There comes a time in everyone’s life when you stop getting carded for your box-o-wine at the grocery store and suddenly need translation to understand what anyone under 20 is even saying. Friends, I am long past this benchmark, and feel no embarrassment about asking young people to explain all the new-fangled things going on with “kids these days.”
Welcome to “Ask a Teenager,” a new series I’ll be posting irregularly, where I ask teenagers about things.
My first interviewee is Alanna Hinch Ruhnke (totally not her real name), a teenager I met when she was my student at writing camp. She is smarter than a lot of adults I know and like, totally grown-up! Which is evidenced in part by the complete lack of “like,” or even a single exclamation point in any of her responses. Also by the way she puts me on notice right away in her response to this first question:
Do you identify as a nerd? What is the best part about being a nerd?
I hate giving myself labels, but I suppose I should identify as being a nerd. I currently have the Dungeons and Dragons podcast on pause on my computer, with Supernatural minimized in the background. I create my own languages for fun -- I think that's the weirdest thing I do, but I don't feel guilty about it at all. The reason I don't like describing myself as a nerd is because I think it places a definition on the term. There's so many things that make you a nerd, and so many things that don't. I think that's the best part about being a nerd -- you don't always have to commit.
You guys! I’m a stuffy old adult who puts LABELS on people! When did that happen? I’ve been claiming the Nerd set for years now, but Alanna’s commitment to being herself without putting a name on it is inspiring.
Tell me about this Sherlock show you think is so awesome.
I honestly just like Sherlock because I have a weakness for fantastic British people. Sherlock is a show taking the Arthur Conan Doyle short stories and placing them and the characters in modern-day London. It's good enough that I actually got my mother into it, and she's a tough nut to crack when it comes to things we both find riveting.
What's this whole "Tumblr" thing?
Wow, there's actually so much to talk about, I don't know where to begin. I guess the first thing you'd need to know is that recent studies say that Tumblr is more popular among teens than Facebook is, and that's saying something. You can share photos, links, videos, GIFs (and oh boy, are there GIFs), audio and text posts -- none of which make any sense 90% of the time. Tumblr's the place where the kids go after they realize that they can be whoever they want to be.
What the heck is "Shipping?"
To put it simply, shipping is when one interacts with some form of media (be it movies, books, TV shows, etc), looks at the characters, and says, "Wow, these two people (or aliens, or animals, or sentient objects) should so obviously be in a relationship, that from now on I will act as though they are." Shipping is way popular on Tumblr, and even people who refuse to immerse themselves in fan art, fiction, and such will likely still ship a couple or two from their favorite show. People can get very aggressive about it, and the ships range from pretty normal -- say, Harry and Hermione from the Harry Potter series -- to the complex i.e. the completely immersive and incomprehensible relationships of Andrew Hussie's Homestuck -- to the utterly bizarre -- Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. I personally don't see shipping as an enormous deal because I tend to respect the "canon" of the show (or what's been stated in text or subtext) instead -- however, in terms of Sherlock, I do ship John and Sherlock (shh! don't tell anyone!). Speaking of which, this picture surfaced on Tumblr a few days ago and circulated the website faster than anything I've ever seen:
So wait, my game of thinking about what characters would totally be gay together in real life is like, a thing? With a name? And teenagers do it? That’s cool.
Tell me how you feel about Anne Hathaway.
I have a ton of great things to say about Anne Hathaway, but I'll try and keep it short. I love Anne Hathaway because of how she uses her fame to advance human rights. Anne Hathaway really pushes the social justice aspect of herself. I think it's the greatest thing ever how much of an LGBT rights activist she is.
What is the coolest thing ever?
In terms of what's actually cool right now, I have no idea. I guess for me, the coolest thing is Supernatural, a TV show, but that sounds so superficial. I don't even care how much I'm wasting my life -- it's such a good show.
What do grown-ups not get about the world?
Do I have to pick one thing? No, I kid, I kid. I'd have to say that it's difficult for adults to understand how integral of a role the internet and electronics plays in the life of teens. It's still difficult for them to grasp how much of our social life takes place over a device. It's kind of depressing, actually, but it's so much easier for me to keep in touch with my long-distance friends. What's also weird, I've noticed, is that adults seem to treat friendships built online as poisonous or somehow socially debilitating, but I disagree. I have friends online and offline. Heck, I have friends that I met offline and got to know much better online so that when we did hang out, we were much closer.
I heard you went to the Oscars.
- What was the best part of the whole thing?
Well, I guess a ton of people would expect me to say the outfits or the awards ceremony (yeah, right, what with this year's), but my honest-to-god favorite part is waiting outside the theatre after the show. It's great because you've spent the entire time up in the nosebleed seats in the theatre, watching all the big stars do their thing on the stage and in the front rows or on the red carpet and then there's this genuine moment after it's all over where you're standing in the cold waiting for your car, and you turn to your left and Kristen Stewart is doing the exact same thing. It puts everyone on the same level, makes everyone seem just as real and human.
- What was the worst part of the whole thing? 100% Seth McFarlane's jokes, which were, for the most part, really low-brow. Honestly, there were a few that were genuinely funny, but even those weren't in the right setting. The Oscars aren't about crude humor, they're about honoring the people in the movie industry, and I hate seeing weak attempts at achieving higher ratings at such a grand event.
Well, there you have it! Labels are out, Shipping is in, and waiting in the cold for a car next to Kristen Stewart is exhilarating.