Review: You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost)

September 9, 2015 11:41 am

Felicia_Day_-_SXSW_2011

Felicia Day’s new memoir, You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost), is the latest entry in the thriving female confessional genre and it’s perhaps one of the strangest. For those who don’t know, Day is the internet superstar actress/writer/producer/blogger who first came to pop-culture attention when she created and starred in the YouTube sitcom The Guild, one of the first shows made for, and distributed on, the internet. Day went on to co-create the YouTube channel Geek and Sundry, star in ‘nerd-friendly’ fare like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible’s Musical Blog, Eureka and Supernatural and launch her own video blog The Flog.

Befitting someone who has made such a name for themselves on the internet, Day writes the book like it’s an extended blog post – with all of the capitalisation, acronyms and web slang that suggests. Day has not adapted her signature writing style, which will be familiar to thousands of her Tumblr followers, in order to tell her life story. This is both a blessing and a curse. When it works, this kind of informal style is immediately engaging and inclusive, like receiving an email from a good friend, but at times it feels at odds with the sometimes serious subjects she covers. Day undercuts some of the most interesting and dark aspects of her story by trying to make everything sound like a mix between a Facebook status and a motivational poster.

The book sometimes reads as if she is scared to reveal too much about herself, she hovers around the meat of the story but backs away in favour of delivering a joke. Day writes very well; the style is fluid and funny and her pacing is inherently readable but there are times when her insistence on sticking to a relaxed/web friendly tone makes aspects of her life feel impenetrable. An extended passage about a period of anxiety and depression Day experienced at the end of her sitcom reads as glib and superficial, lacking the weight and heartbreak she presumably meant to encapsulate. What works in the short form, in say a Tumblr entry or blog post, doesn’t necessarily fit into the constraints of a long form memoir – resulting in some of the chapters feeling a little thin and ungrounded.

This speaks to one of the problems at the heart of the book; Day doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants the reader to take away from her life-story. The ruminations of her childhood are interesting, and a lot of time is dedicated to recalling it for the reader, but unanswered questions dangle over these passages. Day and her brother were home-schooled as a result of an argument with the education system, something that is covered thoroughly, but the reader never gets to know how she felt about the transition. The story is there, but sometimes the emotionality is lacking. Because of this, the chapters in You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) can feel almost contradictory. She spends a lot of time discussing her mother’s lax teaching methods once she began home schooling and writes about her love of reading detective novels over studying, but the next chapter describes her getting an advanced placement in university at 16, where she got two degrees (in Math and Music) and became valedictorian. Aspects of the book feel incongruous, sometimes giving an unclear picture of what Day’s life has been like. This would have been okay if the book was a collection of essays, the structure Lena Dunham and Mindy Kaling employed for their similarly themes books, but it feels like a cheat here.

However, Day has a unique and timely point of view and she uses this to her advantage – commenting on the world of the internet and technology in ways that are interesting, whip-smart and thought-provoking. She is a master at capturing the way the internet has become like a second skin over our culture and writes insightfully about the ways in which the internet has brought people together whilst simultaneously tearing them apart. Anybody who can remember the origins of the home computer will get a thrill from reading Day’s ruminations on the instant connection she felt when one first came into her life. As a lonely, socially awkward teenager the computer provided the author with an instant community and an instant line to the wider world, something she recounts with honesty, wit and verve. She never shies away from showing both sides of her experiences with the virtual realm – a particularly harrowing segment about the ways that a friend’s internet personality bled into her real life and caused carnage, really lands and adds gravitas to the book.

Strangely, Day glides over some of the aspects of her life that seem well suited to the audience and would provide a little more depth to the acting side of her story. Despite including a forward by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy, Angel, Firefly and The Avengers, she does not write about her experiences filming the final season of Buffy or the musical Dr. Horrible with him. In fact, the reader is never really allowed privileged access to Day’s struggles and successes in the acting industry, a career that already seems to come from left field considering the two chapters charting her academic pursuits, and this is of detriment to the roundedness of the book. It is just another example where Day pulls away from the juiciest strands of her own story. However, there is a genuinely interesting chapter charting the strange route she took to get The Guild on the internet, some smart looks into the creative process and a few astute comments regarding the way Hollywood puts women into particular archetypes.

The book is possibly at its best in its closing chapters where Day seems to look inward and allows herself time to breathe a little. It is here that she discusses the fascinating ways in which the modern world force the public personas of celebrities to smash-up against their private selves, and spends time musing on the things she has sacrificed in order to tailor-make a career for herself. When she begins contemplating these issues the book cracks open and begins to feel rich and powerful. The second to last chapter covers Day’s experience with ‘Gamer Gate’, a controversy that began in the gaming community around the perceived sexism in the games industry. Many women who criticised video games and called for more female representation were flooded with vitriolic comments, had their personal information released on the internet, had inappropriate photographs of them distributed, received death threats and were subject to bullying. Day had her home address released on Tumblr – something she had been fearful of for years. This is where the book is at its very best; clear-eyed, emotional and incisive without being preachy. It’s a fascinating first-person account of a subject that is alien to many and contains the best writing of the book. It’s proof that, with a little more focus and openness, Day is capable of something very special.

You’re Never Weird On The Internet (Almost) is probably one of the less successful memoirs to be released in the last few years. It is light and sometimes shallow and shows an author putting a smokescreen up between herself and the reader. But what makes it worth reading is Day herself. The warmth, wit and intellect that has made her a mainstay on YouTube is extended to her writing, making for an authorial voice which is largely a joy to read. The book is sneakily moving, culminating in a call-to-arms for the reader to embrace the things about themselves that seem the most strange, and manages to be both inspirational and grounded. Not everything works, but you get the sense Day would be okay with that; the shabbiness around the edges suits a book that is all about taking chances and finding a way to make your own place in the world.

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