Defining the “Harry Potter” Generation
by Alyssa Jennette
Any member of the HP fandom has undoubtedly heard the phrase “Harry Potter Generation” thrown around a few times. It’s usually remarked upon with fondness and pride, a mix between an era and a community. This is very true.
One could argue that any long-term fan is a part of it. If the Harry Potter Generation is simply a group of people who have loved Harry Potter at any time in the recent past, then the whole fandom is part of the generation. However, a fandom and a generation are not the same thing — I can be a massive fan of the Beatles, but I certainly wasn’t in their generation!
What makes a group the Harry Potter “Generation, as opposed to the larger group of fans?”
It comes down to demographics.
Age is the most obvious credential for a member of the Harry Potter Generation — many fans can recall starting the books at age ten or eleven and virtually growing up alongside Harry and his friends (myself included). But this can seem limiting — what about fans like my eighteen-year-old brother, who is a huge HP fan in his own right? What about fans like my friend’s mom Lori, who made her own Professor Sprout costume (complete with Venomous Tentacula) and waited alongside her daughter and me at the midnight releases? Aren’t they considered part of the Harry Potter generation?
Simply, and perhaps bluntly — no.
One very strong aspect of a generation lies in its young people/youth culture. (Particularly when it comes to pop culture — Elvis belonged to the teenagers and young women of his time, didn’t he?) In the case of the older fans, they’ve already had their generation. They have already contributed to a culture that is now part of history, and now it’s the next generation’s turn.
It’s a bit trickier with younger fans. What makes a 22-year-old a part of the generation if a 20-year-old is not? This has been made a particularly blurry line with the advent of Buzzfeed and Tumblr and endless lists proclaiming “If You Remember This, You’re a 90’s Kid”. (Perhaps I am dating myself by saying this, but it comes down to this pronouncement: if you were born in the 90s, you are not a 90s kid.*)
When it comes to Harry Potter, there’s a similar parallel: if you weren’t Harry’s age, you’re not a part of his capital-g-Generation.
But what does this mean for the perceived in-betweeners? The people who were in high school when Harry first hit the shelves, but were still part of the first wave of fans, and were the people who jump-started the first online forums and fanfic?
While they didn’t age alongside Harry in a literal sense, we have to consider Harry’s “actual” age. In 1997 (when Philosopher’s Stone was published in the UK), Harry was turning 17 years old. Today, he would be 33 years old. It stands to reason that anyone who was between Harry’s book age and “true” age at the time the books were published can also be counted in the capital-g-Generation**.
I think I can hear some accusations of hipster snobbery out there (“She thinks she’s so great because she read the books ‘before they were cool’!”), and perhaps those accusations are warranted. To me, a person who came to the series late or who saw most or all of the films first can’t really testify to what it meant to have to wait for the next book, to have read the books before the movies were announced, to feel like Harry and his friends were also your friends far before they became hallmarks of a pop culture and literature phenomenon. (Admittedly, this is very sentimental evidence, but it is echoed all over the fandom by people my age.)
Naturally, that doesn’t mean that those outside of that age range aren’t important fans. If you waited in line at midnight, waved a wand at the Wizarding World in Orlando, or eagerly competed for a beta spot in Pottermore; if you write fan-fiction or analysis or draw fan-art, you’re a valued and essential member of the fandom, and the fandom is big enough for all!
*This is somewhat flexible: if you were born in 1990-91 — particularly if you had older siblings who were close enough in age to “share” their pop culture with you — you probably still experienced everything that would make you a “90s kid”. (Hi, Lauren!)
**If only for the fact that they were the ones who started all of our favorite fansites and fanlistings! Do you guys remember those? Again, dating myself.