Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Hippogriff in the Room

By Abby Whiteley

Part I: Introduction.
Part II: The American legacy.
Part III: The potential for independence.
Part IV: The future.
Part V: Conclusion.
Appendix: UK team affiliations with Harry Potter societies.
Part I: Introduction
Is the Harry Potter franchise relevant to quidditch anymore? Ask a group of quidditch players this question and you will probably get a huge range of answers, with some in complete opposition to one another. This would depend on the group of people, of course; in USQ, I get the impression that a popular opinion is that Harry Potter has no role in the sport whatsoever and, in fact, any allusions to it are harmful and/or should be subject to ridicule. In the UK and the rest of Europe, however, the situation remains ambiguous, as many university-based teams are still twinned with their Harry Potter societies, and there exists a greater divide of opinion as to its relevance. The dynamic here is interesting, and the conversation about the role of Harry Potter is one that I think every burgeoning quidditch community will face at some point in its development for the foreseeable future.

Part II: The American Legacy.
We need to remember that the UK came into quidditch a little late to the party; as the first quidditch teams in the UK were setting up, USQ (then IQA) was on its sixth rulebook. Everything we do, therefore, is performed against a precedent which the US (and Canada) established. In recent years, this precedent has been one of extreme deviation from Harry Potter. It is possible that the reason USQ diverged so enthusiastically from Harry Potter was that the community needed an act of polarsation: in order to prove to people—both outsiders and dissenters within the community—that quidditch can and ought to be independent of Harry Potter, nothing short of active vehemence towards it would do. The act of divergence had to be extreme because anything less than that would have appeared as a weakening of resolve, a lenition which would have been exploited by anyone determined to perceive quidditch in the context of what it had been and not what it was becoming. This conviction has been demonstrated throughout the history of the sport in several key ways: in the early days, the switching of red/yellow wands for the more standard cards and the removal of the capes; later on, the popularisation of the use of the miniscule in the sport's name, the ongoing shift from Alivan's imitation equipment to generic PVC (although the Shadow Chaser remains the broom of choice at the USQ World Cup), and the removal of off-pitch seeking. Although many of these decisions were spurred on by other factors too—the capes were unsafe, PVC is cheap and readily available, etc.—these acts of differentiation represent a greater shift in the sport, one which is fluid and continuous, in which the frontiers between the sport as it stands and its provenance are still being established.
I think there are two questions here for the sport as it stands today in the UK. Every other conversation we can have about the relationship is subsidiary to these two overarching questions: whether quidditch can be independent of HP, and whether it should be. To some people, these might seem like outdated debates coming from a community rather out of touch with current facts and feeling about the sport; many Americans would dismiss these questions with a resounding “yes,” having had this conversation amongst themselves years ago. However, I feel that would not do justice to a conversation which, until quidditch has become sufficiently established in its own right for people to have no inclination to bring HP up when it is mentioned, will be ongoing.
Part III: Getting down to business. / The potential for independence.
First of all, from a purely academic perspective, it is clear that quidditch will never be independent of the Harry Potter franchise. I don’t mean by this that it will inevitably be an extension of the Harry Potter fanbase, or that its rules or administration will be determined by comparisons to the sport as it was originally conceived, but rather that the link between the sport and its origins will always exist. Having come from such a popular and well-documented phenomenon, it is impossible that the origins of quidditch will ever be forgotten, certainly not in our lifetime.
That said, most of us aren’t considering the question from a purely intellectual perspective; most of us simply want to know where we stand in terms of the influence that HP can have over practicalities such as recruitment and perception. Happily for the naysayers, it is obvious that quidditch as it currently exists is already quite separate from HP in terms of administration and rule-makingthat much is not debatable. From the rather more nebulous areas of recruitment and perception, however, the case remains open. Whether because of the fact that sports programs are less important to UK universities, because Harry Potter had more of a hold over the national consciousness and identity, or because the quidditch community is smaller and newer here, many UK quidditch clubs are either the same as their HP societies, or remain in close affiliation with them; quite a few clubs still depend on association with HP to garner interest and to advertise. This is also true of community teams who, not having university systems to capitalize on for recruitment, often have to draw upon appealing to spectators’ existing knowledge, which will inevitably be HP. The situation in the UK, then, remains ambiguous.
Part IV: The ~*future*~. / The future.
Although I think some in the US conceive the UK (and Europe) as quaint Harry Potter wannabes, I hope that it has been sufficiently elaborated why this link, tenuous as it is on the global scale, survives here. It is also interesting to consider what is going to become of UK quidditch on this front. Currently, HP involvement in UK teams is a self-fulfilling prophecy: the only people (broadly speaking) with enough interest to find out about the sport and commit themselves to establishing a team – which is no mean feat – are those with vested interest in the fandom, and they then recruit on that basis. We can assume that this will change as the sport develops, but I cannot see that this transformation will be complete for a long time, especially given that we are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves against people’s assumptions and prior knowledge. At the moment, I think that the maintaining of a link between Harry Potter and quidditch remains, for some clubs, a useful and desirable connection. This isn’t to say that I think quidditch should in any way be shaped by associations with the fandom, as I do believe that quidditch has the capacity, in time, to become something all but completely disassociated from its origins. I do, however, believe that whatever your ideological leanings, there are certain practical problems (namely recruitment and exposure) that are for now best alleviated by utilizing the fandom. Very few teams are lucky enough to be able to recruit purely on their own terms, and I do not think there is anything inherently harmful in prioritizing growth over stubborn ideology. Even though we are undergoing a stage of massive expansion, we are still in no position to turn away relationships that will help us grow and get even bigger and better. It is only by getting bigger that we will become more legitimate, and it is only through perceived legitimacy that we can appeal to people outside of the fandom on a large scale. And let’s not forget, too, that for many teams these associations are not nuisances to be endured, but a fun and genuinely desired means of blending interests – and if it works for them, then I see no reason why anyone should pass judgement.
We are not the US. We do not have the luxury of a thousands-strong player base, and we should do whatever we can not only to survive but to create a community that works for the people who participate in it and continues to expand. Quidditch, thanks to the way the nations before us have developed, can be a totally separate entity from HP (and I like it that way), but the choice of affiliation or lack thereof is a decision that each club needs to make for itself. In conclusion: do whatever you want. Do what is best for your club, whatever makes you happy, whatever works for you. Growth is far more important for us at this stage than proving a point to anyone, and if affiliation is what works for your team, then you should go ahead and do just that.
Appendix: UK team affiliations with Harry Potter societies
Leeds Griffins
Chester Chasers
Loughborough Longshots
Nottingham Nightmares
St. Andrew’s Snidgets
Bristol Brizzlepuffs
Holyrood Hippogriffs
Reading Rocs
Warwick Whomping Willows

Radcliffe Chimeras
Oxford Quidlings
Bangor Broken Broomsticks
Keele Squirrels
Southampton Anchors (Firsts)
Southampton Anchors (Seconds)
The London Unspeakables
Cambridge University Quidditch Club
Derby Union Quidditch
Preston Poltergeists
Leicester Thestrals
Norwich Nifflers

Falmouth Falcons (partial affiliation: independent, with some shared committee positions)

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