“Who cares what others think?” redux

A couple of days ago I commented on the whole podcastalley hullaballo and the role that popularity plays in the actions of blogger/podcasters. You can go back to here if you missed it all, or just wanted to review. My point was really that pursuing popularity (or more specifically, superficial measures of popularity) was kind of silly. You can get upset that you aren’t at the top of somebody’s list, but it’s not going to make you more likely to do things that are of value, but rather only what you need to do to be popular.

But no less a network personage than Wil Wheaton gives me some pause in that overall assessment: he makes me think that perhaps more goes into it than I had presented in my simplified, two toned world.

You see, Wil is saddled with the legacy of having played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a young actor, he was given some of the most hackneyed, stilted, warped and generally contrived lines ever to grace a science fiction show (and that’s saying something). The idea of having a boy genius on the Enterprise could have been good, with brilliant writing, but without brilliant writing it was a completely hopeless task. There were brief flashes where things worked out, but overall it came off as kind of silly.

That’s not to say that I’m not a fan of Wesley Crusher. There are many characters on STTNG who I found much more consistently annoying, and virtually every character on the many successors to STTNG were more annoying. I think that Wesley gets a bum wrap.

But now I’ve shown my geek colors, what did this have to do with the original intro? I’m getting back to it.

Wil is faced with one of those TV Guide polls where people choose “their most annoying Star Trek character”, and is dismayed by the fact that he (or his character, rather) was leading in the early polls. His comment:

Normally, I’d stuff this ballot box entirely on my own, but if some of you WWdN readers want to legitimately and honestly vote for another character, like The Computer Voice for instance. I mean, come on! How many times did the stupid Ship’s Computer actually save the crew? Yeah! That’s what I thought. She’s got nothing on Wesley Crusher. I would be ever so grateful.

His comments seemed eerily familiar, but for some reason I found myself feeling more empathy for Wil than I did for my fellow podcasters who may have been suffering in similarly unscientific polls. And I wondered why I reacted differently to Wil than to others.

Perhaps it is because Wil has written so eloquently about the pain of being perceived as an unpopular character on a very popular television show. He spelled it out so that while we haven’t experienced it, we do all relate to it, at least in some way. We all want to be perceived as being good at what we do. We crave that validation, even years after we’ve made our own internal peace with ourselves. We still want to be picked first. We want to work with the cool people at the cool job and do the cool thing that everyone talks about.

So perhaps I am being too harsh. If I can empathize with Wil, perhaps I should be able to empathize with others. We don’t need praise because it will bring us fame or money. It’s much more personal than that. And I shouldn’t have pretended like that wasn’t a valid concern.

Addendum: Most annoying character: Lwuxana Troi, definitely. But I bet you Majel had a blast playing her.