Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not knowing about Harry Potter makes you culturally irrelevant

You know who these people are and can give me some sort of fact about the movie they appear in, right? Good, because if not, I would be worried.

Wow, long time no blog! I guess I get too busy with other things. Since I have last blogged, I've still been reading a lot of Chuck Klosterman, specifically the book 'Chuck Klosterman IV' and his many Esquire articles online. Once again I think that man is brilliant and am driven to blog by his articles. Not about what he knows, this time. More about what he doesn't know. I'm also here to muse about how someone who loosely defines himself as a pop culture critic knows nothing whatsoever about one of the biggest defining cultural phenomenons of a generation.

In his article called "Death by Harry Potter", which appeared in Esquire in 2007, he admits to knowing nothing whatsoever about the famous boy wizard, or the books series that has enthralled millions. The first thing, I, a super Potter fan, though while reading this was "How the hell is that even possible?" I mean where does Klosterman live, under a rock? Has he never watched television? Does he not know someone who knows something Potter related? For someone who talks about being so culture oriented, how could he not have the faintest clue about Harry Potter?? He talks about ignoring the books and movies, but with all the press both have gotten, and all the hype surrounding them, I don't think you could ignore it so much that you haven't at least picked up bits and pieces. Even just paying attention to the news would get you the basic storyline.

I'm not saying everyone has to be as obsessive as me; knowing every single fact, reading the books and watching the movies multiple times, and even dressing up. Some people can even hate Harry Potter, and I know many who do (admitedly, not too many). Those people, however, have some basic knowledge of the story, and have never appeared as clueless as Chuck Klosterman in his article, even if they have never read a book or watched a movie. I just don't understand how someone who talks so much about other pop cultural phenomena can be ignorant of one that has in recent years become ubiquitous. In the world of popular culture, not knowing the bare necessities of Harry Potter is akin to not knowing that the music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller involved zombies.

What exactly is so wrong about this lack of knowledge? It was hard for me to separate my obsessive fan outrage with the actual possible reasons. One thing Chuck Klosterman admits is that it creates a generation gap between his generation and the one that I belong to, the one he says in the article will probably go on to control the mass media. I've noticed some of this generation gap in his writing already. He talks about some bands, shows, and celebrities that I am completely unfamiliar with sometimes. I am guessing they were most popular some time before I was born, most likely in the 1980s. He was, however, more relevant than other writers on similar topics, which is why I kind of like him. He does say that not knowing about Harry Potter may be detrimental to his career, which is likely. Pop culture is about right
now and if you don't know about something so essential to the culture of the moment, that puts you at a major disadvantage.

Harry Potter is probably the biggest literary phenomenon of all time. That in and of itself deserves at least some notice. It's something that everyone, no matter what their age or interest, knows something about. For my generation (and I hope that makes no one older who happens to read this feel old), it is also something we've grown up with. I was 8 when the first book came out, and 17 when the last came out. I'm 19 now, and the 6th movie has just come out (it was awesome by the way!) I grew up as Harry did, and like watching Sailor Moon and liking the Spice Girls as a child, it is a common thread that connects me with any new person I meet who is around the same age as me. I don't think that Star Wars, which Klosterman uses as an example in his article, ever reached the same amount of popularity with all people of all ages all around the world.

There are certain things that stand the test of time in the world of popular culture. These are things that everyone knows about, no matter when they were born. These things stay popular even if they really haven't been for many years, at least not in their original way. I know about the Jackson 5, even though the height of their popularity was when my mother was a child. I know vaguely of the Mickey Mouse club, although I think it was cancelled long before I can remember. I know about and love Monty Python, and was shocked when my mother told me she watched it when she was my age. Harry Potter is most definitely one of those things. My grandmother's 70 year old friend knows about it, and so does the 4 year old I used to babysit. That to me shows it's pretty darn special.

I've heard that the media is ubiquitous. Well, as long as you don't live under a rock in the middle of nowhere with your eyes closed, so is Harry Potter.

Below is a link to the article, just in case anyone's interested.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Harry Potter franchise has a large cultural presence... it was great when the first book came out when I was nine and all my friends read it etc. but to have it tied into a cult of celebrity and have the people involved in it idolised is silly. It's not that good, it was just the right combination of fiction tropes, here at the right place and the right time (don't get me started on Twilight). I envy people who ignore it. They have their priorities straight. Rant over.