A lot has been written about toxic fans. I myself have even shed my light on toxicity in the K-pop fandom. However, not all fandom is bad. There has been a group of fans that took fandom to a new level, but in a positive way. These fans are the Potterheads. They launched an alliance, to help fans get involved in the community. The Harry Potter Alliance has done a lot of good in the world, a world where fandom sometimes has a negative image.
The Harry Potter Alliance was the first fan activism group that operates on such a large scale, with over 100,000 members in their community. Fan activism started in a very simple way: fans wanted to save their favourite television shows and thus wrote letters and started campaigns. This kind of activism already dates back to 1969, when Bjo and John Trimble, huge Star Trek fans, started a letter-writing campaign to save their favourite show. The Harry Potter Alliance however took this activism to a new level and created a large community that can help thousands of people.
In 2007, comedian and Potterhead Andrew Slack started the Harry Potter Alliance. It existed for a while, but it really caught wind after Slack released a podcast on the biggest Harry Potter fan website on the internet, the Leaky Cauldron, named after a pub in the Harry Potter books. The website presented the podcast as ‘Becoming Dumbledore’s Army: Harry Potter Fans For Darfur, a podcast full of information and entertainment aimed at helping Harry Potter fans use the messages in the books to fight real injustice in the world’. Slack talked about the human rights violations in Darfur, (a region in Sudan) in the podcast and called for people to rise up and take action.
Over 100,000 people have joined the Harry Potter Alliance
Normally, such call-to-actions wouldn’t mobilize a lot of people. However, Slack used a concept he calls ‘cultural acupuncture’. He tried to frame the situations that he wanted to raise awareness for in such a way that Harry Potter fans could relate it to situations in the book. The start of that was already in the title, ‘Becoming Dumbledore’s Army’. Headmaster Albus Dumbledore is known in the Harry Potter universe for being a kind and selfless man who cares about others. Slack basically tries to say that if Dumbledore would live in our world, he would want to combat the problems that the Harry Potter Alliance is concerned with.
WWAD? (What Would Albus Do?)
After setting up the alliance and calling people to action through the podcast, the Harry Potter alliance raised thousands of dollars to protect citizens in Darfur and Burma. Ever since that podcast that started it all, over 100,000 people have joined the Harry Potter Alliance. 100,000 people that live using the simple question: ‘What would Albus do?’. It’s a great way of engaging people in civic problems. People often lack the personal connection to an issue to really give anything else than ‘thoughts and prayers’. By framing the issues in a way that makes it more personal, people will be more likely to take action, and thus you engage more people of all ages.
100,000 people that live using the simple question: ‘What would Albus do?’.
After helping people in Sudan, the Harry Potter alliance went on to help people all over the world. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Harry Potter alliance partnered with the Nerdfighters (Hank and John Green) and fans of the shows Heroes, Lost, True Blood and the Wire and Firefly. Together, they raised over $123,000 for the Haitians in only two weeks. This allowed organization Partners in Health to send five airplanes full of medical supplies to Haiti. Three of the five planes were given Harry Potter related names to commemorate what the Harry Potter Alliance did for the Haitians. In this way, Harry, Ron and Hermione could even help people in real life.
Even though fandoms often have a bad reputation, the Harry Potter Alliance shows that fandoms can do a lot of good in the world as well. The help they offered in Haiti wasn’t their only success story, there are more stories on their own website. The concept of cultural acupuncture is very interesting, as it has a lot of potential to be applied in different situations that will help people be more involved in civic engagement. It’s a good lesson to sometimes look at things in a different light, it might help you in seeing the urgency. Think about it, what is your version of ‘What Would Albus Do?’.