Rowling Pranked by Russian Comedians
Rowling, Inc., must be scrambling today in hopes of spinning what is perhaps the most embarrassing public gaffe by The Presence on record. In brief, a duo of Russian comedians named Vovan and Lexus were able to record a Zoom conversation with Rowling in which one played the part of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky; they not only fooled Rowling’s handlers but the author also clearly believed, despite the increasingly absurd requests made by the faux Zelensky, that she was speaking to the real deal.
TheRowlingLibrary summarized the humiliating call this way:
The prankster, claiming to be Zelenskyy, asked J.K. Rowling if it was possible to impose any sanctions on Russian actor Aleksandr Kuznetsov, who played Helmut in the latest Fantastic Beasts movie, at which the author replies “Fantastic Beasts has been a very interesting experience. I’ll certainly talk to people and see what we can do.” Later on, they explained to the author that Harry Potter’s scar looks like the “Z”, the symbol used by the Russian on their military vehicles, and ask her to change it to the Ukrainian trident. Rowling took notes and said “I will look at that. It might be good for me to do something with that myself on social media, because I think that will get into the newspapers.”
The conversation continued and the prankster told J.K. Rowling that they were writing “Avada Kedavra” on the Ukrainian missiles. They also asked for Boris Johnson’s gender and if Dumbledore was really gay. Then, they turned their webcam on to introduce the “The Order of Ukrainian Phoenix”, which was none other than a group of people pranking Rowling: their t-shirts said “Only Putin!” in Russian. To end the prank, the fake Zelenskyy asked Rowling to say “hello” to his two favourite Russian writers, Vovan and Lexus.
My three quick thoughts on this are available after the jump!
(1) It’s Funnier Than The Summary
As regular readers here know, though I am a serious reader and admirer of Rowling’s fiction, I am anything but a fan-boy of her real-world progressive politics, her disdain for orthodox religious believers and their beliefs, and Team Rowling’s shutdown of Potter themed street festivals and the like for supposed violation of copyright. I salute the courage and substance of her stand against transgender activist overreach, especially with respect to the reflex transitioning of children and adolescents, if we come to this shared position from very different starting points and paths. Her positions on same sex relationships, abortion, Covid 19 mRNA jabs and lockdowns, all things Brexit and Trump, and the Russia-Ukraine war strike me as laughably predictable, uninformed, and naive, not to mention being the reflex positions of the UK liberal elite class, of which, for all their recent efforts to blacklist her, she remains a member in good standing.
What is hilarious about the call, however, isn’t her open embrace of Zalensky as something of a hero (he is not Putin-level power-mad, I concede, but he’s anything other than a warrior saint). The self-importance necessary to believe that the president of a country fighting off an invading enemy would take the time to call the author of Harry Potter to get her to cease publication of her work in the Russian Federation, something it turns out she claims to have already been working on (“That will show Putin!”), is staggering.
I want to believe — and assume we will eventually be told — that Rowling only took the call because of her admirable concern for Ukrainian children displaced by the Russian invasion, which conversation, if it took place, was of course edited out of the clip released by Vovan and Lexus. Even with that proviso, however, her straight face acceptance of the assertion that Ukrainian missiles are being labeled ‘Avada Kedavra!’ is one for the ages.
(2) Rowling is Anything but Unique in Having Been Fooled This Way
Rowling joins a mob of celebrities who have been fooled by Vovan and Lexus. They’re remarkably inventive and ingenious at finding ways to gull politicians and the uber famous to take their calls — they have a television program in Russia called ‘The Call’ — and in getting them to confide in them or otherwise make fools of themselves. Yes, it’s underhanded and deceitful that they do not tell their targets that the call is being recorded and that they are not who they say they are. Yes, too, their calls act as a marvelous litmus strip test for, simultaneously, humility and an inflated idea of one’s place in the world.
Politicians who have been pranked this way include President Bush, Vice-President Kamala Harris, Congressmen Adam Schiff and Maxine Walters, Senators John McCain and Bernie Sanders, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and, most recently, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel. The latter two calls were made under the mask of Ukraine’s Prime Minister, in which conversation they asked for nuclear weapons to deter Putin; this effrontery earned the pair of pranksters a YouTube ban, part of the all-out effort in the West to create media messaging hegemony on the Ukraine war.
The list of celebrities akin to Rowling who have also been fooled by the Russian Rascals is as extensive and impressive. The incident with Elton John is the most famous (they imitated Vladimir Putin and his translator to talk about gay rights in the Russian Federation; the real Putin actually called the aging rock star afterwards), but they have also gulled “singer Billie Eilish, and actors Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Billy Porter and Sharon Stone, Woody Harrelson, and Morgan Freeman.” It is a testimony to Rowling’s star power and celebrity status even in the Russian Federation — she is the only Western author to have been targeted thus far — that she was called.
Critics have pointed out that Vovan and Lexus have never humiliated a Russian oligarch or member of Putin’s inner circle and military wing. This is no doubt true, but I think that is less indicative of their being agents of the regime in power than it is testimony to their prudence, or, better, their lack of a death wish. That being said, that she was targeted the same week in which she re-tweeted a statement in support of Alexey Navalny to her 14 million followers on that platform may have been the stimulus for the pair, if they are Putin Puppets, to take her down a notch.
Team Rowling has at least three obvious responses they can make to the publication of this interview.
First, her Bunker of Barracuda Barristers can be deployed to get the interview taken down from YouTube. The conversation was filmed without her consent or under false pretenses so this shouldn’t be heavy lifting. I suspect the interview will survive on less exalted online platforms but I hope a transcript is captured for posterity’s sake just in case it does a total disappearing act.
Two, they can spin it as a call Rowling accepted in order to advance Lumos’ efforts to help the children in Ukraine displaced by the war. I suspect that is the best explanation for her staff’s credulity and her own in thinking President Zalensky was reaching out to her; I find it more than a credible possibility that Lumos has been in contact with Ukraine’s various government ministries in doing their good work so a celebrity-outreach to advance Zalensky’s successful propaganda campaigns would not seem that strange.
Third and last, they can just ignore the event at present and plan on Rowling responding in a carefully controlled future interview with option two above. There she can explain that she wasn’t fooled so much as she was eager to agree to anything the President said in order to get his help for the children. I rather hope Team Rowling chooses to go this route, one they have taken before (without the interview follow-up) in response to revelations about her buying and selling Jonny Depp’s yacht and the unforced error during her Harvard Commencement Address. They can be confident that the avalanche of hourly news updates will soon bury this story unless they sustain or revive it.