Fiction lovers inspired by favorite characters to make a change in the real world, study shows
Harry Potter Alliance
We think of there being a thick and deep line between fantasy and reality. But while it is obvious that fact and fiction aren’t the same thing, several new studies and activists groups don't see why the fiction they read can't inspire real-world altruism and goodwill.
Recently, a 7-year-old saved her mother from choking by employing the techniques she had learned from "Mrs. Doubtfire." Hearing strange noises from the kitchen, Amira Thronton, 7, rushed in to discover her mother choking on a piece of sausage. Remembering a scene from "Mrs. Doubtfire," when Robin Williams' character administers the Heimlich maneuver, Amira picked up her mother three times, saving her life by unclogging her blocked airway.
More theatrically, costume-clad vigilantes have taken to the streets of San Francisco and Seattle in Make-a-Wish Foundation reenactments, in which costumed children prevent harm from befalling the citizens they protect, just like their heroes in their comic books.
New research is proving that fantasy can be far more than just entertainment.
Inspired by magic
When Andrew Slack was a senior in high school, his English teacher posed a question that would carry him through the rest of his life and career.
“ ‘Does the actor's job end with the four walls in the theater? And that's it?’ ” Slack recounted. “ ‘Or is the actor, in the act of taking on another person's role, in that act of compassion, are they elevating their condition? Is there an obligation to take the magic of that and elevate it beyond the theater, across the world? Can story, in effect, change the world?’ ”
Although his teacher asked the question of the entire class, Slack felt it was intended especially for him. He had always been drawn to storytelling being more than just a way to entertain. In college, he learned about how the civil rights movement used powerful storytelling to achieve its goals.
As an actor and comedian, Slack was often discouraged by how many people would attend his shows, and how few would come to a human rights group meeting.
"Here we have people being drawn to and being entertained by stories — could we take that to human rights?" Slack said. "That became a burning passion. I had a day job working with kids, and they pushed me to love Harry Potter. I didn't want to read Harry Potter. I read the first book and I felt completely transformed by it."
Slack recognized that the entire world had been captivated by the story of the boy wizard, that children and teens who had given up on reading were drawn back by Hogwarts and its magical residents.
"But if Harry Potter were in our world, wouldn't he do more than simply celebrate how awesome it is to be Harry Potter?" Slack asked. "Wouldn't he fight for justice in our world the way he fought for justice in his? In fact, in the books he started a student activist group Dumbledore's Army. Couldn't we be a Dumbledore's Army for our world?"
Slack actually started such a group: the Harry Potter Alliance. It was born from the idea that Harry could inspire thousands to change. Slack tested his theory on MySpace, reaching out to Harry Potter fans through bulletins about social issues.
Comparing many people’s skepticism of the issue of global warming to the Ministry of Magic's attitude toward to the return of the villain Voldemort, Slack spoke to an “audience” in a new way.
"We've got people involved in issues that really matter in ways that they never would have before and we've always done it by translating it back to parallels to the books," Slack said.
The group has campaigned for human and civil rights around the world, most recently employing passion for a different young adult series, in their poverty awareness campaign based on "The Hunger Games."
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