Apology to Wil Wheaton (not that he cares, nor should he)

It was September of 1987.  More than 20 years ago.  My father and I sat in our Greenville, NC home and watched the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It was kind of a big deal.

I was second generation Star Trek.  Too young to have seen the original series on TV in anything other than afternoon reruns.  Before DVD’s that made it easy to watch old shows and way before the Internet gave us clips and whole shows online.  I’d seen the films of course and the prospect of a new Star Trek series for a 16 year old kid and a 46 year old father was pretty exciting.

I loved it from episode one.  Yes, the show got better as it went on but for the most part it was magic and best of all I was in on it at the beginning.  However, there was one thing that stuck in my teen-aged craw.  Wesley Crusher.

To understand why I couldn’t stand this character you have to understand the era I grew up in.  When it came to pretty much any science fiction TV show or cartoon the young viewer was patronized with the addition of some character supposedly designed to appeal to kids.  Battlestar Galactica (as if it wasn’t bad enough) had to throw in a kid and a mechanical “daggit”.  Superman and Batman couldn’t appear on TV without some kind of kid sidekicks or cute little alien.  The Fantastic Four even appeared with a stupid robot in place of The Human Torch.  Even Doctor Who had his Adric.  Add on type of that typical teenage nerd angst and self doubt.

Then take an awesome possibility for a new show and add to that…arrrggghhh…Wesley!  The bane of many a Star Trek fan.  Insufferable little twirp who gets to live on a starship.  Bad enough.  But it got worse.

Before long he was actually practically living on the bridge and then my head nearly blew off when he was actually at the helm.  I can only imagine that the only people who would have hated Wesley worse than a certain contingent of ST:TNG fans were all the Starfleet graduates on the Enterprise who were below deck doing whatever all those other thousands of people did on the ship while the stars had all the fun.

I never really got over it…mostly because he had the job I wanted.  I held on to this dispising of that character for a long time.  A long time.

Then I began to get a little perspective not all that long ago.  It was mostly because I began to read Wil Wheaton’s blog.  I began to understand that probably more than anybody else on the show he was pretty much a guy like me and judging from his writing he still is.  Yeah, he was an actor so obviously his life was different in a lot of ways but he was living the nerd dream.  I had to consider whether any of us who were so critical of him would have passed up the chance to play the character.

The guy didn’t deserve the grief he was given.  I’m sure it was bad enough with just the “anti-fan mail” and comments in SciFi magazines.  Had the Internet been going at that time one can only imagine the online beating he’d have taken.

It brings up another thought though:  the inability of many fans to separate the character from the actor.  Our unwillingness to consider the fact that behind the finished product is someone just doing a job.  Frequently, in fact, the actor playing a favorite character seems to have less of an affection for the role than most of the fan base does.  The countenance of many a Trekkie (Trekker is preferred by some) and other SciFi fan has fallen when they learn that Actor X actually hated the role, SciFi in general and frankly wishes all these weird fans would just leave them the frack alone.

I think it’s somewhat better these days.  A good number of the cast members of quite a few shows that I’ve enjoyed in the past few years actually seem to embrace fandom far more than their predecessors.  Even some older actors seem to have embraced their geekdom status and appear to enjoy our obsession with their part in our fantasies.

So now twentysomething years later I reassess my views on Wesley.  Overall, I still don’t care much for the character.  However, I think that in later seasons the writers tried to alter some of the things that were most annoying.  Sending him to Starfleet was a pretty good start and frankly, I had to grudgingly admit later on that those later episodes with him weren’t too bad.

More than that though, I appreciate Wil’s blog entries because they seem to celebrate the joys of late-30’s geekdom in an unapologetic and accessible way.  The kind of guy that can get excited about a novel in which the main character is William Shatner in his various incarnations is…well it’s pretty much exactly the kind of guy I hang out with on a regular basis.

So Wil, though you do not seek my apology I offer it anyway.  You were no more to blame for the aspects of Wesley that I didn’t care for than were the voice actors who gave us “The Wonder Twins”.  You weathered a storm of criticism and seem to have come through it all without bitterness.  So, I’m sorry for all the bad vibes that radiated from Ellsworth Drive all those years ago.  I hope you had as much fun on the bridge of the Enterprise as I imagine you did.  Most of all though, thanks for being a great spokes-geek for those of us whose blogs and writings will only drift in to obscurity after being read by a few prevailed upon friends.  You represent us well.

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  1. Great post!

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