Hogwarts, Quahog and the Chinese Room

Friday, 2 February 2007 — 12:02pm | Harry Potter, Literature, Television

I’m quite shocked. I didn’t think she could do it.

A July release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had been rumoured long before yesterday’s announcement, mostly because the prospect of the seventh Potter being released on 7/7/07 (as was often suggested) was too numerologically fortuitous to pass up. There were two reasons I never believed this: first, it coincided with the anniversary of the London tube bombings, and while I don’t like the idea that we’re effectively letting the terrorists win, I can understand the need for sensitivity.

More to the point, though, all indications were that Rowling wouldn’t finish in time. Books don’t get printed and shipped out as soon as they’re done: the fact that the date is now set to 21 July indicates that a complete draft is already in the can. I had no idea she was anywhere close to this. Settling on a title in December was probably the first indication that the book was coming along much faster than I expected, but even then, this is all rather sudden.

It’s encouraging, though. As was the case with The Prisoner of Azkaban, a quick turnaround time means things were tightly planned, things are going as planned, and the author isn’t struggling. It could make for a satisfying finale, to say the least.

By the way: while I have to read The Half-Blood Prince again before I commit to anything, my chips are still on “Harry is not a Horcrux,” “Snape is evil” and “Harry, Ron and Hermione all make it out alive.” All three of these positions are somewhat contrarian, and I wager I’m one of very few people to hold all of them at once, but we’ll see who’s eating crow come Saturday the 21st.

Next item on the agenda: Family Guy.

I make it no secret that I am not at all a fan of the show. In fact, I find it often irritating and outright dumb. After watching a few consecutive episodes one summer, it became readily apparent to me that however fresh it must have seemed back in its inaugural season, what passes for comedy on Family Guy amounts to a bag of three or four basic tricks.

I’m not going to get into details here. I tried once, but I couldn’t get to the end. Just read this guy and pay special attention to #9, #7, #3 and #2. And just know that the moment the show lost me for good was when I realized it didn’t even know how to make a decent jab at The Da Vinci Code.

I only bring up Family Guy now because for all its failings, the one element that never ceases to impress me is the music, be it the nostalgic sitcom cues or the full-blown musical numbers. Sure, like the rest of the show, most of them are merely referential and not parodic, which means that they can be cute, but not necessarily funny. I know at least one person who only knew the great Lerner/Loewe tune “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from Seth McFarlane doing Stewie doing Rex Harrison in one of Family Guy‘s more triumphant moments, and not from My Fair Lady; I’m sure he’s not alone.

So what do we make of this: taking the scene from Anchors Aweigh where Gene Kelly dances with the latter half of Tom and Jerry as a palimpsestic surface, so now we have Gene Kelly dancing with Stewie Griffin?

Personally, I find it quite enjoyable, and probably as good as the show is ever prone to get. In fact, Family Guy is generally a lot more tolerable when snipped into little sketches and segments that are placed online. This is one of its better moments, even if it reeks of the problem I mentioned earlier – that the show can’t tell the difference between reference and parody, and often settles for the former.

But as fun as it may be, Steve Worth is on point: “How much ‘thought to animation and choreography’ does it take to rotoscope someone else’s animation and slap your own character over the top of it?… Family Guy deserves no praise for this. A ripoff is a ripoff.”

Then again, even a ripoff is linguistically interesting from time to time.

As an aside, I started sketching this post in my undergraduate class on the philosophy of mind, and it’s slowly dawning on me just how little most people know about computers. I think it’s a problem, at a basic conceptual level, that the average layman wraps his head around computers as if they were only machines that are or aren’t powerful enough to do certain things, and not as theoretical, mathematical constructions – which, when it comes to a philosophical approach to consciousness, is the part that matters.

Generally, this is probably a consequence of the fact that most people’s exposure to science is limited to an exposure to technology. Consequently, it must be easy for them to fall into the trap of thinking that scientific problems, or philosophical ones with scientific elements, can be solved by technological progress alone.

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