Fans of Hank Green packed into Boston’s Wilbur Theater this past Wednesday to see him introduce his recently debuted novel, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing,” along with viral videos featuring kittens and a Hermione Granger cosplayer breakdancing in feverish fashion. “Human nature expanded itself into a space it was not built to exist for, and its culture did not have structures to support. But we learned a great many things, things about ourselves, things about people who are different from us, things about giraffe sex,” Green said. Throughout his presentation, coordinated by local bookstore Brookline Booksmith, Green celebrated the wackiness of cyberspace and underscored the insoluble tension between the destructive and promising consequences that technological innovation entails.
Green and his brother John, the author of beloved young adult novels “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Looking for Alaska,” comprise the popular Youtube channel “Vlogbrothers,” and recently, “Dear Hank & John,” which they call “a comedy podcast about death.” Hank Green, who has dabbled in numerous web projects and invented glasses that render 3D movies in 2D, fittingly discussed the trappings of fame and the trend of public figures creating recognizable brands or personas, and whether there is something to be said for beholding a work apart from its creator.
“That sounds a little like a Vlogbrothers script,” he said of his philosophizing, to laughter from a familiar audience. “In these times, I sometimes feel like I should read all the books by the people I know, that I interact with on Twitter, but I also really want to spend time consuming content in a different way where I don’t see the author as a lens or as a part of the work.”
“We’ve been watching them ever since eighth grade...and we just kind of grew up with them,” Erin E. Hattamer, a student at Emerson College and audience member, said. “I love the meaning they put behind it, how they really care...I’ve never seen them in real life, and it’d just be so weird because I’ve seen them through this little camera my whole entire life, and now I’m going to see them as 3D people.”
Green’s novel centers on the sudden and inexplicable appearance of Carls, Transformer-esque, samurai-like robotic beings, and the young characters who must grapple with the complications of newfound stardom after they make a viral video about the Carls. Green returned to the stage in a bumblebee costume (recalling the Transformer hero Bumblebee), as the fictional Professor Alfred Bumbley, Professor of the History of Robotics at Boston College. He then narrated a slideshow on everything from the etymology of “robot” to primitive humanoid robots, Hollywood robots, and the robots taking over manufacturing jobs, while making sure to lampoon his own authority. “I’m just your average middle-aged bumblebee professor who can transform into a Kia Sorento,” he said.
Concerns about the increasingly accessible and mechanized world undergirded Green’s presentation. Embedded in his lighthearted jokes and tangents was a warning and a prompt to reflect on the otherworldly creatures in his own novel. “Robots have solved and will continue to solve so many human problems. Except for all the ones that they cause. Ultimately, our ideas about robots are not about robots. The robot is a canvas onto which we project our hopes and our dreams and our fears...they become embodiments of those hopes and dreams and fears. That’s especially true since the Carls have arrived. What you see when you look at the Carls says so much more about you than it says about them. The Carls remind us that just as reality, of course, shapes our beliefs, our beliefs also shape our reality. And so we have to be careful what we believe and what we value. Because we will pass it all on to the humans who will come after us,” he said.
Green also delighted fans with personal ramblings. He explained his baby obsession after noticing a 13 month-old baby in the audience and demonstrated his fondness for popular music. “Hit me Daddy Yankee,” he said, later picking up his own guitar and singing a cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” as well as an original song about humorous Harry Potter fan theories. Then he invited John onstage for a live “Dear Hank & John” podcast, during which they discussed Wimbledon, politics, parenting tips, and the idleness of the Mars Curiosity rover. They allayed an audience member’s shame over deferring her bachelor’s degree, and tried their best to answer the question, “When and where would be the worst place to release a quail?”
“I’ve always said that [Hank and John are within] the top five people I want to meet in my lifetime,” said Tia F. Moores, a student at Emmanuel College. “They’re like the top three, I’m not gonna lie...they’re the top two, but I can’t pick who I’d want to meet over the other because I love both of them equally.”
—Staff writer Claire N. Park can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.