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: WHY DOES IT MATTER?
So what? Why's it matter?
To find out why, stay tuned for part two.
One perceptive reader left a comment suggesting a "why," and s/he is absolutely correct, of course. There are a number of reasons why it matters, of course, but my question was one of those sneaky teachery questions, where there's a specific answer I have in mind.
One way to begin answering this, coincidentally enough, is by watching John's latest vlogbrothers video, posted on 27 July, 2011. John runs down a quick (and abbreviated) list of nerdfighter accomplishments: raised $150,000 in 48 hours in the Project for Awesome; gave money (along with the Harry Potter Alliance) to charter airplanes of relief supplies to post-earthquake Haiti; got Helen Hunt to hear the Helen Hunt Song, etc.
Nerdfighters are pretty intensely invested in fighting world suck, the official term for - well, erm, world suck, which really shouldn't need any further defining. They make videos, they write songs, they do art, they knit monsters, they do whatever needs doing, or whatever they are moved to do. Sometimes the decreasing of world suck is a low-level kind of thing: being kind to one other person can do it. The everpresent acronym DFTBA reminds them and us and anyone listening to be awesome, the direct antithesis of sucking.
Not precisely highly nuanced, academic discourse, but not very many people except academics are very interested in - or, honestly, moved by - highly nuanced, academic discourse. The Brothers Green and their nerdy band of awesome followers managed to figure out what the national Democratic Party has failed to enact: quick n easy soundbites WORK.
Along with the art and the internet activity and the chat and nerdfighter love stories (of which there are plenty, it seems, up to and including at least one marriage proposal via John Green in a vlog, a marriage which has resulted in at least one new baby nerdfighter) and reading books and singing goofy songs and listening to wizard rock (because the crossover between nerdfighters and HP geeks is enormous), one of the other things nerdfighters - who, again, are largely teenagers or college kids! - seem to do very well is donate money. They're fundraisers of a prodigious nature, on either the collecting or giving end, and the funds they raise go to ferociously good causes - clean water in Haiti. Via the Project for Awesome (actually a vlogbrothers invention, if I understand correctly; alas, thus far Nerdfighteria lacks a dedicated historian with enormous quantities of time and resources for research and compilation), Shawn Ahmed's uncultured project which has done things like rebuild a school and provide clean water supplies in Bangladesh.
More recently, and sadly, nerdfighters have been donating to the This Star Won't Go Out Foundation via the purchase of this star won't go out bracelets. The "Star" is Esther Earle, a Harry Potter devotee, HPA member and dedicated nerdfighter with a tremendous internet presence, who died a little less than a year ago from cancer. Esther is celebrated and memorialized and honored all over nerdfighteria (google "nerdfighter" + "Esther" to see how many folks who never met the girl in person are making Esther part of the awesome they don't forget); in fact, John Green's upcoming novel The Fault in our Stars is dedicated to Esther.
Esther was a huge part of Potter fandom, and her family attended LeakyCon2011 this summer as guests of the conference. Esther's father, Wayne Earle, wrote about it on his blog, and in fact it was reading what Mr. Earle wrote that prompted me to finally sit down and begin writing this blog post, which I have been contemplating and working on and mulling over for months. To wit:
Everyone at the conference was given a This Star Won't Go Out bracelet and I usually found a way to mention to the wearer that I was Esther's dad! We were witnesses to love in action.Remember again: a lot of LeakyCon attendees are younger people (not all, and probably not even most, though). And I mean young: college-age and younger. And here is the middle-aged dad turning up and being literally and metaphorically embraced by these folks, simply because he's Esther's dad, and they loved Esther, and because, as Mr. Earle says, "they are awesome. They know how to give hope and accept one another. They are eager to show compassion and love without restraint."
The "fandom" as it's called, is huge and has made a gigantic imprint for good on the lives of this generation. It was Esther's world so we tried to give her space to make friends and be herself. Now that she is gone, her friends have become our friends. No surprise there. And they are awesome. They know how to give hope and accept one another. They are eager to show compassion and love without restraint. They know how to tell a story and they know how to celebrate life! They proved that by rocking out last Saturday night during the "Esther Earl Rocking Charity Ball." The ball ended with chants of "Esther! Esther! Esther!" She was also remembered at three other events there, one of which was when I read from the first chapter of my Esther book.
After I read Mr. Earle's blog post, which is also a testament to the power of reading and communities of readers, and is also intensely moving (ie, tear-inducing), I thought: "YES. THIS is what nerdfighters do. This is why they matter. This is power."
Because it is power.
But this isn't just a feelgood story about how Today's Youth aren't as bad as we think they are, or a counter to all those "We have no empathy" stories floating around out there. It functions that way, of course, but it would also be easy to write off nerdfighteria as a bunch of "good kids," nerdy readers of books who were always already going to Do Good Deeds. Nothing remarkable or praiseworthy because expected, and because expected, as if it had already been done.
And I expect that to an extent this is true. Probably a lot of nerdfighters are Good Kids (I was one myself, to be honest, though in a sarcastic, possibly sullen sort of way). They're a self-selected, self-selecting group, in a sense; readers of certain kinds of books, drawn to likeminded others who have also read those books.
But there are well over half a million youtube subscribers, and over a million people who follow John Green on twitter, and probably any number of people who have read one or more of his books or participate on the ning and don't subscribe or follow. And I somehow doubt that every single one of those people is a Good Kid. Probably a lot of them are just regular old people, neither Good nor Bad. Probably a lot of them forget to be awesome on a regular basis. Probably a lot of them don't devote their out of school hours to charity work, to visiting nursing homes and hospitals, to working at soup kitchens or animal shelters or wherever. Probably most of them pocket their allowances or their babysitting money or their paychecks from crappy minimum-wage type jobs, and then blow that money on iTunes or ringtones or movies or technogadgets or taco bell or cute shoes or nice jeans or whatever else it is that teenagers spend money on.
But sometimes, they kick in some of that money to causes. Good causes, causes with tangible, real-world effects. They give money when they don't get anything at all back from it - no gimmicky bracelet (except the lovely this star won't go out, which I find far less obnoxious than many of the gimmicky bracelets, something I attribute to the use of lower-case letters). no reusable shopping bag, no "entered to win an autographed whatever," no t-shirt, no sticker or postcard or anything. Just because they can, and they want to, and they've remembered to be awesome.
And so nerdfighters can say, cheerfully and honestly, that they have rebuilt a school in Bangladesh and provided wells and clean water in Haiti and Bangladesh, that they chartered a plane full of medicine and essential supplies for Haiti during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, that they help support families affected by children with cancer. And probably any number of other projects that I don't know about.
Meanwhile, they make videos and write songs and read books and chat on the internet about the weather and school and teachers and families and friends, and make art and knit animals and make music and get excited and get sad and don't forget to be awesome. Because mostly, they're young: teenagers, college kids, maybe kids in their early 20s.
But they are young.
Which is where I will end Part Two of this series. Part Three, hopefully the final part, will bring it all together and explain why all of this is worth thinking about seriously.