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I discovered Harry Potter when I was five. Too young to read myself, my mom sat me down and read the first four books aloud to my two siblings and me. Once I learned how to read, I finished the series by myself – and then started again from book one. The story of the boy wizard and the magical world he came from captivated me. I would imagine getting my own Hogwarts letter like Harry, and entering this fantastical world that I wanted so badly to be real.
I spent most of my childhood obsessed with Harry Potter; I was just one of millions in the world. A decade later, the worldwide mania surrounding Harry Potter has mostly passed, but there are still plenty of obsessions to take its place. Just think of the average preteen girl. Imagine: she hunches over her computer screen, eyes glued to her Tumblr blog or her Twitter page. She responds to One Direction posts in all caps letters. “I JUST LOVE THEM SO MUCH” she writes. Around the globe, millions of other fans write similar posts. These One Direction fans make up their own little community. There are other communities – each made up of fans obsessing over different celebrities, or TV shows, or movies, or books. Each community of fans is like its own little box – separated from the rest of the world: the world of non-fans. The non-fans, the people outside of the box, can’t see inside. They kick the box around and laugh at the people inside. They don’t understand obsessions with boy bands or fake stories about witches and wizards.
But what does it feel like to be obsessed? What does it feel like to be inside the box?
Inside the box is different from outside. Firstly: the box has walls, so you can’t see outside. You don’t know what it’s like to be free from your obsession. Second: the box can open. You can escape. There is a way out, and maybe you see that way out, but it still takes so much effort to rip the tape off and open the flaps. When you’re obsessed with something, much like being addicted, it is hard to break away. Finally: inside the box you have no perspective. You can’t tell which way is up because all sides of the box look the same. If you are obsessed, you can’t fully differentiate between fantasy and reality. How do I know this? I was inside that box.
People stigmatize obsessions but they don’t understand the people in the box. Take the story of Harry Potter. It’s about a lonely young boy who finds out that he is a wizard. He leaves his mean aunt and uncle and escapes to a mysterious place where magic exists. That story allowed me to hope. I didn’t turn to Harry Potter and latch on simply because it was entertaining: the story meant something to me. That is true for every obsession in the world. Whether it is for the community, the message, or the story, people become obsessed for a reason.
Growing up, there were many times when I felt “uncool” for being obsessed with something. People would make fun of me when I brought a broom to school or to my summer camp, or when all I would talk about was the new Harry Potter movie. Looking back at some things I did, I sometimes get embarrassed. But rather than looking down at myself and other people for being obsessed with something, I think it’s important to recognize that I am now outside that box. And being outside the box, I really no longer have the right to judge what I don’t understand. Instead, I should admire the people still in the box. I should applaud the One Direction fans who write in all caps-lock and cry over pictures of a boy band they haven’t met. They have dedicated themselves to something they are passionate about, and they don’t care what other people think.