At 10:20 PM, on July 11th of this year, I finished my second reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. By 11:00 PM, my partner, my daughter and I were headed out the door, to the midnight premier of this last Harry Potter film. The Cineplex was crawling with young people (and a smattering of “old folk,” aka, over 40’s), dressed in robes as Harry, Hermoine, Ron, or Draco. There were several Luna Lovegood’s; various red-headed Weasleys; Professors Trelawney and McGonagall; a few Moaning Myrtles and; even one hilarious Dobby the house-elf. One fella, sans costume, simply had a sign around his neck that read, “Muggle.” The energy of the theatre (inside and outside) felt creative, witty and festival-like. More than anything, it seemed as if most people had received the same memo: get into the spirit of things and dress accordingly.
Movies ARE social experiences. We mostly see them with others; talk about them with others – in general, experience them with others. Numerous movies achieve “cult film” status because they satisfy a group of fairly like-minded folk. Films reach this status for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the film-going itself is such fun (e.g., Rocky Horror Picture Show). Or this cult status can result from the film being painfully inaccurate (e.g., Reefer Madness); really, truly awful (Plan 9 from Outer Space) or; in excessively poor taste (Pink Flamingos). There are films that induce audience participation such as wearing costumes to the theatre (again, Rocky Horror Picture Show) or mass sing-alongs (e.g., The Sound of Music). Quotes from cult films are repeated and shared as inside jokes (e.g., “No wire hangers, ever!” from Mommie Dearest). This kind of shared experience of a movie can certainly be said of the Harry Potter series; the dressing up, the shared emotions among fans, the plethora of social networks websites centered on Potterism. At the same time, the Potter movies are far more than (soon to be) cult classics. According to University of Oregon student, Joanna Wendel, through the book series and films, J.K. Rowling, “defined a generation” (see her blog: http://nextgenjournal.com/2011/07/harry-potter-and-the-lessons-he-taught-me/).
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This article first appeared in the September 2011 issue of TILT Magazine ~ Therapeutic Innovations in Light of Technology.
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Jean-Anne Sutherland is assistant professor of sociology at University of North Carolina, Wilmington, USA, with one of her research focuses being the study of sociology through film.