I have long used the metaphors and personifications in the Harry Potter books to help my students understand concepts both within and beyond various texts. Hamlet’s tragedy, for example, is that he is forced to follow the wrong Hagrid, the Hagrid being a brilliant personification of “the calling” we all hope to receive that gives us direction in life by making known to us our true talents, powers, and inclinations. Hamlet is no killer, whether that killing is justified or not, but his role in life is imposed on him by circumstances and, more significantly, by his father. This “wrong Hagrid” theme or “Hagrid-by-parent” theme resonates with the Asian kids I mostly tutor.
Jenkins does a great job of pointing out how young people are taking Rowling’s metaphors a step further, from the personal realm (my focus) to the public. He argues persuasively that such pop-culture DIY engagement in youth can lead to political engagement as adults. But I suspect this is mostly true for those that are politically inclined anyway. As Jenkins points out, those who have political parents tend be more involved themselves. The Asians I tutor, however, are not at all interested in politics, for cultural and personal reasons (immigrants tend to feel like outsiders in the political process), and as much as I try to alarm them with texts such as 1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Harry Potter, they remain for the most part unengaged. Caucasian students from the political hotbed of East Vancouver, however, would respond well to initiatives like The Harry Potter Alliance.
I tend to think in terms of the psychological significance to art, but I do believe pop culture is vitally important in increasing awareness of political issues. Whether awareness becomes action, however, may still be a matter of personal background.