Fandom Five Years Later
Here is a statement that catches many fans by surprise, and leaves a good portion of them exclaiming in anguish over how old they are: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was published five years ago. Whoa. Five whole years. People who had just gotten into Harry Potter back then would lament not having joined the fandom sooner, now those same people smugly recall how good times were before all the books were out. In five years, we have witnessed three new movies, two musicals, two ends of an era, five Quidditch World Cups, about half a dozen major conventions, one new Potter book, one theme park, and so much more. I’d like to take a stroll down memory lane, and then look at what our fandom faces going forward.
Looking Back: 2007 Through 2009
When the last book was published on July 21, 2007, it was truly the end of an era. No one was in doubt of that. The question, however, was what this new era would be like. It was a time full of positive outlooks and excitement. Jo would be giving us new HP information in interviews all the time, and would work on an HP encyclopedia. There were still the last two movies to look forward to (before the DH split was announced). Everything would be wonderful, and we would all continue participating in the HP fandom like always.
The flip side was that, now that HP was done, we might all go forth into other fandoms. These potential new fandoms were many and varied. Some feared a mass exodus to Twilight, but that potential migration was nipped in the bud by an acrimonious rivalry. Maybe we would all now fall in love with dragons in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle? Maybe we would have, if there weren’t three years between every installment… by the time the last one came out this past November, no one remembered nor cared about the series. Percy Jackson seemed a popular choice, but an atrocious movie prevented Percy from becoming totally mainstream. The most promising was Hunger Games, but by the time it started picking up steam, the books were already over, and a lackluster conclusion crushed that migration.
There was also the problem of all these other fandoms being pale imitations of the HP fandom – not through any fault of their own, but because HP became the template for fandom. HP was fortunate enough to happen at the same time as the internet becoming mainstream, and the two fed off each other, and formed the basis for what other fandoms try to do. That, and fandoms largely work off of the network effect, which means that the more people join, the better it becomes. And since the Potter fandom far outnumbered any other, there were no viable alternatives.
So, once we all ascertained that we would be firmly staying in the Potter fandom, we still had to figure out what the Potter fandom was now. The first year or so was about clinging onto the old notions of what the fandom was – discussing the books, anticipating the movies, waiting for juicy tidbits from Jo that quickly stopped coming. This is encapsulated best in Melissa Anelli’s fantastic book Harry, A History, which chronicles the Potter fandom up to the release of Deathly Hallows or so, but does not really offer material on where we are going forward.
After a while, however, it became clear those old notions were outdated. With no new information from Jo, and the encyclopedia nowhere to be seen, the book discussions dwindled and lost their urgency. They picked up again when Beedle the Bard was released, but there was only so much to discuss there. A severe blow was struck in Jo’s trial against RDR Books, who was trying to publish a print version of The HP Lexicon. Those of you who were around to remember the scandal surrounding the whole thing – it was polarizing for the fandom, pitted fans against fans, and led to a lot of negativity.
Worse, it came on the heels of bad news surrounding the movies. For the past year, the mantra had been, “At least we still have the movies.” But WB decided to push back the release of Movie Six, making the wait for it an unprecedented two years. Worse, when the movie came out, it was by common consensus the worst one yet (I’m going off anecdotal evidence here, but everyone seems firmly agreed on this point). Just when we’d had high hopes for the movies, since the movies no longer had excuses for leaving out relevant information, we got the debacle that was Half-Blood Prince.
Once it became clear that neither Jo nor WB would be keeping the Potter fandom afloat, it became clear what needed to happen: the fans had to do it themselves, focusing on fan-made content. And boy, did we rise to the challenge.
There was wizard rock, which had taken off in 2007, and it now experienced a renaissance in 2009. Bands were forming, touring, collaborating… there was a wrock concert or wrock festival every month it seemed. New stars like “Swish and Flick” and “Madam Pince and the Librarians” emerged. Old talents like “The Whomping Willows” and “Ministry of Magic” continued to deliver.
Muggle Quidditch took off even more. 2007 witnessed the first ever intercollegiate match between Middlebury and Vassar. By 2009, the World Cup had about twenty teams participating, and more teams sprang up everywhere. Finally, the bookish nerds could become jocks!
Just as the movie adaptation disappointed, another HP adaptation came out of nowhere to capture the hearts of Potter fans everywhere: A Very Potter Musical. The adaptation was irreverent, silly, and absolutely hilarious. And the fandom loved it. The following year, AVPM quotes were on everyone’s lips, and “Detention!” would never be pronounced the same way again.
While I am not as familiar with the areas of fanfiction and fanart, it can be supposed that they too were producing lots of stellar new content throughout this period. But I also noticed that the fandom seemed to be migrating to real life in lieu of the internet. Cons were becoming bigger and more ambitious, Meetup groups were springing up everywhere, and so forth.
Splintering Fandom: 2010 through 2012
The last two movies were very big to-do’s, and WB made sure to make as big a deal out of the last one as it could (after thoroughly botching some of the red carpet premieres for DH1). Major premieres the world over, ads talking about epic finales, the whole nine yards. But the hoopla WB was making was nothing compared to the media.
When the books ended, it was the end of AN era, and we all optimistically looked ahead to the next era. This time, apparently, it was to be the end of THE era. The media seemed to be under the impression that we would all go see the movie at midnight, cry our eyes out, then bid each other farewell and never speak to one another again. I really don’t know what kind of twisted logic led to this conclusion, but every major newspaper was running stories of that ilk. They kept finding someone who would give a quote about how, “The day after this movie comes out, I will be an adult! I will go get a job that very day!” And then they would milk that quote for all its worth.
Naturally, no such nonsense occurred. We all saw the last movie at midnight, cried our eyes out, then met up the next day to complain about all the omissions as usual. We continued to party, continued to be part of the HP fandom. Because we had grown up with this, we had made very real friends through the fandom, and the media certainly would not be telling us when that was all over.
After fans had taken the reins in 2009, where the fandom was concerned, the head honchos of Potter now became determined to ensure they remained integral to the fandom. Hence, official things like the Studio Tour opened, and traveled all around the world so fans could see props from the movies. Similar thinking went into the opening of Leavesden Studios.
Of course, the main news story of 2010 was doubtless the opening of the Wizarding World theme park in Orlando. Fans could make their pilgrimage to this Mecca of Harry Potter and experience Harry’s world first hand. From sipping butterbeer to seeing the interior of Hogwarts, the suspension of disbelief in the theme park is incredible, and this is (in my opinion) the crowning achievement of the post-DH era. I will admit to crying when I first saw Hogwarts when I went there. Naturally, cons took advantage of this, and many of the cons from 2010 onward incorporated the Wizarding World.
If the theme park is the crowning achievement, then Pottermore is the biggest debacle of the era. The idea behind it was good – restore the excitement of discovering new info online, get everyone hyped about the HP brand living on beyond the movies, give fans the new info they so crave, and create an official online community of HP fans.
The problem is that they hadn’t counted on two things: Sony’s sheer technological ineptitude, and the small fact of Potter fans growing up. Because of these oversights, 2011 became known for the last movie and Pottermore becoming a laughingstock.
There was something to be said about the adventure of finding an online magic quill to get into Pottermore. And the fourteen-year-olds who avidly searched Jo’s site for Book Seven info would gladly have stayed up waiting for the quill. But those fourteen-year-olds were now nineteen-year-olds, with college papers to write and jobs to go to in the morning. They were young adults who had grown up not only with Potter, but with social networks, and had no desire to communicate with people as “Sparky123.” This, combined with horrible word of mouth when the site kept crashing, and the incessant delays to universal access, made Pottermore a complete joke. Maybe they’ll turn their act around and get it together, but the brand damage may already have been done.
The newly grown-up fans manifested themselves in other ways, too. There was an exodus from online forums that once buzzed with activity, and a huge spike in IRL (in real life) fandom. Cosplaying became much more popular once fans were old enough to go out and had the money to buy costumes. This also led to organizations like the Harry Potter Alliance forming, because fans could now go out into the real world and do things (the HPA is a charity based on the HP books).
But another phenomenon also seemed to occur: the splintering of the fandom. The fandom had become too big to contain itself. Back in 2007, all HP fans were all about the books, and there was one huge HP community that discussed the books. And you could conceivably be into all the other stuff as well – fanfic, fanart, etc. This was no longer the case. There were a hundred different aspects of the fandom you could choose to focus on, and it was humanly impossible to do it all – wrock, Quidditch, movies, AVPM, cosplay, HPA, fanfiction, fanart, Pottermore, etc. So while we were all still united under the umbrella of the HP fandom, fans began to branch out in different directions.
A large subsection is the movie fans – the ones who go to red carpets, who follow the careers of all the film actors. Some fansites that shall remain nameless seem to be catering exclusively to these fans, with the only news they report being the equivalent of British celebrity gossip. Although the HP movies are over, these fans went out to see Daniel Radcliffe’s new movie Woman in Black, and will see all the forthcoming movies involving Dan, Rupert, Emma, and the others.
Wizard rock kept the momentum going through 2010 for the most part, gaining new fans and new bands along the way. But that momentum has petered out, and wrock isn’t as big as it once was. Some bands, like “The Remus Lupins,” expanded into other fandoms, singing songs about Hunger Games and the like. They brought their sizable fandoms with them a lot of the time, but there is now less wrock there. Other bands, like “Draco and the Malfoys,” just completely retired. Still, there are always new bands popping up that make an impression. And some of the older wrockers keep on delivering years later – one just has to look at Lauren Fairweather’s “Prince’s Tale” album. Wrock is becoming a bit like cons – it happens infrequently, but when it happens, it’s awesome!
Muggle Quidditch has grown exponentially in the last two or three years. The 2010 World Cup had over forty teams present, the 2011 World Cup had almost a hundred. There are now hundreds of teams across the US, not to mention plenty of international teams, and Quidditch will only keep getting bigger.
But their growth still pales when compared to the StarKid fandom. The troupe behind A Very Potter Musical gained a sizable following, that only keeps increasing with every new show they do, and in particular with A Very Potter Sequel. StarKid has a fandom in its own right now, though a majority of them are still part of the Potter fandom. And if the mayhem at their Apocalyptour is anything to go by, Team StarKid isn’t going away anytime soon.
The same splintering happened on the internet. Before 2009 or so, Mugglenet, Leaky, or the Lexicon was every fan’s one stop for all things Potter. Now, there are zillions of niche sites all over the internet, catering to different subsets of the Potter fandom. For fanart, you have sites like DeviantArt or the HP Companion. Even the big fanfic sites now lie fallow in favor of smaller fanfic sites devoted to one type of fanfiction.
But then something magical happened (pun intended) – everyone seemed to have the same great idea, all at once, to rediscover the magic of the books. This mostly happened in connection with the last movie, because once we no longer had the movie releases to bring the fandom together, the only thing left was the books. Suddenly, MuggleCast was going through the books chapter by chapter. The HP Companion sprang up, presenting the books chapter by chapter with fanart and discussion. Mugglenet’s essay section, which looked sad and forgotten, got a complete facelift with the new Quibbles section. And sites like MarkReads, about discovering the books for the first time, became overnight successes because, four years after the books ended, there was still more magic to discover in the Potter books. And that is what has kept this fandom alive, more than anything else.
Looking Forward: 2012 Onwards
For all the doom and gloom the media kept spouting about the end of Harry Potter, I’d say we’ve done pretty well over the last five years. There have been low points (RDR trial, Pottermore) and there have been high points (theme park, AVPM). We saw the rise of the fan-powered fandom, and its splintering. We saw official Potter stuff given to us, and it’s been hit or miss. The Potter generation grew up and formed fandom in real life, and then went back to the internet to rediscover the books, currently spearheaded by Mugglenet’s Alohomora section. Above all, we have seen an incredible amount of change, and we have met it head-on.
Sure, we’ve read other books and joined other fandoms. But we kept our friends from the Potter fandom. And Harry will always hold a special place in our hearts… otherwise we wouldn’t be here talking about him five years later.
Looking ahead, there’s another game-changer on the horizon: The Casual Vacancy. One of two things can happen here. Either the Potter fandom will morph into the Jo Rowling fandom, as we all embrace her new book, even if we still love Harry just a little more than anything else. Or the Casual fandom will become another major subset of the bigger Potter fandom. Either one will be fine, though I’m inclined to think the former will happen. And then we can bring the whole HP fandom back together for more midnight release parties and other such shenanigans!
Even though there are so many aspects of the HP fandom, the good news is that none of them are mutually exclusive, and they all therefore overlap a lot. I lead a wizard dance troupe and play for a Quidditch team, I dress in costumes and go to StarKid concerts, I listen to wrock and write for Mugglenet. So there will always be something to occupy every Potter fan. And we have lots to look forward to: new theme parks opening, more cons, maybe Pottermore will finally work…
…and maybe, one day, we’ll even have the fabled HP encyclopedia! Hope springs eternal, as Dumbledore says.
But the best news of all is that, after five years, I’m still enchanted by the books every summer when I reread them. So, everyone, raise a glass of butterbeer to The Casual Vacancy, to Jo Rowling for giving us this fandom, and to five more fantastic years together! Cheers!