Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harry Potter, missing out, and fitting in

Over the weekend the final Harry Potter movie set box office records, and it made me realize more than at any point over the past decade that a tremendous pop cultural phenomenon completely passed me by.

And I'm okay with that.

I have no doubt that the books and movies are entertaining works. I know many people personally who were adults when the books first came out and loved them, but for whatever reason I never felt inspired to even get on board. I did see the first movie back when it first came out (in the theater) with someone who was a fan of the novel, and it was fine, but nothing struck that chord in me like clearly happened with many, many others worldwide.

I don't think it was merely some matter of me being "too old" when the series started, as there's many older than me for whom that chord was struck. Also, I can be plenty geeky about pop culture, so it wasn't like I dismissed it condescendingly because of its subject matter.

I worked in a comic book store until I was 26 years old, for crying out loud. I am not snooty about this stuff.

But there is one area where my age will serve me in the future regarding this franchise. In 30 years, no one will scoff at me for not having read or seen Harry Potter. Were I anywhere from 15 to 30 years younger, I'd probably feel compelled to at least see the films in order to keep up with what will be the same sort of pop culture touchstone that Star Wars was when I was a kid. Granted, were I that young still, almost certainly I would have seen them just because that's what one does when one is young—go along with one's friends to the movies on the weekend merely because it's what there is to do; boredom plays as much of a role as peer pressure in shaping this aspect of socialization.

I alluded to Star Wars and I do think that for any member of my generation who to this day has never seen any of those movies that proves a liability of sorts. That person almost certainly has been at a party or in a workplace conversation and had to endure the shocked looks on the faces of others when they find this person has not seen Star Wars. Even if it simply did not strike that chord at the time to have inspired one to go see it, over the intervening decades it has been on TV many times (Spike practically has it on a loop), so by this point it surely must be something one has actively avoided.

However, for someone of, say, my parents' generation, it seems like a person of that age could get away with not having seen it without being construed as a freakish pariah. Not that my parents didn't see Star Wars—someone took us kids to the theater—but their peers were not necessarily making Lucas' space opera to be the lingua franca of their generation.

I have to imagine Harry Potter will be that thing for the young people who came up in the last 15 years that will draw those blank expressions of disbelief for not having at least seen the movies, both now and probably for most (if not all) of the rest of their lives.

So that box office record was evidence not merely of the conclusion of an entertaining series but also proof that a lot of people grasp, unconsciously, the importance of having seen it so they won't have to suffer a lifetime of being considered an outcast.

Is Hogwart's not the representation of what everyone seeks: a place where one fits in? We want that in some subset of our society as well, and so the story operates on one level to appeal to that desire and having seen the movie operates on another level to achieve that.

(Yes, it's sad I put more pop cultural importance in seeing the movies than in reading the books. That's because viewing is a shared experience; reading is solitary.)

1 comment:

  1. "I worked in a comic book store until I was 26 years old, for crying out loud."

    Now it falls all into place! The key revelation! [G]

    Yes, reading can be solitary but there is the shared experience of talking with others about the same work, especially a work before it becomes a cultural phenomenon, the insider experience like being one of the first who had read the lead story in Amazing Fantasy #15.


So, what do you think?