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Sunday, July 13, 2003  

Wil Wheaton: Dancing Barefoot

I've spent much of the last week at the national O'Reilly Open Source Convention, which was in Portland July 7 through 11. I will be talking about several topics related to the convention. Let's start with one of the lighter ones.

Among the people I met at there was Wil Wheaton, actor, writer and self-described computer geek. And, blogger, of course. You may remember Wheaton as Wesley Crusher, the only child allowed on Captain Picard's bridge in the Star Trek Next Generation series. Wil Wheaton has grown up, but still derives some of his notoriety from the teenager he played from ages fourteen to eighteen. One of the things he did at the open source event was promote his new book, Dancing Barefoot.

To write about Trek one should establish one's Trekker cred first. Mine is only moderate. I have watched and usually enjoyed the original series and its sequels. The only one I've seen all the episodes of is the progenitor. STNG qualifies as second most watched. DS9 comes in third, though I intend to watch all the episodes at some point to establish a since of continuity in regard to it. I've seen less than a dozen episodes of Voyager.

Learning Wheaton was traumatized by fan reaction to his role on STNG surprised me. The only character I found somewhat irritating on the show was Counselor Troi. That was because of the saacharine quality of the character at times, which I would blame on the writers, not Marina Sirtis, the actor who appeared in the role of Deanna Troi. However, it would never have crossed my mind to send her nasty mail or boo her off the stage at Star Trek conventions -- things that have happened to Wheaton.

An effect of his experiences is Wheaton is wary of fans. My own exposure to gung-ho Trekkies is limited to covering a couple Star Trek conventions as a reporter. I agree with Wheaton that some advocates of the series, the sort who've seen all the episodes, dress in the uniforms and may speak Klingon, are intense. However, that does not justify being mean-spirited. I've also had my share of encounters with folks who are eager to put down anyone with any kind of achievement because they feel threatened by such people. Some of Wheaton's critics are probably of that ilk. And, the bad behavior was not limited to the hoi polloi.

It's hard for me to share with anyone how much shit I've gotten over the last 15 years because of Star Trek. The lousy treatment at the hands of WILLIAM FUCKING SHATNER is nothing compared to some of the things Trekkies have done to me. They've insulted me. They've called me names. They've hated me without knowing why. It was risky for me to put up this show. . .if it tanked, I would never have been able to show my face at a Star Trek Convention again.

In Dancing Barefoot, Wheaton provides five autobiographical narratives of events that have impacted his life during and since STNG. The topics range from a real life teenage romantic adventure to being snubbed by William Shatner again and again over the years. Wheaton has come to terms with his past and present. He describes that process in "The Saga of SpongeBob Vegas Pants," the longest story in the 110-page paperback. The book is a supplement to his autobiography, Just a Geek, which will be released in the Fall of 2003 by Monolith Press.

Wil Wheaton seems to have come through the child star phenomenon as well as anyone does. He has established his geek cred by becoming a computer specialist in Topeka, Kansas. Now 30, he has returned to acting and writes, as well. His award-winning web log is here.

In the movie of the novel The Color Purple there is a scene in which Celie describes her children, who were taken away from her and given up for adoption, as her "best thing." Sug corrects her, telling Celie she is her own best thing. I believe that is a goal we should all aspire to. Wil Wheaton seems to have made that discovery for himself.

1:55 PM