Why are Harry Potter-fans admiring movie props as if they were valuable ancient relics? "People want to physically experience the text that touched them."
Harry’s Nimbus 2000, Hermione’s Time-Turner , the Philosophers Stone: at the Harry Potter-exhibition in Utrecht, fans admire the movie props as if they were valuable ancient relics - as one of the actors put it. ‘People want to physically experience the text that touched them so much’, explains PhD-candidate Abby Waysdorf, who researches film and television tourism (Erasmus University). ‘ Because it had such a large impact on their lives, it almost feels real. They want to experience that in their own world. Imagination becomes reality.’
Before coming to Utrecht, the props travelled to New York, Tokio and Paris and have already attracted over 4 million visitors. Rather than calling this form of tourism escapism or suspension of disbelief, Waysdorf uses the term ‘creation of belief’. ‘Escapism sounds negative and suspension of disbelief is about believing something even though you now it can’t happen. This is about encouraging the imagination: if it were real, then it would look like this and I will believe that.’
Before film tourism became big, fan had to create this experience for themselves: Star Wars-fans made their own costumes, Star Trek-lovers published fanfiction on obscure forums. Today, media-companies cherish these fans. ‘Before, film toys were mainly designed for children. That has changed completely. The companies now focus on adults who grew up with it and want to feel the physical connection again.’ By spending 75 euros on a Hogwarts-robe or 40 on a wand, for example.
Fans aren’t cash machines
That doesn’t mean that fans will buy anything with a Harry Potter-logo on it, warns Waysdorf. ‘Merchandise is a big moneymaker for companies, but they have to really catch that authentic feeling. Fans are smart. If they think they’re just being used as a cash machine, they can be critical. They want the story and the world surrounding it to be respected.’
The second generation of fans
The original Harry Potter-fans are adults now and there’s a second generation growing up. Waysdorf has met parents who try to transfer their Potter-passion to their children. ‘They want to share their experience with the next generation. At the Harry Potter-theme park in Florida I encountered a family that really treated their visit as a way to become closer to each other.’
Want to learn more about film tourism? Watch this! Abby Waysdorf at the International Film Festival Rotterdam for Studio Erasmus.