Are We Victims?
Please note: the following article is entirely an opinion piece. If you are offended by such things, please go read something objective like an encyclopedia instead. The following article also suggests the possibility that there are aspects of the Potter brand that are imperfect. If you are offended by such things, please go read something like My Little Pony instead. Lastly, the article uses “you” as a generic pronoun for some fans, not as a generalization for all fans. So please don’t be offended by that, either. Grab your butterbeers, and let’s talk Potter!
It has lately come to my attention, both here and (to a slightly greater extent) on Hypable, that a large portion of the HP fandom feels conned, wronged, and victimized by most entities involved in the Potter brand – Sony, WB, and Jo Rowling in particular. The things that have drawn the fans’ ire are many and varied: WB’s DVD box sets, Sony’s new “Book of Spells” video game, Sony’s Pottermore, and WHY OH WHY doesn’t Jo just write the encyclopedia already?!?
The common response is to treat every single one of these as a personal affront, and mob mentality begins rearing its ugly head. I will admit that my first inclination in these instances is often to leave a comment, employing a liberal amount of Caps Lock and exclamation points, about how Sony/WB/Jo is the root of all evil and doesn’t care about us and is horribly ungrateful for the love and money we give them. I then try to take a deep breath, count to ten, and remind myself that Sony/WB/Jo probably is not trying to ruin my life, and that in the long run my happiness will not be destroyed by what they’ve just done.
If you will bear with me, I will try to play devil’s advocate here.
Complaint #1: The DVD box set and “Book of Spells” cost way too much! Sony/WB/Jo only care about making money! This is an insult to every HP fan who can’t afford these products!
First things first: I am firmly in the “can’t afford” camp in this debate. I have not gotten the DVD box set (in fact, I’ve not gotten any Potter films beyond Movie 5, never wishing to see Movie 6 again, and figuring I can always borrow the last two movies from friends). I do not own a PS3 or any of the associated toys. I do not intend on getting them.
Here’s the thing: WB and Sony are huge multimedia corporations. That means that, by definition, they only care about making money. They do not care if you or I can’t afford their products. They know that there are likely some people out there who can afford their products; moreover, there are plenty of people out there who will buy their products, and therefore WB and Sony will make money. If they didn’t care about making money, they would be a charity, not a company.
Some long-time fans view the price tags on these products as an insult, meaning WB and Sony doesn’t care about you specifically not being able to afford the stuff, which they totally should care about because you are a devoted long-time fan. But neither WB nor Sony is forcing you, at wandpoint, to buy these things. In fact, there is very little reason you should feel compelled to do so. Any meager extras that are new to this DVD box set will be on YouTube within days of its release. Similarly, any new spells unveiled in “Book of Spells” will be put online hours after the game is released.
These products are for people who want a box set of HP films or a cool HP video game. Not every product has to be tailored to you, because you are not the only HP fan who will give WB and Sony money. So there’s a very simple solution: instead of buying this thing and lamenting the terrible cost, just don’t buy it. Save up that money to go to the Wizarding World or to a convention.
Also, the argument that Jo is “selling out” by allowing “Book of Spells” and various other stuff is rather silly. Anyone who knows anything about Jo knows that she does not particularly care about money. Hence, she has written entire books for charity, and donated millions upon millions of pounds to charities. With a personal wealth just south of a billion dollars, I don’t think she’s in desperate want of money. Does she enjoy receiving a few million pounds in royalties from HP now and then? Sure, she does – wouldn’t you? I don’t think this qualifies as “selling out.”
Complaint #2: These things prove that Sony/WB/Jo don’t care about us fans! We have been so loyal to them, yet they don’t return our love!
This seems to be the most contentious point – that if the above entities truly cared about us (as they obviously should), then all HP products would be practically free and tailored specifically to the long-time devoted fans.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I think it has to be said that, indeed, WB and Sony don’t care about us. I have long made the case that WB doesn’t give a hoot about the fans because they think they don’t need us to make money. Otherwise, the HP movies would have been vastly different from how they turned out. Sony doesn’t care either, otherwise Pottermore would have worked from the get-go and been targeted at teens and adults, rather than little kids.
While this is a very humbling thought, I have finally embraced the fact that, strictly speaking, WB and Sony don’t have to care about me. They care only about making money – as they should – and they have decided (correctly or incorrectly, who knows?) that they can make more money by targeting someone other than me. While I’d love to think that I am the most important HP fan that they should be targeting, the reality is that they disagree.
As a business decision, the choice to not care about the hardcore fans is a very questionable one. We have been loyal for a long time, we are a repeated source of revenue (and economics teaches us that repeat customers are far more valuable). If the HP movies were good, I’d have seen them more than once in theaters. If Pottermore had more interesting content, I’d have returned after finishing Sorcerer’s Stone. If the equipment to play “Book of Spells” cost much less, I would actually buy it. But WB and Sony’s business decisions are their prerogative, and they decided not to be loyal to us. Which is fine, because I certainly am not loyal to them – I have no inclination to see every WB and Sony movie just because I love their companies. So that’s that.
Where Jo is concerned, the issue becomes much more complicated. Our loyalty to her is a natural extension of our love for Harry, which is why I’ll be buying Casual Vacancy whereas I won’t be seeing Sony’s MIB3. We want that loyalty returned in many ways. These include, but are not limited to: using Twitter to regularly interact with us, ensuring the movies are faithful adaptations, giving us lots of new content, making sure this content is available to everyone, and giving us a perfect version of Pottermore.
I would love those things to happen. I would love for Jo to regularly chat with fans the way Cassandra Clare does on Tumblr. I would love for Jo to put her foot down and tell the filmmakers, “Dumbledore does not have anger management issues!” Most of all, I want her to give us a good Pottermore: new content that’s not riddled with mistakes, a Sorting system that isn’t rigged to even out Houses, a way to communicate with friends, and a site that didn’t keep crashing throughout its first year of existence.
But the truth is, however nice it would be if Jo did these things for us, she does not owe them to us. As a writer, all Jo owed us is to satisfactorily finish the series of books that we invested our time and money in. And Jo succeeded in that absolutely, whereas many writers don’t (Suzanne Collins, Lemony Snicket, etc.).
Jo has also gone above and beyond that. She allowed us to write fanfiction (a privilege denied to Anne Rice fans), which is what launched many potential writers’ aspirations (mine included). She ensured that the film adaptations would stay somewhat faithful, instead of condensing the series to one film about an American wizarding high school with cheerleaders and many more love triangles than there already are. She allowed the Wizarding World theme park, and gave them valuable input. She actively encouraged the fansites where you’re reading this.
And at least she tried to give us a thank you in the form of Pottermore. Admittedly, Pottermore is the thing I have the most trouble reconciling with, because this is where Jo really should have done more. She has the clout and the resources to create a site that doesn’t crash (something that should not have taken a year to accomplish), and she can also hire better continuity editors for the information. The Pottermore we were given is nothing short of a disgrace, when considering what it could and should have been.
Still, Jo has given us all we have a right to expect, and then some. When talking about the million extensions of the HP brand, let’s remember what started it all. Remember that the friends made and communities formed are all thanks to seven books. And when the Wizarding World is just another theme park at Universal, when the movies have been remade several times, when Pottermore is a dusty archive of a site, we will still be reading the Potter books with our grandkids. Jo gave us that, and she owes us nothing more.
Complaint #3: I wouldn’t care about any of this, if only Jo gave us the long-promised encyclopedia! All the new information should be in an encyclopedia I can hold in my hands! WHY OH WHY does Jo torment us with a lack of encyclopedia?!?
Yes, all transgressions would be forgiven, all grievances forgotten, if only we could have the HP encyclopedia that Jo said she might write one day! We only hate Pottermore because it took the place of the encyclopedia. We hate “Book of Spells” because the spells aren’t in an encyclopedia. We need that encyclopedia!
I want that encyclopedia more than any other book in the world right now. However, I am not surprised we aren’t getting one. Nor am I angry about it. Every end-of-year MuggleCast, the hosts would say that doubtless this would be the year we got the encyclopedia, because it’s about time! And I always think to myself, they’re wrong, because it won’t be for many years to come.
Put yourself in Jo’s (fabulously high-heeled) shoes. She spent SEVENTEEN YEARS writing the Potter books. That’s longer than many of you readers have been alive. Imagine, if you will, telling a single story, no matter how long or elaborate, for seventeen years. I know that I most certainly would want a loooooong break after that. Back in 2007, I predicted that we would not be getting much new Potter content for years to come, and I stand by that.
Some writers are content to stay in one world for a very long time. Cassandra Clare intends to write twelve books set in the same world, and Rick Riordan intends to write at least sixteen. But both of them have been at it for less than a decade, so let’s see where they are after seventeen years. For a person with unlimited creativity like Jo, who must have hundreds of ideas floating around in her head, the idea of writing one story forever must seem like a prison sentence.
I think Casual Vacancy sounds terrific, and I can’t wait to see what other stories Jo has to offer. And while I want more Potter stuff desperately, I don’t begrudge Jo not wanting to stay in Harry’s world forever. So I will enjoy whatever small tidbits we get from Jo. And I stay content in the knowledge that, in however many years the encyclopedia finally comes, the wait will have been totally worth it.
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought in this article. It pains me to write in support of WB and Pottermore, because I have been livid at them as much as everyone else (or, perhaps, more so than many). But I think that, as a fandom, we should stop feeling so victimized by all the people in charge of the Harry Potter brand, and just enjoy the wonderful things we do have.
I know this will raise a lot of debate, so sound off in the comments with what you think about these issues, even if you just have a rant you need to get off your chest. I just ask that we keep the debate civil, even though this is a sensitive topic. Taking deep breaths is often a good idea! So let’s talk Potter.