Fan activism can be defined as "forms of civic engagement and political participation that emerge from within fan culture itself" (Jenkins, 2015, p. 65). Fans often come together through a shared appreciation for a certain show, book, or game, and using this appreciation to develop activists within a community seems to be the next step of this culture. This is no different from using appealing entry points in a classroom to engage the students in the topic at hand, for example using a book like "The Hunger Games" to enter into a discussion of political parties and organization. In fact, using fan culture to engage students has proven effective in motivating more political activism among people who would otherwise feel ostracized from the political process, for example in the case of the Harry Potter Alliance.
The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) connects fans of the books with real-world issues, such as poverty, suicide prevention, and global human rights issues, by using elements of the story to "puncture" into these real problems within the global society (Jenkins, 2015, p. 69). It is by mapping the book onto reality that students or fans of the books become engaged in politics that they would otherwise be on the sidelines of. This brings to mind the music of the 1960s, which brought political issues like the Vietnam War into mainstream pop culture, and motivated the listeners to become involved in protesting government decisions. This music was branded as "counterculture" and became a "space for cultural and political conflict and dialog" (Candaele, 2012). In the case of the HPA, this is also a place for dialog and action, with the books as a context within which real-life issues can be discussed.
Using fan culture in the classroom seems to be a natural progression. Students are engaged with popular culture, due to the fact that much of the content is aimed at them and their interests. Starting with content that students are familiar with, and layering on the content expectations for certain subjects could bring about a deeper level of engagement than is otherwise experienced in traditional "textbook" classes. Not only are students more interested right away, they also feel more confident discussing topics that they have experience with and know something about. The teacher then becomes the "guide on the side" as they organize activities and insert content links such that the students are discovering for themselves how the history or geography or science connects to the pop culture.
The question then remains, why aren't teachers doing this on a wider scale? Is it because this type of instruction is seen as "counter culture" or "anti-establishment?" Using Harry Potter to teach politics is certainly not traditional, in the same way using zombies to explore how viruses work could be seen as inappropriate. So does this type of "DIY citizenship" need to become part of the discussion at an instructional level? Or by doing so, by accepting this into mainstream teaching, would we be going against the very elements that draw our students in?
Candaele, K. (2012). The Sixties and Protest Music. Retrieved from The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: https://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/sixties/essays/protest-music-1960s
Jenkins, H. (2015). Fan activism as participatory politics: the case of the Harry Potter alliance. In M. Ratto, & M. Boler (Eds.), DIY Citizenship (pp. 65-73). Cambridge: MIT.