Subject: In regard to Harry.
Date: Wed, 25 Jul 2007 17:31:11 -0500
Dear Mary Ellen Keating,
I haven't seen anything like Harry Potter night since they released a new translation of Kafka's Complete Fictions. That was true pandemonium. People were lined up after work around the "K" shelf politely waiting for the old man browsing for god-knows-what to step aside so that we could all fight over the one shelved copy. There were three of us. Waiting. Watching. Yearning. How would the new translation metamorphose the metamorphosis? Would Harry die at the end? He moved towards "J" and I went in for the book, grabbing it in simultaneity with a petite redhead. I fought tooth and nail with this fellow pseudo-bohemian art school intellectual until, alerted by customers both running towards or away from the violence (as per their preference), store security came and intervened. In short, Kafka Night ended in a small riot in which we, the instigators, were both banned from the store for life. We considered finding another book store, but where else do they sell books in New York City? Mourning our cruel fate, we decided to get drunk, go back to her place and have a night of rough meaningless sex. The point being, that compared to Harry Potter Night, Kafka Night rocked. I can say with a fair amount of certainty that after waiting anxiously, the attendees of Harry Potter Night didn't go home with a stranger to have drunken meaningless sex. No, I would venture to guess they went home wondering why they stood in line all night to purchase a poorly written serial that they were then too tired to read. Later that evening, as they lie in bed, the last thing that ran through their heads before they drifted into the aether was probably the self-doubting sense of wonderment as to why they didn't just wake up early in the morning and purchase the book at Strand? I for one would never have stayed up until three in the morning waiting in Union Square for thousands of people to purchase a stupid work of literature if not for the fact that my girlfriend worked in the store and was afraid to travel all the way home at three in the morning alone on a deserted Brooklyn-bound N-Train. Yes, I was forced to spend the evening hovering around the rear of Harry Potter Night pondering your company's total disregard for your employee's welfare. I mean, she probably wouldn't have even been so afraid if not for the fact that a man had followed her into Barnes and Noble's women's bathroom the week prior. However, the managers handled the incident rather responsibly by talking to her about it rather tactlessly and then, as far as she knows, preceding to take no further action in regard to the matter, such as even filling out an incident report. Either which way, she was afraid to go home alone, so I had to spend part of the evening, the part in which I should have been in bed, waiting for her and watching the hapless consumers enter and leave the store. As I stood there half-asleep, the one thing that I could appreciate about the entire idiotic event was the ritualized celebration of death. Harry Potter Night ultimately was a celebration of finality. Not only was it the final book in the serial, but it also promised the death of major characters. All of those smiling happy wizards and warlocks anxiously twiddling their wands were really waiting all night to celebrate a symbolic death in the halls of commerce. Yes, I now understand why the whole event bothered me to begin with. It wasn't just because you kidnapped my girlfriend for an evening, but also because you were capitalizing and rejoicing about other people's fear of finality. Barnes and Noble was celebrating this preoccupation with death and destruction so prevalent in today's culture. People weren't lining up for the happy ending in a wizard story, they were awaiting the Harry Potter equivalent of September 11th. There was a large expectancy that this final book would not add something new to this world, rather, but wantonly take something out. Foreseeing the finality inherent in this work, Barnes and Noble Inc. went out of their way to make the largest spectacle they could fathom to cash in on this unfathomable collective nihilism. The consumers were grasping for one last great Harry Potter "experience" and your company, grasping for consumers, were more than happy to provide them with one. Now, I don't suppose I can blame you for creating commerce driven spectacles to exploit the feeblemindedness of others, after all, that's what modern America is built upon, but I can blame the people who buy into phenomenon, can't I? Yes! Yes I can. And I can because if it were not for all these brand-loyal consumers, there would not have been a spectacle in the first place. They gathered en-masse to reinforce the values of the culture as they were defined by your company's marketing department; a collective force that is only trying to profit off of their complacency. Aside from the fact that your store sells Harry Potter books, what does Harry Potter really have to do with your store? I'm still not sure there is a unique relationship outside the realm of commerce that would warrant such a large scale event devoted entirely to this book. Yet, people took to this marketing event as though it were the natural extension of this work of literature. Nor did anyone, come midnight, make any real qualms that the actual "event" was the mass consumption of a children's story book. One person who exited the store with a bag full of books heralded "some day I will be able to tell my grandchildren about this," which I found almost laughable. What precisely will they tell them? While in their mid-20s they stood in line all night at a bookstore in no way truly related to Harry Potter to purchase many copies of a book that is by no means any different than any of the identical copies that were purchased the following morning elsewhere. What an achievement grandpa! I'm sure your grandchildren will listen to this story in rapture and wonderment; wondering why the hell you did that. In the grand scheme of things, those people who stood out there all night did nothing but, first, purchase a mediocre children's book, and secondly, promote your company's brand image. For you, I suppose that is a success on two accounts, but for the rest of us who happily exist outside of this phenomenon, I don't suppose we can't but help look at all of those people lined up and see some sort of failure in humanity. People have become happy and willing participants in their own exploitation. That wizard sure does cast spells.