This picture should be familiar to you. If you have checked for the ending of the 7th book of Harry Potter — or wanted to check if you’ve read the ending right — then you have also checked Wikipedia.
When I went to Fully Booked this morning, I saw mountains upon mountains of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows. In my hand were The End of Faith by Sam Harris and two copies of The Tao of Pooh. I asked myself, “Is there something wrong with me?”
I don’t read Harry Potter. I’ve seen the movies but not the last one which I don’t plan to. And worst, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything of importance. It’s not that I’m being socially deviant, it’s just that Harry Potter has not captured my imagination. Generally, I don’t find myself enamoured by the knights, dragons and wizards genre. Another inaccessible genre to me would the majority of Japanese animation and film. I’m more of the space opera, Asian (read: Hong Kong and Chinese) cinema and superhero kind of fan.
But why do people buy into these things? On the simplest level, it is something we enjoy. In our modern ethos, we could all use a dose of escapism. It just depends on your flavor – Tolkien, Lucas, Rowling, Wachowski or Toriyama? In an age that denies us the luxury of imagination, we can buy it prepackaged and fixed. Even ancilliary items (ie. costumes, lunchboxes and posters) are readily available for anyone to express their love for the creative franchise. People even grow up with it, as testified by fans of movies shown 30 years ago and by teenagers whose first book is about a boy wizard and a stone.
Though that attitude is dangerous as it makes us subservient to a capitalist regime, we are also fortunate that the internet has allowed for more democratic forms of enjoying what we love such as writing fan fiction and participating in forums. People have moved from being consumers of entertainment to prosumers, and here is where we see the birth of fandom.
Loosely defined, a fandom is a community of fans who share a love for the characters and a respect for the continuity. A group of fans don’t make a fandom. Random people can meet in a Star Wars screening all dressed up in costume, but they’re just a bunch of fans. The gazillions of people in queue to pay for Harry Potter is not a fandom. A fandom is organized, often as a club or association, and can mobilize very quickly with a unity of purpose or vision. If an army of fans go into the screening dressed as Stormtroopers, then that’s fandom. Even if there are fans who are not members of that club, they can easily join with their activities due to their love for the material. There is a free exchange between members, and the best exchanges culminate in creative exercises such as writing fanfics, directing fan films, or running a convention.
Fandoms thrive in the internet in the same way that radical religion does. Ideas bind people together much more quickly and deeply these days, and things like Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter are perfect examples of such unifying ideas.
Fandoms aren’t usually hostile to another, since there are no dogmas in the material that would require one to look down on other fandoms. Yet perhaps a Star Wars fan can call a Lord of the Rings fan a “practicioner of the dark side”, or a Lord of the Rings fan would brand a Star Wars fan “part of the legion of Mordor”. But that would be taking things too far, but I can’t imagine grown men taking that seriously. (Then again, they’re fans.)
If ever competition between fandoms would arise, it would be because of the feeling that another is invading the other’s niche. An example would be the rival between Star Wars fans and Star Trek fans — there can only be one “Star” franchise. Another example is the heated rivalry between DC and Marvel fans as both banner that their company is the best comic book company. I always find it amusing when DC apologists claim that Marvel’s having greater market share does not mean they have better quality books. But then again I’ve read DC all my life and I’m enjoying Marvel right now.
Where are fandoms headed? I’ve hinted at the prosumers earlier, and I think that is where the future of the fans will be. They will have greater control over their characters and universes, even if what they produce don’t necessarily become canon. The Star Wars community is one such fandom that is so alive and productive, with regular celebrations and contests that keep George Lucas’ creations living and breathing to this day.
I am actually interested to see where the Harry Potter fans take things next. The books are done, the movies have two left. J.K. Rowling is just too alive and well to ignore the fact that her creation has taken a life of its own. I hope that Rowling opens up an Expanded Universe in the same way George Lucas did, and allow for other people to play in the Potterverse.
I may not relate to Harry Potter fans for their love of Harry Potter, but I know what it means to be fan. Harry will be missed, but the beauty of fandom is that he doesn’t have to be.