Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Potter Tea Party

I love cross-cultural blunders, and this was one of the best ones I’ve seen, if for no other reason than that it involved millions of dollars.

The final Harry Potter book went on sale on Saturday, in a globally coordinated release. There was incredibly tight security around the book, so the publishers were quite upset to find the New York Times reviewing the book on Thursday.

Without threatening legal action (surely a hopeless cause), Author JK Rowling resorted to shaming the Times. And that’s where her mistake took place: comparing the NY Times leak to the Boston Tea Party.

Technically, or legally, I suppose, the Boston Tea Party (wikipedia) was an act of piracy, just as spoiling intellectual property secrets was for the Times review of an unreleased book. So Rowling was factually correct.

Her mistake, the one that sank her whole complaint, is in holding the Boston Tea Party before a group of Americans as a shameful act. Way off target: Americans are proud of the Tea Party, and comparing the Times review to the colonial rebels was the surest way to make them stand a little taller and be a little prouder. Rowling thus came off, not as an injured artist, but as a simpering, wealthy subject of the Crown.

A few months ago, as I was giving an interview about my book to a radio station in England, the host asked me if rebellion was an essential attribute of the American character, and I replied yes, although I’m not certain how strongly I hold that opinion.

But the Boston Tea Party, which really was nothing more than an urban riot, in the same moral category as Watts—Americans are proud of that riot, pretty much across the board.