*This article was written in June 2007 and published in The Edge of the Forest in August 2007.
Friends, siblings, sock puppets, lend me your ears -- and eyes.
Brotherhood 2.0, a video blog, began on January 1st as a year-long experiment in textless communication between two brothers. Less than six months later*, I think it's safe to say the experiment is a success, and I look forward to what the next six months will bring -- or, rather, what the brothers will bring to the next six months.
John and Hank Green post a new video blog at their website every weekday, alternating days, using the free site YouTube as a way to broadcast their videos to the masses. The project has countless viewers from all over the world who are inspired by the vlog to contemplate politics, freedom, and ecology. John writes books (Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines). Hank runs EcoGeek. John also does happy dances, and Hank writes fun songs. They are both passionate about politics, world crises, and pants.
Brotherhood extends beyond blood ties. Both John and Hank are happily married. While the wives attempt to stay off-camera, they are often a part of the videos in some way, shape, or form. Sometimes, they are camera operators. Other times, they are mentioned (with a lot of love) by their significant others.
The family tree branches out even further. Two of their friends have been made honorary siblings: Secret Brother Tom, who has a green thumb, and Secret Sister Maureen Johnson, who likes Free Monkey and shiny objects. She, like John, is a published author, and her own fans have been drawn into the Brotherhood due to her involvement, but that's another story.
In a video which aired in March 2007, John spoke extensively about "the war between nerds and popular people." He then sang a song for nerdfighters, dedicated to people who "fight with their brains." View the video and listen to the theme song.
From then on, those who regularly watch and comment on B2.0 videos have been known as Nerdfighters.
Nerdfighters come in every shape and size. There are high school students, college students, professors and other professionals. There are scientists, engineers, booksellers, and librarians. There are writers, actors, and other creative souls. There are reluctant readers, voracious readers, chatty Cathies, and quiet lurkers. (Lurkers are those who follow a community's actions but rarely chime in, preferring to remain anonymous and/or choosing to listen to conversations and support the community in their own ways, for their own reasons.)
Those who are creative and/or extremely active in the community have given themselves unique Nerdfighter names related to their personal interests and careers. For example, Carol B. is a Worm-Farming Nerdfighter. Jordyn is a Word Nerdfighter, while Alisa, a 31-year-old mother of four boys in Missouri, is the Mythology Nerdfighter. Barefeet is the Nerd Dilettante.
Some names come with bonus explanations. Jez, the Computer Nerdfighter, was known as The Geek Queen in high school. Cook calls herself the PTA Nerdfighter: "I'm a mother of a nightmare who'll make you say please, because, you know, good manners really are the last bastion of a civilized society." Hayor is considering the possibilities of being a Lingual Nerdfighter, a Theatrical Nerdfighter, or a Game Nerdfighter, adding, "I'm just a lot of nerd." Reader Meg wonders if she is a Homework Nerdfighter, because that seems to be all she is doing lately.
There are also recurring themes and descriptors. At least four folks have declared themselves Wizard Rock(ing) Nerd Fighters, a reference to bands such as Harry and the Potters, who write music based on the characters and events described in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. 14-year-old Lenny from Kentucky has settled on the title of Harry Potter Nerd Fighter. Sara, a 22-year-old librarian-in-training/blogger from Virginia, assumes that she's not the only Librarian Nerdfighter, and she's right. Meanwhile, Kellie Beth wants to start a posse of Threadless Nerdfighters.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes, author and Graph Nerdfighter, likes to illustrate her thoughts in a mathy way. As someone who sees numbers everywhere and in everything, I liked how she answered the question, "Do you consider yourself a nerd, a geek, and/or a dork?" It went a little something like this:
As for me, well, I'm still trying to shorten my Nerdfighter title. The Dramatic, Singing, Dancing, Writing and Multi-tasking Vegetarian Nerdfighter Who Looks Like She's Twelve and Loves Words and Cats and Values Creativity, Intelligence and Honesty is a wee bit too long.
In May of 2007, I conducted a survey at my blog and at my workplace. Over 50 Nerdfighters responded. There were those I knew from book blogs as well as those whose names were only familiar from the comment threads that spooled out whenever new videos were posted. There were a few I had never heard of or from before. There were those I knew in person and brought into the Brotherhood, meaning those I had urged to visit the site and then rejoiced when they informed me that they were addicted.
I also rejoiced when John 'bumped up' the survey at the Brotherhood forum. Thanks, John.
Most of those who took part in my survey were adults and young adults. I don't think anyone under the age of 12 chimed in, but I have heard that some families watch it together. I know some Nerdfighters who are grandparents! Most of the Nerdfighters appear to be teens and adults who have read John Green's books. (The very enthusiastic reader Alexia says that the books, especially Looking for Alaska, changed her world.) A few attended live events at which John spoke and then were compelled to read his books and/or visit his site and the Brotherhood. A few ecologists who support Hank Green's work have wandered in, but it appears that more people are discovering EcoGeek through Brotherhood than the other way around. Some people wandered into the 2.0 with no prior knowledge of either brother, having simply followed a link from someone else's blog, the Blogger's Choice Awards, or YouTube.
Let's not forget the random web search. Here's an example from an anonymous reader: "For starters, Rent is my favorite movie. For fun, I was Googling the characters' names. I found an author by the name of Maureen Johnson and started reading her blog. Because she was very funny, I decided to read her books. Then, I discovered that she writes with John Green. Of course, I immediately went to the library to see if it had any of his books. I read both and loved them. Then, I discovered Brotherhood 2.0 on sparksflyup.com [John's website]. So there you have it, folks."
A handful of those surveyed, including myself, started watching the project when it began. I know of at least one girl who started watching the videos in late May, went back to the first post to watch the rest in order, and was almost all caught up by the time June rolled around.
What brings viewers back to the Brotherhood every (week)day? Some say it's the spontaneous nature of the videos, while others cite the videos that had obvious preparation. Some look forward to a few minutes of lightness and laughter. As Malcolm from Australia posted, "A couple of minutes of funny each day never hurt." Some tune in to hear the brothers' stance on various topics.
Many like and want a bit of both the silly and the serious. A viewer named Jez summed up the blog's nature very well: "It's hilarious, entertaining, and thought-provoking." Sookie declares, "Hank and John are cool and nerdy—the best combo!"
One mother shared her hope that her sons have a similar relationship when they are adults. Now that's truly sweet.
Victorian Nerdfighter Meggie Magpie offered this delightful paragraph: "The Green brothers help renew my faith in boys everywhere. I've dated, hung out, and been buddies with a lot of guys in my lifetime and found them endlessly frustrating, as most girls do. What's nice about the Green brothers is they both obviously seem to possess all the qualities that make guys fun and awesome -- they're goofy, they're smart, they have moments of arrogance, but only the charming kind—while also seeming to possess fewer of the ones that make guys maddening. And that gives me hope."
The most amusing answer along these lines came from a young woman named Jane, who wrote, "I am incredibly attracted to Ha-- I really like the information presented?"
I believe that the brothers' personalities and smarts pull viewers in and keep them coming back for more. The gentlemen come across as intelligent and energetic, creative and proactive, passionate and compassionate. Nerdfighters feel as if they know the brothers, to some extent, and they participate in the conversations.
"It's like they are my friends, though they don't know me," explains a watcher named Gneri. "When I actually meet John this summer, it'll be scary because I know so much about him and he knows nothing about me. Who'll have the upper hand?"
Along the same lines, the aptly monikered MotherReader says, "Watching [Brotherhood] feels oddly like being part of a conversation. Sometimes I have to remind myself that John and Hank don't actually know me, because it feels like they are talking to me. Which they are, in an 'all viewers' sort of way, as opposed to a 'aliens are talking to me through my silver fillings' sort of way."
Author Heidi R. Kling is an adamant support of John in particular. "There's not a note of pretentiousness in him. [Being] down-to-Earth and humble will keep John famous, his novels real, and all of his projects beloved by fans for a long, long time."
Earlier in this piece, I pointed out that Hank and John's friends and family members also watch and participate. The guys pepper their commentary with inside jokes and personal greetings. Kellie Beth, who has known Hank for over a decade, was touched when Francesca Lia Block said hi to her in one of the videos. She loves being able to see the brothers all of the time, albeit it virtually, even when they aren't talking directly to her. John has also been known to call Resident Mathematician Daniel Biss on camera with a math-related quandary.
Like those quoted above, the majority of regulars act not as voyeurs but as thoughtful supporters. If the brothers were doing some sort of in-person event at a stadium and Nerd Fighters were sitting in the bleachers, you can be sure that many would be waving banners and wearing the Brotherhood 2.0 shirts created by the ever-fabulous Leila from Bookshelves of Doom.
Nerdfighters know that knowledge is power. The Greens have addressed many serious issues, including but not limited to politics, literacy, conservation, and censorship. They do not always agree, but they do always consider and respect the other person's opinion. They discuss these issues openly and honestly, without any hidden agenda. They aren't advertising, promoting, or endorsing things in order to increase their viewership or to earn revenue. They are not standing on platforms nor soapboxes. (This is also true literally - While taping their videos, the guys tend to sit on their own couches, chairs, or floors.) They simply want to spread the word about things they feel are important.
Heidi says, "With so many people listening, [they] can raise awareness quickly . . . Even if it's done in fun, people pay attention."
They certainly do. Angela, a frequent customer of mine who mods Flash drives for fun, is able to rattle off many Brotherhood-related tidbits in a single breath: "The political situation in Nepal, the negative ramifications of chin waxing, the utter disgustingness of Strawberry Hill wine, the amount of Peeps that one can consume before going, well, icky."
At least a dozen viewers brought up the subject of censorship, which has been addressed at the blog many times, especially when a book by Maureen Johnson was challenged at a high school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Colleen Cook, a fellow author and the very first Nerdfighter to respond to my survey, felt that the brothers, particularly John, did a great job rallying people to fight the removal of The Bermudez Triangle.
When the book was first challenged in May 2007, many authors and readers wrote to the school board, starting an informal write-in campaign. John Green went a step beyond that, devoting an entire video to the subject and sharing the letter he wrote with the general public.
An anonymous respondent wrote, "[The Greens are] always considering the political and environmental situation [and the] balance in life. I've always been concerned about book banning, but this format allowed further disucssion and action."
Sarah Hill, a 31-year-old Illinois high school librarian, told me, "I'm not a liberal, but Hank Green did a good job about making me think about liquid coal."
When asked what not-so-serious issues Brotherhood 2.0 brought to her attention, Emma, a 32-year-old homeschooling mum from New Zealand, simply responded, "Pants."
Laura has learned about "the dangers of eating too many Peeps, and the amount of weird stares you can get from doing a Happy Dance in various public places."
Adrienne, a 33-year-old children's librarian, was won over when John ate (unused) toilet paper while discussing the political situation in Nepal. After stating that, she mused, "Is that sad?" She then professed her love for An Abundance of Katherines. "I loved many things about the novel, but I particularly love how it invited me to skip any footnotes involving math. It was so charming that I found myself reading the math-related footnotes even though I can't stand math beyond extremely basic functions."
Kridabo grew up in "the middle of nowhere, where if your IQ was higher than your shoe size you were picked on and called a geek, dork or nerd in a derogatory fashion. It pleases me immensely to watch Hank and John do something that is making intelligence and 'nerd-dom' cool and which is gaining more and more momentum as it goes."
In response to a variety of events, both blogwise and worldwide, the Greens have created The Foundation to Decrease WorldSuck (FDS). Contributions from the brothers + contributions from the viewers = donations to charities and people who need funds and support. Carol B., a 44-year-old children's writer from Illinois, donated $21 in honor of her 21-year-old son who follows B2.0 on occasion. Elsewhere, an Anagramming Nerdfighter said, "I would donate money, but I'm sort of broke after buying Looking for Alaska for all my friends."
Another extension of the Brotherhood is a message forum called My Pants, where Nerdfighters can discuss anything and everything: recent video entries, books, the environment, the 2008 Presidential Campaign, and more. Within days of its creation, hundreds of people had registered for the forum. I'm not exaggerating. By the time this article posts, I'm sure it will top 500.
I hope that the blog inspires people to consider, contribute, and communicate in their daily lives.
What are you waiting for? Go drop by the site and say hello to the other Nerdfighters and EcoGeeks!
Just don't stop there. Really. Get offline for a little while and reconnect to life. Reach out to your old friends and pick up the phone to call your relatives as well. Make an effort. Truly communicate.
Think about the world we live in. Let yourself really think about what's going on out there. Think globally, act locally. Look at where you live. Look at how you live. Start saving the world one day at a time.
January 2008 Update
The year-long Brotherhood 2.0 project has ended, but the Nerdfighters live on. The Green brothers are still posting video blogs regularly - at least once a week - and have created a network on Ning.
To watch the videos, visit www.brotherhood2.com/index.php
Join us at nerdfighters.ning.com
To visit the brothers individually, click on over to http://www.sparksflyup.org and http://www.ecogeek.org
To further support smarts, read my previously published article simply entitled Nerds.