Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

With the dawn of the internet, a new school of celebrity has risen, and many of the most popular personalities you’ve never heard of do most or all of their work on YouTube. One of these people is Felicia Day, an actress, writer, producer, and self-identified ‘situationally famous’ nerd. In her new memoir, Day writes about being home-schooled, her college career as a violin and math prodigy, her prolific commercial acting career, and the rise of her internet fame beginning with her webseries The Guild.

youreneverweird

Day’s goofy tone translates well from screen to page and it’s fun to see behind the curtain of her online empire. I am often skeptical of celebrities obsessed with reminding us that “they’re just like us” but with access to much more money, power, and influence. I understand why it’s become a marketing technique for young stars, especially women like Jennifer Lawrence, Anna Kendrick, or Taylor Swift who are often criticized by fellow women attempting to distance themselves from the stereotypically feminine.

But all the reminders that they eat pizza and stay up late watching Netflix can become disingenuous, and Day ventures into this territory in the opening of her book, which evolved from speeches she wrote about her YouTube channel Geek & Sundry. She establishes who she is and why she’s writing a memoir in the first place, convincing those perusing the opening pages in Barnes & Noble or on Amazon to buy the book, which is good business but can be disorienting for those self-identified geeks opening their pre-ordered, signed copy.

My skepticism faded, however, as Day pushed past self-deprecating humor and delved into her her experiences with self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and physical illnesses. For fans who had no clue she was struggling, her honesty about these issues and how they affect her creative work is both surprising and empowering. Mental health issues are rarely addressed by public figures with such candor, even by younger celebrities who spend more time on social media with their fans.

The depth and vulnerability in the later chapters of the book is not consistent throughout, however, and there are certain events well-known by her fans that are conspicuously absent from the timeline she lays out, like her work on Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and other successes that pre-date/co-occur with the success of The Guild. Those holes are easy enough to fill with Wikipedia pages, but do add to the impression early-on that she’s maintaining a persona through her book.

Her gratitude towards her fans and fellow nerds, however, and her continued passion about her work shine through and make reading her memoir a pleasure. She also puts a face and set of personal experiences to an idea that I think many nerds hold dear to their heart: what happens online is just as ‘real’ as what happens away from our computers. While certain virtual experiences of hers (like her gaming addiction) negatively affected her life, her connection to gaming provided relationships and growth that shaped her as a person and allowed her to create projects that others relate to, like The Guild.

the guild

In turn, this connected her to more and more people, fans and industry folks alike, allowing her to continue carving space for nuanced female characters and more complex analysis of online life in pop culture. Day’s frustrations with the stereotypes faced by women working in entertainment or participating in nerd culture, while not the first of their kind, add meaning to the roles she’s written and helped in creating. She also touches on how fame and other people’s expectations can devastate the creative process, and how Gamergate affected her personal and professional lives.

Looking forward, it would be great to see Day talk more about race, sexual orientation, ability, and diversity in the geek world in her future writing and public speaking. The ‘democratic’ nature of the internet and of nerd culture is often explored in terms of representation of white women in media and gaming circles, rather than other areas of inequality. Since Day has taken stances against bullying and for embracing your ‘weird,’ using her voice to amplify the complexities of that issue and her channel to host content by nerds of all identities and backgrounds would be both refreshing and ground-breaking.

But this book, while about fairly unusual experiences, focuses on the delight we feel when we find something we’re passionate about as well as the contributions the highs and lows of our lives make to our identity and our work. That’s something everyone can identify with in some way, and makes it a worthwhile read for ‘nerds’ of all types…and the embarrassing childhood photos of Day scattered throughout don’t hurt either.

What did you think of You’re Never Weird on the Internet? How would you title your memoir? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Catching Fire

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the book series and the movie series The Hunger Games.

I just saw The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and I can’t stop thinking about it. While it got better reviews and had a much larger production value than the first film, it didn’t get me quite as excited as the first movie did, and here’s why. First of all, it is the 2nd book/movie in a trilogy, meaning it is a stepping stone from beginning to end, made up primarily of exposition. (Don’t get me started on the fact that their splitting the last book into two films–ASFDGHJKL;WPOJN!!!) I think my biggest problem, however, is that the book is told from the first person point of view, while the movies are told from the third person point of view, switching between limited and omniscient perspectives.

In the films, we usually see things from Katniss’ POV, but sometimes we see President Snow, a rebelling district, or the gamemakers when there is no way Katniss is seeing them (i.e. when she is in Victor’s Village, in the arena, etc.). This difference in perspective doesn’t have to be a bad thing. After all, it’s really hard to do a big blockbuster film from first person, and if your script and actors can’t convey the subtleties of someone’s inner thoughts, you end up having cheesy voice overs like in Twilight. Unfortunately, I think the change in Catching Fire ends up sucking much of the nuance out of the story.

The use of the fictional pregnancy as a ploy is totally brushed over in the movie, while in the second book it is a big reason that Katniss and Peeta both survive. The love triangle is also seriously exaggerated; Katniss doesn’t know how she feels about Peeta or Gale in the books and, while her uncertainty and lack of awareness was sometimes frustrating for me, it made sense considering she was in constant danger of dying/being asked to kill her peers. If I was trying to save my ass from getting stabbed 24/7, I wouldn’t spend much time thinking about cuties either. In the movies, however, we lose some of that depth, especially in the relationship between Peeta and Katniss.

Credit: brightandwild, Source: deviantart.com

Credit: brightandwild, Source: deviantart.com

My other big problem was that the switch to the third person perspective meant the action and political and cultural satire became heavy-handed. Instead of slowly revealing the reasoning behind President Snow’s actions, we saw really straightforward and almost unbelievable conversations between Snow and Plutarch that basically spelled everything out. I wanted the movie to trust the viewers more, especially when using amazingly subtle actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman. Just because the audience is mostly teenagers doesn’t mean they aren’t able to use deductive reasoning.

Source: catchingfiremovienews.com

Source: catchingfiremovienews.com

Of course, there were things I really liked about the movie. I thought Jennifer Lawrence gave an excellent performance and I loved the casting and writing for Joanna and Finnick. I think their characters were more interesting and more sympathetic in the movie than the book; both actors did a great job. I thought the pacing was good too, and considering there was a lot of back story missing from the film, it was surprisingly coherent as a whole. I also am totally in love with the off-screen friendship between Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson. Adorable!

Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images, Source: usmagazine.com

Credit: Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images, Source: usmagazine.com

As I mentioned before, both the book and the film Catching Fire are middle installations and thus, mainly serve as bridges from The Hunger Games to Mockingjay. We get a lot of plot, and the story is basically a reimagining of the first book/movie. This inevitably makes it the least compelling of the trilogy, but I think the book still offers more than the film adaptation. Good YA fiction gives credit to its readers, treats them like adults, and challenges them creatively and intellectually. That’s what made me fall in love with The Hunger Games even though I was no longer a teenager when I read them. Sadly, Hollywood doesn’t challenge or trust anyone, especially the target audience for this series: young women.

I really love film and have seen a few really great film adaptations of literature (Brokeback Mountain, anyone?), which is part of why I was disappointed by this movie. I was really pleased with the first Hunger Games film as an adaptation of the book and a standalone product, but the second one was just too Hollywood for me: too little substance and too much gloss. Either way, we can look forward to two more movie installments of The Hunger Games in the near future, so keep your bows and arrows at the ready.