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The Vlog Brothers

…because two geeky brothers sharing DIY content created a digital media empire where people can actually learn stuff. Early YouTubers John and Hank Green turned an unintended viral video into a series of hit channels and vlogs devoted to pop culture, literature, science and all-around infotainment. Their positive message of “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” has resonated with a generation of awkward teenagers, but was also endorsed by the likes of Barack Obama. While John also has a pretty solid side career as a best-selling author, he and Hank actually ventured into the brave new world of online media before he established himself as the F. Scott Fitzgerald of YA Lit.



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While everyone loves the idea of making educational content fun and engaging, the Vlogbrothers are some of the few to actually slay this dragon. Drawing on the strengths of their respective backgrounds – John in the humanities, Hank in science and tech – their videos have combined geeky humor, pop cultural references and a genuine enthusiasm for learning into a unique format in web series like “Crash Course” and “SciShow.” Although these videos target a YA/high school age audience, even GA men and women will be surprised by how much they don’t know or have forgotten over the years, while also wishing they had such an entertaining study aid when they were cramming for their exams back in the dark ages of dial up and library card catalogs. Their partnership with PBS on projects like these may have also salvaged the public television brand for anyone not old enough to appreciate "Downton Abbey" or too old for "Arthur." While the authenticity trend that has drawn so many to new media may not always have positive effects or even be, you know, all that authentic, the Greens and their extended Vlogbrothers family have channeled honest passion for knowledge into content that has made learning kind of popular again. In any era this would be impressive, but given all the competitive noise in the digital sphere, they might as well have turned lead into gold.

Personality is crucial to a lot of what seems to click with new media audiences. In this sense, the Vlogbrothers pioneered a niche by embracing their own social anxieties in a public space. However, by sharing their awkwardness and geeky interests with an audience, they not only created a new compound word in "nerdfighters" but founded an entire online community. It’s easy to look back at their public adoration of a cultural mainstay like Harry Potter and say, “Of course, the entire internet loves that stuff!” But at the time? The Greens were still two adult men in a relatively new forum making videos about a book series written for children. More impressively though is the way the Greens have continued to engage and foster the community they established through events like VidCon for other YouTubers, or live shows at places like Carnegie Hall. Their central message of “Don’t Forget to be Awesome” also promotes a positive worldview that encourages progressive ideas like diversity and tolerance through social media – which, in case you didn’t know, isn’t always the most kind and loving platform for these sorts of ideas. In fact, given their public embrace of and by someone such as Barack Obama, their voices seem more necessary than ever. Given the meaning behind the name nerdfighters, we can assume the Vlogbrothers will strive to ensure their message doesn’t fall on deaf ears or get shouted down by angry commentators in the years to come.

No one would challenge the notion that John and Hank Green have mastered the vlog format while also setting the platinum standard for educational and informative web genres. Yet it’s a little surprising they haven’t experimented further with fictional and narrative web content. Sure, Hank co-created "The Lizzie Bennett Diaries" web series that tricked younger viewers into liking Jane Austen in the same way that "Clueless" did for the mall multiplex teens of the 90’s. And he’s continued to be involved with “covert” literary adaptations for the web through series like "Emma Approved" and "Frankenstein, MD" for the Pemberley Digital platform. You probably also know that John Green’s novels have done more for young readers than any other author not named J.K. Rowling. Yet all this perhaps makes it even more surprising that they haven’t tried to produce more original web content that tells fictional stories. For instance, while "The Fault in Our Stars" clearly worked as a feature adaptation, you wonder if Green’s novel "Paper Towns" would have been more innovative in a web series format; the book’s mystery plot (it won an Edgar Award, after all) would have definitely worked in a more serialized style. And given the Greens’ ability to engage their fans, you can imagine a book club or reading groups along with each episode. Again, these guys are not exactly slackers in need of extra work. But given their ability to tell engaging stories that deal with serious themes and highbrow topics, it’s not difficult to imagine them elevating the narrative web content to the next level for younger audiences.

Resources

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Dear Hank & John

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John Green: Star Author, Vlogbrother, and Nerdfighter (Gateway Biographies)

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