Becoming a Geek Celebrity

I seem to be meeting a lot of geeks lately.  That sounds a little odd, but it does make sense–I’ve connected into a few different social circles that seem to attract geeks (and by the way, they all defy the stereotype about socially awkward, reclusive geeks).

It’s great fun, because we all have some of the same touchpoints, and the important ones are not the same as the important general pop culture ones.  You know–Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, certain board games, certain authors.  There are certain people too.  Neil Gaiman is apparently The World’s Coolest Author; not just because of his books, but he personally seems to be amazing.  George Takei is the Geek King of Facebook (follow him if you want to be in on all the geek memes).

And lately, Wil Wheaton is emerging as the Geek Celebrity.  Not for anything in particular–just for being a geeky celebrity.  I mean, besides a recurring role as himself on The Big Bang Theory, he has an online show focused on playing board games.  Really.

All this made me curious.  How did Wesley Crusher become the Geek Celebrity?  So I read Just a Geek by Wil Wheaton.  It would probably make him happy that I read it more because I’m curious about who he’s become lately than because of Wesley.  I never actively disliked Wesley, but I was never much of a fan either, so that wasn’t that big a draw.

Just a Geek is a memoir, but one that covers a very narrow period.  It’s a couple of years from roughly 2001-2002, and charts how Wheaton went from a washed-up celebrity trying to escape Star Trek to coming to terms with Wesley Crusher and publishing his first book.  This was published in 2004 so it’s hardly the complete story of how he got to the present (obviously), but it does describe the turning point.

Some sections of the book are lifted directly from Wheaton’s blog, and the feel of the entire book is much like that.  You do get the sense of Wil Wheaton sitting down to tell you about his life and his experiences.  In some ways, what has stuck with me the most is the raw honesty of it all.  He talks about being depressed or angry or disliking something, in a way that people (at least in public forums) usually don’t.  He talks about deep positive emotions too, especially being incredibly moved by Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, stepping back on the bridge of the EnterpriseD.

If his intent was to convince people that he’s a regular guy, that’s definitely how he comes across.  We usually see only a couple of visions of celebrities, and this is neither.  Wheaton is not the self-destructing celebrity on the cover of Us Weekly, or the serene dispenser of wisdom that shows up on Parade.  He’s just a normal guy who’s a bit geeky.  Despite the title, the geekiness didn’t feel like that big of a focus to me–it was mostly “life as a struggling actor.”  But he did get an introduction from Neil Gaiman, so there are obviously geek connections here.

In a way I’m sorry to say that the most memorable parts did turn out to be Star Trek related.  The journey and personal growth are interesting, but my favorite parts involved other Star Trek celebrities; it happens in a few places.  Unless you’re really interested in Wil Wheaton, I wouldn’t read this without a working knowledge of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the actors involved (which, if you’re really interested in Wil Wheaton, you probably have anyway).  It’s not a consuming focus but it is spread throughout the book, and there isn’t always much context provided.  In a way, Star Trek IS the context of the book.

Since Wheaton is honest, I suppose I’ll be strictly honest too on my assessment.  I enjoyed the book.  It gave me what I wanted, which was some idea of how Wil Wheaton became a geek touch point beyond the Starship Enterprise.  But I didn’t love it and I don’t think I’ll run out to read something else by him.  I’m just not enough of a fan of his writing or of him–and it’s a very personality-driven book.  I should note there’s no reason for that.  It’s just one of those things, what-does-and-doesn’t-speak-to-you.

But I will be hoping for another Big Bang Theory cameo, and I will recommend the book–if you’re a geek.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Stainless Steel Droppings
Just a Writer Geek
Reading by Candlelight
Anyone else?

13 thoughts on “Becoming a Geek Celebrity

  1. I read this book back when it came out. I actually used to read his blog all the time, but I kind of stopped when it sort of became a DnD blog, haha. I remember I liked it but not much else. Except… I had ridden my bike to target and had this book in my bag. After my Target excursion, I could not unlock my bike, so I walked home. And I was so bored. So I pulled this book out and read it while I walked home and that’s the most memorable thing about this book to me.

    Have you seen “Stand By Me?” Did he mention it in the book? If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out. Definitely in my list of favorite movies.

    1. I agree, Stand By Me is excellent. Such a great film.

      Have either of you watched any of his Table Top episodes on Geek and Sundry? You would think a show about how to play table top board games would be boring, but it is so entertaining and I’ve found so many games that I want to play because of it.

            1. I love that you both got into a whole discussion here while I was being absentee! 🙂 I have not seen Stand By Me but he does mention it a few times in the book; it’s much less of a focus than Star Trek. I also haven’t seen his Table Top show, but I hear really good things about it!

  2. So glad you read and enjoyed this. It really is a good one. I would recommend his much smaller book, Dancing Barefoot, as well if you ever get a chance. There are some really nice essays in there.

    I was not a fan of Wesley Crusher but was a fan of Wil Wheaton’s other film work and have been a fan of his cameo work in stuff like The Guild (if you aren’t watching The Guild you must go watch all of the seasons immediately. I think they have them all up on the Geek and Sundry page on You Tube) and The Big Bang Theory. Both he and Felicia Day strike me as creative, energetic folks who have learned the joy of embracing their passions and making that their work. I love that.

    I would only disagree with you on the point you make about needing a Star Trek background and it is only a slight disagreement. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a writer and /or wants to do something special with their blog, or even those who want to pursue their passions in a meaningful way. I think there is a lot to be gleaned from this book in those areas and I’ve recommended it to friends who have liked it for that very reason. It is inspiring to see Wheaton discover this writing aspect of himself. I also think it is a really good book for those hitting certain age points and looking back on their lives and wondering if they’ve made the right choices. I find his growth inspiring in the ‘its never too late’ sense.

    But again, that is just my experience with the book and only a minor quibble.

    1. What a great, insightful comment in response! I think it was your review that originally got this on my To Be Read list…

      I do agree with you that the book could be very meaningful as an inspiration for pursuing passions. That’s certainly the focus of the book, and it is inspiring that way. I still think that some background knowledge on Trek makes a big difference though, if only because it is such a major thread of the book, and I think Wheaton assumes knowledge in some places (not explaining, for instance, exactly which characters different actors played and how they all fit in together). Maybe a reader without knowlege would glean what they need as they go, or just wouldn’t focus on those sections as much…hard for me to say, since I do have the background!

      1. Oh yeah, I certainly think that helps a great deal.

        Stand by Me is an excellent film, a must watch. Possibly the best Stephen King adaptation, or at least a close tie with Shawshank Redemption.

        Do check out Table Top sometime, I think you’ll enjoy it.

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