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[personal profile] mtvessel
Jan 2016
You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) - Felicia Day - Sphere, 2015
* * * *
I embrace the label of geek but take slight offence at being called a nerd, which is odd because I am both. The former has positive connotations - technological know-how, enthusiasm, creativity. The latter implies an introverted oddball lacking in some fundamental human qualities. The social implications are strong. Geeks are welcomed, lionised, their obsessions indulged and even praised. Nerds are the lonely social misfits satirised in sitcoms like The IT Crowd and early episodes of the The Big Bang Theory (in that show the main characters - Sheldon aside - metamorphosed very quickly into geeks). Felicia Day has been described as "queen of the geeks", but as soon becomes clear, she is much more nerdy than that. And what makes this book delightful and more interesting than your run-of-the-mill celebrity autobiography is that she both knows it and celebrates it.

Day has a unique authorial voice which I can best describe as buffyesque, witty and self-deprecating with more than a hint of angst and self-doubt. I find it laugh-out-loud funny, particularly in the first chapter where she describes an awkward encounter with fans in a build-a-bear store in small-town California, highlighting the fact that like so many modern-day celebrities, she is, as she puts it, "situationally famous". If you are into American genre TV shows, video games or geek-oriented websites, you will probably have heard of her. If your tastes are more mainstream, you won't.

If you do know who she is, the chances are that you will have had a similarly oddball upbringing (almost all the unconventional people I know are the offspring of middle-class parents with Ideas). Day and her brother Ryon were haphazardly home-schooled for ten years after their mother objected to a school teacher burning money at a religious assembly. It worked - she went on to study maths and music at university on a full scholarship at the age of sixteen - but at the cost of social isolation. She made her friends online, in gamers' chat rooms and once at an excrutiatingly embarrassing parent-chaperoned face-to-face meeting which reminded me of several church-related events from my own teenage years.

Perhaps because she never realised that she shouldn't, she then moved to Hollywood to become an actress despite having zero training and no contacts. After a series of bit parts (most notably in the final season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), a World of Warcraft addiction inspired her web series The Guild, which told a story about gamers in YouTube-friendly short chunks over six seasons. On the back of The Guild's success she created the website Geek and Sundry to promote original web content, on which she still appears regularly.
There are many light-hearted anecdotes concerning all this, and some darker moments including a near-mental breakdown from the stress of being a creative trying to run a start-up company, and harrassment from some of the more mysogynistic areas of the gaming community. It would have been nice to have had a little more insight into her acting career - she never mentions any of the geek-famous actors she has worked with - and her relationship with her father is oddly missing. These lacunae, along with her entirely understandable coyness about her personal life, do mean that we get an incomplete sense of who she really is.

Day also frequently exhorts her readers to embrace their inner oddity and express themselves, and gives pointers for doing so. This was, to be honest, a little Hollywood aspirational for my taste, but is clearly well-meant and sincere. And there is an important point being made here. Nerds, more than geeks, are the real creatives. The odder you are, the more likely it is that what you create will be new and interesting. Don’t get me wrong - I love geek culture, the fabulous cosplay at Gencon and elsewhere, the intricate creations of steampunk, the general positivity and frequent wit of comment boards at geeky sites like Shut Up and Sit Down - but geeks tend to reflect and build on ideas that are already out there. You have to be truly nerdy to move things on. And Day clearly realises this, which is why she is not just Queen of the Geeks, but Goddess of the Nerds.

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