State of the Fandom: MISTI-Con 2017

by hpboy13

Harry Potter conventions are an incredible institution of the fandom and a wonderful glimpse at the state of the fandom at any given time. Quite frankly, WB should be bugging the walls of these conventions Rita Skeeter-style, because what better way is there to take the pulse of the fandom?

I have just returned from the incredible MISTI-Con 2017 and thought it would be interesting to describe some of the trends I observed at the convention. Perhaps this will become a recurring series of essays after every con. These cons serve as a microcosm of the fandom at a given point in time, and since I’ve been attending them for six years, it’s interesting to note the changes.

Admittedly, this is not a perfect sample of the fandom since it represents mostly the American fandom with a disproportionate focus on the Northeast. Cons also represent the fans who have the means to travel to them and are old enough to do so. But with those caveats, there are still some rather compelling findings.

 

1. Cursed Child has supplanted the movies as the thing everyone wants to complain about.

There is always a rather interesting dichotomy at conventions between the fans who participate in fandom year-round and the fans for whom a con is one of the only opportunities to interact with like-minded individuals. The latter is always eager to complain about the movies being terrible since they finally have a receptive audience who’ll agree with them. The former, for whom this is well-trod ground, tends to go with, “Yeah, the movies are all kinds of terrible. We’ve established that. Moving right along.” This year, instead of kvetching about the movies, it was all about Cursed Child being terrible. And even more so than the films, there was a dearth of defenders for Cursed Child – it’s pretty unanimously reviled.

 

2. The canon debate rages on.

Several times over the course of the Con, the question of whether Cursed Child was canon came up in discussion, usually with some rather acrimonious responses. (And that’s not even counting the panels devoted entirely to discussing the concept of canon.) While the majority leans toward just ignoring Cursed Child and everything to do with it, no fandom-wide consensus has yet been reached, and everyone feels strongly about it.

This is an interesting development, building on prior cons. At Leviosa 2016, which was several weeks before Cursed Child was released, canon was a hotly debated topic… but it seemed like people were still trying to figure out for themselves what they’d consider canon. MuggleNet actually hosted a great round table discussion about it. A year later, however, everyone has made up their mind… just not in the same way.

 

3. The world of Fantastic Beasts has captured fans’ imaginations far more than the story.

There was no shortage of programming incorporating Fantastic Beasts, from the academic programming to the speakeasy-themed party, and the hallways were filled with fans cosplaying Newt, the Goldstein sisters, and even the Niffler. However, almost all of the academic programming was focused on the world of FB: the 1920s, the magical beasts, etc. Occasionally, there was a panel about Newt or Grindelwald thrown in. But no one seemed to have much to say about the story of Fantastic Beasts, which is rather interesting given how much we all cared about how Harry’s story would end. This even extended to things like the Bewitching Bazaar, where most of the FB merch I saw had to do with the beasts, not so much the characters. This is the one trend definitely worth keeping an eye on at the next conventions.

 

4. HP tattoos are all the rage.

Lately, it seems like everyone is getting tattoos to express their love for HP. Especially during the con’s requisite pool party, everyone was showing off their HP ink. And we’ve come a long way from tattoos of a simple and small Deathly Hallows symbol as fans try to bring some creativity to their tattoos. I don’t know if this trend is due to tattoos becoming more socially acceptable, the fandom getting older, or some other factor… but HP tattoos are definitely popular right now.

 

5. An emphasis on fandom history

The fandom has come a long way over the last 20 years, enough that we have our own history that we want to honor. This was everywhere, from the keynote about women’s journeys in the fandom, to the Wizard Rock Museum created by Grace Kendall to celebrate our own music movement. The organizers leaned into this whole-heartedly with a “Share Your Magic” initiative where people shared their fandom memories. As our shared history grows more storied by the year, look for this type of thing to only grow in emphasis.

Honestly, the time may be ripe for something like Harry, A History to be made for the second era of fandom, the almost-decade between DH and FB. And how long before we begin naming these eras, like fans name the epochs of Disney animation? My vote goes to Golden Age (1997-2007), Interregnum (2008-2015), and Revival (2016-present). Thoughts?

  • Slughorn’s Trophy Wife

    I have yet to attend a Harry Potter convention and it is KILLING ME!!! Soon, I will keep promising myself…soooooon.

    • *whispers* MISTI-Con 2019… you know you want to… start saving up!

      • Slughorn’s Trophy Wife

        Do you know where/when it’s going to be yet? So much to do…so little time…and too few transporters 😉

        • No, because at the closing of MISTI ’17, they announced they were changing locations going forward. So I don’t think anyone exactly knows when and where it’s going to be. But bet on somewhere in Northeast US, and probably in May 2019.

  • stephforeigncountry

    This is a fantastic little piece of writing. Especially for those of us who live too far away (overseas) to attend the conventions, this was insightful. It’s so interesting to think about “the state of the fandom”, as you put it!

  • Sarah

    I like your era names, though that’s possibly because I’m so nostalgic for the “golden age.” Interesting update re: Cursed Child, though not too surprising. At SWPCA in Spring ’16 (which was the last conference I was able to attend) questions regarding canon, paracanon, metacanon, fanon, etc. were central, but at the time there was a loose consensus that anything with Jo’s name on it was at least worthy of the title (if not automatically included, as in the case of her tweets). With Cursed Child that worthiness has been brought into question. Of course she didn’t write it, but she certainly promoted it and encouraged the fanbase to consider it a part of Harry’s larger story arc. It’s tough to reconcile that with the long-standing opinion that “canon” might mean the books only or books + interviews or whatever. What happens to that definition of canon when there’s something reviled that *is* a book (or at least a script) that’s been approved by JKR?…it’s no longer merely a question of movie bashing. Tough questions, wish I could’ve been there to hear the conversation.

  • Roshni Mihindukulasooriya

    Interesting article! I especially enjoyed the part about fandom history. But one thing that makes me sad is that I’m in the minority for loving Cursed Child. I loved the script with its focus on Slytherin and I loved the symbolism of it. It felt like the book was itself a time turner that allowed us a brief but lovely glimpse into the “Golden Era” of the fandom. The biggest problem with Cursed Child is that many people haven’t seen the play. Almost everybody who I talked to who had actually seen the play loved it. My mother who had hated the script saw it on the stage and fell in love with it. I’m hoping that once the play comes to Broadway and more Americans can get to see it, they’ll understand how truly special it is. It’s an experience of a lifetime.

    • Iain Walker

      The focus on Slytherin? What focus? Albus and Scorpius are in Slytherin, yes, but for all the difference it makes to the story they could be in any House. There’s no attempt to examine the culture of the House and how it might have changed since the fall of Voldemort. Cursed Child was a compendium of missed world-building opportunities, and this was one of them.

      • Slughorn’s Trophy Wife

        Random question…how did you use italics in your post? lol

        • Iain Walker

          Disqus accepts some basic HTML formatting tags, such as <i> and <b&gt. You have to manually type them into the test of your post, though.

          (NB – in order to get the angle-brackets to show up here, I had to use the HTML character codes. Just type in the angle-brackets as normal and the tags should be interpreted as HTML code.)

          • Slughorn’s Trophy Wife

            Good to know! Thanks! 😀

  • MuggleNet has come up with era names! They’re more based on our own history than the history of the fandom, but they do seem to tie in – The Early Years (1999-2004), The Hottest Years (2005-2010), The Expansion Years (2011-2014), The Fantastic Beasts Era (2015-present).

    • Nice! I know everyone will have their own eras and stuff, but it’d be nice to have something more or less universal!