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Opinion November 3, 2013 //  by  // Comments

Harry Potter fans use love for series to help Muggles

Don’t let the name fool you. The Harry Potter Alliance isn’t a fan club.

Of course, it’s founded and staffed by a lot of dedicated fans, but the Harry Potter Alliance isn’t about passive appreciation. The Harry Potter Alliance engages in something much more dynamic and exciting: fandom activism.

Fandom activism isn’t a new phenomenon. Fan mobilization has roots that go decades back to the famous 1969 letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek.

University of Southern California Annenberg professor Henry Jenkins argues in his essay “Cultural acupuncture: Fan activism and the Harry Potter Alliance” that as fan groups evolved and “defined an issue, identified decision-makers, developed tactics and educated and mobilized supporters,” they laid down the infrastructure to engage in activism and “take meaningful action.”

Recent strains of fan activism jump out of the text and into the real world of civic engagement and political discourse.

The rallying cry of the Harry Potter Alliance is “the weapon we have is love.” The HPA pulls on central themes in the “Harry Potter” series in order to organize and promote social justice campaigns.

The Harry Potter Alliance got its start campaigning to raise awareness about genocide in Darfur, tying in anti-bigotry messages from the “Harry Potter” series. The 2011 “Deathly Hallows” campaign identified seven real-world “horcruxes” ranging from economic inequality to bullying.

Harry Potter parallels such as “house-elf” slavery and anti-”Mudblood” prejudice interpret these issues within the context of fiction.

Civic engagement often squares off against pop culture. Fandom activism is a novel approach in that it works with pop culture rather than dismissing it.

Pop culture narratives can have tremendous emotional value to an audience. Fandom activism taps into that emotional connection in order to find real-world solutions.

In the abstract, a lot of social issues can look too broad and intimidating to tackle. Aligning social problems with pop culture narratives offers a familiar lens to view issues through and fosters a diverse and enthusiastic member base.

The Harry Potter Alliance has gained enormous traction and branched out from “Harry Potter” into other fandoms. In anticipation of the upcoming “Catching Fire” movie, the HPA is forming campaigns to tackle economic quality using the district framework of “The Hunger Games.”

Harry Potter Alliance chapters worldwide are making a difference in their home communities through donation drives, awareness panels and hundreds of other campaigns that take on social justice issues at the local level.

The Houston Potter Alliance was founded this year at UH to deal with Houston-specific problems, including economic inequality in the city and homelessness.

J.K. Rowling herself once worked with Amnesty International. When asked about the Harry Potter Alliance’s campaign work concerning Darfur in a 2007 interview with Time magazine, Rowling replied: “What did my books preach against throughout? Bigotry, violence, struggles for power, no matter what. All of these things are happening in Darfur. So they really couldn’t have chosen a better cause.”

 Opinion columnist Megan Kallus is a pre-business freshman and may be reached at opinion@thedailycougar.com

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