The trailer for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” begins with the Warner Bros. insignia floating in a stormy sky. The camera flies low over a dark lake until we reach Lord Voldemort in conference with his Death Eaters. Harry arrives and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named comments on the irony of the situation: “The boy who lived… come to die!”
What follows is a montage of scenes from the film, visually and musically calibrated to squeeze an emotional response from the audience. We’re given exactly what we need to make us gasp in fear and excitement: Hogwarts under attack, Hermione looking earnest and powerful, Ron looking loyal and bloody, all accompanied by a percussive anthem of horns and choir. Text on screen tells us this is the “finale of the worldwide phenomenon,” the “motion picture event of a generation.” By the time the familiar lightning bolt font zooms forward to proclaim the movie’s title, we’re meant to be in tears. We should be clutching our hands, sweating as we watch the forces of darkness gather their army to fly through the skies of England and destroy our friends. Even though we’ve all read and reread the novels, even though we know exactly how things will go down, our hearts still beat faster when we see our favorite plot points portrayed on the big screen.
As for me, the trailer for “Deathly Hallows” evokes some complicated feelings. I’ve never identified strongly with the HP books. Blasphemy, I know. I was with Rowling through ‘Goblet of Fire,’ but once things started getting darker and scarier I had already moved on. Maybe it was the three year break Rowling took after ‘Goblet,’ maybe it was the general changes made in writing style and tone. Whatever it was that made me lose interest in the series, it resulted in me being unable to ever successfully name every member of Dumbledore’s Army, or keep any of the secondary characters straight, or make it through a conversation about the series without asking someone to remind me just what exactly is a Horcrux.
And there’s shame involved in my admission to not really caring about Harry and the gang. At William and Mary, the sorting hat is a common topic of discussion. As in, “Which house would you be in?” slurred the tipsy bio major to the sober Greg Glazier. My answer? Hufflepuff, of course! I’ve learned enough to understand the importance of this book series to my peers, understand that plenty of kids my age feel as if they’ve truly grown up with Harry. And they have. We have. Harry went off to Hogwarts when he was, what, eleven? And the series ends with Potter as a strapping older teen. His time at high school paralleled our own, with obvious differences in which we find refreshing and exciting mirrorings. Harry fights the bad guys and wins, using the power of friendship and inner strength. He’s resourceful, talented and admirable in ways that appeal to your Typical Young Adult Book Reader. Rowling’s series provides a hero to whom we can relate. He navigates his youth just like us with the added bonus of magical powers and a destiny of cosmic size.
I certainly tried to become a true Potter fan, a “Pothead,” if you will. I reread the first four books during college, thinking I’d apply some tricks I’d learned as a student of English and women’s studies. I tried reading the series as a queer narrative (wizardry as a subaltern sexuality to be hidden beneath normative Muggle culture?), as a feminist manifesto (Dianic witchcraft perpetuated by a series of smart and powerful female professors?), as a document concerned with race and racism (Muggles vs. magic-users, purebloods vs. mudbloods?). These thought processes only lead me down an embarrassing garden path, at the end of which stands honors theses written about “The Lord of the Rings” and World of Warcraft. I tried to ignore the tendency to think critically about the series, instead attempting to enjoy the books and movies on a purely childish scale. Again, unfulfilling.
I guess my main problem with this whole Harry Potter thing is the pressure to identify. The trailer for ‘Deathly Hallows’ tells me how to think and feel about the movie. It tells me this is a defining moment – the defining moment – of my age group. Who am I to question this? I’m just another nameless consumer, wading through the murky waters of media in search of something to hang on to, to clutch tightly and say “This is me. This is us.” The elitist in me hates this more than anything. I hate being something other than an individual, even as I simultaneously wish I could love Harry Potter as much as my friends love Harry Potter.
So at the end of the day, what am I left with? I’ve watched the trailer for “Deathly Hallows” about five times for this post, and each time I find myself getting caught up in the onscreen images and sounds. I’ve always been a sucker for trailers, but until now I’ve never really questioned why. And the answers I’ve found have left me a bit depressed, feeling that I’m not much more than some fem, impressionable young gay boy who’ll fall to pieces again and again watching Hermione (is she a feminist???) wielding that wand and looking fierce in her high-collared autumn coat. Even as I recognize that this trailer and all trailers are exercises in viewer manipulation, I give into the manipulation and become an unquestioning consumer. I root for Harry, I hate Voldermort. I become a fan.
Am I alone in all this? Will anyone else join me in the the Army of the Eh? The Army of the Not Really That Into Harry Potter? Or am I coming across as a rambling, insecure misanthrope with nothing better to do than be sad and angry about pop culture and “kids these days?” I guess I’ll wield my crotchety old-man cane like a wand, sit in the movie theater, cry when Harry gets hurt, and think about all this later.