Harry Potter Gets Laid

Sometimes fiction is safer than reality. When figures from the darkest eras in recent American political history begin returning to center stage in Washington, D.C., it's time to immerse yourself in escapism. Worried about the whole Kissinger appointment? Feeling a little freaked about the ongoing Poindexter project? How about the Homeland Security Act, whose title calls to mind the sound of hundreds of shiny black boots marching in unison? You need to go to the movies.

Specifically, you need some Harry Potter action. Taking in the new flick Chamber of Secrets is the perfect solution to all your problems because, as it turns out, nothing in the Harry Potter universe is quite what it seems. Instead of breaking your brain trying to figure out what the hell kind of creepy shit Kissinger is going to do with the Sept. 11 investigation, you could be unburying the secret sexual plot that has Hogwarts fans all atremble. You, too, could be drawn into the seductive web of Harry Potter slash fiction.

True fans of fantasy and science fiction already know what I'm talking about. Slash fiction is part of a long tradition of fan-written stories and art in which popular characters are placed in the sexual situations we always wanted to see but never could. And, for your information, mostly we wanted to see a lot of hot boy-on-boy action. Kirk and Spock were the first outer-space hotties to be slashed. Thousands of women have written K/S tales that run the gamut from intensely graphic to sweetly romantic. Here's how it works: Take one Kirk and one Spock, add a crash landing on a deserted planet, then stir in an unexpected episode of pon farr, a state in which Vulcans must have sex or die. Pretty soon you've got joyous anal sex and cries of love mixed in with alien ejaculate. Rock on.

But back to Harry. Once upon a time Harry Potter slash was kind of a weird novelty, the sort of thing bloggers found in less-traveled parts of the Web and linked to in "Isn't this bizarre?" moods. In the vast and satisfying world of slash, it was an upstart, a dangerous new node in an already perverse data structure. The problem was that Harry and his fetching little pals -- despite their very adult problems and conflicts -- were all underage. And yet they were so sexy! First of all, everyone knows that boarding school is automatically erotic. Hundreds of hormone-drenched teenagers sleeping in the same rooms together? You do the math. Plus, the world of Harry Potter seems built precisely to suggest terribly naughty possibilities. All those bodily transformations and powerful older men and strange candies and hidden caverns and snake-talking and wands ... it's like a slash writer's wonderland.

And indeed, the Harry Potter slash regime is currently in full flower. You don't have to believe me: try Googling on "Harry Potter slash" and see what happens. You'll be plunged into a world of adoring fans who want you to know what really happens under Harry's cloak. And don't worry about that pedophiliac ick-factor. Harry Potter slash writers are scrupulous about making sure all their stories take place after Harry and co. have turned 18. Often stories will begin with a quick paragraph or sentence in which the author says, "It was senior year," or "Harry had just turned 18," or "It was graduation day at Hogwarts." Whew: legal issues avoided. Now we can get down to the hot anal sex between Harry and Snape (my personal favorite, especially if I can picture Alan Rickman in the role), the fondling between Harry and Draco, the furtive kisses between Harry and Ron, and even the occasional dip into the truly sadomasochistic with a special kind of encounter between Harry and the dreaded Voldemort (who was looking pretty tasty in the new movie, if I may say so).

Right now I'm feeling terrifically honored because a group of elite Harry Potter slashers in Boston have invited me to join them on a special expedition to see the new flick and analyze it afterward. They'll be mining it for new slash possibilities. Each fiery glance between Harry and Draco could mean hidden passion. Or how about that wand fight between Snape and Lockhart? Looks like the prelude to another kind of wand fight, if you know what I mean. And don't even get me started on the hidden meaning of the snakes who live in the secret chambers of the bathroom.

I just love the new vistas of possibility the slashers have opened up in the Harry Potter universe. Does that make me bad? Oh yes, Snape, I want to be bad ...

Annalee Newitz (tomriddle@techsploitation.com) is a surly media nerd who owes it all to the slash grrrls of Boston, especially Cecelia Tan (who has written the best Harry/Snape story yet). Her column also appears in Metro, Silicon Valley's weekly newspaper.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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