On John Green and Nerdfighteria

Author John Green has recently received a lot of media attention due to the wild success of his Young Adult novel The Fault in Our Stars and its movie adaptation. Unfortunately, this attention, while mostly positive, has led to some livid responses, some of which venture past the realm of healthy criticism into the realm of verbal attacks. While I certainly do not have the answer to all of these people’s concerns, I would like to address some of them. I’m going to present the “charges” people make against him, then give my commentary.

  1. “Why is John Green more popular than the actors? He’s just an author!”
    Yes, during the Demand Our Stars tour leading up to the release of the movie, John Green drew a larger audience at the tour stops than the cast did. The majority of those people, however, were not there to see him because he’s an author. They came to see him because they are Nerdfighters (more on that in a moment).
  2. People say John Green is the savior of YA lit, but he’s not! He’s just riding the coat-tails of the truly great authors like J.K. Rowling!”
    I have several responses to this one.
    1. Never, ever, ever has John claimed to be anything of the sort of the savior of YA lit. In fact, he will be the first one to argue that YA lit doesn’t even need saving. He has no control over what people write about him; he literally cannot stop someone from writing things like “John Green is the savior of YA lit” even if he 100% disagrees with it. It is illogical to punish and verbally abuse him for things that other people said. It would be similar to your significant other posting on Facebook that you are the best boyfriend/girlfriend ever, and then for some random person to send you hate mail deriding you for claiming your superiority over the rest of the world. You never claimed to be the best boyfriend/girlfriend ever; someone wrote that on their own. Doesn’t make sense, does it? Neither does it make sense to ream John Green for some columnist somewhere saying he’s the savior of YA lit.
    2. Never, ever, ever, has John claimed to be a better writer than anyone else, especially J.K. Rowling. In fact, he makes a point of stating that most of his success is due to luck. His response to the success of his books has always been shock, humility, and gratitude.
  3. “John Green is the king of an empire of mindless teenaged girls who believe everything he tells them.”
    Again, several responses.
    1. The “empire” you’re referring to has a name: Nerdfighteria.
    2. Nerdfighteria is not about worshiping John Green. Nerdfighteria was created when Hank Green and his brother John decided to launch a massive, year-long project: Textless communication. They were not allowed to communicate with each other via text messages, email, instant messenger, Facebook posts, but only by things like voice calls and YouTube videos. During this year they slowly started gaining followers on YouTube, where they vlogged about topics silly and serious, little and large. Their videos tended to focus on practical ways of making the world a better place, such as thinking about people complexly and donating to charity. Their audience exploded during this year when Hank released an original song about how excited he was for the final Harry Potter book to come out. Since then they have continued to vlog and discuss real issues and build community with other like-minded people around the globe. Nerdfighteria is about finding practical ways to make the world a better place, even if that is something as small as responding kindly to haters in the comments section of the internet.
    3. John Green is not the “leader” of Nerdfighteria. Yes, a lot of Nerdfighters really like John and his books, but not all of them. Many Nerdfighters found Nerdfighteria through Hank, myself included. In fact, I was in the community quite a while before I even learned that John was an author. Nerdfighteria works because of both Hank and John. Without both of them, it doesn’t work.
    4. Nerdfighteria is not made up of teenaged girls. Yes, there are a lot of teenaged girls in Nerdfighteria, but according to the 2014 Nerdfighteria Census the gender ratio is about 60:40. Also, there are Nerdfighters of literally every age.
    5. Nerdfighters are not mindless drones. The average Nerdfighter reads more than 35 books a year (see the census above), and it is a generally accepted fact that people who read a lot tend to be more intelligent and less gullible than those who do not.
  4. “John Green is a misogynist!”
    Um, no. There is absolutely zero proof of this. The only “proof” anyone has ever presented to me of this is information taken completely out of context. John Green is as pro-women and anti-misogyny as it is possible to be.
  5. “John Green thinks he has to give his stamp of approval on other YA authors in order for them to do well.”
    Again, false. Yes, John gives his viewers book recommendations. Lots of people give book recommendations, though. Book recommendations have always been a fundamental part of Nerdfighteria, not just from John and Hank, but from other Nerdfighters as well. Sharing books with other people is part of what makes reading so fun. It is only natural that when someone reads a good book, s/he wants to share that book with as many people as possible. When John tells his viewers about a book, it’s not because he’s trying to be all high and mighty and give official endorsements of certain authors. It’s because he truly thinks it’s a good book that people will like.

Is John Green perfect? No, no one is perfect. But it bothers me when people lash out at others without even really understanding who they’re lashing out against. Want to criticize John? Spend a few weeks watching YouTube videos and reading all of his books. Then give it a try.

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On Mishearing Songs

My current favorite song in the entire universe is “Counting Stars” by One Republic (if you haven’t heard it yet, listen here). One of the beauties of hearing a song on the radio before watching a lyrics-included version on YouTube is that I have to decide for myself what the slightly slurred words are, which can sometimes lead to me thinking the song says something it doesn’t say. For example, when I heard “Counting Stars” for the first time (and quite a few times after that) I thought one of the parts says, “And I don’t think the world is sold on just doing what we’re told.” That’s a pretty incredible sentiment there, belief that the world can be more than merely blind followers of a system that is all too frequently not interested in making the world a better place. Those lines say, “No, the world is not going to stand by and let WorldSuck keep increasing, instead we’re going to fight to increase Awesome!” Those lines say, “There is hope for a better world!”

Those lines aren’t exactly in the song.

What the song actually says is, “And I don’t think the world is sold / I’m just doing what we’re told.”

And that is an entirely different message. Those lines say, “I blindly follow directions even though no one likes what I’m doing.” That one little word completely changes the meaning of the entire line!

What I find most interesting about the whole thing, however, is that before I realized I misheard the line, I believed the song was about hope for a better world, which led me to actually have more hope in humanity.  What I heard and how I understood the song made me want to fight for a better world.  Those lines weren’t intended to do that, but they still had the same result. Which leads me to an interesting question: If a song is misheard and its misunderstood meaning results in desires or actions, can one say that the song is about the misheard thing as well as the intended thing? Because while I believed I heard the song correctly, I very much believed the song was about improving the world and reducing WorldSuck. 

John Green once said, “Books belong to their readers.” My non-rhetorical question of the day is this: Do songs belong to their hearers as well?

The Indescribable Within

John Green, arguably the best young adult author of our time, wrote in his most recent novel, The Fault in Our Stars, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” There are days when I read this quote and think, “Man, what a wonderful way with words John Green has! What incredible command of metaphor!” And then there are days like today.

Days where my thoughts weigh upon my mind but refuse to come together with form or substance. Days where I am overwhelmed with both the inherent brokenness of our world and everyone in it as well as the intense beauty life and the power of the smallest actions to affect a person’s life (and therefore the world). Days where life doesn’t go as planned, but which result in unexpected blessings. Days where both the fear of the future and the hope and expectancy of life to come war against each other. Days where the inner philosopher unsuccessfully attempts to wrest control of my thought processes.

Days where my thoughts, no matter how beautiful or insightful on their own, refuse to coalesce into something more.

This is why reading is important. It allows us to use the words of others to give voice to the indescribable things within us.

Books: Paper Towns by John Green

 

I recently read Paper Towns by John Green, who happens to be one of my favorite Young Adult authors. Once again John Green made me laugh and then immediately followed it up by provoking me to think deeply about life. Two main themes resonated with me: people are more complex than the masks they wear, and life cannot be lived solely for the future.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is surrounded by more legends than Zorro and more myths that Merlin. She has purposefully built a reputation of mystery and excitement for herself, so no one is all that shocked when she goes missing merely weeks from graduation. No one except Quentin Jacobson, her childhood friend. Jacob sees the wild, mysterious persona she portrays to the rest of the town, but he knows another side of her too, a part of her left over from childhood.

During his search to find Margo, Jacob is forced to attempt unraveling Margo and all her hidden layers, but the more he discovers the more he realizes that there is more to Margo than anyone realized. Each person perceived Margo differently based off of how he/she wanted to perceive her.

We tend to see in people only what we want to see. In love interests, we overlook negative traits and inflate positive ones. In enemies, we ignore the pleasant parts of their personalities and dwell on the repulsive ones. In friends, we focus on similarities and pretend differences don’t exist. It is incredibly difficult for us to look past our own expectations of people to see who they truly are.

Maybe that’s what Paul the Apostle was talking about in 1 Corinthians:

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12

On earth we cannot perceive people for who they truly are because it’s like we’re looking through a dirty window at them. But once we enter into eternity, we will be able to see people for who they truly are, all masks aside, and they will see us the same. How wonderful will that be! To not have to worry about people not understanding you? That definitely sounds like heaven to me.

The other theme in Paper Towns that struck a cord is that of living life for now instead of always living for the future. Margo postulates that almost all people live out their lives so that they can do something else later. For instance: People go to school to make good grades to go to college to get a job to get a car and house to have kids who will go to school to make good grades to go to college to get a job to get a car and house, ad infinitum

This isn’t enough for Margo, though. She wants to live life now, not sometime in the future. At one point when Jacob asks whether she is concerned for the future, Margo responds with a line from an Emily Dickinson poem, “Forever – is composed of Nows” (for the whole poem, click here).

Many times in life we do get caught up in the endless cycle of preparing for the future. “I can’t do _______ because I have to prepare for _____.” We allow ourselves to become slaves to the future, bound too tightly to even breathe comfortably in the present. The future consumes us to the point where there is nothing left to merely exist in the moment. Yet the future is not a destination; we are never going to wake up one day, check the calendar, and discover the date reads “The Future.” No, all we have is a series of nows, one now instantly replaced by another now and another and another. To enjoy forever we have to enjoy now.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Paper Towns, although I personally would have preferred less profanity and vulgarity. The book is an accurate reflection of American youth, though, which I believe is what John Green was aiming at. Good job, John, good job.