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Harry om Harry

For a while I half wondered if some swine flu had wrought epidermal havoc in barnyards near and far. Why all the chatter about Hogwarts? And Muggles? I hadn’t a clue. Even when the knowledge caught up with me — it was bound to, because Harry Potter’s popularity rivaled God’s, and his merchandising was more aggressive — I put no stock in it. Frank Bruni writes.

india Updated: Jul 14, 2011 23:24 IST

For a while I half wondered if some swine flu had wrought epidermal havoc in barnyards near and far. Why all the chatter about Hogwarts? And Muggles? I hadn’t a clue. Even when the knowledge caught up with me — it was bound to, because Harry Potter’s popularity rivaled God’s, and his merchandising was more aggressive — I put no stock in it.

Having taken a pass on Potter, I was sticking to my guns, or perhaps I should say wands.

On Friday the final Potter movie, an adaptation of the final Potter book, opens. It’s a big moment for the reverent, evangelical legions of his worshippers worldwide. But it’s also a big moment for nonbelievers like me.

With the Potter juggernaut finally grinding to a halt, we’re no longer left with the odd sensation — by turns isolating and liberating, stippled with doubt and suffused with defiance — of standing apart from a cultural phenomenon that so many embrace.

All of you have been there, on the outside of some mass-market craze or niche obsession that seemingly two of every three people you know won’t shut up about, their exuberance a sort of reprimand for what you’re missing.

Maybe you never dipped into the Star Wars series, the Star Trek canon or anything galactic. Maybe you skipped Sein-feld, like the rebelling friend of mine who dismissed it as “the intelligent person’s ballpark wave,” or Jonathan Franzen, who demanded more patience than critics let on.

Maybe you never bothered with Radiohead and then Vampire Weekend; Napster and then Facebook; the iPhone and the iPad.

There are all these commitment crossroads, where you sign up or opt out, and in this marketing-saturated era of ours, they seem to arrive more frequently and noisily.

The fervor with which others latch onto a new enthusiasm makes you triply conscious of your own decision not to, so that even if your choice reflects only the limits of time, budget or energy, you treat it as a declaration of independence.

I’m not a Potter person. I flirted with becoming one, because the wee wizard presented an easy way to bond with my young nieces and nephews, but then I remembered that I had ice cream and iTunes gift certificates for that.

When I canvassed my intimates, I confirmed that each is also acutely aware of potential fixations unfed.

My friend T is not a Stieg Larsson person, and insists that even a few months ago he still believed The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a neo-punk band, but I’m sure he’s just showing off.

And my friend M. has not become an adherent of SoulCycle, the New York indoor cycling cult, a resistance that’s notable because she has tried every other group exercise known to womankind and falls within the regimen’s target demographic (35 to 55, affluent, apoplectic about the advent of cellulite).

That’s the thing: you can always wait out the phenomenon, see if it shows enduring merit and opt in belatedly. In the meantime, you can cheat. With the bombardment of references to the obsession du jour comes the ability to be fluent in something you haven’t actually experienced.

My friend J persuasively faked fandom of Lost, thus evading censure from genuinely addicted peers, and I have repeatedly passed myself off as a Sopranos savant, on the basis of only four episodes. I watched none of the finale, though I produced very strongly articulated opinions about it.

As for Potter, I saw 10 minutes of one of the movies, and can’t recall if it involved a goblet of fire, a deathly hallow or neither. Hogwarts was mentioned, so I’m now up to speed. It’s like Exeter, but with a different kind of spelling test.

(New York Times)