J.K. Rowling has a big problem with Dolores Umbridge. Though she has made this clear before, it's even more evident in the new story Rowling released on Halloween. Though the snippet contains new and interesting information about Hogwarts' worst Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, I found this quote from Rowling troubling: "I have noticed more than once in life that a taste for the ineffably twee can go hand-in-hand with a distinctly uncharitable outlook on the world."
I adore J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series. However, making a moral judgment based on someone's aesthetic preferences is problematic. It reminds me of recent shaming of basicness, which in addition to being problematic on a racial, gender, and class level, links feminine consuming habits to one's value as a person. Wearing Uggs and being boring go hand in hand in the world of basic vs. whatever the opposite of basic is. And I posit that the opposite of basic is Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley, female characters who reject traditionally feminine preoccupations like crying and fashion for more serious masculine pursuits, like sports in Ginny's case and academics in Hermione's.
I agree with Rowling that a preoccupation with the material is not a healthy space to occupy. And to her credit, there are a few Harry Potter characters who embrace femininity but are good people, such as Molly Weasley (who likes love ballads and Gilderoy Lockhart) and the beautiful Fleur Delacour. There is, however, a lot more evidence in the Harry Potter series that Rowling equates feminine aesthetics, which have recently been termed "basic", with weakness or moral depravity. Here are a few examples.
9. Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop
Madam Puddifoot's is the frilly, romantic café where girls like to go and where Harry and Cho Chang go on a date. Rowling places it in direct opposition to the far superior Three Broomsticks, and Harry views the shop's girly decor with marked distaste.
8. Cho Chang
Though certainly not an evil character, I think Cho gets a rough deal in the books. Harry's annoyed that she cries all the time, which seems pretty reasonable considering her last boyfriend was murdered by Voldemort. Cho is contrasted with Ginny, whom Harry notices rarely cries. Though Harry initially likes Cho because she's good at Quidditch, he eventually dislikes her for feminine displays of emotion.
7. The Yule Ball
The Yule Ball is lame and everyone cool thinks so. Dancing sucks. It's a basic event that girls get really into and boys dread.
6. Gilderoy Lockhart
Lockhart is perhaps the vainest character in the Harry Potter series. His preoccupation with his own image, velvet, and cosmetics makes him basic, but he's also an evil fraud who is ultimately punished.
5. Romilda Vane
She's a minor character who does basic stuff like giggle and talk to her friends about her crush on Harry. She ultimately ends up getting into the dangerous love potion game, which indirectly almost kills Ron. Harry and Hermione view her with disgust. To her (and Rowling's) credit, she ends up getting over Harry and fighting against Voldemort.
4. Hepzibah Smith
We're going deep into the canon here. Smith, if you don't remember, is a rich collector of antiques, two of which became horcruxes. Harry considers her cake-like appearance ugly, and her collection of objects is seen as obsessive and vain. "Basic girls" use objects, such as lattes and Ugg boots, as status symbols, and Rowling often equates the collection of objects with evil. Even Voldemort was obsessed with status symbols, using remarkable objects as his horcruxes, rather than less obvious things that would have been easier to hide.
3. Lavender Brown
Does anyone else feel sorry for Lavender Brown? First appearing in the series as a stock Gryffindor, she escalated into caricature during her relationship with Ron. She is perhaps the most recognizably basic character in the series, a teenage girl with a skewed idea of romance. She doesn't get much sympathy from anyone, despite the fact that her only crime was being jealous of Hermione. She basically served as proof that Ron and Hermione belonged together, the basic bitch sacrificed to elevate the lovable nerd.
2. The Dursleys
The Dursleys are obsessive consumers, a sure sign of basicness. Linked to their general nastiness is a love of outward cleanliness and order. Dudley loves presents, and his parents are obsessed with landscaping. Tonks finds their home "too clean" when she visits. The Dursleys serve as the antithesis to the wizarding world, and the fact that their evilness is so intrinsically tied to their clean consumerist aesthetic suggests Rowling's attitude toward people who are too obsessed with outer appearances.
1. Dolores Umbridge
Dolores Umbridge loves cats, pink, and hair bows. She is also incredibly evil. These characteristics are related, as expressed by Rowling herself. "A love of all things saccharine often seems present where there is a lack of real warmth or charity." Yes, Umbridge is horrible, both in her taste and her evil deeds. However, I have never noticed such a connection between the girly and the cruel, and I wish they weren't so linked in the Harry Potter series.