ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

Now, you probably don't know who Boris Johnson is - unless, of course, you're either a) British, or b) interested in laughably out of touch politicians.

Boris Johnson is a British Conservative MP and current Mayor of London. That probably sounds rather impressive, but you need to realize Johnson is also famous for his rather imbecilic, bumbling public image. He is known for his use of archaic, private-school Tory language (like referring to 'table tennis' as 'whiff-whaff') and for various other gaffes (like once getting stuck on a zip-wire).

As mayor of London, Johnson must travel the world to encourage investment in the English capital. Every time he does this, the Conservative public relations team back home holds their breath, as he's also known for the odd racist/culturally insensitive comment. However, on his recent trip to China he may have gone too far - he got Harry Potter wrong.

I hope the above illustrates that Johnson isn't exactly 'down with the kids.' In fact, he's not exactly 'down with' anyone who isn't a lord and/or millionaire who went to Oxford University. But Johnson isn't one to let pop culture ignorance stop him from selling London. At a recent talk at Peking University, he attempted to use Harry Potter to allure Chinese students to London. He said:

"If you want one final proof of how fast the world is changing, the cultural interpenetration between Britain and China, let me ask you a question, brilliant students of Peking University.
Who in English literature is the most famous student? Who is the most famous student in contemporary British writing, would you say? I will give you a clue - he sometimes has a wand... Harry Potter.
Where does the train go from which Harry Potter has to catch to go to his school? King's Cross, absolutely right, which is where? London.
Where does Harry Potter buy his uniform and his wand and stuff like that and his books? I think it's in Diagon Alley which is in London.
Where is the location of the Ministry of Magic? London.
And who according to JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, was Harry Potter's first girlfriend? Who is the first person he kisses? That's right, Cho Chang - who is a Chinese overseas student at Hogwarts school.
Ladies and gents I rest my case. I don't think I need to argue any further, that is the future of Britain and of London."

It was a savvy move. Harry Potter is pretty massive in China, and it seems the Mayor of London could not actually find any other reason why people might want to study in the 2,000 year old cultural and historical hotspot. Unfortunately, he got it a bit wrong.

Cho Chang isn't a Chinese exchange student. She is a British (or potentially Irish) student who happens to be of asian descent - although that descent is never specifically revealed as Chinese. So Johnson's rather strange suggestion that Chinese students should visit London and hook up with magical wizard kids is not only based on an inaccuracy, it's also borderline racist.

This isn't terribly surprising. Firstly, I can imagine Johnson's definition of "British" doesn't really extend beyond anyone who isn't directly related to the Queen (like he is), while secondly, he is not a stranger to the odd culturally insensitive gaffe.

For example, he once referred to Papua New Guinea in the same sentence as cannibalism and chief-killing. He caused such an uproar, he was forced to issue an apology. He went for this one:

"I mean no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea who I'm sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity in common with the rest of us. Add Papua New Guinea to my global itinerary of apologies."

Despite this penchant for xenophobic ignorance, he is actually rather popular in Britain, perhaps because he might be one of the few mainstream politicians who at least seems to have a sense of humor - especially about his own past. He has an entire menagerie of laughable and notable quotables, including my personal favorite:

"I think I was given cocaine once but I sneezed so it didn't go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar."

With hindsight, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised a 50-year-old Tory politician isn't an expert on Harry Potter trivia. But if that is the case, they probably shouldn't mention it in their speeches.

Source: TheHuffingtonPost


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