Being a nerd doesn’t mean what it used to.
In Back To The Future, Marty McFly travels to the fifties and discovered his father is the town punching bag. Being a nerd back then meant tucked-in pants, a shirt buttoned to the top, and a feeble, nasally willingness to do the jocks’ homework. George McFly was a cartoon of tropes, including a professed love for science fiction. But the key difference between the nerd as a high school stereotype and the nerd of 2015 is this: George McFly wasn’t a nerd because of his interest in science fiction – he was a nerd because he was insecure and hadn’t danced to a Chuck Berry riff yet. His interest in sci-fi was an accessory to add credibility to his nerdy identity.
But today, ‘nerdiness’ refers less to someone’s personality and more to his interests, and with the former tenets of nerd culture more accessible and enjoyable than ever, the term ‘nerd’ has been diluted into a label for just someone who enjoys something.
Superheroes who might have once been the purview of sarcastic men in comic book shops are now the stars of mass entertainment spectacles in which attractive people make witty quips and ignite millions of dollars-worth of special effect explosions. Enjoying Marvel movies, or Game Of Thrones, or video games is no longer a signal for the bullies of this world to take your lunch money. In this world of endless ironic tee shirts and hate-listening to bands we might actually love, expressing sincerity is a surprisingly empowering experience.
Felicia Day is leading the vanguard against irony. She enjoys things for their own sake – romance novels, television shows, movies about talking pigs – and she isn’t ashamed to admit it. Her roles in Joss Whedon’s Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, Tumblr-favorite Supernatural, and The Guild (which she wrote and created) have cemented Felicia Day as the face of the New Geek Girl: someone who is unafraid to create and participate in whatever makes her happy. In her new memoir, You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost), Felicia takes the reader through her journey from Mississippi to bona fide media superwoman, proving that sometimes a nerd ends up the cool kid in town after all.
Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Over the last couple of years, especially when I created a company (Geek and Sundry, in 2011), a lot of people have asked me to travel around the world, speaking about how I started as a homeschooled girl in Mississippi and ended up running a digital business in this brand new sort of career path. And, in telling my story over the years, synopsising it [with] humour as well as heart, a lot of people responded to the journey. And when the opportunity came to turn it into a longer, more permanent format, so that I could hopefully reach other people, I was very excited because, as a reader, of course, one of my bucket list [items] was to add author to my resume.
So what are you reading now?
You know, I’m very excited to get a lot of preview books now that I’m an author. I’ve read a lot of awesome books: autobiographies by Jenny Lawson, who is an amazing author who writes a lot based on her blog, The Blogess. I’m reading the Welcome To Nightvale book – I’m a fan of the podcast, so that’s a really cool translation. I have a romance book club, and I read sort of ‘genre’ romance, so I’m always reading a book a month in that category. And turning my eyes to sci-fi – I love genre, whether it’s crime or fantasy or science fiction. That’s what I tend to gravitate towards, intermixed with the occasional biography.
Tell me more about your romance book club – how many people are in it? What do you do?
It’s called ‘Vaginal Fantasy’, which is definitely tongue in cheek, and we meet once a month – me and three co-hosts. We’ve done it for four years now actually, and we discuss a book a month. We have almost 15,000 members in our Goodreads book club and we drink wine and discuss a book every month! It kind of sprung out of the idea that this whole genre of romance is something to be ashamed of but as soon as we all got Kindles we were reading all these books that a lot of people are too ashamed to say they love. I’m always about encouraging people to be brave about what they love regardless of other people’s judgement, so this is definitely a pocket where I had to boldly go forth, and it’s kind of surprising how many people join us, male and female.
Fear of judgement is a really fundamental human feeling – did you ever struggle with ‘guilty’ pleasures early on?
That genre – romance fiction, especially with genre thrown in, like fantasy, sci fi, supernatural – was one where I wasn’t as vocal about enjoying because I actually didn’t try it because I thought, hey that’s shameful, or that’s embarrassing, or why would you want to read romance? It’s really a fun genre, very underappreciated, especially for how huge the scale of sales is. So I think especially in the more ‘geeky’ arts, like video games and science fiction, fantasy, comics, a lot of people feel like they are marginalised because of those interests and I think the internet opens a door for all of us to celebrate what we love and connect around it and learn more about it, and I think that’s a good thing for anybody. No one should ever be ashamed of something based on other people’s judgment because there are plenty of people out there willing to accept you, especially on the Internet.
So your reputation as a ‘geek girl’ has been a double-edged sword, especially during the Gamergate controversy, which led to personal threats against you. Is it hard to keep from getting cynical, or resentful of the entire industry?
I think gaming is something I love, and in my book I talk a lot how it added to my life and opened me up socially, and allowed me to love what I love.
Certainly, there are many, many, many instances of women especially – or people of different backgrounds like religion or sexual orientation – being bullied by people in that community, but I think it’s not confined to gamers; I think it’s anybody on the internet allowing anonymity to cloak their malice, in a sense, and bullying, and I think that’s terrible. It makes me embarrassed that gaming had to be painted with that brush of being uninviting to women because the vast majority of people are very open. I meet thousands and thousands of women and guys who welcome women to the world of gaming in my events all across the world. So, to me, it’s all about strengthening people’s confidence about what they love and feeling included and accepted enough so they don’t feel daunted or bullied out of loving that thing they love, regardless of whether it’s video games or anything. You can’t feel strong if you’re alone, and the reality is you’re not alone, so being proactively a positive is the best counteraction to those being proactively negative.
Do you still see a gap in the gaming community between men and women?
I mean, I certainly think statistics show that a majority of gamers are women, and I think that reflects a changing landscape of what kinds of games people are attracted to, or what kinds of games invite people into the hobby. Obviously mobile and casual games are a great entry point for new gamers who might not have tried it before, and I think that’s wonderful because that opens up the door to explore gaming in a different way, and that traditional idea that gamers are only teenagers shooting other people online in a competitive way, is a very strange interpretation of the world of gaming, because it’s not necessarily the majority; it just happens to be the legacy cliche of gaming, and I’m always working to push that envelope and change people’s minds, because that way people will feel more invited into the world of gaming regardless of their background or age.
Have you noticed a trend in the type of character you’re drawn to – the characters you either write for yourself or play?
Certainly, I always play outsiders. I play very good-hearted people generally, and I play people who are a little bit odd but enthusiastic and confident in their weirdness, in a sense. And I guess that’s part and parcel to my personality, and I try to be a very upbeat person, even in the face of negative things, because really we have a short time on this planet and the more we allow others to influence our feelings about ourselves, the more we’re wasting our time on pleasing others, which is kind of not a winning battle.
Do you notice a difference in how you approach your acting when you’re portraying a character you’ve written as opposed to when you’re working off someone else’s text?
Obviously, anything I create has a personal component that I’m drawing from in the creation process, so I suppose it’s more organic immediately, but whenever you play a character, you embody them. You know them from A to Z, and you really need to have a shorthand to get into that skin of the other person. It might just be a quicker assimilation, because writing something takes months and months beforehand versus a couple of days for an acting project, but the end result is always becoming somebody else through your own skin, and I really enjoy that process.
Without trying to spoil anything, you’ve had a couple of tragic deaths in your roster… When a character dies, do you feel a personal loss? [Spoiler alert]
I certainly feel a personal loss. When I read Doctor Horrible for the first time, I cried personally, when I died, because I’m reading as a reader, trying to enjoy a piece of fiction. And obviously embodying a character, like I did on Supernatural for four years – it does create a separation of being part of a family and then not, but you know, that is what you sign up for as an actor: you’re serving a story that’s not yours. That’s why I try to balance being in front of the camera in my own capacity, behind the camera and creating things I’m not in, and being in other people’s things, because all of those creative outlets are fulfilling in a different way. I certainly would love not to die more; I don’t want become the Sean Bean of women in genre, but I always think, they wouldn’t kill you unless they knew the audience cared. And that is a big flattering thing to bring something from letters on a page to a real person that people care about.
So what are you working on now? Not that you haven’t earned a well-deserved break, but are there any projects on the horizon that you’re excited about?
I have several writing projects, I have a comic, a TV show, a few other things I’m producing and want to adapt, so I’m in the works on a lot of things, especially behind the scenes because I really want to make an impact as a producer and a director as I go forward in my career, in addition to acting. So I’m concentrating on that, and working with my company, Geek and Sundry, to make a lot of really great digital content and create a community where people feel safe and included no matter their background. So that’s a big push for next year, as well as just being able to join another TV family, whether it’s my own or another. The book has been a two-year process, and getting that done is a huge career victory for me, so now I’m excited to see which direction I’ll go in.
What do you think is most challenging about being a director?
Just getting projects made is the biggest challenge in Hollywood, whether as a director or producer. It’s a lot to convince people to invest in your vision, and the cool thing is, I’ve opened a lot of doors over the years that establish confidence in what I feel passionate about because, I always think about my audience first and the cool thing about being in the digital space particularly is people are willing to experiment in a technology-friendly way, versus traditional Hollywood which has a set of rules that they’ve established over the years. I’m a rule breaker; that’s why I love staying in digital.
So looking back on something you’ve created, The Guild, as a finished project, what elements would you say you’re the most proud of, and what would you want to do over?
I don’t ever look at the past and wish I could change it because it’s kind of a futile exercise. I’m really proud, and I know every step of the way, no matter what, I’ve always done my best as me in the moment. We grow with every mistake especially, and so I wouldn’t go back and try to change or fix any of that because I’m a better person having lived through those up and downs. As far as the proudest thing: just keeping going, despite the odds of nothing being established, being bold enough to convince people, ‘Hey, this webseries situation, this worth investing in, and digital is where it’s at, and you can make a career outside Hollywood being a filmmaker and/or a videomaker.’ And I think that eight year journey that I chronicled in my book is telling. There’s a big shift in entertainment that we’re going to see, and I’m just glad I got in at the ground floor because I love breaking the rules.
Anne Hathaway and Maggie Gyllenhaal have become vocal lately about the ageism against women in Hollywood, talking about how the minute they turned thirty, the types of roles they had been offered substantially changed. Is that something you’ve had to deal with?
Certainly I see that as a pattern. Changing life roles really affect the opportunities, and I think the best we can do is say that just because you’re a different person or in a different phase of your life doesn’t mean your story is any less welcomed by people. I think it’s almost a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the story of a 35-year-old woman is not as interesting as the story of a 25-year-old woman.
I think at every life stage – whether you’re 25, 35, 15, or 75 – there are interesting things that millions and millions of people around the world are experiencing and can relate to, regardless of age. And when you’re open enough to say, this is just as valid a viewpoint, that’s really what the most important thing is. So I think it’s a question of really not being behind the scenes, because that’s really what drives the kind of stories that are funded: people either as creators (directors and producers) or as executives and company heads saying, hey, we can do things differently. We can show different worldviews. And the internet every day shows that people want things that are different. So hopefully, the more outspoken, the better! Because that really does change patterns.
Was there a book when you were growing up that really touched you? One that you kept coming back to?
Anne Of Green Gables was something that I read as a very small child that really inspired me because it was this orphan girl who really was brave enough to be herself because she didn’t fit in, and people still loved her. It’s a strange universal story that was written a long time ago that still resonates with especially women. and there’s a book called If You Want To Write, by Brenda Ueland that I’ve read over the years that’s an amazing book about taking life by the horns and just trying creativity for the sake of it. I’ve read that book on and off over the years and it really gets me back on track of why I’m here, and that was written in 1934, and continues to be a motivating book to get me back in the creator’s seat for the love of it.
Is there a movie that you can watch again and again and again?
I love Babe, the movie with the pig, because it’s so beautiful. So I guess I love happy films that make me feel like life is fulfilling and positive. So yeah, I could definitely watch that one, and I’ll cry every time that guy dances to the pig, it’s crazy.
What does your day off look like? Like, If you had a Saturday completely free, how would you spend it?
Omigosh. Well I would drive to get the best croissant and coffee in town, and then I would play some video games, and then I would go and have a game night with my family and friends. I love gaming – the structure of it, the design of it, the story of it – and I love playing games with other people because it allows people to get together and work with them towards a goal. I love that.
Well, now I have to ask: where is the best coffee and croissant in Los Angeles?
I love Blue Bottle. It just opened up in Hollywood. So, that’s my favorite coffee in town. The croissant, I’m still on the hunt for. Occasionally I’ll get one at a random coffee shop that’s fantastic, but I don’t have a bakery right now. The one that I loved last year closed, so I’m still on the hunt for the best LA croissant. I’ll let you know! I would advise just flying to Paris and getting a croissant if you could just teleport yourself, because anywhere, the croissant is good in Paris.
So, I just have one last question. What advice would you have for young girls today who are self-conscious or embarrassed for being interested in gaming or science fiction?
I would say embraces your weirdness. The things that make you feel different? Put those aggressively at the forefront of who you are, because it’s a nice litmus test about the people you should have around you or not, if they reject you for something you love. And I would say there are amazing communities online. Reach out and find that support, or create it yourself, because really it’s that sense of belonging and joy in a group, that really keeps people on a track versus feeling isolated. So that’s what I would encourage people to do.
Felicia Day, thank you very much!
You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) is out now.
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