Like many people my age (around 21), Harry Potter is a cornerstone of my childhood. I distinctly remember my second grade teacher reading us chapters of the first book during out story time, and the arduous gaps J.K. Rowling forced me to endure as I waited for the next installment to be published. I also remember being confused and outraged (or as outraged as my 12 year old self could be) when I heard that some schools were banning the series because conservative Christian groups in New Mexico were opposed to the witchcraft presented in the books. All my friends were reading books for once, an activity that usually only I seemed to enjoy. Harry Potter got kids interested in reading, and adults were always complaining that kids would rather watch TV and movies or play video games, so I didn’t understand why some people were trying to take Harry Potter away.
To this day, I maintain my belief that cultural conservatives that tried to ban Harry Potter were over-reacting. It’s interesting however, to put them into context in relation to culture, as Henry Jenkins does in his book Convergent Culture: Where Old Media and New Media Collide. In brief, Jenkins’ book examines how convergence, “the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries and the migratory behavior of media audiences” (2) has lead to, or is in the process of a cultural shift. In one specific chapter, he focuses on the “Potter wars,” a struggle between many groups looking to “claim a share in how we educate the young since shaping childhood is often seen as a way of shaping the future of our culture” (171). For the cultural conservatives, Harry Potter posed the threat of turning young readers away from the Christian teachings, engaging in cult activity and increasing their inability to see the lines between reality and fantasy. Harry Potter only added to the already present deterioration of “Christian influence in American culture” (194).
Although some might view the conservatives as simply religious zealots, they are right to be aware that culture is changing and that its impact on the youth will chart how culture is shaped from here on out. It is undeniable that the cultural shift we are experiencing now is impacting the future and that today’s youth will be the forerunners in shaping what happens next. As Jenkins shows in his examples, the multiple media platforms, and the access many children have to them, if only at their school library, empowers children and young adults unlike previous generations. Convergence changes the way they learn, interact with each other, and express their ideas, all which contribute to the cultivation of culture. As with the case of Heather Lawver, who started a fan based website “The Daily Prophet” and organized a movement against Warner Bros when they threatened other fan based websites, children have the capability to create a voice and presence like never before. Convergence invites an active participant, and children are no exception.
Jenkins, Henry. “Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars.” Convergent Culture. New York
City: NYU Press, 2006.169-205. Print.