By Harleen Kaur Bagga
Belonging to a fandom bestows an individual with an enormous sense of camaraderie, a collective identity where you can unhinge and become mad as a March hare while interacting with other fans concerning mutual passions. It can be food, music, books, television shows and movies, sports, philosophy, the universe-essentially everything that can be felt and talked about in the cosmos.
Narratives, from Lord of the Rings and Star Wars to Harry Potter and Doctor Who, have enjoyed pervasive and popular support, becoming immortalized in fan-legacies. As a kid, I grew up reading Harry Potter and established an acromantulic (read ‘massive’) fascination and wistfulness for the wizarding world. It was only upon discovering Fanfiction that I realized how powerful the fandom really was. From Pottermore to The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet, to all the fan-art, pins and badges and finally the LeakyCon and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, ‘The Boy who Lived’ has made a momentous journey from the virtual to the tangible. And it’s been almost a decade since the magical world entrenched itself in muggle-activism, striving to defend against the dark arts and eliminate all the muggle horcruxes.
The Harry Potter Alliance, co-created by Andrew Slack in 2005, uses the weapon of love and draws powerful analogies between the muggle and wizarding world, professing that “Just as Dumbledore’s Army wakes the world up to Voldemort’s return, works for equal rights of house elves and werewolves, and empowers its members, we work with partner NGOs in alerting the world to the dangers of global-warming, poverty, and genocide.” The Alliance, comprising more than 100,000 members in over 70 chapters around the world, raised over $123,000 for Partners in Health in Haiti, which culminated in the chartering of five planes full of medical supplies to the country. Furthermore, Harry Potter fans around the world have donated hundreds of thousands of books to underprivileged readers. Recently, the Alliance also launched a Hunger Games-themed campaign called Odds in Our Favour, which used the three-finger salute to display solidarity and fight against economic-inequality. This way, these fan-activists have proven that “fantasy is not an escape from our world but an invitation to go deeper into it”.
Squealing over your OTP, listening to Wizard Rock or dreaming about playing Quidditch transforms into a sense of solidarity which is then mobilized towards civic participation. Here, fans assert a major chunk of their identity in relation to popular culture products and are enthusiastic about channeling personal passions into political-involvement. A strong sense of affiliation and community, a precondition for any political activism, already finds itself embedded in these fandoms (refer to ‘Transformative Works and Cultures’).
However, this appropriation of fictive-narratives for galvanizing change is not adopted solely by fans, as illustrated by the wearing of stylized Guy Fawkes masks by Anonymous members (Anons). This mask has gained the status of a popular icon, symbolizing individualism and a protest against tyrannical powers. Also, in a recent incident, protestors demonstrating against the military coup in Bangkok employed the three-fingered salute of the oppressed people of Panem.
Popular culture has shaped political discourse by providing a common reference-point through a number of ways, concretized through the efforts of fan-alliances like The Harry Potter Alliance, Nerdfighters, Racebending and many more. Storytelling content thus maps out scripts to be adopted and enacted to incite change, whether it be fans organizing themselves to “save” their fandoms or to effect metamorphosis. Also, this increasing trend has been located in the youth to a large extent. In a markedly endearing and enduring fashion, several protest-rallies have witnessed posters that say “First Dobby dies, now this?”
Yet, popular culture remains popular only until it is constantly in the public-eye, creating further newer meanings; thus, its popularity proves to be transient in a majority of the cases. To counter this, The Harry Potter Alliance has ensured its sustenance by voicing its desire of forging partnerships between multiple fan communities in its mission-statement.
Fan-activism, roughly constituting the youth and fairly different from normative political-activism, leads us to ask whether all social activism has to necessarily be serious. “Where the Hell is Matt?”, a video first recorded in 2005 by Matt Harding where he danced around the world, despite authenticity issues and hoax allegations, portrays a sense of belongingness and a coming together of people. The ‘Pink Chaddi Campaign’ as well as ‘Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures’ are further examples of popular unconventional activism. Therefore, promptly terming the new generation ‘apathetic’ proves to be a gross fallacy, for these fandoms and digital-natives have concocted avant-garde modes of participatory citizenship, directing strong personal avidities into social change.
Harleen is an Art and Literature enthusiast, currently studying English lit at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. She lives in a world of hyperbole and Homeric similes and is irrevocably in love with descriptive words. Quite fond of stationery, the smell of old books, and the Harry Potter fandom, she most unfortunately possesses a traitorous mouth and a natural propensity to fall into embarrassing situations. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.