While residents of Gwinnett County did not react to the Laura Mallory case, the internet certainly did. Online response to the case was largely aimed at Mallory herself, as the original complainant and leading charge in each subsequent appeal. Responses to Mallory range from shock and amusement to scathing personal attacks. Most of these more outspoken critiques appear in personal blogs and social media posts. The exception to this rule is the Washington Post, which names Mallory “Idiot of the Year” in 2006: “This vigilant mother of four has demanded local schools remove Harry Potter from their libraries because, in her analysis, the books are an “evil” attempt to indoctrinate children in Wicca religion. Congratulations Laura, and good luck on your quest to eradicate the dark forces which pollute children’s literature.” Title aside, the description for Mallory is brief and generally harmless. The user comments, on the other hand, are far more inflammatory:
The Online Harry Potter Fandom
So why did Laura Mallory and the Gwinnett County case gain so much attention online? The answer lies, primarily, in the culture of internet fandom. As with most popular young adult fiction, the Harry Potter series has grown a massive fan following since the 1997/1998 release of Book One. This mass attraction to the series is intensified by its development alongside internet fan culture. While fan groups have existed for significantly longer than the internet has, there is a distinct difference between fan creation and interaction before and after the world wide web: “Fandom had developed a past. Even more fascinating, fanzines and fan fiction, conventions and collecting, fan mail and pilgrimages—the core areas of focus in the burgeoning field of fan studies—had started to become the foundational past of fandom, its origin” (Cavicchi).
While “past” fandom is marked by physical interaction, the “present” stage of fan culture where Harry Potter finds it home takes on the same sense of immediacy we typically associate internet activity in general. As scholar Francesca Coppa argues, media growth in the late 90’s sees the first surge of internet fandom come to life: “Formerly, most fans had been mentored by older fans or had attended a convention in order to meet others who shared their particular obsession. Now people could just google their favorite show, join the available lists, or start reading fiction—even erotic fiction—on a public online archive.” For the so-called “Harry Potter Generation,” additional fan content is no longer limited to conventions or small friend groups. Instead, young readers are fueled by a constantly updating stream of fandom activity seconds after typing the term into their search engine. Because of this possibility for connection on a much larger scale, online fandom can create stronger communities and even safe spaces for fans to explore and develop their sense of identity with others through a shared interest, but it can also be difficult to “take a break” from. When cases such as Mallory’s, which criticize and seek to remove such a popular piece of fan culture when internet activity surrounding the topic is at its peak (for Harry Potter as a google search term, this peak hits in June 2007), lashing out through a short comment or social media post is as easy as pulling up new fan fiction.
Cavicchi, Daniel. “Fandom Before “Fan”: Shaping the History of Enthusiastic Audiences.” Reception: Texts, Readers, Audiences, History 6, no. 1 (2014): 52-72. doi:10.5325/reception.6.1.0052.
Coppa, Francesca. “A Brief History of Media Fandom.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet: New Essays, ed. Kristina Busse. McFarland, 2014. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=11ODBAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA41&dq=harry+potter+online+fandom&ots=3zUkMy8RD8&sig=hPCCRvYDwGDKhkM02issxZ6Ejws#v=onepage&q=harry%20potter%20online%20fandom&f=false.
Steiner, Emil. “Idiot of the Year Awards.” Washington Post (via Wayback Machine). 22 December, 2006. https://web.archive.org/web/20080724154221/http://blog.washingtonpost.com/offbeat/2006/12/idiot_of_the_year_awards_1.html.