The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Harry Potter and the Undying Fandom…?

Written by: Anastasia Salter, Pop-Culture Editor

Voldemort by Nick Webb, FlickrYou might have seen a number of Harry Potter anniversaries celebrated around Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook lately: J.K. Rowling’s birthday. The anniversary of the last midnight book release, when many of us joined with hordes of fans to stand in the local Borders (remember them?) for hours on end, then went home to stay up all night reading and even rereading before anyone could spoil the finale. Now, years later, the Harry Potter homage in the Olypics opening ceremony has placed the series alongside children’s literature icons from Peter Pan to Mary Poppins…but will the Harry Potter fandom endure as the books ages and perhaps even takes a slow procession towards the “classics” section of the bookstore? If fandom is spurred by collective passion and a shared desire to explore a universe, will the virtual halls of Hogwarts empty?

The half-life of pop culture phenomena is often not long, and the young adult market is a crowded place. It’s also filled with trilogies and series novels: even books that begin as stand-alones often lead to spin-offs powered by the interest of fans, and the awareness of publishers that anticipation fuels fandom and speculation. The Harry Potter series was particularly good at creating anticipation, and leaving room for fans to argue about Snape’s allegiance or Harry’s love interest, until the final pages. But now J.K. Rowling has said she’s not writing any more Harry Potter books, despite the whole universe of possibilities waiting for someone to explore them. And Harry Potter isn’t like some transmedia franchises. For Star Wars fans, George Lucas is not the end-all arbitrer of the Star Wars canon, as novelists and comic writers continue to fill in gaps and imagine storylines for other worlds and time periods. Fans continue to tell those stories in all sorts of forms, but the “official” well of content is running dry with only the drips of content from Pottermore to sustain it. With even the film adaptations wrapped up, and so successfully done that no one is likely to attempt it again for many decades, Voldemort can only make the news by showing up in-person for the Olympics.

Earlier this month I was co-chair of formal programming at Ascendio, the last HPEF fan symposium on the Harry Potter series. The future of the fandom came up over and over again, made more urgent by the collective awareness that this conference tradition was coming to an end even as others continue. Some even sang about it, as in EJ Lee’s performance of “End of an Era” in the con’s showcase. Chris Rankin, the actor who played Percy Weasley in the film series and a long-time participant in Harry Potter fandom, shared his own thoughts on the future of the fandom from his insider perspective when presenting his thesis. He noted in his thesis that “Harry Potter has changed the way fan communities are constructed”–an important reminder of the magical timing of Harry Potter’s release to coincide with the rise of social networking and online communities, which Harry Potter fans co-opted and developed for their needs just as Star Trek and sci-fi fans before them relied upon Xerox machines and mailed zines. And with the strength of these networks has come activity beyond the creation and consumption of participatory culture and organization of community to the type of outright activism embodied in The Harry Potter Alliance, a group that carries the idealism of Dumbledore’s Army into our society at large. 


Even the dustiest of titles can inspire online fandom, as a trip down the mermory lane of the listings always reveals. Just the idea that The Hobbit can draw in fans to the tune of *3* movie installments to see the book play out on the big screen suggests a faith in the classics (and Peter Jackson). But these fan communities are dwarfed by comparison to the scale of Generation Potter–those of us who grew up (or failed to really “grow up”) with the Hogwarts gang. won’t be the last to read Harry Potter. The newly-launched Harry Potter Reading Club program for schools is one step in ensuring that legacy. Certainly, Universal is counting on a next generation: the rumored expansion of the Harry Potter themepark section at Universal and the addition of Hogwarts to other Universal parks suggests a lasting investment in infrastructure, not unlike a decision that was once faced in Las Vegas. In the ’90s, plans were made to build a life-size Star Trek Enterprise to house a *true* Star Trek experience. Just looking at the plans will make any Star Trek fan (namely, me) ready to hop aboard. The Paramount executive who ensured that none of us would ever beam up to a Vegas Enterprise was intimidated by the idea of something that would be there “forever.” Star Trek endures, particularly thanks to the recent J.J. Abrams reboot, but at the time the investment in something that could have been a permanent flop seemed too risky. Now, the physical space of Hogwarts (appropriately, the Universal park was part of the Ascendio celebrations) will likely last as long as enough of us want to dig our Slytherin or Ravenclaw scarves out of the closet and take an imaginary ride on the Hogwarts express. The experiential aspect of fandom so well appreciated in cons has at least one dedicated space to grow on, and even Harry Potter fandom centers like MuggleNet show no sign of shutting their doors.

So, happy birthday, Harry Potter. No doubt the midlife crisis (Harry was “born” in 1980, and is thus now 32) is proceeding well and you’re considering leaving Ginny Weasley for–well, frankly anyone would be better. Voldemort might have been the character in the spotlight for the Olympic  ceremony, but J.K. Rowling’s presence on-stage is a testament to the treasured status of the entire franchise. Even when your pop culture relevance has faded to the point where your anniversary is best marked by animated Google Doodles and “remember when?” Facebook postings, the sheer volume of fan production and culture will ensure that Hogwarts always has more virtual corridors to explore. Perhaps Rowling herself will even break her literary silence and drop in a Marauder’s book or two–but even if she doesn’t, fans will share the tales in her stead.