- O’Brian, George Orwell’s 1884
I wrote this piece a couple months ago, but I didn’t want to publish it because of reasons. Anyway, I just found it on my laptop, so here is my review/social commentary (?) on John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
In recent weeks, the must-have accessory at my high school has not been the new Coach bag or the latest color of Toms or even the gorgeous scarves the Community Action Club is selling to help build a well in India, but a book: blue cover, chalked out lettering, goes well with every outfit. If you do not have your finger on the pulse of high school fashion, I am of course talking about John Green’s latest and greatest novel, The Fault in Our Stars.
To briefly recap, the book stars Hazel, a sixteen year old girl diagnosed with terminal lung cancer whose tumors have briefly stopped growing thanks to a new wonderdrug, giving her a few extra years of stolen time.She is morose and morbid and bitingly funny, which of course garner her the love and affection of fellow cancer victim, Augustus.They are both obsessed with a fictional book detailing the life of another young cancer-stricken girl named Anna and ends mid-sentence, leaving the two wondering what happened.They end up meeting the reclusive author, who is, surprise surprise, a complete dick who had a daughter die of cancer.Everything he says is an allegory for the characters struggles, of course.I don’t really want to give away anything more, but by the end of the novel the characters are able to face their difficulties with a newfound sense of hope.
However, all the book really leaves me with is a faint bad taste in my mouth and about a million quotes I can superimpose over my latest instagram shot so I can prove to all my tumblr followers (shout out to the eight of you) how totally genius and profound I am. John Green is a master at creating characters that are more interesting versions of the people we are or the people we want to be.Hazel and Augustus are smart, funny, well-read, and have the kind of sweet, awkward love story I dream about.The rest of the book, however, falls into cliché and the worst kind of emotional manipulation.The book tries so hard to be deep and meaningful and funny that the incredibly crafted characters cannot actually tell a story with any true profundity.
In the end, the book is more a representation of its readers than anything else.My classmates carry it around as if it were a badge of nerdy honor.It is the anti-Coach bag, a symbol of the non-cool that is the new cool.To them, it shows that they are offbeat and different; they are trying so hard to be uncool that it makes them cool because they so obviously don’t care what others think. The book has come to represent a movement of false worldliness and the beauty of outcasts that I simply cannot stand.
The reason being is that the kids who carry around The Fault in Our Stars are not really outcasts at all, simply people who are trying to look like they are.
Ten years ago, trying to be an outcast would have been unheard of, but with the rise of nerd culture, outcast is the new jock.With everything from The Big Bang Theory to the Star Trek reboot to Style Rookie telling us that it’s okay to be weird, America has embraced its nerdy side and flown its freak flag.
Don’t I wish.What’s really happened is that certain facets of nerd society have become cool.For example, watching the Big Bang Theory is normal, but actually being like one of the guys on the show? Still socially unacceptable.Watching the latest Harry Potter movie when it came out at midnight, cool.Dressing up as characters with a group of your friends, still pretty cool.Going dressed as Ginny accompanied by your father dressed as Dumbledore, totally weird.
It’s a fine line between nerdy-cool and just nerdy and John Green, the author of The Fault in Our Stars, walks it with aplomb.His references are just obscure enough to make his readers feel superiorly smart for knowing them, but aren’t really anything beyond what you would have read in your high school English class.(Great Gatsby, anyone?)What John Green has really done is created a group of people who feel that because they like Harry Potter and occasionally write poetry, they are smarter than the rest of us, and must therefore break off into groups, identifiable by their Pizza John shirts and copies of Chameleon Circuit albums and talk about profound matters and video games.They can’t have cool friends because being an outcast is how all the smart kids who grow up to be writers spend their high school years.They also can’t be seen with the real nerds: the kids who come to school wearing Captain America t-shirts and can name every element on the periodic table.
In fact, using youtube, they have managed to create their own pop culture bubble.With the rise of Charlie McDonnel and Alex Day, along with others, the Green Empire extends now past his novels and those he recommends to the ears of his fans.Now to be a nerdfighter, you must not only do all of the above but also listen to and enjoy all these British boys singing about Doctor Who and super-experimental eps that belong more in an arthouse than on a teenager’s ipod.That too allows nerdfighters to bask in the sense of superiority that is theirs by default as the are obviously the only teenagers mature enough to understand that Kim Kardashian is stupid.
The club has gotten so exclusive that it has created its own language, its own inside jokes, its own clothes, its own conference.If I said DFTBA anyone but a nerd fighter, they would look at me like I was crazy.Same goes for trying to bring up giraffe sex in conversation, or wearing a Pizza John shirt to school.But for nerdfighters, these are markers of someone in their tribe.They serve both to recognize members of the same tribe and alienate those unworthy of being nerdfighters.
John Green once said that he liked being a nerd because “nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. Hank, when people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.” And I completely agree with him.Yet the culture that John Green is at the head of is one that believes that being a nerd applies only to John Green-related things.Being really enthusiastic about anything else is simply weird.
The purpose of creating the nerdfighter community is that it would be an all-inclusive place where people would be accepting; to create an online escape where people could nerd out without being judged.Yet, as it has grown, it followed the path of every high school clique.You have the queen bee: John Green and his brother Hank.You have the inner crowd:Chameleon Circuit, Wheezy Waiter, Michael Aranda, and a few more youtube celebrities.Then the minions: those fans who watch and comment on every video, have bought 2-D glasses, and own every single one of John’s books.Yet even beyond that are the outcasts.The nerds who are nerds in the wrong way.
Nerds in the wrong way? According to John Green, this is not possible.According to his followers, it is.There are the nerds who read too much and are more fascinated by Tolstoy than John Green novels.There are the nerds who love superhero comics and the fanfiction they inspire.There are the nerds who can talk about American history for hours, the nerds who love old cinema, the star trek nerds, the nerds who know the 800th digit of pi.
Being a nerd, to me, is about liking things that you know are unpopular, or at least not mainstream, and standing up and saying you like them anyway.Nerdfighters are fans, nothing more, nothing less.There’s nothing wrong with liking John Green and his brethren, even if I do find his books a little too manic pixie dream girl.What is wrong is co-opting the weird and the nerd.
In the end, all nerdfighteria has done is create yet another clique true nerds don’t belong in and while I admire the Green dream, I can’t help but hate the results.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky, The House of the Dead (1862)
- Edith Wharton, House of Mirth
- Masha Pessel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it all wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict…
I’m currently reading Helen DeWitt’s novel The Last Samurai and it’s making me feel the constraints of the English language as I never have before. There is so much writing in the world to be explored, so many stories to be told, so many beautiful poems and incredible characters and heart-wrenching works of genius that I, as someone who only speaks English and a little bit of French and Mandarin, may never get to read; if I do read them, it will be in translation and the beauty of the work may be lost. I can’t help but think that the best piece of writing in the world is in some other language, Portugese maybe, or Indonesian or Icelandic, and that no matter how good the translation, I will never get to read those words as they are meant to be read. I feel like I am missing out on some necessary human experience by only speaking English, and that thought makes me unbearably sad.
- Haruki Murakami (via philphys)