Why the Wizarding World levels with Star Trek in popularity in regards to cultural politics and self-identification
I recently read a post on social media asking members of an online book club, why they were into the Harry Potter books. The members of this particular book club are primarily American and European women, age ranging between 20-60. The answers were many and varied in detail, but the consensus was, that it was hard to describe why; they just loved it. The Harry Potter books spoke to the readers, made them feel included in a world that was similar to our own, but wildly detailed with new creatures, complex characters and most importantly magic.
My own introduction to Harry Potter came when I was 21 years old and my then boyfriend’s little brother had gotten the first film on DVD for Christmas. I had seen the books before, but never thought to pick them up, as they were marketed to children and I was clearly now an adult.
I watched the film from the comfort of the sofa, with a nine year old by my side, both of us hypnotised by the screen. When the second film came out, we took him to the cinema. By the time the third film came out, I was no longer with the same boyfriend and I went to see the film with a group of friends my own age. Half the people in the theatre were adults unaccompanied by children/teenagers.
Harry Potter was no longer just for children.
When I was 24, my father asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I told him Harry Potter, knowing that with seven books and seven (eight) films, that would help him with gift ideas for years to come. I was officially a Potter-head.
More than a decade earlier, I had travelled into space on the USS Enterprise.
It was with Next Generation, that I learned about other species, other planets and that one day, in Earth’s future, the world would be united in peace and work together as one people. There might not always be peace in space, but the goal of The Federation was to explore and make friends across the galaxy. To use science, diplomacy and logic as guidelines and to welcome and include others, no matter their size, shape, colour or religion.
It wasn’t until years later, that I learned that there was an extended universe, an original series from the 1960’s and a large population of Trekkies and Trekkers out there. And I was one of them; a community of dreamers with hope for a better future. On Earth and in space.
From a detailed point of view, the Wizarding World and Star Trek Universe doesn’t have much in common. One is science fiction, the other is urban fantasy. One has a young boy as the main protagonist, the other a military officer. One takes place now, along side our own history, the other is set in a future, none of us will live to see. (unless time travel or magic brings us there, crossing my fingers)
But from an anthropological, comparative and analytical point of view, a brief study of the popularity of both series and extended universes, they share a story of a society of people, looking to connect with strangers, to embrace cultural differences and to better the world with self improvement and self-identification.
Let me explain…
The Civil Rights Movements, the Cold War and the Race for Space
The 1960’s were a turbulent time.
With the American promise to bring a man to the moon within the decade, the Cuban Crisis threatening the world with a nuclear war, the Iron Wall dividing Europe, the civil rights movements of both women and people of colour, and the young wearing flowers and holding hands, singing of a better world, Gene Roddenberry had a vision of a world, where this was all in the past and mankind had moved on in unity.
The iconic cast of Star Trek were an immaculate combination of a world united; a Japanese pilot, an Sub-Saharan African communications officer, and American medical officer, a Scottish engineer, a Russian navigator, and an Alien science officer, all lead by a charismatic military leader of the popular ‘All American Midwestern breed’. Made for American television, the series took the Western World by storm and decades later, it has world wide renown.
Yes, the bridge on the original Enterprise only had one woman and one alien from another planet than Earth, but it hardly mattered at the time. Women and people of colour were represented as equals in a way never before seen on television or in film. The inclusion of an alien serving on an Earth vessel came natural, it was logical. The Federation of Planets means, that it doesn’t matter where you were born; only where you are headed and how.
Star Trek became something that people had in common. There was a community of people, locally, nationally and internationally, that recognised each other as part of a united world. And taking part of this became personal stories of self-identification.
The characters on Star Trek were inspirational and all relatable in a way where viewers could see themselves in the fictional characters. It’s been argued that none have been more influential than Lt. Uhura and First Officer Spock; the black woman and the nerd. In later years, as actor George Takai came out publicly as homosexual, the series was praised for including the LBTG communities long before it’s time.
While Kirk was in front, minorities were at the centre. Minorities, who were used to a society where they would have to struggle to be heard, were now being taken seriously for their skills and merits.
Peace, love, education, curiosity and cultural understanding had taken the place of ignorance, greed and hate, and Star Trek fans has for more than 50 years been (somewhat) united under a banner, which holds the Enterprise as it’s symbol.
As the world has evolved, so has Star Trek. Stories have been set outside the original characters, in different times and even in parallel universes, and thus the fans get to explore the world of Star Trek and find a home onboard which ever version they prefer.
Girl Power, the Internet and Terrorism
The 1990’s were a less turbulent time, but still troubled.
With space exploration put on hold, the unification of Eastern and Western Europe, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of girls being seen as tough and smart, and the technology of cellphones and the internet being freely available to all, things were happening in the 90’s.
World conflicts were no longer between nations, but were now being infused by individuals and groups with grand agendas, and terrorism, racial and religious divide was on the rise. This was when J.K. Rowling had a vision of a boy, who with the right people around him, would one day give his own life, to stop one man from ruining the world. To make a parallel world better, she brought in magic.
The iconic characters in the Harry Potter books are the friends, family and teachers we all recognise from our own lives; the lonely boy, the smart girl, the runt of the pack, the wise elders, the bitter teacher, the silly teacher, the shy kids and the bullies, the loving parents and the absent ones.
Representing a group of English boarding school children, the cast is dominantly European, but the diversity of colour, culture and religion is as rich at Hogwarts as it is in modern England. And the time has come, for a main male character, to make friends with a girl, not because she’s pretty and he fancies her, but because she’s smart, outspoken and adventurous. And he makes friends with the good kid, choosing kindness over the opportunities he could have, if he joined the popular crowd.
As the Sorting Hat sits upon his head, Harry makes a choice of who he wants to become. A choice, which represents the choice we all have the power to make; who we want to be.
Yes, there’s a prophecy, a path which has been chosen for him, but in the end, Harry’s destiny is his own choice to make. Throughout his time at Hogwarts, Harry and his friends all made choices, and sacrifices, that would determine the faith of the world. Small choices; little drops in the ocean, that would eventually crush Voldemort and wash away his followers.
Harry and his friends are the defenders of the weak, the bullied children, the outcast teachers and the odd creatures that surround them. And in these characters and the teachings of Hogwarts, we, the readers, can mirror ourselves and the small everyday choices we make, to have an influence not only on our sense of self, but on our making sense of the world around us.
And in the same way as the Trekkies and Trekkers have done it, Potter-heads are a united and inclusive world wide community. Hogwarts is no more British than the Enterprise is American. Under the Hogwarts banner stands a community inclusive to all who believe in magic, friendship, hope and the right to choose your own destiny.
The Wizarding World is evolving. The universe is unfolding as Rowling delves into both the past and the future. And like the Star Trek Universe, there seems to be no boundaries to where a fan can sit comfortably and call the places home.
James T. Kirk is a Gryffindor and Hogwarts is the new Enterprise
Fortune favours the bold and both Kirk and Harry seem to be getting away with a lot of stuff, that would have put down other people in one way or another.
Starfleet Divisions and Hogwarts Houses are not a joke to fans of either series. They are are part of who we are, how we see ourselves and how we see others. While we can all make a joke about a Hufflepuff or a Red Shirt, we must also admit, that we appreciate the hard work of loyal and good people, as well as the security provided by the blue collared men and women out there.
Would we place Spock in the ambitious Slytherin (even though we know he’s not a pure blood) or with the knowledgeable Ravenclaws, along with McCoy? Scotty is clearly a Hufflepuff, no argument there, but where would we place Uhura, Sulu and Chekov? There are wizarding schools in Central Africa, Japan and Russia, but if they went to their local schools, would that mean that McCoy and Kirk went to the American Ilvermorny and only Scotty could be a Hogwarts alumni? This particular mind game can go on for eternity and that’s absolutely what the internet and fandom communities are there for. I encourage anyone who wants to sort Star Fleet personnel into Hogwarts Houses and Wizarding Schools of Magic. And where would our Hogwarts heroes go, if they were to join Starfleet?
Through houses and divisions we’ve been given a way to organise the world and the people in it, which resembles patterns and titles that we already know. We’ve been given a way to recognise our peers, as we greet strangers as friends, once we see that they too, are members of our particular nerdiness.
With the Wizarding World’s latest film, The Crimes of Grindelwald, Hogwarts is revisited as the Minister of Magic comes to question young Albus Dumbledore. The excitement of the crowd in the theatre, as the soundtrack played a familiar tune and the view of Hogwarts appeared on screen, small, whispered cheers were heard throughout the audience. Even though the film was set almost a century before we first came to Hogwarts with Harry, there was a familiar sense of coming home.
The same sense of familiarity is felt in any and all of the Star Trek series and films. When the soundtrack plays a tunes that makes us hold our breaths, we know that we are about to see the entirety of the Enterprise on the screen. It doesn’t matter which crew is on board or which students are in class. Rarely has inanimate objects such as starships and school buildings brought cheer, but in these cases, there is justice to the excitement. We are home and among our own people.
Where Starfleet has divisions classified by education, rank and experience, much like any real military organization, Hogwarts divides it’s students into houses, which is the common practise of English boarding schools. We are as readers and viewers brought into new worlds through the familiar. And we are being introduced to it, as outsiders along with outsider characters.
Harry and Hermione are raised as muggles, and Kirk and McCoy are Earthlings, giving us Spock and Ron as the ‘local guides’, providing the insider knowledge, that gives us both an education into the world we are entering, and a sense of all things in this world being logical and completely normal. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything normal about warp speed or flying broomsticks, but if Vulcans and Weasleys are doing it, who am I to argue? And a laser set to stun is practically the same thing as Stupefy over Avada Kedavra.
With new stories and characters, were are given a way of exploring the worlds in which we wish to escape. With The Cursed Child, Harry, Ron and Hermione are revisited, now as adults. In Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we travel to New York and Paris, seeing wizarding communities outside of schools, where the characters are fully capable and flawed adults and the main character, Newt Scamander, is practically Neville Longbottom, but with animals instead of plants. And in Jacob Kowalski, we have the muggle outsider, who tells the viewing audience when to be amazed by magic, the way Harry used to do.
The same happens in Star Trek; The Next Generation continues exploring the Alpha Quadrant, Deep Space Nine takes us aboard a space station, Voyager brings us to a brand new world, exploring the Delta Quadrant, Enterprise and Discovery bring us into Starfleets early days and the new film series bring us an alternative universe, featuring the beloved, original characters in new ways.
With adults as the main characters, there is no longer a need for ‘local guides’, like Ron and Spock, to help us understand the universe, yet in almost all the Star Trek series, we are met with new species and cultures, which our Starfleet crew will have to learn to communicate with. Few children are a part of the Star Trek universe, as it is set in a military organization, and even though TNG has families onboard the Enterprise and Wesley is a part of the original crew, he eventually has to go off to Starfleet Academy and his education is hardly mentioned for the rest of the series. I for one, would love for the next Star Trek series to be set at the Starfleet Academy. I want to see what’s going on in that’s universe’s own Hogwarts.
There are no boundaries to where we can go and no end to the eternal learning, that both universes bring us; we are never complete with a diploma in our hands or a rank on our shoulders, but must continue with life long learning, to explore the world, the cultures and communities in it, to be tolerant and respectful of those who are different from ourselves and learn how they are not.
In the actions of both Star Trek crew and Hogwarts students and teachers, we’ve been shown ways to impact our own lives, as well as cultural and political societies. We’ve been shown how to have an impact on others, however big or small, and that we, as individuals, can have a home among others. Communities, with shared believes and values, across science and magic.
It all begins under the Sorting Hat, with who we choose to be and in how we handle our first contact with The Final Frontier of our own lives.