By Anne Collier
A long-time cause + a hugely popular media property + fans/supporters of both + social media = a powerful, potentially world-changing equation that puts terms like “slacktivism” and “clicktivism” to shame. The power of this formula is being demonstrated this week by Oxfam and fans of The Hunger Games books, as the film version hits theaters. Oxfam is raising awareness to change food-distribution policies and help small farmers around the world, as food prices have hit record levels, causing riots in 25 countries. The approach is similar to that of The Harry Potter Alliance, a social change organization that has taken up a number of global causes. The Opinionator blog at the New York Times site describes it as social change organizations “looking to tap into the extraordinary market power of Y.A. fiction” (23 million copies of Hunger Games books have been sold, the Times adds). But I don’t think these coalitions are as calculating as that sounds. On an annual operating budget of $174,000, the HP Alliance fan community is a real-world Dumbledore’s Army (aka “Potterphiles”) fighting real-world evils (hunger, genocide, illiteracy), according to the Daily Beast with a well-known magical weapon. “We are an army of fans, activists, nerdfighters, teenagers, wizards and muggles dedicated to fighting for social justice with the greatest weapon we have – love,” says HPA’s home page (the “weapon” Lady Gaga mentioned at the launch of her youth-empowerment movement and foundation last month). The Times reports that HPA’s “army” is comprised of about 100,000 active members in a community of about 1 million.
This is interest community on steroids. Dumbledore’s non-virtual army has sent “five cargo planes with $123,000 worth of relief supplies to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, donate[d] more than 88,000 books across the world, raise[d] awareness about net neutrality and genocide and [made] forays into politics,” the Times reports, having taken on “Maine’s 2009 ballot initiative that sought to repeal same sex marriage.” Read the Times piece for the story of how they pulled together to accomplish all that [hint: deep, true knowledge of the story and its values is key] and watch for USC professor Henry Jenkins and colleagues’ special journal on fan activism coming in June. They “received hundreds of submissions” for it from all over the world, according to the Times.
* Here’s a recording of “Reaching teens on the digital streets,” a panel The Harry Potter Alliance’s Andrew Slack spoke on at this month’s South by Southwest conference. Also represented on the panel were ReachOut.com, The Partnership for DrugFree.org, and WeeWorld.com, a virtual world that will soon have a “Hunger Is Not a Game” project for middle-school-age social activists.
* About The Hunger Games books (Wikipedia.org)
* The New Yorker’s David Denby on the film The Hunger Games, and a Washington Post feature on it