I am a proud, unmistakable member of the Harry Potter generation.
I can’t look back on my adolescence without remembering the slack-mouthed, face-gripping thrill of Potter-anticipation that flavored so much of it. From the time I started reading the novels in 1999 to the last film’s release in 2011, there was something for me to look forward to. There was always another book, another movie -- hell, even another chapter of the World’s Best Harry Potter Fanfic -- on the horizon.
Until one day (July 15, 2011, to be exact), all of it just stopped. And I found myself bereft. It wasn’t just the sudden loss of the Harry Potter universe that left me suddenly hollow. It was the loss of the community.
No more high-fiving randos on the train because they were elbow-deep in a book that had only been out for 24 hours. No more bonding with my best dude friend over sneaking “Half-Blood Prince” into our siblings’ bar mitzvahs. No more appearing on the local news dressed as Sirius Black, effusively bubbling about how the books had “changed my life.” Oh yeah, I was that kid.
Harry left Hogwarts the same year I graduated high school, and I’ve always felt privileged in that respect. Harry and I had to grow up at the same time. We each had to leave our comfort zones behind in the summer of 2007, to go out into the Big Bad World of thinning hairlines and upstate New York, respectively. And I was okay with that, for the most part.
Still, though, I’ve felt that ache of the lost nerd-o-sphere gnawing at my solar plexus ever since. There’s really nothing like geeks on parade, particularly sleep-deprived ones. It’s the sort of thing you miss after it’s gone. Maybe that’s why I dug into “The Hunger Games” so very deeply.
I’m a giant fan of young adult fiction, particularly ones starring Strong Female Characters ™. But I’d despised “Twilight” with such an acid fervor that pretty much anything would have been a breath of fresh air -- and Katniss, with her awkward brainvoice and wood-block attitude toward relationships, was more than I could have hoped for. I even wrote a paper for a Gender Studies class in college that compared the structure of the Games to Foucault’s panopticon, which is such a douchey statement that just writing it makes me barf on my hands a little bit. Suffice it to say: I was Into It.
So I was super psyched -- like, not quite “Prisoner of Azkaban” psyched, but definitely “Chamber of Secrets” psyched -- to go see the midnight showing this weekend.
My friend and I were pretty tired from work, but we still managed to ramp up the enthusiasm. On the drive down to Emeryville, we had a spirited discussion about whether Peeta was a stoic, kindly soul with daddy issues (her) or an annoying, yeasty hanger-on (me). I even attempted to mock up a Cinna outfit, though the whole “dearth of physical descriptions” thing threw me through quite the loop.
It was only when we arrived that things started to seem strange. In my nerdy heyday, I often wore homemade fan-costumes that were met with -- okay, if not outright awe, at least a knowing high-five. Here, the mobs gave us the side-eye to end all side-eyes to go with their innumerable side-braids.
I remember once getting into a 2 am good-natured shouting match at a Taco Bell because someone dared to call Remus Lupin’s inexplicable film-pornstache “creepy.” But this weekend, as I waited for a kind-hearted barista to fill my cup with necessary caffeine, not one of the pink-haired Effie impersonators in line behind me seemed to be willing to gush over Finnick with me.
“Hey,” Ella muttered to me, “Doesn’t everyone seem kind of…young to you?”
Now that she mentioned it, everybody surrounding us seemed to be averaging about 15 years old. Even the ones unaccompanied by baffled parents couldn’t have been far out of high school. I felt a cold dread snake down my spine.
“No,” I said. “It’s FINE.”
And it was, mostly. We got super awesome seats by force of total chance and snugly settled ourselves into a carapace of Sour Patch Kids and congealing curly fries. That familiar thrum of excitement began to burble in my stomach. Around us, everyone whispered, buoyed through the bullshit pre-previews by the same ebullient groupthink. It was 100% awesome -- until the world’s tiniest nine-year-old leaned over to us.
“Hey,” he said, just this side of accusatory. “Have you guys read the books?”
Ella and I glanced at each other, horrorstruck.
“Yes,” I replied, trying not to be defensive. “Like, a hundred times.”
“Huh,” he said. “Well, I just wanted to…see.”
He retreated back to his group of friends, leaving Ella and I facing our own mortality. Oblivious to our bubble of sudden, silent misery, the crowd chattered on.
“Fuck,” I said finally. “I kind of want to go get a beer, just to prove my adulthood is worth something.”
“Word,” Ella agreed. We sat and stared ahead of us for a few more minutes, malaise settling over us like the smell of asparagus. “
I have to give a presentation in five hours,” I said. “You know. For my job.”
“God,” Ella said. “When did we become these people?”
“We’re NOT,” I said. We were.
The worst part, though, was that I had totally been that very kid. I’d seen twentysomethings sporting “Sirius Lives” shirts and scoffed -- as if they could recall what it was like to be 15 and sobbing under the sheets as Harry scrabbled uselessly at the Veil. When soccer moms had tried to engage me by discussing the events of the latest book, I’d just stared at them, snake-eyed and zit-chinned.
“I guess you could say that Cedric Diggory should’ve been in Gryffindor,” I’d say. Unspoken but implied: “If you were an idiot.”
Even when I saw kids that were younger than I was at fan-events, I draped myself in the comfortable knowledge that they’d gotten into the series later than I had. They certainly hadn’t been on their college’s seven-time champion Harry Potter Trivia Team.
“Bow before my superior nerdery, minions!” I longed to exclaim at random.
Except that now, I was that uncool adult. I looked around and realized that these kids didn’t need six shots of espresso and two Red Bulls to make it to 3:00. They hadn’t bought a pound of Swedish Fish because someone had foolishly provided them with a disposable income and financial independence from their parents.
They were Suzanne Collins’s ideal demographic: the tweens of the digital age, familiar at once with the Capitol’s constant virtual surveillance and Katniss’s bone-deep urge to prove herself. They were smooth, slick, and self-assured. And for the first time in my life, I wasn’t one of them.
I still had fun. During the previews, I delighted in everyone else’s jeering at the new “Twilight” installment and squealed along with the girls beside us as soon as we saw Andrew Garfield’s Bambi face pouting at us from above a Spiderman unitard.
And as I watched the movie itself, I still bit my knuckles with genuine anxiety as Katniss screamed after Prim. I still chuckled knowingly every time Gale came onscreen. And during Rue’s death scene, I still took comfort in the fact that I could hear barely muffled sobs from all sides. But I didn’t feel the same kind of giddy rush that I remembered experiencing as recently as last summer.
After the movie ended, I clapped, but I was more concerned with validating our parking ticket than with reveling in the post-climactic comedown. Yes, I’d felt a glimmer of that nerd groupthink, but it had been blunted by the knowledge that I had to get up again to be a productive member of society in literally two and a half hours. It kind of -- well, sucked.
And there I was: a sad, tired poseur, covered in moroseness and the half-chewed remnants of curly fries. At what point do you go from being an enthusiastic fan to a lame-ass adult who’s just trying to ruin the kids’ fun? Should midnight showings be only the purview of their designated demographic? Or will I, at fifty, be busy injecting Benzedrine into my eyeballs so I can stay up for the release party of “Smart Phone: The Musical”?
This weekend may have been the turning point for me. I got away with it this time without too many sidelong looks from kids half my age, but I want to bow out gracefully. I don’t want to be like Amy Poehler’s character in “Mean Girls,” sobbing along with the soundtrack in the theatre aisle while my peers determinedly study the programs in their laps and avoid eye contact.
So I’ll go see “Catching Fire” when it comes out in 2013. I’ll even reread the book beforehand so I can snippily point out all the places the movie got it wrong. But when that opening weekend comes, I think I’ll just wait for the Saturday matinee.