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Harry Potter and the Full-Blooded Hype Machine
by Mad Dog


I donít have proof ó yet ó but I have reason to believe Karl Rove is behind the book leaks. Or maybe itís Mark Felt. I forget. 
The new Harry Potter book is out and in the process the countryís security level was raised to orange. Or maybe it was violet. I forget. And all because a few books managed to get into peopleís hands ó gasp! ó in advance of the official release time mandated by the Department of Homeland Security. I mean, Scholastic Books. First a bookstore in Canada mistakenly sold a few copies. Then some guy in Indianapolis bought one he found sitting on the shelf of a bookstore. Next a man in Santa Cruz, CA, found one mysteriously hanging in a bag on his front door. And returned it. Unread. But not before the story made the newspapers and he got an agent to help field the book, movie-of-the-week, and reality show offers that are bound to come pouring in. With all these security breaches is it any wonder I canít find an open bathroom in the subway these days?

   Scholastic Books took the leaks very seriously. They sent out cease and desist letters, filed restraining orders, and emailed promotional press releases to the media fast and furiously. According to the Washington Post, the publisher sent a letter to bookstores saying, ďwe wanted to reiterate the importance of maintaining the highest level of security around the books...We recommend you implement..the following in the secured staging areas and communicate this to your employees: no cell phones or recording devices and no lunch boxes or coolers, only clear bags.Ē This is absurd. I mean, who wants to carry their lunch in a clear bag so everyone in the world can see that you subsist on Toast Chees, M&M Peanuts, teriyaki Spam jerky, and Red Bull?


I did start one of the books but by page four felt like Iíd been catapulted back to high school and was about to get sucked into an argument about which was better, the Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, or Harry Potter. I immediately started yawning and fell asleep.
   With all the media uproar youíd think itís a violation of the Patriot Act to accidentally sell a copy of the book. Okay, maybe it is, but it shouldnít be. I donít have proof ó yet ó but I have reason to believe Karl Rove is behind the book leaks. Or maybe itís Mark Felt. I forget. Either way Woodward and/or Bernstein will have a book out about it any minute, Jon Stewart will say something I wish Iíd thought of and probably would have had I a staff of writers on my payroll, and Al Franken will make fun of Rush Limbaugh and wonder why no one cares what he thinks.

   You donít think thereís any chance the leaks were deliberate because, well, just maybe it would get some publicity and help sell books, do you? Right, like they need help selling Harry Potter books. They printed 10.8 million copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the largest first printing ever and nearly 11 million more copies than the first run of George Bushís Never Mis-Underestimate the Power of Language. Amazon.com racked up 1.2 million preorders for the book, there were more than 5,000 parties held in the United States alone, and kids everywhere waited anxiously for midnight so they could discover why their parents are so incredibly out of control about this. Hey, itís only a book. Besides, whoís going to read a book now, itís summer vacation.


Thereís a reason the magazine is called Entertainment Weekly and not Life Changing Events Weekly. Who Ben Afleck marries is not important. Winning a Grammy isnít the same as wining a Nobel Prize. 
   I have to admit that I havenít read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I seen any of the movies. Not for any compelling philosophical, religious, or moral reason, but just because I havenít. I did start one of the books but by page four felt like Iíd been catapulted back to high school and was about to get sucked into an argument about which was better, the Lord of the Rings, the Narnia series, or Harry Potter. I immediately started yawning, fell asleep, and when I awoke came to my senses and spent the next three days pretending to read the latest Umberto Eco book. Well, the Cliffís Notes, anyway. And no, I couldnít get through them either.

   The real problem with Harry Potter is that, like Star Wars, MacDonaldís, and Coca-Cola, itís become a multinational brand that takes itself too seriously. Repeat after me: Itís a movie, a hamburger, a soda, and a book. Okay, maybe Harry Potter is the best selling book series this side of the Bible, but itís still a book. Read it, enjoy it, but donít forget what it is ó ink on dead trees.

   We need to regain our perspective. TV critics write endless paragraphs about TV shows as if they really matter. Come on, TV shows exist to fill the holes in between the toilet paper commercials. Theyíre lighted dots on a screen, fer Christís sake. And rarely are they funny, compelling, or interesting lighted dots. Thereís a reason the magazine is called Entertainment Weekly and not Life Changing Events Weekly. Who Ben Affleck marries is not important. Winning a Grammy isnít the same as wining a Nobel Prize, itís just cooler because, well, face it, 19 million people wonít see Queen Latifah hand you the prize for economics. And the news about who dies in the new Harry Potter book was all over the Internet five minutes after the first book was sold at midnight GMT, so whatís a couple of days amongst friends?

   Kick back. Relax. The bookís not going anywhere, enjoy it at your leisure. By the way, the character who dies is, oh never mind, itís not important.

©2005 Mad Dog Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
These columns appear in better newspapers across the country. Read them, but not before their release date.

 

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