Harry Potter Alliance: Using Pop Culture Pervasiveness Positively

July 17, 2011 No, I haven’t seen the Harry Potter grand finale yet.

Yes, it’s been covered from every angle, dominating Twitter streams, Facebook status lines and yielding the largest weekend box office on record with one out of four tickets sold going ka-ching for the wizard boy.

And maybe it’ll be worthy of the 3D hyped up media zeal, but like the Twilight series or any other book-to-movie fandom phenom, remember…

For every article touting ‘trends’ of youth tattooing HP lightening bolts on their foreheads or biting each other like Twilight vampires, there’s the ‘meh, I don’t follow’ or ‘it’s not really my thing’ or ‘I liked the books better’ commentary that tempers reality.

For those upset I’d even mention the two blockbusters in the same sentence, akin to Stephen King’s Twitter zinger, “Harry Potter is about doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend,” I can only say that movie mania aside, I find the real excitement goes far beyond the ‘good vs evil’ thematic polarity toward an entirely different conversation…the positive potential of ‘fandom’ to reinterpret the media message altogether.

Case in point? The Harry Potter Alliance… A fabulous nonprofit media offshoot comprised of an “army of fans, activists, nerdfighters, teenagers, wizards and muggles dedicated to fighting for social justice with the greatest weapon we have– love.”

Let’s look at how social media is being used in breakthrough ways as a force field of positive world-changing energy riding the crest of the Harry Potter wave above and beyond sensationalized commercialization or new media line extensions like Pottermore.  (Even that’s a digital newsmaker though, as Wired notes the July 31 launch of the newly leaked ebooks/audio site as ‘JKRowling’s Radiohead moment’ mixing it up with new horizons in self-publishing marketing genius; unlocking even MORE content for those who can’t get enough {Of note: July 31 is character Harry Potter’s bday and author JKRowling’s too!}

Unlike any other pop culture era or generational tide, the use of social media has provided a vast opportunity to tap into movements and scale efforts to ‘do good’ that frankly aren’t getting enough of a spotlight in the bubbling mainstream media cauldron that dwells on poison and doom over uplifting inspirational flights of fancy.

Leaky Con 2011 refers to the 2nd annual charity conference that just wrapped up today in which the “best academic minds in the Harry Potter fandom and its most dedicated fans come together to create a canon-centric environment in which all of us can learn, talk, and play.”

LeakyCon is just one of the many ‘that was then, this is now’ occurrences since I last profiled the HPAlliance four years ago looking into how HPA used the magical world of Harry Potter as inspiration for a real world Dumbledore’s Army to successfully effect change in the world (in this case battling the darkness of Darfur).

Since then, the nonprofit HPAlliance.org has grown to 70 chapters across the world launching action-driven campaigns and communications with over 100,000 young minds to make activism accessible…No mere game of Quidditch for social change here…HPA’s clearly having fun but they’re not just playing around.

HPA’s goal is to leverage the popularity of the series into a platform to enlighten and inform en masse, partnering with NGOs worldwide to bring light and equity in human rights/race/gender/sexuality turning fandom aflame…

What basically started as a grassroots bunch of HPA house parties on MySpace a few years back (founded in 2005) has turned into a GenY catalyst using social media tools and technology to vault HPA into a global effort helping Haiti heal, launching a “Climate Crisis Horcrux” with Imagine Better.org, and gleaning support from a 2010 first place grant of $250K from Chase Community Giving. (I always wonder who wins those things, I’m thrilled all that voting popularity poll stuff works to bring forth good like this!) 

Hopefully, no one will still think The HPAlliance is a printer company any time soon…as this SHOULD be their crowning hour, and if not, why not mainstream media?

They’ve been mentioned in over 200 publications and when Time Magazine awarded J.K. Rowling the runner-up for 2007 Person of the Year they published this nice little wave of the wand acknowledging the magic of The HPAlliance as stated by the author herself:

“When asked about the [Harry Potter Alliance], Rowling practically levitates off the couch, spilling her coffee along the way. ‘It’s incredible, it’s humbling, and it’s uplifting to see people going out there and doing that in the name of your character,’ she says.

She’s especially pleased by the group’s choice of mission, and the old Amnesty International worker in her surfaces. ‘What did my books preach against throughout? Bigotry, violence, struggles for power, no matter what. All of these things are happening in Darfur. So they really couldn’t have chosen a better cause.” —Time Magazine

So take that Muggles!

All the hand-wringing (self-included) about how this generation could go down the tubes attached to media devices and saturated with 24/7 thumb-clicking electronic pacifiers also needs tempered by some of the GOOD that’s come out of social media ability to connect the dots, collaborate, share and unite in a larger inter-connected mindset that could do us more good than harm.

I try to convey that in a balanced, centrist  manner, but I realize my bias as a lifelong media writer/producer prompts me to rail on the need for quality versus quantity and inherently default to a ‘garbage in/garbage out’ media assessment…so I’m EXTREMELY thankful when I see a double-win of meaningful messaging AND a ‘value-added’ reach and teach form on a deeper level.  

It’s not just the HPAlliance.org relief efforts that excite me with ‘real world’ implementation, it’s the collaborative GenY educational slant to engage youth to focus on the issues,  albeit re-framed in their own signature pop culture-fied media context to elicit change mashed up with entertainment and enthusiasm…

29-year old HPA founder/executive director Andrew Slack (oxymoronic name if I’ve ever heard one) is leading their ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ into a sorely needed realm of youth civic engagement.  Why ‘sorely needed?’

Just yesterday I did a Jay Leno-esque ‘Jaywalking’ style check-in with kids asking about pop culture vs current events  culture, questioning about Harry Potter, Jersey Shore, and “Where is Washington D.C.?” only to find the latter had answers zinging from Washington State to ‘somewhere near Boston’ yet the media casts were named with aplomb—gah! My heart sank.

If we can view the copious quantities of pop culture with an eye toward turning online fandom and hub platforms into offline hands-on collaboration, I DO think we can stave off the irony of tech tools and electronic media devices meant to be “social” driving us further apart in our daily face to face lives.

Even though the Harry Potter media saturation and commercialization is a given, it’s also the perfect example of leveraging media momentum for change.

When I first founded Shaping Youth (observing that ‘media is defining kids before they can even define themselves’) the whole focus centered on ‘shifting the track on a runaway train’ to use the same media pervasiveness to flip the switch toward positive pursuits.

Think of all the branded biggies using media and marketing for good; like LiveStrong.org, MTV’s Rock the Vote, disaster relief and more…HPAlliance.org epitomizes that shift toward offline engagement that leverages meaningful media that matters.

Examples from the HPAlliance.org site?

  • Raised over $123,000 in just two weeks for Partners In Health in Haiti, sending five cargo planes full of life-saving supplies to Haiti. Learn more..
  • Donated more than 87,000 books around the world, including 20,000 to community centers in the Mississippi Delta and 4,000 to a youth village in Rwanda. Learn more…
  • Raised funds to protect thousands of civilians in Darfur and Burma and Increased our partner STAND’s high school chapters sign-up rate by 40%, and increased calls to 1-800-GENOCIDE by 52% during STANDfast. (Tackling the genocide of Darkness in Darfur with the HPA corollary is what inspired me to follow their moves ever since…)

I’m not saying that every media phenom needs to be a ‘teaching moment’…or that pop culture used with social media prowess is any panacea beyond a tool to shift the landscape into scaleable models for change.

In fact, some days I’d like to take a magic wand to online and mobile social media and make it vanish altogether so I can parent without peers in the pocket and Voldemort influences creeping up with surprisingly few ethical boundaries (corporate predatory practices and the toxicity of sexualization impacting kids’ self-worth for starters).

By and large though, I view our ‘totally wired’ info-culture as a grand and global opportunity for forward-thinking movement, tinged with a very desperate need for life balance. (sometimes it’s like clawing in quicksand as we sink deeper into the digital deluge rather than grab a branch to pull free)

We’re truly living amidst an info-revolution delivering some lousy messages amidst the cacophony of noise and clutter…BUT groups like HPAlliance are clearly changing that channel of influence away from mindless consumption/merchandising to redirect the signal to noise ratio toward storytelling at its most creative and in its purist form.

Now let’s see if we can get mainstream media to pick up on solutions-based, positive alternatives like this rather than dumpster diving the drek that splashes on us all like mind pollution…I mean, really, folks. Neuroscience confirms the dumbing down of the National IQ with proliferation of media like Jersey Shore which permeates with ambient absurdity even if you’ve never even been exposed to an episode.

Without a doubt, media that captivates en masse is a powerful force, let’s use it for even more good.

Social media for example, has the power to put a face and place on discordant rumblings and warring nations by helping youth mind map personas, individuals and families connected in our global lives instead of viewing our big blue marble like a 2D game board of Habro’s Risk.

Many have noted how Facebook is being used as a platform for learning to understand each other’s views in the name of peace as youth air regional grievances with tentative caution…sure beats rolling the dice to see who can take over whom.

Social media’s impact in real time is self-evident whether it’s the Egyptian youth uprising (see Freedom, Phones and a New World Media Order) or NPR’s Andy Carvin reporting on the tweet beat in various hot spots, there’s no question the power of media must be used wisely and responsibly.

Personally, I’ve always believed being ‘planetary pen pals’ can keep us all from blowing up one another, as it’s much harder to drop a bomb on friends…social media and online presence helps that immensely.

I find it fascinating that movie hits and fandom in our social media/pop culture era has uncorked some deeper value in productive media literacy conversations…Twilight lit up the blogosphere with chats about ‘what constitutes healthy relationships,’ gender and identity roles, possessiveness/stalking and the universally human ‘desire to be desired’ etc. Star Wars was pre-social media but certainly would’ve made a HUGE impact on the good and evil juxtapositions and offshoots to champion change…

Did these kinds of conversations happen during Beatlemania? When Elvis’ hips and Michael Jackson’s moonwalk took youth culture by storm?

Is it possible that social media is adding layers of depth to conversations that once upon a time were merely iconic or popularity driven? Or are we all talking too much to each other about the pop culture zeitgeist d’jour while missing out on deeper levels of meaning and real life current events?

I continue to put my hope in the ‘and/also’ versus ‘either/or’ moderation mindset…with a big plea for any help we can get on the education front to leverage pop culture enthusiasm to engage kids in civic affairs sans starstruck celebrification…

Okay, kids…



Maybe we need to ‘send out a howler.’

Let’s put on an invisibility cloak…

…And take some “foe-glass, remembrall orbs, secrecy sensors, ink revealers and a magical marauder’s map” to the nation’s capitol and find out what’s really goin’ on there with our nation’s education…

Meanwhile, HPAlliance.org, wild round of applause! Keep it positive. You’re a phenomenon in and of itself.

Anything you can do to continue to inspire kids to learn, lead, and live with purposeful lives…we could sure use more youth “in the game” for the planet’s future.

Want to Get Involved? Connect With HPAlliance.org:

Facebook: TheHPAlliance

Formspring: TheHPAlliance
Livestream: ImagineBetter
Tumblr: thehpalliance
Twitter: @Thehpalliance
Youtube: TheHPAlliance

And their very own ‘real world Dumbledore’s Army’ on their Ning social network for HPA members.

Their social enterprise project, Dear Mr. Potter (proceeds support HPA) convey the stories of fans impacted by the series and inspired as agents of change.

HPA Mission: “The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) is a 501c3 nonprofit that takes an outside-of-the-box approach to civic engagement by using parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights.”

“HPA’s mission is to empower members to act like the heroes that they love by acting for a better world. By bringing together fans of blockbuster books, TV shows, movies, and YouTube celebrities we are harnessing the power of popular culture toward making our world a better place. Our goal is to make civic engagement exciting by channeling the entertainment-saturated facets of our culture toward mobilization for deep and lasting social change”

“J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, once said, “We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.” Indeed we do and the Harry Potter Alliance’s is striving to imagine activism better every day.”

Related Harry Potter Resources

HPA Celebrates End of an Era with Harry Potter Generation

Imagine Better/HPA on Facebook (contest ends in 2 days)

“Dear Mr. Potter” launches pre-orders to enormous success

Harry and the Potters Music Band on Facebook

HPA Fact Sheet/FAQ (pdf form)

HPA Recent Media Coverage

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