How 'Harry Potter' changed your world (even if you never read the books)
The series cast a spell that's still changing Millennials and the planet they live on.
In a recent New York Times column, David Busis, who first started reading "Harry Potter" while spending the summer in Israel in 2001, wrote about why grown-ups should read the series. I think he's right, but I think he missed an important reason muggles should read these books: Harry, Hermione, Ron and Dumbledore shaped how a generation thought about life — and that generation is starting to take charge of the world.
I started reading the books in a small Illinois town around the same time Busis got started during his visit to Israel. I became obsessed, as did most of my class. I still remember the time my friend and I melted Hershey's chocolate chips onto licorice sticks. We stuck them in the freezer to make chocolate wands, which we sold, lemonade-stand style, on her block. The books had a huge influence on me; I still think about Dumbledore's wise words and write articles about Harry Potter-style Airbnbs.
I didn't realize it as a kid, but looking back on it, I've noticed that the values espoused by Dumbledore have really affected my generation's view of life. Now that we're becoming adults and shaping the world itself, we're bringing the ideals of Harry Potter into reality, like magic.
Take that chocolate wand stand, for instance. It was a pretty nerdy thing to do, and that was kind of the point. "Harry Potter" celebrated nerds. Harry, Hermoine and Ron weren't popular. But they were smart and effective. Hermione was a genius bookworm, and that made her far more useful than the Fleur Delacours of the world. Today, hipster culture is all about celebrating weird, geeky types, about Harry Potter-style glasses and fringe culture. Rejecting the mainstream is mainstream.
Like the books' trio, our heroes are also nerdy, enterprising people. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are creative, efficient geeks. When my friend and I used our nerdy acumen to kick off a small candy business long before startup culture became the mammoth it is today, we were completely in line with the future adults our generation would become.
Harry Potter wasn't a rebel or freethinker. He was a hero because he strengthened his school, not because he changed it. When I look at all my former classmates trying to climb the ranks at Google or get into Hollywood, I see the same thing. Even the many, many people starting "disruptive" startups aren't really trying to disrupt anything essential, like materialism or how we relate to the environment. They're trying to pull up their bootstraps, beat out competition with some intelligent ideas, and climb to the top of industry, which has been the American ethos since the beginning.
Harry Potter isn't about suggesting a new way to live. It's about making the way we live more extreme. It's about using our smarts to make everything grander, bigger and more impressive, and it's about weeding out anything that challenges that.
I'm no social scientist. I have no idea how much the books caused the changes we've seen over the last couple decades, or even if they were simply a reflection of these coming changes. But either way, if you haven't read them, you're missing out on understanding the way a generation sees the world.
Whether or not you've actually read the books, you live in a world of people who have. 450 million copies have been sold to date. If you want to understand the universe that's coming into being, it helps to look at the magical influences that truly cast a spell over the world, one that will have far greater consequences than any summoning charm or Patronus.
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