'Fault in Our Stars' and John Green: Hey, what's a Nerdfighter?

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If you’ve been on the Internet this month, you’re likely more than aware that a little film called The Fault in Our Stars opens Friday (Read EW’s review here), and it’s going to charm its way into your heart whether you like it or not.

What some might be less familiar with is the term “Nerdfighter” that pops up in some of the reviews of that movie. Here, we’re speaking to those of you whose lives don’t revolve around Tumblr, Twitter, and/or high school.

With Fault in Our Stars author John Green hitting an even higher level of mainstream success this week, two EW writers decided to give you some background on one of the most popular communities on the Internet (Hint: It involves John Green). Well, one EW writer is going to explain things; one just has a lot of questions.

ERIN STRECKER: When I say someone identifies as a “Nerdfighter,” what do you think that means?

DARREN FRANICH: Well, if it was written as “nerd fighter” — two words — I would assume it meant a person who has been trained in some arcane anti-nerd fighting skill by some vaguely mystical anti-nerd coalition, like a “vampire hunter” or a “giant killer” or a “dragon slayer.”

However, since it’s just one word, I assume that “nerdfighter” refers to someone who is both a nerd AND a fighter. So, like, I’m picturing a martial artist, but somehow their fighting style is “nerdy” — like, whenever they punch someone, they say something like “HADOUKEN.” Or maybe the “fights” are somehow nonphysical: Like, a “nerdfighter” is someone who “fights” using science and math? So I’m basically picturing a really badass guy or gal with the sleeves of his/her T-shirt cut off to reveal their biceps, who teaches a course at MIT called “Aggro-Mathematics.” Am I close?

ERIN: Not even a little bit.

In the broadest sense, a Nerdfighter likely is someone who identifies as a fan/follower of John and his brother Hank Green. Although he resisted the comparison, it’s not for nothing that Shailene Woodley referred to John as a prophet. Nerdfighter mantra: To decrease world suck.

The interesting thing about John Green is that — even outside his books, and especially to teenagers — he’s one of the most famous people on the Internet. The whole Nerdfighter community got started in 2007, when John and Hank (also a big deal here; he releases music) launched Brotherhood 2.0, a video project where the two of them would communicate exclusively through weekly videos. People watched, and then more people watched, and now these weekly videos get hundreds of thousands of views each time.

Randomly chosen example video:

DARREN: Wait, so these videos are basically Denis Leary rants delivered by someone who looks like Josh Charles, sounds like Jesse Eisenberg, and mostly talks about books? I am intrigued! You’re catching me at a fortuitous moment, zeitgeist-wise, since I just spent my vacation reading The Fault In Our Stars and crying about The Fault In Our Stars, so I feel uniquely in tune with what the kids are all talking about, or at least what they have been talking about for two years.

I sort of knew that John Green had a “web presence” (to use a term from 2007), but I didn’t realize it was at this level. I have so many questions — how many collared shirts does he have? What does that thermometer mean? Are his walls green because his name is John Green? But I’m more interested in the Nerdfighters. What do they do? Why are they called Nerdfighters? Are they all up on Tumblr and whatever is cooler than Tumblr now?

ERIN: The thermometer actually ties into Fault in Our Stars: He promised to sign every TFIOS book that was pre-ordered and then it wound up being 150,000 copies. Surprise!

So, yeah, John Green “has a Tumblr following.” The videos cover everything – Hank and John’s day-to-day lives, questions from fans, hard parts of growing up. But as they have gotten bigger the topics have as well. Now they also cover things such as “Should We Raise the Minimum Wage?” and “Why Are American Health Care Costs So High?” (There are lots of other video series the two now work on that I’m not going to get into here. This is 101.)

Turns out today’s teens care about the world around them. When they’re not watching these videos, and in keeping with the “fight against world suck” mission, kids today are planning charity projects, including Project for Awesome, which is like Nerdfighteria’s big annual charity drive. They explain: “During Project for Awesome, thousands of people post videos about and advocating for charities that decrease the overall level of world suck. As a community, we promote these videos and raise money for the charities. In 2012, the community raised over $400,000 and ten charities were granted $40,500 each.” In 2013, they raised $869,171.

Darren, if you were on Tumblr, you would already know this, but DFTBA.

DARREN: The more I watch these videos, the more I think that John Green is the hip-and-inspiring teacher-who-cares-too-much I always wanted. He’s like Robin Williams in “Dead Poets Society,” except his Dead Poets Society is the kids of America! I am suddenly optimistic for our future. But also skeptical, since this all seems so good to be true. But also mesmerized by his bookcase. I have serious bookcase envy.

What is DFTBA? Is that like WWJD for young liberal humanists? Do Nerdfighters have a whole cool lingo? Tell me the lingo! Also, do they have conventions? Do they have T-shirts? HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CONTROVERSIES? Is there, like, a Nerdfighter manifesto?

ERIN: DFTBA is Nerdfighter’s catchphrase/manifesto/creed; it means Don’t Forget To Be Awesome and is definitely their WWJD. President Obama even gave it a call-out once! This video, from 2009, does a pretty good job of explaining all the lingo. Next time you talk to a high schooler, break out “french the llama” and tell me how it goes.

Do they have T-shirts? HA! They have a whole store! In addition to fan-designed Fault in Our Stars stuff (I’m obsessed with this iPhone case), DFTBA Records is the label behind all these different YouTube artists, and supplies merchandise for groups you would refer to as “part of Tumblr or something,” like the Harry Potter Alliance and Hannah Hart. People like Wil Wheaton are featured as well.

To the best of my (and Google’s) knowledge, there haven’t been official Nerdfighter conventions. It’s more accurate to say that conventions like LeakyCon (Harry Potter) tend to have a lot of Nerdfighters. There is VidCon, an annual weekend run by John and Hank Green, which is the largest gathering of online video viewers and creators.

DARRREN: “We get together, try to do awesome things, and fight against Worldsuck.” Brother Green had me until “worldsuck,” which sounds a little bit like newspeak. However, I plan on using “Giant Squid of Anger” to describe any troll who responds to my last sentence by accusing me of being guilty of “worldsuck.”

Speaking as someone who has lived on the internet for at least half of every day since I started college, I am endlessly intrigued and vaguely skeptical of Nerdfighteria. Intrigued, because it’s like learning a language that I can kind of already speak, which is nice, because I don’t need to study. Skeptical, because: Is there anything Nerdfighters are not fans of? Like, these videos seem to be positively overflowing in positivity. (Also: caffeine.) Is there stuff Nerdfighters don’t like? Just what are Nerdfighters fighting against?

ERIN: They’re fighting to decrease world suck! Darren, we’ve been through this. Basically, it comes back to why you would align yourself with any group, particularly if you are younger: It’s nice to feel like a part of something greater than yourself, particularly if in your non-internet life you don’t feel all that connected to other people. (See also: The Nerdfighter tag on Tumblr.) Plus, I mean, you might just learn something from these videos (they have an online book club going on as well). DFTBA.

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