Imagine a world where the government arrests people at random, suspends their right to a free trial, and subjects them to torture in an effort to look "tough on terror." The media is controlled by a privileged few who characterize activists against this gross suspension of habeas corpus as unpatriotic and neglect to report on the government's policy of reading their mail.
Does this sound familiar? If you've read Harry Potter, it should.
That's right. Harry Potter: a series that presents a fantasy world whose "dark and difficult times" often mirror those of our society. Just like the overly consolidated media in the U.S. that pays a disproportionate amount of attention to tabloid stories as opposed to the genocide in Darfur and the realities of global warming, the media in the Wizarding World ignores Voldemort's return. In an effort to wake the world up to what is happening, Harry starts the equivalent of an underground student activist group to break through the media's complacency.
Inspired by the work of these fictitious heroes in the spring of 2005, I created the Harry Potter Alliance: a unique activist organization that takes examples from the text of Harry Potter, parallels them to the real world, and -- with the help of our members, two of the biggest Harry Potter fan sites on the web, and a network of 'Wizard Rock' bands who sing indie songs from the perspective of various Harry Potter characters -- communicate with hundreds of thousands of Harry Potter fans across the world.
On December 10 2007, the Harry Potter Alliance put out an online compilation in which 10 Wizard Rock bands sing about media consolidation in the Wizarding World (which Josh Silver discusses in his recent post) in a compilation called "Rocking Out Against VoldeMedia" that is aimed to build awareness and action against FCC Chairman Kevin Martin's current rush to gut media consolidation rules.
The Harry Potter books remind us of the dangers of media consolidation: just as the mainstream press in the Wizarding World perpetuates the notion that a normal person is a pure blood Wizard (opposed to a Muggle born, werewolf, half-giant, etc), the six companies that run the media in the U.S. perpetuate the notion that women must be thin, that men must make a lot of money, and of course, that a "normal" person is a white man. After all, 88 percent of the people that we see on TV news are white men while women and minorities who account for 66 percent of the population are only seen 12 percent of the time. Further, while 33 percent of the U.S. is made up of racial and ethnic minorities just about 3 percent of minorities own commercial TV stations. It's therefore "normal" for us to not talk about the fact that the poorer areas of our nations' capitol have more AIDS per capita than some third world nations.
Of course, Big Media's cutting of foreign news programming by 80 percent in the last two decades has made it "normal" that in 1994, my friend from Rwanda did not hear about the deaths of her loved ones from our news programs but from phone calls from them -- or that in June 2005 there were 50 times as many stories on Michael Jackson as there were about the genocide in Darfur. To help fill the void of news around what the anti-genocide movement is doing about Darfur, the Harry Potter Alliance has put out two podcasts, one of which features Ambassador Joe Wilson and was downloaded over 110,000 times the other which helped raise over $5000 for STAND's "Darfur Fast" and ended up ensuring the protection of over 1,500 Darfuri women from being raped for a whole year. The slight increase in news on Darfur instigated by pressure by the growing anti-genocide movement has had such a positive effect that one can only imagine what would happen if we lived in a country where the rules were not stacked in favor of media companies who have institutionalized a dangerously subtle racism and a virtual complacency to genocide.
But that's not what FCC Chairman Kevin Martin has in mind. In the last installment of Harry Potter, Voldemort takes over every aspect of the media: newspaper, radio, etc. An independent media group called "Potterwatch" emerges to fight this emerging "VoldeMedia." And despite the fact that millions of Americans have already stood up and said that they are for media reform (the equivalent of a Potterwatch for the real world), tomorrow December 18, Chairman Martin is moving to allow one Big Media company to monopolize the main newspaper, TV and radio station in a given city. One can only think that either Chairman Martin wants a cushy job after he leaves the FCC or that he has been placed under the "Imperius Curse," causing him to lose all free will and sense of reason.
But either way, he did not count on the fact that there are a countless number of Harry Potter fans who understand that in a world that has reached a serious crossroads, every issue we care about is connected to our right to a free press. We are therefore, going in droves to stopbigmedia.com/potterwatch and rocking out against an emerging VoldeMedia by not just listening to Wizard Rock songs but by contacting their Senators to support the bipartisan bill that is bringing people from "every House at Hogwarts" together in Congress to stop the "Imperiused" Chairman Martin in his tracks in the next 24 hours. In the spirit of great literature, independent music, and the democratic principles which founded the United States we hope that you can join us and contact your Senators today.