Books

How a Group of Harry Potter Fans Became Social Activists

They bonded over a book—and used their connections to successfully fight for human rights.

Photo Credit: Tupungato / Shutterstock

The following is an excerpt from Henry Jenkins' essay "From Culture Jamming to Cultural Acupuncture" in the new book Culture Jamming: Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance, edited by Marilyn DeLaure and Moritz Fink (NYU Press, February 2017):

Using both quantitative surveys and qualitative field research, the Youth and Participatory Politics research network (of which I am a member) is documenting and interpreting the political lives of American youth as they negotiate the opportunities and risks represented by the current media landscape. Joseph Kahne and Cathy Cohen (forthcoming) offer this definition of participatory politics:

These practices are focused on expression and are peer based, interactive, and nonhierarchical, and they are not guided by deference to elite institutions. ... The participatory skills, norms, and networks that develop when social media is used to socialize with friends or to engage with those who share one’s interests can and are being transferred to the political realm. ... What makes participatory culture unique is not the existence of these individual acts, but that the shift in the relative prevalence of circulation, collaboration, creation, and connection is changing the cultural context in which people operate.

Everyday experiences within a more participatory culture shift expectations about what constitutes politics and what kinds of change are possible. Right now, young people are significantly more likely to participate in everyday cultural or recreational activities than political activities. For many young people, now and historically, there’s a hurdle to entering politics. They are often not invited to participate, and they may not see rich examples of activists in their immediate environment. Those activist groups that have been most successful at helping young people find their civic voices often have done so by tapping into participant’s interests in popular and participatory culture. Cohen et al. (2012) found that youth who were highly involved in interest-driven activities online were five times as likely as those who weren’t to engage in participatory politics, and nearly four times as likely to participate in the forms of institutional politics measured in their survey.

While this research is focused on the United States, such trends have global implications. Linda Herrera (2012), for example, interviewed young Egyptian activists in order to map the trajectory of their involvement with digital media prior to becoming revolutionaries. For many, their point of entry to interacting with media online was through recreational use: downloading popular music, gaming, trading Hollywood movies, or sharing ideas through online discussion forums and social networking sites. Mundane involvements in participatory culture exposed them to a much broader range of ideas and experiences than allowed within mainstream Egyptian culture, encouraged them to acquire skills and discover their personal voices, and enabled them to forge collective identities and articulate their hopes for the future. As Herrera concludes, “Their exposure to, and interaction with, ideas, people, images, virtual spaces, and cultural products outside their everyday environments led to a substantial change in their mentality and worldview (343).

Some theorists have used the term “latent capacity” to describe the ways that everyday online activities help participants build skills and acquire social capital that can be deployed toward political ends “when the time comes.” Cohen et al. (2012) identify an enormous amount of “latent capacity within the contemporary American youth they survey (altogether, more than 3,000 respondents, 15 to 25 years in age). The overwhelming majority of American youth across races—Asian American (98 percent), Latino (96 percent), white (96 percent), and black (94 percent)—have access to a computer that connects to the Internet. Seventy-six percent of youth spread messages, share status updates, or chat online on a weekly basis (and roughly 50 percent engage in these practices on a daily basis). Overall, 58 percent of youth share links or forward information through their online social networks at least once a week. Most youth do not translate these practices into political participation, but a growing number do. Fifty-one percent of young people had engaged in at least one act of participatory politics during the twelve months prior to the survey. Moreover, the distribution of these practices is surprisingly consistent across racial categories when compared to more traditional kinds of institutional political activity, such as voting, petitioning, or boycotting.

These new digital media platforms and practices potentially enable forms of collective action that are difficult to launch and sustain under a broadcast model, yet these platforms and practices do not guarantee any particular outcome. They do not necessarily inculcate democratic values or develop shared ethical norms. They do not necessarily respect and value diversity, do not necessarily provide key educational resources, and do not ensure that anyone will listen when groups speak out about injustices they encounter. In his critique of the concept of participatory culture and politics, James Hay (2011) writes, “It would be too simplistic to generalize blogging, photo-shopping and social networking (media revolution) as the condition for an enhanced democracy” (666). So, the challenge is to identify the mechanisms that help young people move from being socially and culturally active to being politically and civically engaged.

Our Media, Activism and Participatory Politics research team at the University of Southern California has been developing case studies across a range of different movements—interviewing young activists, following their media productions, observing their social interactions, and otherwise attempting to understand the processes by which they recruit, train, motivate, and mobilize their participants. We tend to pay close attention to younger participants who are entering the political sphere for the first time. ... Writing about the Harry Potter Alliance and the Nerdfighters (two of our cases), Neta Kligler-Vilenchik (2013) describes the processes of “translation” through which these organizations tap the cultural fantasies and social connections young people feel toward forms of popular culture franchises for launching political awareness campaigns. In particular, she stresses three dimensions of these groups—their creative deployment of shared mythologies, their encouragement of grassroots media production and circulation, and their willingness to provide a space where political conversations are accepted as a normal part of the group’s activities—which contribute to their ability to bridge members’ cultural and political interests. Many young people report that they find the language through which we conduct “politics” both exclusive (in that it makes sense only if you are already enmeshed in its frame of reference) and repulsive (in that it encourages partisan bickering). On the other hand, the use of pop culture references, an appeal to shared rather than conflicted values, and an emphasis on embedding political discourse in everyday social interactions help young people to navigate the often-difficult transition into civic engagement. In part because of this, the Harry Potter Alliance is one of the case studies featured in Beautiful Trouble, and its founder, Andrew Slack, is one of the contributors.

The Harry Potter Alliance, Cultural Acupuncture, and Fan Activism

Established in 2005 at the peak of the hype and hysteria around J. K. Rowling’s best-selling children’s book series, the Harry Potter Alliance has, by its own estimate, mobilized more than 100,000 youth in 90 chapters worldwide (thought mostly in the United States), who are engaged in various forms of human rights activism (Jenkins 2012). As Neta Kligler-Vilenchik and Sangita Shresthova (2013) explain, “The organization... connects fans through campaigns and calls to action, a loosely knit network of chapters, and an online presence that includes discussion forums, a well-designed national website, and a presence on wide ranging social media platforms. There is a core leadership and staff at the national level, but also a constant give and take with local leadership and chapters” (49). Among the HPA’s successes has been donating more than 100,000 books to local and international communities, registering approximately 1,100 voters through Harry Potter–themed “Wizard Rock” concerts across the country, and raising more than $123,000 in partnership with Partners in Health in Haiti in a two-week period (altogether, five cargo planes’ worth of supplies). Through the years, HPA’s efforts have addressed such diverse issues as marriage equality, immigrant rights, labor issues, environmentalism, teen suicide, and food justice, thereby demonstrating the capacity to move beyond a single-issue focus while maintaining and growing its base of support. As the organization’s website explains, “Our mission is to empower our members to act like the heroes that they love by acting for a better world. ... 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” (quoted in Kligler-Vilenchik and Shresthova 2013, 50).

Slack (2010) and his supporters call this approach “cultural acupuncture”:

Cultural acupuncture is finding where the psychological energy is in the culture, and moving that energy towards creating a healthier world. ... A marketing campaign that goes beyond the importance of a brand of soap and instead focuses on a brand of becoming something bigger than ourselves, something that matters because it speaks to the higher nature of who we truly are on this interdependent planet, where each one of us plays an indispensable role. (Par. 4–6)

Recognizing that the news media was more apt to cover the launch of the next Harry Potter film than genocide in Darfur, Slack saw the HPA as a way to identify key cultural pressure points, thus redirecting energy toward real-world problems. Pinning political and social causes to Harry Potter works because this content world has a large following, is familiar to an even larger number of people, has its own built-in mechanisms for generating publicity, and is apt to attract many subsequent waves of media interest. Harry Potter constitutes a form of cultural currency that channels fans’ emotional investments and wider public interest in ways that can carry HPA’s messages to many who would not otherwise hear them.

The issues that motivate Slack (2012)—including a deep skepticism about Madison Avenue manipulation and about the ways media concentration constrains and distorts the kinds of information we need to act meaningfully and collectively as citizens—are more or less the same ones that motivated [Mark] Dery’s (1993) culture jammers. Yet Slack has turned their core metaphor on its head. Cultural acupuncture seeks to reshape and redirect circulation, rather than block or jam the flow.

From the start, the culture jamming movement operated from what [Naomi] Klein (1999) described as an “outsider stance” (283), seeing popular culture largely as the debased product of the culture industries. As Klein notes, a jammer’s self-perceptions as empowered and resistant “cannot be reconciled with a belief system that regards the public as a bunch of ad-fed cattle, held captive under commercial culture’s hypnotic spell” (304). The movement’s contempt for the masses is perhaps best summarized by Adbusters graphics from the early 1990s depicting consumers as pigs slurping up slop, as pale-faced zombies hypnotized by the glow of the television screen, or as slack-jawed supplicants with brand logos tattooed across their bodies. Even the more recent reframings of culture jamming found in Beautiful Trouble, such as [Stephen] Duncombe’s (2012a), still largely embrace that outsider perspective, seeing activists as people who will need to immerse themselves in other people’s popular culture before they can learn to appeal to a broader public. Writes Duncombe, “You may not like or be familiar with Nascar, professional sports, reality TV and superheroes, but they are all fertile arenas of culture to work with. It may take an open mind and a bit of personal courage, but it behooves us to immerse ourselves in, learn about and respect the world of the cultural ‘Other’—which, for many of us counter-culture types, ironically, is mass culture” (par. 6). While Dery (1993) celebrated culture jammers as “Groucho Marxists” seeking “joyful demolition of oppressive ideologies” (7), culture jammers have, in practice, been more often plain ol’ grouchy Marxists. Their critiques are tone deaf; they have not respected (or even understood) the much more multivalent relationship many youth enjoy with the popular culture they often use to express their identities or make sense of the world.

Dery sought, at times, to extend his culture jamming model to include forms of fan cultural production. However, from the start, the fit was an uncomfortable one for all involved. Fan cultural production is motivated by both fascination and frustration, which is only partially captured by accounts that read it purely in terms of resistance. Dery sympathetically quotes Mark Crisipin Miller (1987): “Everybody watches it [TV], but no one really likes it. ... TV has no spontaneous defenders, because there is almost nothing in it to defend” (3). Given such a starting point, how would fans, for instance, fit into this picture? Later, though, paying tribute to my own notion of “textual poaching” (Jenkins 1992), Dery acknowledges that fan fiction writers, especially those writing homoerotic “slash” stories about Kirk and Spock (then the most visible example), worked from “feminist impulses”; Dery proposes at one point that the term “slashing” might be productively extended to “any form of jamming in which tales told for mass consumption are perversely reworked” (8). The term “perverse” here is doubly problematic, first because it is such a loaded concept when applied to homoeroticism, and second because the fans themselves did not necessarily feel that they were “perversely reworking”—or imposing “subversive meanings” on— the texts that they loved. Rather, they saw themselves as recovering the homoerotic subtext within mass media’s construction of homosocial relations, seeking textual evidence to support their interpretations and to ground their own erotic fantasies about the characters.

While Dery sees culture jammers as directing their creative efforts “against” the culture industries, fans often seek to reform from within, even when they also recognize themselves as operating on the margins of the intended audience for their favorite programs. While Dery’s culture jammers deconstruct popular narratives, “rendering their seductions impotent” (7), textual poachers reconstruct, rewrite, and remix them: they are seeking to draw out themes that are meaningful for them, even as they also often end up critiquing corporate, patriarchal, and homophobic ideologies that fans feel damage the integrity of their shared mythologies. While Dery’s culture jammers often deploy metaphors of “disenchantment,” seeking to awaken a public being fed nothing but dreams to the reality of the world’s problems, textual poachers—as Slack (2013) explained recently—contend that “fantasy is not an escape from our world, but an invitation to go deeper into it.” Of course, in practice, it may be more difficult to maintain such a strong distinction. Culture jammers, as Klein (1999) notes, often worked within the advertising industries they were seeking to dismantle. Meanwhile, many fans—especially female, minority, and queer fans—feel excluded from the ways fan culture gets depicted within mainstream media or the ways that fans are addressed by industry insiders, even at a time when fan participation and engagement have been more fully incorporated into the business models informing entertainment franchises.

Slack’s (2010) cultural acupuncture starts from the premise that there is power and meaning in stories such as Harry Potter, which have been embraced by significant numbers of people around the world. As Slack seeks to translate the core insights from his organization’s success for a broader range of activists in Beautiful Trouble, he states frankly, “Meet people where they’re at, not where you want them to be. ... Remember to speak your group’s language and start with the values they would most readily respond to” (par. 8). As a community organizer working within the fan community, Slack’s efforts start by fully and unambiguously embracing the core values of the Harry Potter narratives and then deploying them as a conceptual frame through which to translate real-world concerns for his young supporters.

Slack (2012) has developed a theory of creative mythology that operates on at least three levels: the personal narratives of supporters (including, for example, his own stories of growing up within a divorced family, surviving a depressed father, struggling with issues of self-esteem, and confronting high school bullying); the collective narratives of the community (such as their history of conflicts and collaborations with “the Powers that Be” that control the future of the narratives that matter to them); and the mythological narrative in which they are invested (in this case, Rowling’s stories about how Harry and his Hogwarts classmates formed “Dumbledore’s Army” to challenge evil in their society). One of the HPA’s strengths is its ability to move smoothly among these three levels of analysis, often using metaphors from the books to explain real-world issues (say, the closeting of werewolves to talk about other forms of discrimination) or tapping into the infrastructure of fandom to rally support behind HPA campaigns (for example, using Quidditch Matches, Wizard Rock concerts, film openings, or fan conventions as opportunities to register people to vote or soliciting signatures on petitions).

More recently, Slack (2013) has sought to expand the HPA’s reach to a range of other fandoms under the banner of “Imagine Better.” In a talk delivered at the TEDxYouth conference in San Diego in 2013, Slack constructs a composite mythology (framed around the concept of “orphans” versus “empires”), stitching together themes and images from, among other popular culture narratives, The Wizard of Oz, Hunger Games, Doctor Who, Star Wars, Superman, Batman, Once Upon a Time, and The Lion King—each of which, he suggests, explores how people who feel locked outside the system can nevertheless overcome powerful foes and change the world. Reaching his crescendo, the energetic Slack calls for his enthralled audience (which is, by this point, engaging him in call-and-response) to join forces in creating “a Dumbledore’s army for our world, a fellowship of the ring, a rebel alliance” that might fight for social justice and human rights.

For these young fans, the Harry Potter narratives are not just books they read or films they watch; they represent, on the personal level, landmarks by which they measure their own passage from childhood to adulthood and, on the collective level, shared experiences of meaning-making, creative expression, and sociality. When culture jammers sought to détourn advertisements, they often spoke of brand icons as shiny yet empty signifiers into which they could insert their own meanings. At most, jammers sought to “decrypt” the hidden implications of those brand messages. For fans, though, these mythologies run deep, with many levels of meaning and affect that need to be respected and valued. It matters to these fans that Rowling herself once worked for Amnesty International, that she has advocated for the role of empathy and imagination in human rights struggles, and that her books have such strong and overt themes of prisoner rights and respect for diversity (Jenkins 2012).

HPA members are, in short, still acting as fans even as they are also acting as activists. For the purposes of this discussion, “fan activism” refers to forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself, often in response to the shared interests of fans, often conducted through the infrastructure of existing fan practices and relationships, and often framed through metaphors drawn from popular and participatory culture. Historically, fan activism has been understood through an almost exclusively consumerist lens, focusing on fan efforts to keep favorite programs on the air. Such examples have been sometimes used as a demonstration of the ways that a growing number of interest groups are using tools such as petitions, which were designed to serve political purposes, toward nonpolitical ends. Yet, even these fan efforts are often struggles over representation—both in terms of what does or does not get included within textual representations and in terms of whose interests do or do not get reflected in the marketplace. However, in a growing number of cases, fan activism is being deployed toward explicitly political ends.

Not in Harry’s Name

To better understand the mechanisms through which the HPA enables fan activism, let’s examine a specific campaign, “Not in Harry’s Name,” which aimed to help motivate young participants to engage in actions directed against the very corporation, Warner Brothers, that produces the Harry Potter franchise. Fan activists have often been accused of doing nothing more than fighting for their right to consume. Here, however, these fans were deploying their roles as consumers (including threats of boycotts) in the name of ethical production practices. The central issue in this campaign concerned whether chocolate frogs (and other confections) produced and sold by Warner Brothers at the Harry Potter attraction at Universal’s Island of Adventure theme park were produced under Fair Trade conditions. As the group explains, much of the cocoa grown in West Africa for use in commercial chocolate is made using underpaid—and, in some cases, enslaved—child labor. Complicity in such practices is part of what allows American-based manufacturers to sell chocolate products at such low prices in the global North. Fair Trade organizations have demanded greater transparency about chocolate contracts in order to allow consumers to make meaningful choices about whether they want to contribute to these exploitative labor conditions or join the larger efforts toward corporate transparency and accountability that Klein discusses in No Logo. Concerned about what was being done by Warner Brothers “in Harry’s name,” the HPA partnered with Free2Work to investigate Behr’s Chocolate, the company contracted to produce the chocolate frogs. The project revealed that Behr’s did not post any information about the choices they made regarding where and how they contract their labor, resulting in a “failing grade.”

The HPA saw the issue of who produces “chocolate frogs” as a powerful focal point for educating their young supporters about the issues of fair trade and corporate transparency. As Lauren Bird (2013), a young HPA staff member, explained in a videoblog, HPA supporters felt directly implicated in these suspect labor practices deployed to produce the candy their community consumes:

We chose Harry Potter chocolate because that chocolate comes with a story that is not only near and dear to our hearts but is a story about justice and equal rights. Plus, it is chocolate being sold primarily at a theme park for kids. It is pretty disturbing to think that the chocolate these kids are eating at this magical, wonderful place was possibly coercively made by kids like them in another part of the world. ... We are Harry Potter fans. That means that this chocolate matters more to us than whether Snickers Bars are ethically made. But this also means we’re going up against our heroes, the people behind the story. (Thehpalliance, 2013)

Bird discusses openly the fans’ ambivalence about launching this campaign, especially the HPA leadership’s uncertainty about publically calling out a studio whose goodwill they depend on for other work they do. Yet, wearing black-rimmed glasses (reminiscent of Harry Potter) and a fan themed t-shirt, Bird insists that fans have a right—and an obligation—to call out corporate media for what’s being done “in Harry’s name.”

In the campaign’s first phases, the HPA attracted more than sixteen thousand signatures on a petition calling for Warner Brothers to make all Harry Potter chocolate Fair Trade. In order to stress the effort’s grassroots nature, they had more than two hundred members send along pages of signatures. Even this tactic was motivated through references to the core texts: “Remember what happened when Uncle Vernon tried to ignore Harry’s Hogwarts letters? More letters showed up. This is exactly what we’re going to do” (Harry Potter Alliance 2012a).

The studio responded to the HPA petition by (some would say patronizingly) reassuring their fans that they cared deeply about the Fair Trade issue, that they were complying with all operative international laws and their own internal standards, and that they had investigated the companies producing their chocolate and were satisfied with their labor practices. Everything here was consistent with the corporate rhetoric Klein (1999) dissected in her book:

If any busybody customer wanted to know how their products were made, the public-relations department simply mailed them a copy of the code, as if it were the list of nutritional information on the side of a box of Lean Cuisine. ... Codes of conduct are awfully slippery. Unlike laws, they are not enforceable. And unlike union contracts, they were not drafted in cooperation with factory managers in response to the demands and needs of employees. (430)

Companies often obscure the labor that generates commodities behind brand mythologies. Klein calls for anticorporate activists to explicitly link the brand to the conditions within the factories where its products are manufactured.

Rather than accepting the company’s self-representations at face value, the HPA demanded that the studio release its own internal report. This time, the group gathered more than sixty thousand signatures on their petition and, in the process, brought much greater media coverage to the issue. As Slack explains:

For fifteen months, we have given WB every possible opportunity to partner with us by making all Harry Potter chocolate Fair Trade. They have turned down each of those opportunities because they underestimate us. It’s now a matter of time before the entire world sees that fans of the Harry Potter series are responsibly advocating for children while the leaders of WB are acting irresponsibly. If the research they cite exists then they should be able to produce it. They should have nothing to hide. (Harry Potter Alliance 2012b, par. 3)

For more than four years, Warner Brothers remained nonresponsive, choosing to sit out the storm of bad publicity rather than open up their labor practices and subcontracts to closer public scrutiny.

Throughout these efforts, the HPA employed tactics that playfully evoked the content world or otherwise played upon shared knowledge of the fan community. Rather than seeing the licensed candies as mere commodities, the HPA evaluates them according to their meaningfulness within the content world. Chocolate has magical powers in Rowling’s narrative—serving, for example, to alleviate some of the symptoms of Dementor attacks; thus, the HPA playfully asked whether chocolate produced under such dubious circumstances might still carry these beneficial effects. They also frequently link their struggles against child labor to Hermione’s efforts to stop the enslavement of elves within the wizarding world.

Studios have long sent fans cease-and-desist letters protesting unauthorized use of intellectual properties and shutting down websites or removing videos or fan fiction. Drawing on this history, HPA encouraged fans to draft and send their own cease-and-desist letters, accusing the studio of inappropriate use of their shared mythology. In Rowling’s novels, Howlers are blood-red letters sent within the wizarding community to signal extreme anger and embarrass the receiver. The sender’s voice is amplified to a deafening volume, and then the letter combusts. HPA urged fans to record their own video Howlers to send to the studio executives, signaling their extreme disapproval of their continued silence about the report. The videos often included an HPA-produced bumper sequence showing an Owl delivering a letter in a red envelope and then closing with the image of the letter bursting into flames. Perhaps most intriguingly, the HPA contracted with a Fair Trade chocolate company to produce and market (through the HPA’s website) their own chocolate frogs, complete with wizard cards, as a means of demonstrating that such products could be produced without relying on companies with exploitative working conditions.

Such tactics illustrate the ways that the Harry Potter content world has functioned within the HPA as what Ashley Hinck (2012) calls “a public engagement keystone,” that is, as “a touch point, worldview, or philosophy that makes other people, actions, and institutions intelligible” to participants (par. 5). Writing about the HPA’s initial efforts to rally fans against genocide in Darfur, Hinck praises their ability to tap into the fandom’s core competencies, offering opportunities for meaningful discussion, interpretation, and deliberation fundamental to any form of civic engagement. Lori Kido Lopez (2011) has made similar claims in regard to the Racebending movement, another example of fan activism that was organized to call out Hollywood’s racially biased casting practices, specifically in regard to Avatar: The Last Airbender but later around many other productions as well. Writes Lopez, “Some of the organization’s strongest and most effective tactics rely on the skills developed as members of the fan community: honing their arguments through community discussions, producing and editing multimedia creations, educating themselves about every facet of their issue, and relying on their trusted networks to provide a database of information” (432).

The HPA has also tapped into their larger networks of affiliations and associations in order to expand their communications capacity. Building on relationships fostered across many Harry Potter fan conventions, HPA members have solicited and gained support from a number of the films’ cast members, including Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Natalia Tena (Nymphadora Tonks), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Jason Issacs (Lucius Malfoy), Scarlett Byrne (Pansy Parkinson), and Christian Coulson (Tom Marvolo Riddle). The HPA has also collaborated with the Nerdfighters, an informal online community created around Hank and John Green—collectively known as the Vlogbrothers. (It is significant to note that John is also a popular Young Adult novelist, authoring books such as Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars.) As Kligler-Vilenchik (2013) notes, the Nerdfighters have proven especially effective at short-term mobilization efforts through their active presence on YouTube, which enables them to tap a larger, more dispersed, more loosely affiliated membership for quick-turnaround and low-involvement activities. And the HPA has solicited videos from a range of other popular YouTube personalities as well, including many who are well known within the Harry Potter and Glee fandoms. While these videos tend to draw only a few thousand or even a few hundred views, the range of different groups and individuals producing and circulating “Not in Harry’s Name” videos has dramatically expanded public awareness. The HPA could not have afforded to buy advertising to reach this many people and could probably not have attracted mainstream media coverage without first demonstrating their ability to gain this level of popular support. In the end, the young fans won. In December 2014, Warner Brothers spokespeople issued a statement announcing that by the end of 2015, they will have converted 100 percent of their product to contain chocolate produced according to Fair Trade standards, and they publicly acknowledged the role that the HPA’s “Not in Harry’s Name” campaign played in their “discussions on this important issue” (Rosenberg 2015). In this case, the fans had functioned as the conscience of a corporation, which, after four years of resistance, finally gave ground to their demands. Matt Maggiacomo (2015), currently the executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, issued a statement proclaiming the group’s success:

Warner Bros.’ agreement to transition to 100% fair trade or UTZ certification for all Harry Potter chocolate products was a huge, resounding, and unprecedented victory for fan activism. ... It’s nearly impossible to quantify just how much time and effort have been poured into this campaign to remove child labor and slavery from Harry Potter chocolate sourcing. ... Because of this campaign:

  • A major corporation has committed to removing child labor and slavery from the sourcing of a vastly popular commodity.
  • Fair trade chocolate frogs will be available to over thirty four million people per year who visit Universal Orlando.
  • The morals of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are being upheld by the companies that profit from its popularity.

With the success of Not in Harry’s Name, we’ve demonstrated what fan activism can do.

For many outside the HPA, “Not in Harry’s Name” had felt like a Children’s Crusade: idealistic, naive, and doomed to painful failure. At various points along the way, the organizers considered how they might back away from what was an effort that consumed massive human resources and seemed to have no end in sight. Many of us had agreed that the success of the campaign came in educating so many people about the issues of Fair Trade, whether or not they moved corporate policy. But, their sustained efforts, together with those of a range of other partners (including the antislavery organization, Walk Free), and their ability to gain the support of J. K. Rowling, made it possible for the HPA to keep the heat on WB throughout this prolonged period. So, whatever else you want to say about cultural acupuncture—in this case, it worked.

 

Henry Jenkins is the Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers, Hop on Pop, Fans, Bloggers and Gamers, and Convergence Culture. His latest coauthored book is By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism.

Marilyn DeLaure is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at the University of San Francisco. She has published essays on dance, civil rights rhetoric, and environmental activism. She is the author of Culture Jamming: Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance.

Moritz Fink is a media scholar and author. He holds a doctoral degree in American Studies from the University of Munich. His most recent book is Culture Jamming: Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance.

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