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In which John discusses lemmings, the role the 1958 Disney documentary Winter Wilderness played in perpetuating the lie that lemmings commit suicide en masse, the limits of online video when it comes to education, Susan Sontag's book Regarding the Pain of Others, the Internet's fascination with decontextualized trivia, and a forthcoming vlogbrothers project. Also nerdfighter pumpkins.


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A Bunny
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Good morning Hank it is Monday, November 1st, which to many nerdfighters is the beginning of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, in which thousands of people write a novel in a single month, thereby making me very jealous of them.

I am not doing NaNoWriMo this year, but I am doing NaFADOYBIMSCOM, National Finish A Draft Of Your Book I Mean Seriously Come On Month. Seriously, Green. Come On! Okay, Hank, often when we try to learn about something with nerdfighteria, whether it's like quarks or The Catcher in the Rye, we see comments in which people are like, "Aw, I wish you were my chemistry teacher!" or "You would make a great English teacher!" and I'm always really flattered by that, but unfortunately it's completely untrue because there's this huge gulf between that which is informational and that which is actually educational.

Consider the lemming... is a good name for a band. So Hank, you know about lemmings. They were turned into a series of fantastic computer games. Lemmings are tiny little rodents that live in the *reacts negatively to intrusion of lemming picture* not so close, please. Better. Right, so lemmings are tiny rodents that live in the Arctic, and the one thing we all know about lemmings is that when their population gets too big, lemmings like to commit mass suicide by jumping off of cliffs. We've known this for a long time, Sigmund Freud referenced it in a lot of his work, and in fact you can see lemmings commit mass suicide if you watch the 1958 Academy Award winning documentary White Wilderness, made by the Disney company

(splits into two Johns)
#1: It's a very famous documentary, Hank.
#2: Yea, mostly famous for staging lemming suicide.
#1: Well, yes, yes, tha-- technically true.

(back into one)
Lemmings are not suicidal, they're just stupid, and sometimes when stupid animals go running, they run over cliffs. But for this documentary, White Wilderness, the creators really wanted to have footage of lemmings committing suicide, and they couldn't find any of it, because lemmings don't suicide, so what they did, was they got a bunch of lemmings, they shipped them across Canada, and then they forced them to commit suicide. Now Hank, that story raises a lot of interesting questions, including, "If you are forced to commit suicide, did you commit suicide?" and "To what extent can we rely on film and video documentaries to be factual?" and "How can we as viewers constantly stay mindful of all of the events that are happening outside of the frame?". (uses hands to make box around face) Oh, I know I just Vogued, Hank. I'm a dancer! And to discuss those questions with any complexity, it would of course be necessary to read Susan Sontag's brilliant book "Regarding the Pain of Others", and a bunch of other stuff that we can't talk about in four minutes.

So, the fact that the Walt Disney Company staged the suicide of lemmings is an interesting fact, and it's informational, but it's not ultimately educational, and that's one of the problems, at least so far, with the internet. The internet is really really good at providing information; it has proven less good at providing education. So Hank your song about quarks is a wonderful wonderful song, and it helps me to understand some things about quarks, but it doesn't give me the entire context that I need in order to understand, you know, particle physics.

The problem with being a teacher is you have to teach not only the interesting stuff, but the context for the interesting stuff, which is often incredibly boring. Like, I can tell you that a very significant event in the French Revolution occurred in an indoor tennis court, and I can tell you that Marie Antoinette wanted to have fancy last words but her actual last words were "Sir, I beg your pardon," after she stepped on her executioner's foot, and I can tell you that Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who's political philosophy so deeply influenced the French Revolution, liked to be spanked by girls so much that he would sometimes drop his drawers in the hopes that they would smack him.

In a related story, ineffective strategy is ineffective.

But, knowing all of those facts would not actually lead to you having an informed understanding of the French Revolution. While I think we've gotten pretty good at informationalism, I don't think that we've gotten very educational, yet.

But that's about to change. Hank, beginning Friday and then continuing all next week, we are going to make a solid effort to be educational. And nerdfighteria, in this attempt we need your help. Let us know what you would like us to talk about. Like, is there something in school that you don't understand, and would like to understand? Or, if you're done with school, is there something that you didn't learn in school that you wish you'd learned?

Thank you for your suggestions, thank you for being awesome, and Hank, ...oh, pumpkins!

Hank! Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins!

Pumpkins! Nerdfighters, so many of you chose to make nerdfightastic pumpkins this year. Thank you. My favorite.. this one! A "This Star Won't Go Out" pumpkin. Which reminds me nerdfighters, get your Esther bracelets. DFTBA.COM/ESTHER. 100% of the proceeds go to the This Star Won't Go Out foundation.

Thank you for being awesome. Hank, I will see you on Wednesday.