So, this is what happens when I let a random thought spiral out of control… Yesterday, I found myself wondering — what’s the deal with Wil Wheaton? Now, if you’re like most people, you probably don’t spend an awful lot of time thinking about Wil Wheaton. Even if you do spare him the occasional thought, I doubt you’ve ever considered the question, “What’s the deal with Wil Wheaton?”
Now, I like Wil Wheaton, and always have. A lot of Star Trek fans over the years have reviled Wesley Crusher — I’m one of, (apparently), few that actually considered Wesley Crusher one of my favorites. Because I liked the character so much, I’ve sort of casually followed Wil’s career, making a point of watching things when I know he’s in them and so on.
In doing so, I’ve observed two things. The first is that Wil is a Good Actor™. The second is that you don’t really see an awful lot of him in high-profile roles, which seems like a real shame, given my first observation. And that, in a nutshell, brings me to my question — What’s the deal with Wil Wheaton? Why don’t we see him around more?
To start with, I don’t think it has anything to do with a lack of desire. It’s important to point out that Wil has worked pretty consistently since his days as a “child actor”. He didn’t just mic drop on the whole Hollywood/acting thing after Star Trek. With that said, most of his work has either been voice work, and/or relegated to a very particular audience, (the nerd crowd, frankly). More to the point, his online writing and general social media presence gives me the impression that he’d happily take on more high-profile work if it was on offer.
So, why isn’t it? After much consideration, I’ve come to the conclusion that Wil Wheaton is ahead of his time, and I don’t mean in the sense that he once played a character on a futuristic sci-fi show. Wil is a new version of a classic archetype, and Hollywood just hasn’t caught up with him yet. In short, I believe that Wil Wheaton is the new “Every man”.
Before you laugh me off the stage, hear me out for a second. Let’s think about what the current “Every man” is in the popular imagination. This is the guy that could be your neighbor, or that guy you went to school with. He’s in to sports, beer, cars, and women. He takes pride in being “good with his hands”, even if he really isn’t. He’s got a good, solid, pragmatic streak that’s helpful for cutting through other people’s bullshit. When this kind of character is found on-screen, we immediately relate, because that character is us, far more so than the strikingly handsome leading man, or the uber-genius super-geek, or the bad ass military operative. Don’t get me wrong, we like all those other characters, but the “Every man” is important for bringing the story to a level that we can really invest in.
That definition of the “Every man” has worked for generations, because for generations, the definition of what a man was, has been quite rigid, and it roughly conforms with what we think about when we envision the “Every man”. But, the times, as they say, are a’changin. The explosion of technology in the last 30 years has given rise to a whole new set of vocations and interests that have moved beyond the realm of the classic “geek”, and much more squarely in to the mainstream.
30 years ago, a man wasn’t a “man” if he couldn’t change a tire. Today, I’d suggest that a man isn’t a “man” if he can’t figure out how to replace a bad router in his home network. Does it seem silly that something like that is a “man’s job”? Well — it is silly, and that’s another thing about the new “Every man”. It isn’t necessarily just for men…sexism is so 1950’s after all…
The point is, the new “Every man” has embraced technology the same way that the “Every man” of old embraced the combustion engine. They stand on the peripheries of expertise in various areas of technology, and they have a broad understanding of all of it. The original “Every man” liked to tinker with his car, the new “Every man” runs Linux on his computers instead of Windows. Speaking of windows, the old “Every man” might spend his time fixing broken things around the house. The new “Every man” will design a homemade security system using Arduino boards and a 20 year-old laptop. The new “Every man” likes beer too, but he’s just as likely to make his own rather than buying swill off the shelf.
If you think that this “new Everyman” is someone that no one can relate to because they don’t exist, or they’re one of those rare “nerds”, then you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade or so. While the new “Every man” may wear the title “nerd” like a badge of honor, (much as the original “Every man” might have accepted the title “gearhead”), that word no longer necessarily conveys the laughable stereotype of pocket-protectors and bow ties, (but hey…bow ties are cool…). More and more men, (and women), fit the description I just provided, and this is where Hollywood, (and Wil Wheaton), come in.
First of all, Wil Wheaton is that guy. In fact, Wil Wheaton is so much that guy that his most recent high-profile role has him playing a fictional version of himself as a foil to a bunch of more “classically” nerdy characters. The reason this works so well is that Wil’s character becomes the one that we relate to. He’s one of the “normals”, but he’s able to cross pretty seamlessly into interacting with the uber-geeks, because of his peripheral knowledge.
The sad part is that it’s apparently only The Big Bang Theory that has caught on to that dynamic. They recognize just how “every man”, the Wil Wheaton’s of the world are, but the rest of Hollywood seems determined to hang on to the old archetype, and pretend that anything approaching even moderate tech knowledge means that the person has to be shoved in to the “nerd” corner.
Wil Wheaton is the “Every man” of the next generation, (pun absolutely intended), which puts him very much ahead of his time, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. The broader entertainment world can only envision him on the fringe where “nerds” hang out, because they’re too myopic to see that “normal” audiences, (of both sexes!), will relate to him, and want to see someone like them with considerable roles in mainstream projects.
Now, I’ve got absolutely no clout in Hollywood — I don’t even know anyone in Hollywood, and I’m far from an entertainment expert, but as a guy that watches movies and the occasional television show, I say, the world needs more Wheaton.