Review of You're Never Weird on the Internet by Felicia Day
You're Never Weird on the Internet
by Felicia Day
When I heard that Felicia Day had a book coming out, my knee-jerk (emphasis on jerk) reaction was, “Isn’t she a little young to be writing memoirs?” The word connotes a sharing of memories as one surveys one’s entire life. A memoir, to mee, is something that people write at the end of their careers; Day doesn’t seem anywhere near the end of her career.
But I think that’s the whole point of You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). It’s about how Day has achieved all that she has by short-circuiting the traditional processes. If you pardon me for talking about the end of the book at the beginning of the review: her points in the last chapter are very valid. The web, social media, and online video are a disruptive force in the entertainment industry. I probably wouldn’t know who Day is, aside from being “one of the potentials from season 7 of Buffy,” except that she chose to delve into the world of Internet video-making, and she made videos I like.
In her introduction (there, I’m back at the beginning—happy now?), Day says she prefers the term “situationally recognizable” over “internet famous,” because the latter category is more for the viral sensations. I understand that. Regardless, both terms carry with them an important truth of the digital age: fame is no longer a universal signifier. This is probably the most disruptive aspect of social media and web video on the entertainment industry, even more so than the ability to Kickstart a project or distribute media in the blink of an eye. Time was, studios made actors famous. They would pick the actor, elevate them to some kind of stardom, and that actor would be a Celebrity. Everyone would know who they are, even if one didn’t exactly like or admire the actor. Fame was to be a household name; that was the mark of the entertainment industrial complex’s hold on Western media.
Then along comes YouTube, and suddenly you’ve got people who are famous within subcultures and completely unknown to everyone else. As Day says, she is a rockstar at cons but just another unremarkable, if slightly awkward-looking, woman in a Lancaster Build-a-Bear: “situationally recognizable.” Similarly, I can list a dozen well-known YouTubers, Twitter users, or other situationally recognize people whom I follow and enjoy but who are entirely unknown to some of my close friends. The explosion and proliferation of information means that it is nearly impossible to become a household name. Such a status is still only within the purview of the entertainment industrial complex—and only then through achieving a kind of mainstream lowest-common-denominator appeal that seems to get blander with each passing year. (Reboot? No? What about a “gritty reboot,” will you watch it then?)
Day’s descriptions of her childhood are fun and funny, both in the “little chuckle to myself” and the “laugh out loud” kind of way. There will hopefully be at least something you can identify with. Her story about how her mom practically forced her into making out with an online friend is hilarious. And I quite liked the chapter about getting her college degrees and how she worked her ass off to ace group theory, of all things, as a summer course, because she couldn’t deal with not getting a perfect GPA. As someone who really enjoyed doing well in school, and now as a teacher who is trying, slowly, to get rid of grades as much as possible, I really sympathize with her perspectives, both past and present.
But the book really comes into its own when Day talks about her move to Los Angeles, her struggle getting acting work, and her addiction to World of Warcraft. As someone who really started paying attention to Day after finding The Guild (and I tried but cannot for the life of me remember where I first heard about it), I was fascinated to read more about its inception in her own words. I knew that much of The Guild’s story was inspired by her own experiences, but I wasn’t sure how much of Codex’s story was autobiographical. Day is quite candid in talking about her addiction to WoW and how it affected the rest of her life.
Similarly, I wasn’t expecting to be interested in the chapter on conventions (because I’m not interested in going to a convention, ever), only to be surprised by Day sharing her perspective on meeting fans. Suddenly I found myself on the other side of the interaction, if you know what I mean.
It’s so easy for us to interact more directly with celebrities, thanks to social media like Twitter. Even those these interactions are often more direct, they are still mediated. We don’t share everything with everyone. In the book, Day discusses how the stress of running Geek & Sundry was affecting her relationships even while she put on the happy face to make videos. The connection that Twitter gives us, and its ability to let people share anything, makes it easy to forget that what we see is not all there is.
So that’s why we have memoirs. It’s one thing to tweet that you’re feeling down on a particular day, but if your job is to make funny Internet videos, you’re going to suck it up and make funny videos, damn it, even if you’re depressed. As a fan of The Guild, I had no awareness of the financial pressures Day and her co-producers were under trying to get a second season shot. I was just incredibly enthusiastic about the idea there would be a second season. And I loyally navigated the harsh, Zune-branding–infested world that was the Xbox Video marketplace to download the new episodes the day they were released. I didn’t necessarily think Day and The Guild had “sold out” in their deal with Xbox—but I don’t think I understood how a second season literally couldn’t have been made without Xbox’s combination of funding and a hands-off approach.
Day’s last chapter before the conclusion focuses on GamerGate. I remember reading the blog post in question where she describes how, for the first time, she didn’t feel like she would automatically belong to this group defined only under the label of “gamer,” and how that was an indescribably sad feeling. What I didn’t know about until reading this book, however, was the aftermath—Wil Wheaton having to phone Day to tell her to disable commenting because people were posting her address (among other vitriol). I mean, I knew it happened, but I didn’t have the context of Day’s emotional reaction.
Because when it comes down to it, all we know about people online is what they share. (This is also true, to an extent, about people offline, just to a different degree.) With her memoir, Day shares a bit more, in a different way, from a slightly different angle—it’s a “behind the scenes” look, if you will, with the result of giving her public persona a dimension that she didn’t previously have. (I assume she’s already at least four-dimensional, with the power to travel in time, so I guess that makes her fifth-dimensional now?)
Also, I loved her analogy of the absurdity of GamerGate abuse through knitting fanatics:
You don’t generally see hard-core knitters reply to someone who says, “Knitting is cool, but the needles could be made from more environmentally sustainable wood,” with “Oh no you don’t, idiot. My knitting is perfect the way it is, don’t you DARE try to change it. You’re obviously a fake. What’s the diameter of that yarn? Don’t know? Go die in a fire!”
(I can personally vouch that I have never had such an experience among my fellow knitters—but that might be male privilege at work, I don’t know.)
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) is a fascinating memoir, and contrary to my sarcastic initial reaction, entirely appropriately-timed. It says something about the power of books that even in this digitally-obsessed age they’re still a useful way of sharing more about yourself. I loved learning more about Day’s life. I hope this inspires girls who consider themselves geeks and gamers and counteracts the poisonous trolls telling them they are posers, fakers, or generally unwelcome online. More broadly, I hope it inspires people in general who want to create, to share what they can do, to reach an audience. I suppose that is the measure of a memoir, right—whether, in the telling of the story, it can have an impact.