Thursday, July 30, 2009

Harry Potter and the Pint of Liquid Courage

Illustration - Stuart Bradford

Published, New York Times: July 27, 2009

Hermione is tipsy. Neville is serving drinks. Ron is sipping mead and Harry is partying with his professors.
Does Hogwarts have a drinking problem?
As Harry Potter fans crowd movie theaters to catch the latest installment in the blockbuster series, parents may be surprised by the starring role given to alcohol. In scene after scene, the young wizards and their adult professors are seen sipping, gulping and pouring various forms of alcohol to calm their nerves, fortify their courage or comfort their sorrows.
The movie, based on J. K. Rowling’s sixth book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” is as much about coming of age as it is about the wizarding world. Love potions and adolescent yearnings are central to the evolving story line, and Harry, Ron and Hermione enjoy new freedoms as 16-year-old students at the mythical boarding school Hogwarts, including unchaperoned trips to a pub in the nearby town of Hogsmeade.
But recreated on the big screen, the images of teenage drinking are jarring. Previous Harry Potter movies have shown drinking, but this one takes it to a new level.
In one scene, Harry, Ron and Hermione order butterbeers at the pub, and Hermione ends up with a frothy mustache. While it’s never been entirely clear whether butterbeer is alcoholic, it seems to have an effect on the normally uptight Hermione, who acts tipsy walking home as she throws her arms around the boys.

As the mother of a 10-year-old Harry Potter fan, I was taken aback by the reaction of the young people in the theater. They snickered at Hermione’s goofy grin and, later, guffawed when an inebriated Hagrid passed out. While I don’t think my daughter fully understood what was going on, I wondered how other parents, educators and addiction experts would react.

Liz Perle, a mother of two teenage boys and the editor in chief of Common Sense Media, which reviews books, movies and Web content aimed at children, said she was bothered by so many scenes showing alcohol as a coping mechanism.
“Hermione is such a tightly wound young lady, but she’s liberated by some butterbeer,” she said. “The message is that it gives you liquid courage to put your arms around the guy you really like but are afraid to.”
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