Let’s take a moment here to sit back and think about 14-year-old me. I had a lot of shirts with peace signs on them but not a lot of friends. I loved bands that now make me cringe upon the mention of their name. I had yet to discover the perfect combination of hair care products that would tame the triangle of frizz that is my hair. I loved reading and writing and learning, and these things set me apart from the loudest of my peers. I wasn’t cool but I wanted to be, because I didn’t yet realize that coolness doesn’t matter.
I discovered the vlogbrothers when I needed them. This sounds sort of creepy and like I’m talking about a cult religion, but it’s not dissimilar. It began in 2007 when John and Hank Green started a year-long project called Brotherhood 2.0. It would involve the two of them making videos back and forth a few times a week as their sole method of communication with one another. They had no idea what they were setting in motion.
At first the ‘video blogs’ (vlogging wasn’t a term yet) were purely entertaining. If either of the brothers broke a ‘rule’ – for example, if they made a video over 4 minutes long, or missed a scheduled video day – then they would have to undergo a punishment. These punishments included some hellish things, like eating a ‘blenderized Happy Meal’ and waxing their legs. It was all great fun. The videos were a mix of all sorts of things. On July 18, just 3 days before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released, Hank posted a video of himself singing a song that he’d written called Accio Deathly Hallows. The video now has 1.8 million views. On June 11, they made a feel-good montage of video clips from their family vacation. On March 6, Hank made a video where he, as it says in the description, “eats Peeps and discusses the genocide in Rwanda.” These kinds of video would set the agenda for the channel.
On February 1, John first mentioned the term ‘Nerd Fighters’ in a video, in reference to an arcade game he was playing in the Savannah, Georgia airport. 8 years later, Nerdfighters has come to hold an entirely different – and more important – meaning. What could be more important than the Savannah airport arcade, you ask?
Picture millions of fans all teaming up to Decrease World Suck. Nerdfighters vary in everything from age to gender to sexuality, but they all agree on one thing: not forgetting to be awesome. That’s the slogan – DFTBA, or Don’t Forget To Be Awesome. So there’s a slogan, a goal, and leaders. It’s totally a cult.
In his wrap-up video at the end of 2007, John described the changes that Brotherhood 2.0 had made in his relationship with his brother. He said, “Hank, as I was watching your hilarious video yesterday and indeed as I have watched your previous 130 videos, I always feel surprised. I hope you won’t be insulted by this, Hank, but I’m surprised that you’re so smart and funny. And I think I know the reason I’m surprised. It’s not because you just became smart and funny, it’s because the last time I knew you really well, you were eleven. And you can say a lot of nice things about eleven year olds, but their wit does not tend to be nuanced.” He went on to say that he was glad they had been able to bond over the past year and become closer than most adult siblings are, but it’s what he said after that that resonated with what Nerdfighteria is all about: “Nerdfighters are about raising money and awareness for important causes. Nerdfighters are about building a supportive community of friends in my pants.” (‘In my pants’ is the name of the online forum of Nerdfighters back when online forums were a thing, but it’s also a way to end a sentence that could have seemed pleasant and turn it into something concerning for outsiders.) “Nerdfighters are about stupid, beautiful projects and making each other laugh and think with t-shirts and pocket protectors and rants about the situation in Pakistan. In a contemporary world where things fall apart and the center cannot hold you have to imagine a community where there is no center.”
Earlier I asked you to picture a younger version of me. Now I’m asking you to picture thousands of younger versions of me. (It may seem scary at first but bear with me.) They’re lonely and they don’t fit in at school, so they turn to the internet. They find a vibrant community led by two smart, funny, confident men who don’t fit in either. Suddenly, these kids who need to belong somewhere are in a community of people who are just like them. This community values helping others, being funny in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone, and welcoming people with open arms. Would it be cliché to say it feels like home?