, but hard work and persistence and simply Being Right is enough to prevail in the end. Until the end, when, in a world without Dumbledore’s kindly smile to smooth over the cracks, the teenage heroes – sixth-formers, let’s not forget – must take on the assembled weight of the entire political system to try to prevent that system from destroying itself. For the sake of education, they fight, and they die.

Stories – especially popular, populist, wildly successful books, especially fairy tales and moral tales like this one – are a culture telling stories to allay its fears, to resolve the conflicts it fears will shatter it in two, to make sure there is a happy ending after all. They are like dreams, in that they enable the body conscious to process difficult events, working them into a pattern, a narrative that makes sense and which they can survive. David Cameron is Voldemort. Nick Clegg is shaping up to be Professor Quirrell, but he’s also got a shot at being Snape – in tomorrow’s vote on education cuts and university fees we’re all expecting him to kill Dumbledore, and only time will tell whether he’ll be redeemed by his later actions.

The media and popular politics paints teenagers as bad guys, as problems, as passive blanks or as villains. Harry Potter paints them as our saviours – our righteous, furious, glorious saviours who will do what’s right, even if it looks wrong to us, because it’s what’s necessary. Even if it’s violent. Even if it gets them into trouble. Because the world will be a better place in the end.

Why on earth are we surprised when they take to the streets?

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Mary Hamilton

I'm a journalist-type tech-ish geek person, working in that interesting ambiguous place where reporting the news meets all sorts of peripheral skills. In my spare time I herd zombies, design games and write stuff.

17 thoughts on “David Cameron is Voldemort. No, seriously.”

  1. Cracking post – love the analogy.

    I do think that the current student generation is slightly politically apathetic but agree that to some extent it has been a self-fulfilling prophecy partly instigate by the mainstream media.

    Clegg’s role is interesting. I see him more as a Vader figure – he started off as The New Hope but is bent on embittered destruction. The jury is out on whether he will return to the Force in the final chapter but we can expect four installments of pain alongside the emperor in the meantime.

    1. Thank you!

      I feel quite strongly that what’s perceived as “political apathy” is partly being disengaged and disenfranchised by a political conversation that doesn’t include young people except as footballs. It’s not just the media – popular politics is also guilty of alternately demonising young people and rushing to over-protect them, with very little actual listening to them going on in between. That’s one reason the Lib Dems got the traction they did among students – because they seemed to be listening – and a reason why the backlash is now so big.

      As for Vader – I can definitely see your point there. But Snape’s youth as the embittered outsider determined to snatch power seems to ring true for Clegg more than Vader’s golden-boy-turned-bad origin story.

  2. Shouldn’t your header be “David Cameron is like Voldemort” or “analogous to Voldemort”? Or do you want us to, as you say, “seriously” consider your opinion that he actually IS Voldemort? Voldemort is a fictional character.

    You’re right, it’s no suprise that “apathetic” students are in uproar. Most people do get upset when someone wants them to pay more money for something they feel they they are entitled to. Students are, by and large, just as greedy and selfish as everyone else on this planet, and they just don’t generally care about things which don’t directly affect them. The best cure for apathy is to hit someone in the pocket, and hard. I’m not having a go at students here, I’m saying they’re just like everyone else, so let’s stop being surprised when they behave like everyone else.

    Nice analogies though!

    1. Ah. “David Cameron is Voldemort” is metaphor and the “seriously” was aimed at getting people to understand that it’s a deep, extended metaphor, not a hack’n’slash attack post. That may have come across wrong, sorry.

      Interesting though that many of the students on the protest won’t have to pay the increased fees at all. Most of the people marching have already paid for their education, and the £9k fees won’t affect them.

      1. Never mind, standard journalistic trick to lure readers in with a short facetious headline. The Daily Mail does it all the time! 😉

        Good point re students not needing to pay the fees – I wonder what the split is on the protest between those who would be affected and those who wouldn’t be.

        A few possible reasons for that:

        The organisers of the protests and sympathetic elements of the press seem to have (intentionally?) done a poor job of making it clear that current students won’t be affected. For example, a quick scan of the relevant section of the NUS website or the Demo2010 website – neither mention this fact. I’m sure there are at least a few of the marchers who didn’t do their own research and just went along with the latest trend sweeping universities.

        Most graduates believe higher education is a good thing and therefore would aspire for their children to graduate. They also want any kids they have to have to spend as little of their money as possible to get to uni. Of course this won’t be an issue for all or even most of the protesters, but again you can’t say it’s not an issue for any.

        Next, you have the anti-Establishment/anarchistic crazies who, by the various organisers’ own admission, are nothing to do with them. So let’s discount them as we are told to by the organisers of any protests. Again it’s a minority, of course.

        Finally, if all these protesters are so selfless and protesting because they believe the policy is wrong, why are the more offensive policies of the Coalition not creating the same anger? There is certainly something about tuition fees which hits a nerve with students past, present and future, in a way that cutting disability benefits, cutting police funding, tax avoidance (to name a few) doesn’t. This leads to another point. Of the three I’ve just mentioned, which provoked the biggest protest (still nothing like the student protest)? Disability benefit. In general, people only protest when they are having money taken directly away from their pocket. Police funding is arguably more important for the stability of the nation (not knocking disability benefit, it’s just important for an ethical reason rather than a stability reason) but it doesn’t get people as riled up because it doesn’t affect their pockets directly.

        Anyway I’ve gone of on a bit of a tangent there. Main thrust – I’d love to see the stats of the protesters how many would not be affected by the increase. But I doubt anyone gathered the stats.

        1. You’re definitely right that hitting people in the pocket is the way to stop them being apathetic – and I think I’d agree that tuition fee hikes do hit a nerve with former and current students as well as the current crop of hopefuls. All ways round the reaction is not surprising, and I’m startled at how “unexpected” it apparently is.

          I’d love to see those stats too. It’d delight me. I don’t know the percentages and I wouldn’t like to guess, but the results would be endlessly fascinating. And I’d love to see the actual reasons for protesting, rather than the official lines, too. Everything is anecdotal and spun, on all sides.

  3. Interesting article Mary – but I think Clegg might be more like Gilderoy Lockhart. Snape was in fact a brave man. Bitter, twisted, and at times cruel, yes. But ultimately redeemed by his actions to defend Hogwarts – against the Carrows at Dumbledore’s express wish – and to defend Harry – against Professor Quirrell and others.
    (Of course I haven’t read the books, watched the film or worn the T-shirt – just going on what ‘others’ tell me… 😉

      1. Ah yes – I can see him now – wondering around in his ward dressing gown muttering: “I’m the leader of the opposition – no, no, the government – no, no the liberal democrats – yes, I’m a dribbling lemon prat – I support oppose what I oppose support – Vince Cable ha-ha – thought he was clever but not as clever or as good looking as me – I’m in charge – no tuition fees – yes, no… …who’s Dave?”

  4. Who is playing Dumbledore in all this?

    Great post though. Speaking to students in Cardiff, they know what’s going on and understand the issues – and they are angry. The tricky thing is the changes don’t immediately affect them so for a lot of students it is hard to get worked up about.

    It was a clever trick by Labour changing to the ‘no fees upfront’ model, as it makes it a lot harder for current students to protest when it doesn’t hit them immediately in the pocket.

What do you think?