Confession time. I’m sure those of you who’ve read my column before, heard me on WEEI and watched the Fanthropology videos I’ve done for this site just naturally assume I’m about the most suave, sophisticated guy in Boston. I have no doubt that you look at the picture that goes with this article and assume my life is all fashion models loosening my tuxedo tie while they rub my shoulders and fetch me another vodka martini. Well, you’re only partially correct.
There’s another side to me. Believe it or not, a side that’s even ... well, let’s just say I’m not afraid to be interested in slightly nerdy things. I’m not ashamed to admit I own two different boxed sets of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. I’m willing to 'fess up to having an old school Star Trek communicator app on my phone. And I’m not the least bit shy to say publicly that I like Harry Potter stuff. I’ve ready every book and seen each of the movies. And because I have two kids, I’ve done so repeatedly. (I do need something to keep them busy with all the models running around the house.)
In fact, as I write this, I’m just getting home from seeing “Deathly Hallows, Part 2,” which if you’re a walking, breathing entity on this planet you know is the last in the decade-long series of films. I apologize for none of this, nor should I. Potter is the most successful movie series in history, and it’s not even close. “Hallows” just had the largest opening of all time. They spawned a theme park in Orlando that by all accounts is nothing but a couple of roller coasters surrounded by overpriced gift shops … and still you can’t get near the place from all the lines. If the U.S. government had the Potter merchandising rights, Obama and the Republicans would be fighting over what to blow our massive surplus on.
So I guess you could say the Harry Potter franchise has made it socially acceptable ... even fashionable ... for a grown man to obsess over the adventures of a spell-casting, broom-riding boy wizard. Right? I said “Right?” Chicks dig scars; I assume they dig lightning-bolt-shaped forehead scars, too?
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because we’ve been witness to a 10-year stretch in which the pop culture landscape has been dominated by two things: Harry Potter and the city of Boston.
Think about it. We live in an age of specialization. The days of the universally popular cultural icon are gone. Cable channels narrowcast to specific target demos. People get news from whatever outlet slants it to their liking. I heard Mikey Adams make the point last week that there are no super groups in rock music except the ones that started 30 years ago. Which is true because we’re all getting our music from band- and genre-specific satellite and Internet stations, when we’re not just making our own playlists. The most-watched shows on TV have audiences less than what “Homeboys in Outer Space” used to get for a summer re-run. There’s just nothing that’s popular with everyone anymore.
Except for those two I mentioned. A certain magical kid and the city you live in. I’ve already stated the case for Harry. But can anyone argue that Boston has dominated the American pop culture landscape for the last decade?
Sports goes without saying. The Decade of Champions has been one continuous loop of duckboats tooling through the city like drunken cougars doing “Party Train” at a wedding. And we’ve been witness to three MVPs. Seven postseason MVPs. Two Sports Illustrated Sportsmen of the Year. Four NCAA hockey titles by two different schools. Why, it was just last year that some local kid went out to Vegas and won the prestigious national rock-paper-scissors championship.
But it doesn’t end there. The rest of the country is so fixated on all things Boston, now we’re the lead dog in Hollywood. Boston movies dominate Oscar season. “The Departed.” “The Fighter.” “The Town.” Or take television. It’s an FCC requirement that any reality TV be obligated to have at least one thick-accented, sarcastic Masshole on the cast at all times. Even the most dominant and respected player in reality TV history is known to the world as Boston Rob. What’s been the top news story in the country the last month, and will continue to make headlines for years to come? Whitey Bulger’s capture. America can’t get enough of us, in very much the same way it can’t get enough of the kid from Hogwarts.
And this should come as no shock to anyone. Because the parallels between the rise of Boston sports and the social phenomenon that is Harry Potter are uncanny if you really look deep enough.
I recently read Joseph Campbell’s seminal book on mythology, “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” Well, to be honest, I read the SparkNotes version once. Which is to say I skimmed the SparkNotes version. In other words, I spent 30 seconds Wikipediaing it so I could sound smart. But in a nutshell, it says that there are certain archetypes that run through all hero myths:
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Jackpot. I’ve never heard the last 10 years in the City of Champions summed up better. We are a region of supernatural wonder. Ask anyone who saw Adam Vinatieri’s kick in the Snow Bowl or Mark Bellhorn hit the foul pole in Yankee Stadium in Game 7.
I was at the Bruins’ Stanley Cup DVD premiere earlier this week and believe me, Brad Marchand was encountering some fabulous forces, Shawn Thornton was back from a mysterious adventure and Andrew Ference was bestowing a big, silver boon upon all us fellow men.
In both epic series — ours and JK Rowlings’ — there are archetypes all over the place. I mean, the parallels are eerie:
Harry Potter: Tom Brady. The overlooked, abused kid no one believed in until a kindly wizard invited him to a far off land to learn how to create magic, fulfill his destiny and achieve greatness. The Boy Who Lived and The Boy Who Survived Being the Fourth-String QB.
Dumbledore: Bill Belichick. Brilliant minds with almost clairvoyant gift for seeing the big picture. Also, both like to wear gray hooded robes.
Ron Weasley: Dustin Pedroia. In the beginning no one thought he could do much swinging the wand. But he’s got your back always, is exactly the guy you want on your side and brings much-needed comedy relief.
Hermoine: Ray Allen. Obviously it’s tougher to draw the analogy with a teenage girl. But Allen is also brilliant, educated, a great teammate and capable of extraordinary magic.
Hagrid: David Ortiz. Big, lovable giants. Criticized by some, but fiercely loyal and come through when you need them most.
Voldemort: A-Rod. Evil incarnate.
I could do this all day, but I believe I’ve made my point. That in the midst of the social and cultural phenomenon that is the Harry Potter franchise, the only things that can compare with it in terms of its ability to fascinate the public are your Boston teams. We’re also living in a magical world where anything is possible. The only difference being that Harry Potter is now over, and our run has no end in sight.
Which is a good thing, because it was pretty tough letting go. For everyone else in the theater, that is. I was a ROCK. After all, I’ve still got a reputation to live up to.
Follow Jerry on Twitter @JerryThornton1.