Strange Thoughts
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Can Fictional Symbols be Misused?

While scrolling through Instagram recently, I spotted a post by an old coworker. She had recently gotten a new tattoo, covering her inner forearm. Looking closer, I realized it was a full size Dark Mark. The tattoo and cheerfully glib caption left me feeling conflicted.

If your not familiar with the symbol, it’s a huge part of the Harry Potter series. Essentially, it appears in the sky when the followers of Voldemort (the villian) kill. Voldemort’s followers are called Death Eaters, and the Dark Mark is also burned into their arms when they join him. Voldemort’s quest is to “purify” the wizarding world by purging it of any wizards born to non-magical parents, who are referred to as “mudbloods.” This fixation on blood purity makes the Death Eaters comparable to Nazi’s and White Supremacists, and to me, makes the Dark Mark comparable to a swastika.

When I read the books, I thought the allegory for white supremacy was pretty explicit. So why is my former coworker proudly showing off the tattoo of a fictional hate group’s symbol next to photos of her new Pride teeshirt and her cat? It’s not just this tattoo that makes me cringe. Ten years after the final installment of the Harry Potter franchise hit theaters, there is still plenty of merchandise featuring the Dark Mark lurking in stores and on websites.

Admittedly, outside of it’s loaded context, it makes for a pretty cool tattoo. But can you take away that context? I read through a Reddit thread debating exactly that, and the justification for commenters who went ahead with the tattoo come off as, “I thought about the white supremacy connotations, and decided that since it looks cool and I learned a lot from the books, I was going to do it anyways.”

There are a lot of flowery blog posts out there as well by some of those who chose to get the tattoo. They reek of white privilege, waxing poetically about how it symbolizes embracing their imperfections and shadow self, overcoming mental health issues, and taking inspiration from characters like Severus Snape. I’m sure a lot of people took away important lessons from reading Elie Wiesel’s Night or watching Schindler’s List, but it didn’t inspire them to get swastika tattoos to remember them!

So what do you think? Does any of this matter since the symbol comes from a fictional book series? Or does the context of it’s meaning in that series make it’s commercialization and use among Harry Potter fans problematic?

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