A recent study has found that watching Harry Potter films enhances children’s creativity and imagination. But not only are there “educational benefits in exposing children to magical content like witches and wizards.” The Harry Potter Alliance, founded by 32-year-old Andrew Slack, has already forged a path with a new kind of activism. By using online networks for fans of J.K. Rowling’s novels, Slack was able to mobilize Potterphiles to send five cargo planes to Haiti with $123,000 worth of medical supplies after the 2010 earthquake; to donate more than 88,000 books around the world; to advocate for net neutrality; to raise awareness about genocide and — entering the political arena — to campaign against Maine’s 2009 ballot initiative that sought to repeal same sex marriage.
It’s real-world fan activism with real results, as Courtney E. Martin writes in the New York Times. Indeed, with the movie of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games due to be released tonight, members of the fan-focused group Imagine Better are joining with Oxfam to encourage young people to sign Oxfam’s GROW pledge. Representatives are planning to make the rounds of midnight release parties tonight; they will encourage people to sign the pledge and then spread the word by tweeting with the hashtag #notagame.
Martin describes Young Adult (Y.A.) fiction as the world’s “fastest growing literary genre.” Imagine Better and The Harry Potter Alliance are just two organizations trying to make the most of the “extraordinary market power of Y.A. fiction” to create social change.
Indeed, the very themes of books like Rowling’s and Collins’ are “often at the heart of what motivates fan activism.” Martin describes how Slack read the first Harry Potter novel while working at a Boston-area Boys & Girls Club; what he immediately loved about the book was its “subversive message” and its championing of misfits and the not-normal. Even more, the serial nature of much Y.A. fiction keeps interest fresh; with each new book and movie, fans’ activism can be reignited both “through online fandoms and real world actions.”
As Slack said recently said to the audience at a Nobel Peace Prize Forum, we need to move beyond the “technocratic details that make activism appear as boring” and “respect how we as human beings communicate — through story.”
I’d say that Slack is onto something that might even be bigger (if that is possible) than The Harry Potter Alliance. Facts and figures and statistics and data are necessary to write thoughtful reports explaining why more resources for water management are needed or why education for autistic individuals should not be cut off at the age of 21. But what really gets people’s attention is a good story, an account with heroes and monsters (friendly and not) and even some magic, that holds your attention and makes you want to take action, get involved, do good.
Are you going to see The Hunger Games tonight? If you are, please remember and tell others that it’s #notagame!
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