Is Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Kevin Martin working under the Imperius Curse? Andrew Slack, the 28-year-old founder and director of the Somerville-based Harry Potter Alliance, an organization dedicated to fighting the “dark arts” in the real world, claims it’s possible. In the Harry Potterverse, that means someone cast a dark spell rendering Martin incapable of making decisions for himself — he’s under the spell-caster’s control. In our reality, however, Slack is parlaying the expression to allege that Martin has been Imperiused by the Big Six media conglomerates (News Corp., Disney, Viacom, CBS, TimeWarner, and NBC/GE) in an effort to hush the voice of independent media sources. You might recall that in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, following Voldemort’s return, the media was censored by Death Eaters in order to keep the public from the truth. Slack says the last thing this country needs is the real-world equivalent, what he’s deemed “Voldemedia.” We’re not there yet, he says, though we are in really bad shape.
“Harry Potter . . . presents a vivid example of what can happen when the media is controlled by the hands of the very few,” says Slack. “Real issues are being ignored because it’s cheaper to cover celebrity gossip.”
In the past year, the Harry Potter Alliance — mission: promote Rowling’s messages of love, tolerance, and social justice — has launched grassroots campaigns to combat a host of issues, from the genocide in Darfur to racial and sexual discrimination. Slack has been troubled for some time by drastic cuts in foreign news coverage in favor of weather, sports, and tabloid items. But he was particularly disturbed by the inevitable repercussions of Martin’s proposal to allow media companies to own both newspapers and radio/television stations in the country’s top 20 markets. It came as no surprise to Slack when the FCC voted to accept Martin’s plan on Tuesday.
On December 10, Slack partnered with stopbigmedia.com to release “Potterwatch” (stopbigmedia.com/potterwatch), a combination podcast and free-for-download wizard-rock compilation titled Rocking out Against Voldemedia. The podcast itself is modeled after the underground radio show in Deathly Hallows that was designed to get real news and information to the wizarding community in spite of Voldemort’s restrictions. “They combined humor and real news, and that’s what we’re doing, too,” says Slack. The podcast features wizard-rock tunes, a 1940s-style radio play, and an interview with a Darfur activist who lost her entire extended family to violence in the region.
The online-only ROAV album comprises 10 songs on the theme of media consolidation. The Remus Lupins’ two-minute long “(Never) Do What You’re Told” is the closest ROAV gets to a party track: over a driving synth beat, Alex Carpenter rails on the liars in the Ministry and the Daily Prophet newspaper: “Your tongue got confundus with the mistruths you told/No you can’t fool us, ’cause this is getting old.” “The Rebel Call,” a plaintive, folksy guitar ballad by the Whomping Willows, has frontman Matt Maggiacomo lamenting, “People are drinking hate like butterbeer.” In “Don’t Believe It,” Harry and the Potters fulfill their role as the Clash of wizard rock.
“These news companies are in bed with the FCC to skew the rules so that they’re the only voices out there, and the independent voices, other voices that would be covering issues that aren’t motivated specifically for profit, are being overshadowed,” says Slack. In spite of the December 18 decision, he’s not without hope. Slack wants the Pottercast to rally support for the bipartisan Media Ownership Act of 2007, which would halt the FCC’s efforts to gut media ownership rules.
“Kevin Martin had better look out, because he didn’t factor in on Harry Potter fans taking a stand.”