le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

John and Hank Green [could] Take Over the World, Part 1

Part the First: A brief history of my discovery of John Green and Nerdfighteria; a brief recent history of the accomplishments of the Brothers Green

The first thing I read by John Green was Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which I picked up because I liked David Levithan and because I knew it had gay characters. Up to that point, Green's name was just a name to me, a name I knew was semi-important in my chosen field of study; a name on my very long to-read-someday list.
After reading WG, WG, which I loved, I intentionally sought out Green's other books: An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, this last which I only read this summer. I poked the internet with a long stick to see what would surface when Googling Green's name - I got about as far as "nerdfighters," and moved on. I had courses to plan, life to live, a dissertation to procrastinate on (and be confused by), back pain to contend with. I taught WG, WG  in the fall, making the rare choice to require my students to purchase a book still only available in hardcover. They liked the book quite a lot; I was gratified by this, and by many of them reporting that they had previously read Green's books. I was also gratified when they told me, some of them rather excitedly, that John Green would be speaking at the public library in January. I shelled out the $20-some for a ticket, after hemming and hawing - I am on an absurdly tight budget, and even a $20 ticket is a big expenditure. But I decided that John Green is an Important YA Author - and Award Winner!! - and how often do those kinds of writers appear at my local public library? So I went, and mentioned it in passing here. And the talk was terrific, though I was baffled: what was with the audience hollering "Good morning, Hank?" while the Guest of Honor filmed it all with a little video camera? All the references to "nerdfighteria?" And so on - baffling. I felt conspicuously old and out of place, but I didn't mind, really; I was delighted to see an auditorium full of teenagers, on a Friday night, come to listen to a writer. Teenagers who were chattering giddily and being excited and and being dropped off by their parents, for an evening at the public library. I grinned for a moment, thinking of those parents, who must have been delighted when their teenagers asked to attend an author's talk at the public library. On a Friday night. After the talk, Green signed books for the throng for hours. Again: teenagers, many of them easily in the mid-to-upper reaches of teenagerness, hanging out happily at the library, talking to friends and new acquaintances and buying books (John Green's, and Siobhan Vivian's, who teaches writing at Pitt and with whom I am very happily acquainted; her books sold out before the night was half-over, the news of which she received with a dropped jaw and delight). I think there was music in the Teen Room; there may have been some kind of drinks and/or snacks of a low level. All of this activity centering on an author. A good author, even - Green's books are very smart, and very well-written. On a Friday night.

Post-talk, I realized I needed to do some deeper research into this whole "nerdfighter" business. The internet, as always, was my friend, because this is where Nerdfighteria lives (sort of?) and where John and his brother Hank have cultivated a veritable army of nerdfighters.
They vlog. They post, three times a week, short videos on some subject. Each brother does a post in turn. They have done this since 2007, when, evidently, they began this as a project to stay in touch in different ways. Vlogbrothers has its own youtube channel, and has accrued millions of views (152+million upload views). The channel has well over half a million subscribers (including me). Videos that I personally have watched have covered everything from the uselessness of pennies to religion to finance to history to science to NASA. Nerdiness of all kinds, with the catchy and useful slogan "Don't Forget To Be Awesome" (DFTBA, which also has a hand/"gang" sign which, due to my inability to separate my middle and ring fingers from each other, I cannot throw down).

So, no big news here, right? Some geeky dudes making videos which a bunch of teenagers watch. That's basically the definition of the entire internet.

the effect the brothers Green have had are staggering. I realized I was in the presence of something genuinely awesome when Hank opened his birthday gifts on youtube, livestreaming it. Yes. Nerdfighters galore sent cards - mostly handmade - and gifts (likewise handmade, including a remarkably awesome anglerfish hat which someone promptly dubbed Hanklerfish) to Hank for his birthday. After much debate around the internets prior to the birthday, John & Nerdfighteria agreed that, for Hank's birthday, the appropriate gift was to send a dollar (or more - no limit specified) to Hank so he could donate it to the charity of his choosing. So on his actual birthday, Hank Green spent hours livestreaming himself opening cards and gifts sent to him by strangers (except in nerdfighteria, we're all neighbors, I guess). Strangers who were, for the most part, half his age. Strangers who sent dollars - singly, in pairs, in handfuls. Foreign currency came in as well, in considerable quantities. I sat, mesmerized, and watched for well over an hour (and I came in after at least an hour had gone by) as Hank opened, and read out, cards. He commented on them, he checked in on the chat window, occasionally responding to remarks there. He enthused over every. single. item. None of it felt forced, or fake. None of it condescended, in any way. I only stopped watching because I had to go to something - a meeting, maybe? an appointment? But I could have watched for hours, happily.

It was after Hank's birthday that I started thinking seriously about Nerdfighteria, and nerdfighters, and the brothers Green. After collecting up his birthday dollars, and then kicking in matching funds, Hank donated over $1200 to the water.org project he's "adopted" in Haiti at Savann Tabak.

This may not be massive fundraising, but it's the output of essentially one-day fundraising: dollars for Hank's birthday (aka Hanko de Mayo). even allowing for Hank's doubling, it's not a bad chunk of change from what's essentially a gaggle of teenagers.

I follow both John and Hank Green on twitter; only this summer, John's upcoming book The Fault in Our Stars became the number-one book on amazon and barnes & noble.com: nearly one year before it is scheduled to be released. When the book went up for pre-ordering, it had just a black & white placeholder instead of an image of the cover art, because cover art had yet to be created. The Wall Street Journal ran a story about this feat of best-selling, with the (offensive to my mind) title "Tweeting from a La-Z-Boy, An Unfinished Book Hits #1." Just this week, I discover that the release date for The Fault In Our Stars has now been pushed forward (that is, earlier) by a good four+ months, evidently due to the high demand. John Green, in what I can only conceive of as a fit of masochism, has committed to sign every. single. book. in the first run, which will be 150,000 books. (Questions about what books will be signed? Go here).

Hank Green, among other projects (he's an entreprenerd, he's a scientist, he's an eco-geek, he's a musician), just released his latest record, Ellen Hardcastle (evidently named for a nerdfighter; I do not know the story on this one, alas). Turns out that Ellen Hardcastle charted on Billboard.

Hank invented glasses for watching 3D glasses in 2D, which somehow sounds like the punchline to a bad joke (though, to be fair, the 2D glasses got mentioned on cnn.com AND by Roger Ebert, who evidently ordered himself a pair).

So a couple of nerds with a big teenage following have had commercial success. Those same teenagers sent one of those nerds a few hundred bucks for his birthday.

So what? Why's it matter?
To find out why, stay tuned for part two.

[I intended to write just one insightful post on this topic, but one post won't be enough. Thus, a multipart series is born]


Shoshana said...

I think it matters because the Brothers Green have found a way for entertainment to go beyond one medium or another. They've let fans play a role in what being a fan means, and lots of fans seem to be enjoying that!

Andrew Maynard said...

Many thanks for this series of posts (and I can't wait to read the third installment!).

As a father of two teens who have been heavily influenced by the Green brothers and by the Nerdfighter community, I am awed by what this community is achieving, and astounded that more people aren't sitting up and taking notice.

I also find it interesting that with repeated concerns over the internet and social media eroding away at meaningful relationships and empathy, Nerdfighters seems to demonstrate just the opposite happening. This is a community where social media is enabling strong connection, deep relationships and empathy that leads to action.

Josh said...

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