Pottermania hits MIT by Matt McGann '00
Excitement for the release of Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.
The campus — and, indeed, the world — is abuzz with excitement for the release of the seventh and final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.
I don’t know what will happen this time around, but on the morning of July 16, 2005 — when the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, was released — MIT hackers put Harry’s lightning bolt scar on the Great Dome.
On Confessions of an Aca/Fan, Professor Henry Jenkins of MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program blogged May’s Harry Potter conference, where he spoke on “his thoughts on the ways fandom in general and Harry Potter in particular have shaped contemporary culture.” Here are some of his thoughts from his blog entry:
Shortly after I arrived in New Orleans, I was interviewed on camera by a producer for Dateline. Among the many questions he asked me was whether we would ever see something like the Harry Potter phenomenon again in our lifetime. The question was relatively banal but for some reason, it caught me off guard, as I realized that according to many theories, we shouldn’t be seeing anything like the Harry Potter phenomenon now. Harry Potter is a massive mass market success at a time when all of our conversations are focusing on the fragmentation of the media marketplace and the nichification of media production. There has been so much talk about the loss of common culture, about the ways that we are all moving towards specialized media, about the end of event based consumption, and so forth. Yet very little of it has reflected on the ways that Harry Potter has bucked all of these trends.
I got into my taxi from the airport and had the usual conversation you have with a taxi driver in a convention city. He asked where I came from and why I was in town — as if following a script — and then asked me what kind of conference I was attending. But when I told him I was going to a Harry Potter conference, his eyes brightened up, his voice grew more intense, and he told me how very very much he was waiting for the final novel to come out this summer. I checked into the hotel and went across the street for some late lunch and played out more or less the same conversation with the waitress. When she saw I had a conference program, she brought several of her friends around — including some from the kitchen — who wanted to flip through the program, who wanted to sneak across the street and attend a session or two, who wondered aloud who I thought might be killed in the final installment and whether or not Snape was an evil person. Some of them had stories of the lengths they had gone to celebrate their affection for and affiliation with these books. These folks weren’t simply the readers of a best-selling book series; they had all of the passion and at least some of the expertise one associates with the most hardcore fans of any other media property, only they had no direct affiliation with any kind of fan culture or community.
I tried explaining this to the television producer, worried that the final documentary, when it airs later this summer, will fall prey to the usual stereotypes of crazed and obsessive fans, totally outside of the cultural mainstream. But statistically speaking, the people who are not fans of Harry Potter are outside of the mainstream. According to Wikipedia, the six books have so far sold 377 Million copies and been translated into more than 63 different languages. Harry Potter will be widely recognized by people all over the world, including many who have not read the books but watched the movies or simply read a newspaper over the past decade.
Prof. Jenkins isn’t the only MIT expert being asked about Harry potter these days. The Boston Globe published an article this week about one point of anxiety about the release of the new book: some people, especially parents, are worried about the psychological effects on children should a beloved character like Harry be killed in the book.
Psychiatrist David Jones of MIT advises parents to read the book as quickly as their children do. “If a child says, ‘Why did he/she have to die?’ saying, ‘I don’t know, I haven’t read the book,’ is a bad answer,” he says.
Fan websites offer plot summaries of all the books, and he expects the new one will be up by midday Sunday. “You need to be informed so you can help your child find meaning in whosever death it is,” Jones says.
It is, of course, just a book, and that’s a fine thing to remind your reader. But sadness for a fictional character is very real to children, and they need help processing it. “What will be most troublesome to explain is if the character dies in a random act of violence rather than in some meaningful way,” Jones says.
Recently, a student team in an MIT design class designed a Harry Potter-themed product. In SP.778: Toy Product Design, every group of 5-6 students, working with local elementary schools and Hasbro, creates a new toy. Some of the toys have included Eggman & Friends, Flosszilla, and Roli Boli.
One team designed a very neat dental toy called Harry Potter’s Magical Toothbrush. The basic pitch: “Harry Potter’s Magical Toothbrush levitates before your eyes when placed inside its holder. The base illuminates when the toothbrush is near.”
At this point, you may be wondering, so where will MIT students be partying on Friday night? Here in Boston, there are several exciting options.
One is Hogwarts Square. One of this event’s highlights is Wizardstock, a big concert featuring “world renowned wizard rock bands” including Harry & the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, the Hungarian Horntails, and the Harry Potter Alliance.
For the visually impaired, the Perkins School for the Blind will host the Harry Potter extravaganza. It will feature readings from the new book by basketball players from the Boston Celtics. There will also be a raffle for a 18 inch tall, 10-volume stack of the Braille version of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”
Regardless of where you go for the book release, it’s sure to be a very exciting night for Harry Potter fans everywhere. What are you doing?
Previous Harry Potter coverage on the MIT blogs:
- “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans + Peanuts + Crackerjacks” (Bryan O.)
- “Boston becomes Pottersville” (Me)
- Wangoballwime? (Laura)
- “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named Returns” (Bryan O.)
- “A quick one, while he’s away” (Sam)
At right: Bryan dresses up for the release of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince.
[Please, no spoilers in the comments!]