Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Nerdfighters

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As you can tell from the title, today's post is on a fandom known as the Nerdfighters. I'm rather new to the fandom, as I hadn't heard of it before last fall (oh Tumblr, you have broadened my horizons in so many ways). Nerdfighteria is centered around two brothers, John and Hank Green, and their Youtube channels, as well as John's books. However, to be a Nerdfighter, you don't really have to know a lot about these things - though it's generally the case that you do know of them. Basically the main goal of being a Nerdfighter is wanting to decrease worldsuck because, you know, the fact that the world sucks... sucks.

Anway, there's this great video about Nerdfighters, sent to me via Twitter by faithful follower Anna. It's on the long side again (20 minutes) but it's worth the watch and immensely entertaining, with sketches in between discussion and interviews. A bit like the video on fandom identity, it discusses what it's like to consider oneself a Nerdfighter and some controversy surrounding the fandom. So take a look, if you've got time:


This video is focused in on a case study of Nerdfighters in order to discuss the idea of YouTube fandoms, something I'm really new to. It's mind-blowing to me how much this website has caught on in the last few years (and by few, I mean eight. I have a hard time recognizing that it's been four years since I graduated from high school). YouTube, to me, used to be a place where I might go to watch a music video or look up some educational vid for class or replay the "Numa Numa" video again. I didn't really have an interest in YouTube then. But now, all of these arenas have expanded into something more and, along with the rise of vlogging and immense variety of channels, YouTube has, in some ways, become like a sort of alternative television, creating and producing material that can be watched as long as you've got wifi and can be embedded into webpages and other sites. And out of this, a new sort of celebrity status has been created, one that can be found through views and likes and shares. A causal vlogger or video maker could become a viral hit overnight if their video becomes popular. It's incredible.

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The discussion about Nerdfighters is really interesting to me. The emphasis of belonging to Nerdfighteria is placed on identifying with values and themes that are expressed in the videos. It's thought to be value-based rather than stuff-based, but there is a certain stuff element to it. A lot of Nerdfighters happen to be Doctor Who fans, Harry Potter fans, fans of certain books, music groups, films, etc. Now, correlation does not imply causation, so it's tough to say whether people are attracted to Nerdfighteria who like these things because both Nerdfighteria and, say, Harry Potter, have similar values or if the presences of these texts in Nerdfighteria brings people in. Or both. Either way, it's a a great illustration of how one fandom bleeds into another and how, really, deep down, all fandoms are connected in the circle of life.

The focus on the sort of popularity of identifying "socially awkward" was really interesting too. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well, say it's one or the other would be simplifying it far too much. It's beneficial for people to be more accepting that social situations are not always natural for everyone and that talking with people is sometimes really, really hard. Is there a risk in fetishizing it? Possibly. Being a nerd has certainly been fetishized, but that hasn't really stopped people from celebrating being a nerd. However, I think it's really important, for both critics of this identification and people who have this identification. to keep in mind the difference between social awkwardness and social anxiety. They have similarities, but social anxiety is certainly something that deserves serious discussion, not light-hearted identification with. I think most of the people who have social anxiety would tell you that it is nothing to aspire to and is something that one wouldn't want to celebrate. People who have anxiety should have support and a space to talk about it, but they should not be turned into objects of fixation or have their anxiety become a label of identification with. And so, social awkwardness treads a... well, an awkward line with this connection. I think we should embrace and accept that being social creatures is very complicated and that not all humans communicate in the same way, but wearing and/or treating "social awkwardness" as a badge or like a logo may trivialize what it could represent.

I could write a whole reaction to the idea of hating arrogant nerds, but that's a post all on its own (oh, the tension between hipsters and nerds and the fact that they need each other like the sharks need the pilot fish). And the idea that "hate is beautiful... hating things is what makes us human" - also needs a post of its own. But very interesting remarks nonetheless.

What this video once again reveals is that fandoms, like people, are very, very complicated. They are full of individuals who all have their own interests and their unique opinions and quirks, and yet somehow come together and find similarities and bond over these similarities. Does this require giving up a little something of their individuality in return? Maybe a little bit, but I don't think that means you have to utterly lose that part of yourself. Sometimes it's a struggle not to (I'm thinking back on my unwillingness to admit that I liked certain musical artists for fear of being called a hipster or embracing my love of Shakespeare because I was afraid I wasn't smart enough to like his writing) but I think it can be done. Are fandoms more of a collective full of individual minds or more like, as a speaker described in the video "an army of people willing to do whatever you want them to do?"

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(Loki, I, ugh... *sigh*)

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Once again, I think it's a bit of both. As Ben said in the video, all have capacity to be dicks and all have the capacity to be awesome. Studying fandoms and being in fandoms, especially new ones I've come to realize, is a bit like watching a city be built. You never quite now what direction a street is going to go or what sort of landmark is going to pop up and when it does, you change your mental layout of what the city is going to look like. You may not always like it and think it really inconvenient that a street goes one direction over another or a certain landmark doesn't incorporate some element you were hoping for or maybe you're really upset that the city council is acting like a gaggle of gits again . But overall, you still identify with the city and belong to it and want it to do well. If you end up not liking it - there are always other cities. Perhaps this sort of thinking comes from the anthropological nature of how I view fandoms, but there's also something cartographic about it. I continue to see maps of Tumblr spring up and there's a reason beyond the fact that maps are fun. I think it comes from a draw in fantasy narratives that have maps to help describe the spaces that they create and that's exactly what fandoms do - create new spaces of collectivity that have a similar core for identification and values. It's a bit like creating nation-states, minus actual dealing with land, politics, nationality, and government. Okay, so they aren't really a lot like nation-states at all. But that idea of creating an identity to unite people still rings true. And despite differences in age, race, nationality, and location, fandoms bring people together from all around the world. In case of the Nerdfighters, it brings them together to express similar ideals, to better understand themselves and each other, and to try to make the world a better place. And I think that's pretty fantastic.

If you want to read more about Nerdfighters, check out this article in the New Yorker from Michelle Dean, which has a great description of what Nerdfightia can provide for teens. Otherwise, that's all for now. But one last thing: don't forget to be awesome. :D

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