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Matt Harding – Where the Hell is Matt?: Dancing Badly Around the World

November 11, 2009

132. Where the Hell is Matt?: Dancing Badly Around the World by Matt Harding (2009)

Length: 228 pages

Genre: Non-fiction

Started: 24 October 2009
Finished: 29 October 2009

Where did it come from? Amazon.
Why do I have it? Well, it was on my wishlist because Matt’s videos make me happy every time I watch them (and every time I listen to Praan, the song from the third video)… but to be honest, the book was a total impulse buy when I was ordering something else.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 19 October 2009.
Verdict? Keeper.

Dance like nobody’s
watching… except for all the
people on YouTube.

Summary: I think by now pretty much everyone has seen Matt’s videos, but if you haven’t, do yourself a favor and go watch them. It takes five minutes of your life to watch one of the best things the internet has ever produced, and if it doesn’t make you grin like an idiot while simultaneously tearing up a little bit, you should see your cardiologist to find out how your heart got replaced with a lump of cold dead stone.

Anyways, the story in a nutshell: Matt Harding was just an ordinary guy who decided to quit his job in order to travel – and started taking videos of himself doing a goofy dance in front of various tourist landmarks. He cobbled those together into a YouTube video, which attracted the attention of a corporate sponsor, who funded his further travels to make two more videos, during which he made the shift away from dancing in front of things to dancing with other people all over the globe.

This book is a memoir-cum-travelogue, moving roughly chronologically through Matt’s travels. Each 2-3 page chapter tells the story behind one of the video clips – travel adventures, how the shot was filmed, backstory, anecdotes, etc., complete with a map showing each location and many of Matt’s photos. It doesn’t cover every clip, but I’d say it hits at least half of the clips from all three videos. And, along the way, Matt describes how the dancing went from a running gag to a worldwide sensation, and a statement about humanity’s inherent joy and silliness and brotherhood all over the world.

Review: I had two worries when I started this book. First, concepts that work on the internet don’t always pan out in book form, and in this case, Matt was translating not only from internet to tangible book, but also from video to text. Second, and relatedly, the videos are so wonderful in and of themselves that I was worried that explaining the stories behind them would leach away some of their magic. Luckily, I needn’t have worried on either count; the book complements the videos without competing with it, and knowing the stories and significance of the clips actually makes the video more meaningful, rather than less.

The book itself is also physically lovely – full-color maps or photos on every page. It does seem like the production was bit rushed: in several places the typesetting wasn’t quite right, and the map showing Kuwait City located in the middle of Iraq is an unfortunate mistake that someone along the way should have caught. Still, the book is a nice addition, providing information and context for the quick glimpses of far-flung locations that we can see in the videos.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Harding’s got a strongly-developed snarky sense of humor, can tell an anecdote well, and has a good sense of cutting right to the important bits. The book is not laden with detail – each chapter and each location only gets a few pages (including pictures) – but each chapter contains enough to give you a sense of the flavor of the place, something in there to make you giggle, and occasionally something to make you a little bit misty… so, exactly like the videos. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

And it’s not just structures that have passed away. Over two thousand people danced in the third video, and in the short time since it was recorded, I’ve been informed that several are no longer with us. And it goes without saying: that number will steadily approach zero.

It sounds strange to suggest, but I think a lot of us are at our best in those moments when we’re willfully, unselfconsciously ridiculous. And for me at least, I think it’s a pretty great way to be remembered. (p. 188)

Recommendation: Lovely, funny, and surprisingly moving. I think anyone who liked the videos would probably get something out of reading the book, and it’s pretty enough (and in short enough chunks) to be accessible to almost every world-traveler, wanderlust-y geek, and unselfconsiously bad dancer out there.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Matt’s Videos, Matt’s Blog

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Hey, stand over there and do that dance you do. I’ll record it on your camera.”

Cover Thoughts: Very eye-catching, and representative of the production quality throughout the book, I think. I particularly like the little dancing silhouettes in the borders – the same silhouettes that are in the lower right corner of each odd-numbered page, making a flip-book.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 71: “We stopped at a small coral bommie growing on the hull.” – A shallow isolated piece of reef located a distance offshore.
13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 11, 2009 2:11 am

    This sounds like a book that would be fun to share with the family with all those full color illustrations.

    • November 13, 2009 12:54 pm

      fyrebyrd – Yes and no; Matt’s not writing for kids, so bits of it may be inappropriate/over their heads.

  2. November 11, 2009 2:17 am

    Just so you know it is possible to add widgits(am I spelling that right) to sidebar, you have to click the share button and type in your password,username then it will post some TEXT on the post if you click the edit button and just copy and paste it onto a new Text widgit and just delete the post. You just might have trouble getting stuff from not getting cut off.

    • November 13, 2009 12:55 pm

      …color me confused. I have plenty of widgets on my sidebar.

  3. November 11, 2009 6:46 am

    I teared up just reading what he says about being unselfconsciously ridiculous is a good way to be remembered. I’d never seen these videos before – I think my sister sent me a link once and it didn’t work. It’s weird that something this simple can be quite moving! I got all sniffly in the video when it started being other people doing the dance as well.

    • November 13, 2009 12:56 pm

      Jenny – That’s the part of the video that always gets me too… actually the juxtaposition of him dancing with these crowds of jubilant kids and then the clip of him with the guard at the DMZ is what does it for me; great editing.

  4. November 11, 2009 8:52 am

    It’s nice to see this is good – I figured it was probably cheesy.

    • November 13, 2009 12:57 pm

      bermudaonion – Nah, Matt’s got enough of a dry, self-deprecating sense of humor to keep it from becoming entirely cheeseball.

  5. November 11, 2009 6:03 pm

    Interesting – it would be fun to read the stories behind each of the episodes!

  6. November 12, 2009 4:48 pm

    I LOVE those videos and the song, too! So sweet and always bring a smile to my face. I didn’t know that there was also a book…

    • November 13, 2009 12:59 pm

      Aarti – The book is fairly recent, I think, and is a really nice addition.

  7. November 14, 2009 1:15 am

    I know I’m posting a comment 3 times, but I think they (the videos) were very funny.

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