Lord of the Geeks

I don’t follow a lot of celebrity gossip.  As much as I admire Benedict Cumberbatch’s work, I have no idea if he is married, dating, a father, or a philatelist.  Honestly, I don’t really care.  I know I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the connection people have with celebrities, and I share some of those connections.  It’s because of their work, though, not because of their personal lives.

The one exception I have to this not-really-a-rule-rule is Wil Wheaton.  I read Wheaton’s blog on a regular basis (It’s HERE and well worth your time). I know the names of his wife and kids.  I have an autographed picture of him and an autographed copy of one of his books.  I watch his Tabletop series on Youtube.  In short, I’m kind of a fan.

It’s a fandom I can trace back to the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I wasn’t much younger than Wesley Crusher, the character Wheaton played on the series, when the show premiered.  In this pre-Internet era, I had no idea that older fans were reacting badly to his character or that they thought that he saved the ship too much. For me, it was just cool to see someone about my age on the bridge of the USS Enterprise.

I was told by more than one person that I reminded them of Wesley, which I took as a compliment.  I was (and still am) an unapologetic geek and nerd, and I actually ended up with the nickname “Wesley” at my first job.  Believe me when I say that I didn’t hear the end of it when the “Shut up, Wesley!” episode of TNG aired.  Apparently I also looked at bit like Wil Wheaton at the time because at the first sci-fi convention I ever attended during the Summer of 1988 after TNG’s first season, a group of people came up to me excitedly and asked if I was him.  As I had just discovered at the same convention that anti-Wesley sentiment existed, I fearfully said no.

Wesley Crusher wasn’t the only reason I watched TNG every week, but I was happy to see him move up from the kid Picard didn’t want on his bridge, to acting ensign, to finally getting to wear a proper Starfleet uniform.  And then in the 4th Season, Wheaton left the show.  I won’t say that I was (Do you have any idea how badly I want to type “crushed” right now?) upset because the character was heading to Starfleet Academy.  I had no idea what Wheaton’s motives were at the time.  I don’t know that I even thought about it.

I was happy when I learned he was coming back to the show for the episode “The First Duty.”  At least I was until I saw it.  They…they…THEY GOT WESLEY IN TROUBLE!  I was not happy with this.  I considered it character assassination because I would never get in that kind of trouble; therefore, Wesley would never get in that kind of trouble. 

That irritation was not improved by what happened to Wesley in his final TNG series appearance in “Journey’s End.”  Instead of carrying out MY dream of being a Starfleet Officer, Wesley decided to run off with The Traveler to do Great Bird knows what! 

Um…maybe I did over-identify with Wesley a little bit.  But that interest never carried over to Wil Weaton himself until much more recently. 

After going through some rough patches, Wheaton has become an incredibly powerful and moving voice in the world of geekdom.  I can’t really explain it, but the fact that he has a wonderful family and is pursuing projects he loves just makes me happy.  At this point in my life, knowing that he turned out all right means more to me than what happened to Wesley Crusher, which is really as it should be. 

I’ve gone from being happy for him to truly admiring him is seeing the example he sets for geekdom.  Cynicism and negativity are easy.  Wheaton very rarely goes there and instead has advocated for a very simple philosophy that has become known as Wheaton’s Law: Don’t Be A Dick.  It’s only four words, but they’re worth keeping in mind all the time.  I can’t think of a single situation where they don’t apply.

What I really enjoy about Wheaton is his enthusiasm.  If he loves something, he will let you know, and it’s hard not to find that joy infectious.  Just check out his reaction to THIS performance of a song by Jonathan Coulton, Paul and Storm, and Molly Lewis at the PAX convention in 2009.  Or watch pretty much any episode of Tabletop.

He’s also been at the forefront of proclaiming that there is no shame in being a geek.  Last year, in a convention panel, he was asked by a new mother to offer some advice to her infant daughter (the mother was filming it to show to her daughter later, presumably after she had command of the English language).  Wheaton spent the next couple of minutes explaining why it is awesome to be a nerd.  Watch it HERE…or maybe just listen.  The camera work may induce motion sickness.  It’s a message I wish someone had given me when I was growing up, and I sincerely hope that woman’s daughter understands that he’s absolutely correct.

I haven’t been lucky enough to see Wheaton at a convention yet (Our beloved site mistress got me the autographed picture, and I might have squeed…a lot.).  It’s one of my goals, but honestly I fear making an even bigger fool of myself with him than I did in front of Kate Mulgrew.  The few moments I’d get in an autograph line won’t be nearly enough to try to explain what Wesley meant to me when I was growing up or how much I admire the man he is now (and that last part might sound a wee bit creepy). 

It might also be weird to tell him that I’m a little bit jealous.  He’s played board games with a Mythbuster, bowled against the Doctor, taken Sheldon Cooper down a few pegs, and flown the Starship Enterprise.  More than that, he’s made me want to be a better geek, a better dad, and a better geek dad.  As far as I’m concerned, Wesley should never ever shut up.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter