Wil Wheaton on being a nerd (video)

Actor Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, has a huge Twitter following, and is known for being one of the more gracious characters online. As Digby says, Wheaton is “a real mensch.”  (Wheaton was also in “Stand by Me,” and has a recurring role as himself in “The Big Bang Theory,” and he has a successful blog, Wil Wheat Dot Net.)

Wheaton was at a recent Comic Con conference in Denver when a little girl asked him if he was ever called a nerd when he was a kid, and what he did about it?

Wheaton gave a wonderful answer, his own version of an “it gets better” speech that concluded: “There’s 50,000 people here who went through the exact same thing, and we’re all doing really well.”



It’s something I noticed when I went to my high school reunion. The biggest nerds ended up doing quite well in life.  The biggest jocks, the popular people, less so.  And the strangest part, the bullies were all suddenly REALLY NICE. I had one former-bully come up to me, so excited to see me, and all I could remember about the guy was “I don’t think I liked this guy, and I’m pretty sure he hated me.”  It’s funny how the years changed things.  (I still kind of avoided him.)

I also tell kids about the whole blooming flower thing.  At least in my experience, the so-so looking kids got a lot hotter when they became adults. The hot kids peaked a bit too soon.  Yeah, your looks shouldn’t matter, but you’re 15, they matter.

In the end, I’m not sure there’s much of anything a teenager will fully believe. It’s hard to image life as an adult when you’re only 15. But Wheaton’s answer really is good. It’s obvious why he has such a following.

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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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27 Responses to “Wil Wheaton on being a nerd (video)”

  1. rmthunter says:

    There’s something about synchronicity here — I’ve been reading a collection of Joseph Campbell’s interviews and speeches, and one point he makes repeatedly is to follow your passion — find what it is in life that really turns you on — math, art, teaching, whatever — and go for it.

    And that, I think, is the essence of being a nerd, and quite possibly why those 50,000 are doing quite well, while the popular kids are living up to someone else’s expectations. I think the bullies are quite possibly even more caught in that trap, with the added complication of having to deal, however ineffectively, with their own issues.

  2. Andrew Simpson says:

    He’s not above playing the dead memaw card!

  3. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    I sort of remember loving him in my teens, to my eternal shame, because now I think he was just awful. Somehow he got through years of Academy training and military service to reach command rank yet he’s still written like he’s a mentally deficient three-year-old. And how many times does he mutiny? Data deserved to be spread into pieces across a Starfleet engineer’s workbench but he was treated like some kind of pet or mascot.

  4. heimaey says:

    Good point. It was also the early 90s by then. Maybe they wanted to make him seem like a typical Gen X drop out grunge listening slacker too. He later would go on to crash the stock market 10 years later after overvalued programing.

  5. heimaey says:

    I love Data but the writing is inconsistent at times. When they need to make him more emotional they lay out the emotions like a computer program, but when they don’t want him to he simply can’t because he’s an android.

  6. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    I liked Pulaski. She had a real personality. Also she hated Data. Hating Data is a good thing.

  7. Monophylos Fortikos says:

    I actually see it more clearly now. It’s not quite Wesley’s fault. But there are some truly ridiculous scenes in first-season episodes that were all about telling us, over and over again, what a truly wonderful and beautiful and unique snowflake Wesley was and how he should be allowed to do whatever he wanted on the ship. There’s one truly hilarious scene where Wesley rides the lift up to the bridge but stays in the lift–you can see him peeping round the door, though–while his mother draws Capt. Picard aside and yet again begs for special treatment for her son. Dr. Crusher does that a lot in the first season.

    Star Trek, especially in its TNG form, was always a sort of little boy’s fantasy about what military service was like. Everyone’s an officer, there’s hardly ever anyone of enlisted or non-commissioned rank anywhere in sight, and a useless “counselor” is as high up on the chain of command as a seasoned officer. The fantasy never looked sillier, though, than when it was embodied in the form of Wesley Crusher. He got all the privileges of rank without having to do any of the work, just because he was a genius. I guess–as with all movie and TV geniuses, his displays of genius are unconvincing at best, but we just have to accept that. The hint of nepotism at work doesn’t help: they were always playing with that suggestion of sexual tension between Picard and Dr. Crusher and Wesley’s special treatment just looks even more distasteful in light of that.

    But eventually the writers tired of him, or tired of Wheaton perhaps, and they retaliated against their earlier treatment of him by making him into a burnt-out loser. It was realistic in a way; I can easily see someone like Wesley Crusher, spoiled with every advantage, turning into a complete washout. It wasn’t pleasant to watch, though.

  8. AnitaMann says:

    This has been my experience as well. Adversity can make you stronger. And more clever and interesting.

  9. BeccaM says:

    That was a good one, aye. (And also a blatant attempt to set up the ‘Bones vs Spock’ dynamic…)

    Push her down a turbolift shaft, eh? So you were an L.A. Law fan, too? (I rather enjoyed that show as well, although it was no Hill Street Blues.)

  10. Yeah I wanted to push her down a turbolift shaft.

    My favorite exchange was between Pulaski and Data, when she pronounces his name “Dah-ta” instead of “Day-ta.” He corrects her, and she says “Dayta, Dahta, what’s the difference.” And Data responds, “one is my name, the other is not.”

  11. BeccaM says:

    Dr. Katherine Pulaski, played by Diana Muldaur. Yeah, she was their attempt to recreate Bones as a woman — crabby, irritable, but supremely competent, and with no sexual chemistry or past with Picard.

    But anyway, you brought up a good point about the Wesley character seeming ‘forced’ — that’s a perfect description. For that, I suspect we have mostly Gene Wesley Roddenberry to blame…and unfortunately, towards the latter years of his life, he was far from his best due in large part to a number of health issues.

  12. BeccaM says:

    That did seem to be the outcome for a lot of my classmates (class of ’81). Most of the popular girls married young, had a litter of kids, and became fat housewives. The popular guys ended up as store managers and car salesmen, that kind of thing. Very few went on to college to take up challenging careers.

    One example was how our class Valedictorian and Salutatorian were both students — popular-girl cheerleaders, in fact — who had not taken a single AP (advanced placement) course, and in fact had also not taken a single advanced-level course either. So of course they were the only two with perfect 4.0 GPAs; while the rest of us nerds were in year four Advanced Calculus, they’d stopped with algebra and collected easy A’s in art class and home ec.

    I’m not saying the outcomes were universal. But the tendency sure seems to have been there among the sample consisting of my own high school class.

  13. heimaey says:

    I remember thinking of it like that. A lot of the really good looking/cool kids in high school always had it easy and thought it would always be like that. Some of them are fine and a lot did kind of coast but a lot did not. Life was hard on them.

  14. heimaey says:

    Yes, and Wesley’s role dropped off a lot in S2. I like Beverly Crusher when she came back in S3 more than the doc in S2.

  15. BeccaM says:

    I like the show, too, especially as soon as they hit their stride in season 2. They dropped a LOT of the hokey-corniness and started producing some decent SF.

  16. heimaey says:

    It is very Deus Ex Machina – good way to describe it. Especially the first two seasons, but I really like him and still like the show.

  17. Was not a Wesley fan, until they made Wesley more interesting, and then he left the show. Am a huge Wil Wheaton fan. It’s funny.

  18. I never thought of it as thinking you can coast, that’s really interesting.

  19. BeccaM says:

    Early on, especially in the first season, his presence was — for me — one of those ‘suspension of disbelief’ breakers. Soon they had him literally flying the Enterprise, the Federation’s flagship as an “acting ensign”, which totally undermined the supposed hard work and elite nature of being an officer in Starfleet.

    Can you imagine what it would’ve been like to be a below-decks lieutenant who’d put in the years at the Academy, done a series of red-shirt assignments for more years, spent even more years training to be a Galaxy-class pilot and navigator — only to have the underage kid of the ship’s doctor, who everybody knows has had a thing for the captain, jump to the front of the line on the alpha shift?

    I know in time the writers tried to turn Wesley into some kind of savant genius, but it still didn’t negate his lack of official credentials. I was glad when they finally shipped him off to the Academy — and in a way wasn’t surprised when he dropped out. Commitment and sticking to something wasn’t exactly one of Wesley Crusher’s stronger traits

    It was a dilemma the writers just couldn’t resolve either. They obviously put Wesley into the show so young viewers could identify with him. But in a show that has almost nothing but adult situations, the only way to deal with him is either to turn him into the functional equivalent of an adult (i.e., the ‘acting ensign’ thing), or else have him act like an actual kid, which shows he’s emotionally and developmentally unfit for the responsibilities he was given in the first place.

    So in the worst way possible — the archetypical Deus ex Machina in the form of the Traveler — the writers first had Wesley commit an act of treason-by-conscience against the Federation (warning colonists they were about to be relocated), and then avoid any consequences for his acts by ascending to become a super-being.

    Like I said — I love Will Wheaton and think he’s the bee’s knees. But the TNG writers? His character in the show was the worst kind of screenwriting hackery.

  20. HereinDC says:

    Thanks for posting John. MAde my day.

  21. heimaey says:

    I remember not liking Wesley in TNG too but I’m re-watching it and I don’t see why. I guess at the time the addition of a young character seemed forced and such a departure from the original.

  22. BeccaM says:

    I hated the character Wheaton played on TNG…but I’ve come to respect him as an actor and as a decent human being.

    I absolutely loved how he pointed out one of the main reasons a kid will bully other kids is because the bully is also being treated badly, possibly abused, at home.

    BTW, I’m not terribly surprised it’s the nerds who do well later in life, and not so much the popular ones or the jocks. We referred to it as “peaking early,” as in they hit the best part of their lives in high school, and soon take the wrong lesson they can simply coast through life without working very hard. Except they can’t.

  23. AndyinChicago says:

    Anyone feeling picked on needs to be made aware that that exact feeling is how most of us felt at some point, some of us for years or decades at a time. Good on Wil for being so articulate and concise about the shared experience of so many of us.

  24. Indigo says:

    What a sweet guy!

  25. Houndentenor says:

    He’s one of my favorite people to follow on twitter. He’s funny and also his dogs are the cutest.

  26. jomicur says:

    Wheaton is indeed a thoughtful. gracious man.

    My favorite way of dealing with old nemeses comes from my favorite musical, FOLLIES. The female lead, Phyllis, who has grown from an insecure chorus girl into a smart, sophisticated woman, is approached at the reunion by another former chorine, who gushes about how nice it is to see her. Phillis looks her up and down and utters a withering, “You never liked me.” Wounded, the woman whimpers, “What a thing to say!” Phyllis smiles and tells her reassuringly, “It’s all right, dear. I never liked you.”

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