I wrote this on April 29, 2009, and completely forgot about it until I was dusting off old podcasts recently. Still true today!
My girlfriend Danielle bought me the first four Harry Potter books as a college graduation gift back in May, 2003. Three weeks later, my father suffered a serious heart attack and required quadruple bypass surgery. Three days after that, my uncle suffered a debilitating stroke. As you mind imagine, I spent a lot of time in hospitals that summer, and Harry was my constant companion in hospital waiting rooms. The books were a portal to a world where loyalty and friendship prevailed in the darkest of days. Badly injured? Swallow this potion and sleep it off.
They were a source of hope to me, when I truly needed hope.
My father died of cancer nine months later. His sister died of cancer three weeks after he did. My cousin’s baby died in his sleep six weeks after she did. I bought a house and started graduate school. I’ve worked full-time continuously since I was twenty years old. Perhaps you have a similar story? Life is difficult for everybody. Everyone has stuff, whether it be medical conditions, financial hardship, or three beautiful yet tragically energetic young children who want to build pillow forts on your head.
Everyone needs to hide.
Enter Harry Potter fan fiction. JKR was a slow writer, and the concept of inexhaustible possibilities fascinated me. Danielle was a big fan herself, so I’d talk to her over dinner about the latest story I read, the cliffhanger at the end of the last chapter and the latest version of Hermione who liked to wear bikinis. After a while, she looked more concerned for my mental sanity than usual, so I figured I needed to find hardcore geeks to talk to about my newest obsession.
I lived at Checkmated, SIYE, and Fiction Alley. I had no clue who ran the websites. Did they know each other? Did they even know about each other? Everything defaulted to the universe and the story, so I never cared too much.
I’ve hosted a fan fiction podcast called PotterFicWeekly for two years. We’ve read a dozen fanfics, chapter by chapter, and analyzed plot, character, and writing style. The universe is important to me. The characters are important to me. The authors earn the right to be there, but it’s not about them really. It’s about Harry. Harry Potter got me through difficult periods in my life, and I’m not through with him yet.
I had a very romanticized view of the fandom because it never occurred to me that Harry Potter fans who were intelligent and learned and thoughtful and articulate could read these books, close their eyes, think for a minute, and not walk away thinking that love beats hate and that Rita Skeeter was a horrid bitch.
I was soon directed to a website called Fandom Wank, which I was told would teach me what I needed to know to, and I’m quoting here, “survive in the fandom.” Let me preface that I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in business. I balance my checkbook for fun. I can learn anything.
In the fandom, time began somewhere around 2001. If you were there at the beginning, you witnessed the great collapse of civilization and have the wisdom of Yoda. You are an Elder. Those who follow shall look to you for guidance and approval. Seniority rules. There is a code of conduct that shall not be violated. Fandom wank will be watching, and Rita Skeeter is a department head.
Apparently at the dawn of time, the senior Elders lived in harmony, forgive the expression, until one day like the occupants of the ladies room at a junior prom, they went batshit crazy, beat each other with pool noodles, started their own fan fiction archives, and vowed to hate each other until the end of time. Or something. Ancient history is a bit fuzzy.
The fandom is more than a community. It’s a culture, and all cultures have leadership. This one has strong leaders, and it has bullies in the form of loudmouths who don’t give a rat’s ass about how good of a writer you are. It’s your celebrity, stupid. They care about how long you’ve been here and how you dare to express yourself. What you have to say is second-tier.
I don’t recognize their authority. I don’t recognize their qualifications. I’m here to talk about Harry and what his trials mean to my own life. His journey got me through difficult days in hospitals. I learned more about myself and humanity in those days than anything I could have learned as a self-important gasbag bitching about who fired who from which website seven years ago or who has been in the fandom the longest and is most deserving of genuflexion.
My very good friend was caught up in fandom wank this past week and was verbally brutalized by those who prioritize their own egos and celebrity and the self-important weight of their personal approval over the human dignity of another person. She spent two days in tears. It occurs to me that I could never understand what I read on Fandom Wank no matter how many times I read. It’s a load of crap. It’s a manual of bullshit written by people who totally missed the point.
This is my friend’s fandom, too, and it’s mine. If that makes you uncomfortable because I haven’t stood in line long enough, then you are welcome to kiss my fat ass. Harry’s done a lot for all of us, and now I’m going to fight this one for him.