Sunday, July 17, 2005

Why Potter?

Sequce: v. To draw away from proper course / to tempt or beguile by virtue of being a sequel of or otherwise related to something previously enjoyed.

I'm constantly being sequced. Everywhere I look there are sequels to books or movies that I've enjoyed or someone's decided to make a movie out of the book or write a book out of the movie or convert the book into a play so that they can convince someone to buy the movie rights, and before I know it I'm standing in line, grinning like an idiot, waiting to buy my ticket*. Take the new Harry Potter book, for instance - I know I'm going to hate it, I know it's going to be one whiny, predictable, trite little piece of sugar candy writing by an author who now spends more time thinking about studio executives than about children. And yet, like a small rodent caught in the glare of a cobra, I am drawn inexorably towards this horror - I will let its fangs sink into me, I will twitch and writhe in its excrutiating grip, but I will still see the damn thing through. This is the true miracle of the Harry Potter phenomenon - the fact that a hack writer can get together with a bunch of publisher's assistants and come up with a marketing effort that leaves an entire generation of sensible, erudite, street-savvy adults feeling somehow inadequate if they haven't read some crappy children's book.

But to go back to the fine art of sequction (n. the act of sequcing or being sequced). It all really began with the Matrix. Sure, there were sequels before that, but on the whole they were as good if not better than the original (witness the latter Indiana Jones movies and the 2nd and 3rd part of the REAL Star Wars movies - Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi). Wherever this was not true, the sequel bombed badly, and no one ever dreamed of coming up with a follow-up (the one exception I can think of were the Superman movies - but they started off being crap). Then Matrix 2 came out and it suddenly became obvious to everyone that the quality of the sequel was completely irrelevant - give people three-odd hours of soppy love interest disguised as pop-philosophy gibberish and interspersed with completely arbitrary action sequences and they would still show up, punctual as lemmings, to watch it. It's not even as if anyone actually liked the movie - they were there because they "had" to watch the new Matrix film. They had been sequced.

What followed is, of course, History (or maybe History part 2). The LOTR movies, the resurrection of the Batman franchise, the Hitchhiker's Guide movie, The Star Wars prequels, the new Herbie movie, a stage version of Midnight's Children, even (shudder!) a new Asterix! Like the Roman Empire before it, the entertainment industry now survives almost entirely on past glory - nostalgia, not pleasure drives the industry today. We have all become aficionados of masochism, gluttons for self-punishment; our constant motto is "We know it's going to be bad, but let's see how bad". How else do you explain Bush's return to power?

Coming back to the new Harry Potter, I'm still trying to decide whether I should read it or not.

Reasons not to read it:

1. Everyone else will (the same reason why I've never watched Titanic or read the Da Vinci Code)**
2. If the last book is anything to go by, it'll be more fun / relaxing to give myself a manicure with a blackboard.
3. There are at least two dozen genuinely good books I have lying at home that I haven't read yet.
4. If I wait long enough not to read it I can flick it off some friend or the other and save myself some money. For instance, I still have someone's copy of the Order of the Phoenix, which I borrowed a week after that book came out and haven't returned since. (If you're the person who lent it to me and are reading this, all I can say is in my defense is - sucker!)

Reasons to read it:

1. I really, really, really need to know what happens (suppose, just suppose Voldemort wins after all - I know it's a 0.0000000001% chance, but suppose)
2. J.K. Rowling could have bumped her perpetually fatter head against a doorpost and magically developed an ability to write crisp, lyrical prose (hey, it's more likely than the Voldemort thing)
3. I've read every book in the series so far, so NATURALLY, I have to read it. Never mind all that stuff about sunk costs.

Tough decision, huh?

* Aphorism for the day: If there's a line long enough, everyone will join it, no matter what it's for.

**The logic for not reading / watching things that everyone else does is:
a) It reduces the risk of my having something in common with OTHER PEOPLE. This makes it harder for them to bore me with their random conversations.
b) It provides a wonderful opportunity to crush these impudent wannabes who like to believe that they read / watch movies with the hob-nailed boots of my scorn. "Oh, you read, do you? How wonderful. What was the last book you read? The Da Vinci code? You LIKED that? No, I didn't read it. I hate to admit it, but I'm not really into cheap potboilers."[squish!]
c) If everyone can enjoy it it's probably not worth it anyway
d) It's good practise in resisting social pressure - a truly important skill to have if you want to be happy.