Harry Potter and the Millennials:
Research Methods and the Politics of the Muggle Generation
by Anthony Gierzynski; with Kathryn Eddy
PR6068.O93 Z675 2013
New Arrivals, 2nd floor
There is no question that Harry Potter’s story, spanning seven hefty volumes, still keeps many of the generation that grew up with the trio of friends entranced. And why shouldn’t they? They are simply good fun. However, as University of Vermont political science professor Anthony Gierzynski and author Kathryn Eddy note in their introduction to Harry Potter and the Millennial, no story is “just a story,” but a potentially powerful vehicle for learning cultural values and perspectives.
No, don’t scoff – this is serious business. The researchers set off on a weighty quest* led by the questions, “what impact did a generation’s growing up as fans of Harry Potter have on that generation’s politics?” and “How does one find evidence for such an effect?” In their literary analysis, they identify six “subtle (and not-so-subtle) political lessons of Harry Potter,” my personal favorite being Lesson 3: Don’t Be an Authoritarian Git. The authors then devise several ways to measure exposure to these lessons among respondents beginning with a survey of 1,141 college-aged Millennial in 2009 taken at a diverse set of institutions. In the process of revisiting each of the lessons, illuminated by their questions and research data, they build a complex model of what they call the Potter Effect. It will be no surprise to the introspective Millennial that the model encompasses values ranging from feelings about diversity, tolerance, and the use of violence and torture, authoritarian dispositions, cynicism, political participation, and skepticism.
Gierzynski and Eddy have snatched the elusive snitch. They have grappled with the “methodological issues of measuring entertainment media’s political effects”; and while a peer researcher in political science or sociology might observe points where the authors may have teetered on their Cleansweep Eleven broomsticks, I hazard to say that they and the general reader will be as entertained as I was by the story of their research.
**The “quest” reference provides evidence that I am a product of the Tolkien era. It can’t be helped. I will, nevertheless, request the newly released USPS Harry Potter Forever stamps next time I visit the US Post Office. My courier newt didn’t fare so well in the owlery, so I must resort to using Muggle mail delivery. And if you aren’t sure what that was all about, look it up in the Harry Potter Lexicon and Muggle Encyclopedia.