Before he starred in films like Stand By Me and brought polarizing youth appeal to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wil Wheaton was already entrenched in nerddom. He grew up loving sci-fi, comic books, and gaming, and he self-identified as awkward. "I was not good at the things that elementary school kids care about," Wheaton says. "I was not athletic. I was super uncoordinated. To this day, dexterity is my dump stat." Cut to 2014, however, and the situation has radically changed. Not only has the adult Wheaton found a platform where what he once feared was weakness is definitely a strength, but the entire culture has shifted too.
Between his role on The Big Bang Theory, a widely read blog, and a series of books, Wheaton has positioned himself as something of a geek ambassador—and it couldn't be at a better time. As comic book movies smash box office records and a little show called Game of Thrones has the world riveted by dragons again, Wheaton has more material than ever to obsessively embrace, and a lot more people unabashedly eager to revel in it alongside him. His new Syfy show, The Wil Wheaton Project, is both a celebration of all traditionally geeky things, and a The Soup-style clipfest, where he and his writers lovingly take shows and movies to task—like, say, the way that no matter how dirty and bloody it gets on The Walking Dead, the sponsored car on the show always appears to be squeaky clean.
When a young girl asked Wheaton about dealing with bullies at last year's Denver Comic Con, his thoughtful, compassionate, and lived-in response went viral. Although at the time he was mainly speaking to an audience of one, the message resonated far and wide, a clarion call to likeminded people who are well past bullying age: there's no shame in loving the things you love. As the Wil Wheaton Project launches on the Syfy Channel, Wheaton spoke with Co.Create about some other reasons why now is the best time ever to be a geek and how to use that fandom creatively.
One of the things we really love to do is almost obsessively catalog the things we love. We love to share information and look for Easter eggs and create fan theories, and piece together things that have happened. A great example is with The Simpsons; there’s an entire movie that exists inside the Simpsons TV show, and someone on Fark pointed out that "You know, there’s a whole McBain movie on The Simpsons," and someone else said "Oh yeah!" and cut all those scenes out and put it all together on Youtube, and before Fox took it down, you could watch the McBain movie. The Internet has made things like that really easy. It’s made it easy for someone who loves something that might be a little obscure in the Batman universe to find out that it turns out there are thousands of people in the world who love the same thing and connect the way that TV shows do with audiences.
This is the best time in history to be a creative person. If you make jewelry, instead of having to convince a buyer at a store to stock it, you can put it on Etsy and reach people who are interested in that type of jewelry. Artists can do the same thing with Deviantart. Writers can do the same thing with any number of independent self-publishing platforms. Video creators have YouTube and Vimeo and Funny or Die. Musicians have Bandcamp and all the different podcasting areas. There is no reason that a person should not get excited and make a thing and share it and find other people who love the same things, whether it’s something created by fans for a show or if it’s just a great idea for a new superhero and a story.
The world has changed. There is this reflexive notion from a lot of high-up network types to try and control everything and shut down fan fiction and tribute sites and limit people’s ability to share videos. I think these people are still stuck fighting Napster in 1999, and you can see the creators who instead embrace interactivity and make it easy for fans to use their creation. Those creators end up having massively loyal audiences and they foster this gigantic wonderful creative community. One of the things I’ve been working on with our network from the very beginning of this show is convincing them to get it online, make it easy for people to watch it, to make it easy for people to embed clips from the show and let us be a part of the community that we are hoping will come in and get on board and be a regular part of weekly experience.
It’s so much fun to do detective stuff like that. I remember before Cloverfield came out, how much I loved the Cloverfield ARG. It was just like, "This is great—I’m solving puzzles." We’re sharing information all over the place. If you follow Marble Hornets, the Slender Man series, the way people have pulled things out of that, it seems pretty clear to me that the creators are now deliberately hiding things because they want to reward people who do that level of investigation and have that level of passion.
One of the things we respond to as nerds is we can sniff out legitimate inauthenticity if we feel a studio or a creator is trying to exploit the things we like and take our money—we’re pretty hip to that. I'd encourage everybody who wants to be a creator to just create and make a thing you love and be genuine about it and understand that you don’t need to make a thing that is for everybody. Make a thing that you love that you feel passionate about. Like Joel Hodgson said about Mystery Science Theater, "Not everybody will get this, but the right people will get it."
I know there is someone who loves the Boston Red Sox the way I love Dr. Who and I know there’s someone who loves football the way that I play tabletop games. And the actual thing doesn’t matter. As my friend pointed out, Fantasy Football is like D&D for jocks. I think now the larger popular culture realizes that everybody is nerdy about something, it makes people who might not be nerdy about traditional nerd things be a little more comfortable with it. And the more people that love these things we love, the more it’s going to be a good, smart investment for a creator or a studio to make those things.