Ken Thomas brought my attention to this article
(nicely written for one so young, I'd add) about a strange phenomenon now consuming the college-searching set. It seems that top colleges are marketing themselves in ways that will appeal to students looking for the "Hogwarts Experience" and seeking to compare colleges based on how close they come to the ambiance presented in the Harry Potter series. Of course, students are more apt to be looking for a place to study chemistry than potions . . . but some do also seek to play a non-flying version of Quidditch and to divide themselves into "houses" based on the fictional divisions at Hogwarts. The young author of this article will have none of it and very sensibly argues that this is an all-too-transparent marketing effort to manipulate nervous applicants with reassuring and favorable comparisons to the literature and images of their youth. This particular young woman wants to put aside childish things and study the real world rather than pretend to inhabit a magical one--which is, as I say, sensible. But marketers these days--cynical though they are--don't come upon ideas this ubiquitous and, apparently, effective by cynicism alone. They must be tapping into something deeper.
What might that be? I'm listening just now to the old P.G. Wodehouse classic, Mike: A Public School Story
which, to untutored American ears, sounds remarkably more like Mike: A Fancy Boarding School Story
. It sounds like a jolly good place . . . a serious place but also a place full of proper levity. Mike is a boy who excels in cricket, so this necessarily consumes a good bit of his attention and efforts, but as with his "house," his team is a kind of vehicle for pride and excellence. Much like Harry Potter, Mike is a part of things larger than himself and is engaged in activities that give him ample opportunity to shine--in large measure because of the honor he can bring to his house, his team and his school . . . and, many speculate, someday to his country.
I think young people long for the kind of transformative meaningfulness
they imagine a Hogwarts education--or an English style boarding experience--might give them. I think they also
long for the kind of order and routine that seems to predominate in such a world . . . that being a part of something larger than oneself and a
kind of school spirit that popular culture
once thought to be corny--in the 70s and 80s for instance. Maybe this is a kind of
over-reaction to the massive lack of guidance and order that tends now
to predominate in many schools. The lack of core curriculum? The tearing down of Greek fraternities and sororities? The lack of rules and order? Perhaps there's more to this marketing ploy than a simple lifting of a popular meme . . .