Wil Wheaton is one of the big names in nerd. He is the kind of man who lives the dream. When he was younger he played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation. He’s guest starred in more nerd related shows than can be listed in a single post. He even plays himself in the popular sitcom The Big Bang Theory. Perhaps the most important thing about Wil Wheaton is that he plays himself in real life. That’s to say, he is one of the genuine ‘nerd celebrities’ out walking the streets.
Why is it so important that he’s a genuine type of guy? Because people are naturally inclined to look up to those who are famous or otherwise influential, and it is refreshing to find someone worthy of that praise.
When he attended Denver Comic Con this past year he sat in on a panel, as he often does. The fun and sometimes stressful thing about panels is the fact the people on the panel never really know what to expect from an audience Q&A. So when a child’s voice came through the microphone, they probably weren’t sure what they were going to get.
What they got was a question, directed toward Wil Wheaton:
“When you were kid, were you called a nerd and, if so, how did you deal with it?”
The response he gave was spot on:
See, there used to be a time where being a nerd was not the cool thing to be. Now, while kids still get taunted and teased, nerd has become main stream. It has become acceptable. This is, in part, due to its diffusion through all aspects of popular culture. Marvel began producing super hero movies that drew in fans by the droves, new and old. Shows like The Big Bang Theory and Chuck came on the scene and made the quiet, intelligent, video-game playing, comic book reading nerds the heroes of the story. San Diego Comic Con began selling out within hours of opening up ticket sales, when in 2009 anyone who wanted to go could still purchase 4-Day passes just months before the convention.
Even with this newfound acceptance, there is no doubt that bullying and teasing still happens. The girl who wears the Captain America t-shirt in middle school gets laughed at for not being girly enough. The boy who would rather read in the library than go skateboarding is told to man up and stop being boring. The things children love to do, that are unique to their personalities, are still made into something shameful by their peers.
That’s why Wil Wheaton’s message is so important. He speaks directly to the bullied kids and acknowledges that it isn’t ever going to be easy to “not care” about what other people say. It won’t always take away the sting of their cruel words. However, he goes on to empower young people to continue liking what they like, while also trying to understand that another person’s cruelty has little to do with them.
Furthermore, I think the most important conclusion to draw from his pep talk is this: like what you like, and let other people like what they like, even if those things aren’t the same. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen even among fellow nerds. Fans of a certain show, a certain relationship, or a certain franchise are sometimes at the mercy of their fellow fans. Fandom has created an atmosphere where people can either feel accepted or alienated even though they all like the same things. It is important to be reminded that we should all be kind to people even if they don’t like the same things they do, or don’t see a show or movie the same way.
My favorite part about his message came at the end when he pointed out the fact that there were at least fifty thousand people at the convention who loved the same thing, or similar things, as the little girl asking the question. In that room she was with friends. This is why the point I made above is so important. We’re all in this together, nerds. Whether you love reading comic books, going to superhero movies, watching insane amounts of Person of Interest, or staring up at the cosmos, you’re not alone in what you love.
As they say: haters gonna hate. I appreciate Wil Wheaton’s message to nerds everywhere because when it comes down to it, we have to be who we’re going to be. If we spend all our time adhering to the likes and dislikes of those around us, then we’re probably going to be pretty miserable. On the other hand, if we accept where we’re at and allow ourselves to be content liking what we like (even when other people try to tear us down) then we’re going to be a lot happier in the long run.