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When pop culture meets terror

Heather Long

MANY PEOPLE cope with tragedy by blocking it all out. Take my flatmate, who was sitting next to the Warren Street bomber on July 21. When she related the story that evening, she was her usual cheerful self and portrayed the whole incident as some kind of silly schoolboy prank. The gravity of the situation took days to sink in.

As mugshots of bombers and photos of weeping families dominate the front pages, people are taking solace more than ever in a minor celebrity's wedding plans.

Whether ironically or fittingly, the overriding theme in pop culture this summer has been seeing the best in people, no matter what. Seeing the best in everyone this summer has caught on beyond the cinema. Why else would we subject ourselves to watching countless vigils for the King of Pop arguing that his Neverland ranch is like Disney World?

Britney Spears has shed her image in favour of the Madonna (biblical, that is). And Camilla may never steal our hearts, but somewhere beneath that monstrosity of a wedding hat we began to see a person who deserves a second chance. Even Dracula gets a gentler treatment in the bestselling book The Historian. But the Obi-Wan summer of goodness comes to a problematic halt at the new instalment of Harry Potter. More gut-wrenching than another death is the half-blood prince's seeming betrayal.

For six books, Dumbledore defended the half-blood prince's good name against all manner of naysayers, including Harry. Sure, this character despises Harry, but they are still capable of working together for the same causes. At least that is what Potter fans thought, until he used the Avada Kedavra curse, which can only be performed with serious hatred, on a good guy.

We need Dumbledore to be right about him, in this summer of all summers, when we want to trust that we know our neighbours and friends. Fan sites are teeming with essays on why the half-blood prince must be good. The debate about the character's psychology and loyalties doesn't seem that far from issues surrounding home-grown terrorism, but it is much easier to start the discussion on the fictional Potter world.

Asked if the half-blood prince was evil, J.K. Rowling replied: "Cling to some desperate hope." Call me an Obi-Wan wannabe, but I am clinging to that hope like Harry to a hippogriff, and I am not afraid to admit that debates about Skywalker, star makeovers and Potter's world have their place in a summer of terror and confusion. —

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

(Heather Long is a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University and the Hugo Young trainee at The Guardian.)

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