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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

6 Comments

  1. Jack Graham
    December 26, 2014 @ 12:14 am

    This post has made me realise… Wesley Crusher IS Harry bloody Potter avant la lettre. Yeurch.

    Reply

  2. Adam Riggio
    December 26, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

    Blargh indeed, Jack. But we can still learn from the mistakes of Wesley Crusher as a character, just as the TNG production crew itself did. One of my favourite Wesley episodes is his last, when he returns to find that no one on the crew will take his smug directions anymore and the Traveller takes him away for what I like to think amounts to a remedial class on personal growth and progress.

    I like to contrast Wesley Crusher with Adric, in terms of how a sci-fi television show can deal with boy geniuses. I remember Steven Moffat explicitly connecting Adric and Wesley in the making-of documentary for Earthshock, as an example of why he would never do such a character (as many beefs as one can have with Moff, I think we can all agree on this).

    Adric may have been an annoying, insufferable boy genius who thought he was better than everyone around him and pouted petulantly when those around him disagreed. But he was in a dramatic context where he was continually subordinated. With Tom Baker, he was the dickish son to the Doctor's father figure, and Baker at this point could very easily put someone in their place through the performance process. As part of Davison's first crew, he was continually put in his place by a TARDIS full of equally competent or more pragmatically worldly women, and a Doctor who had a little more of the feminine about his performance.

    Harry Potter receives the greater share of attention in Rowling's series, being the centre of the Hero's Journey mythos in that series. However, even against Rowling's own perspective on her characters and the series' narrative, Hermione is always a rebellious figure. I like to think of the central trio of the Hogwarts series as a detective crew: Hermione does the bulk of the legwork behind the scenes, Ron is the slapstick comic relief, and Harry does the most visible detective work to get all the credit. In Rowling's masculinist vision of her series as Harry's Hero's Journey, Hermione is always there, quietly undercutting the Myth of Harry in the narrative itself.

    Wesley, however, is constantly lionized by the narratives he's in. There's no feminine (Nyssa, Tegan, Hermione) or feminized (Davison's Doctor) or fatherly (Dumbledore, Tom Baker's Doctor) figure that can stand up to the immense gravity of entitled dickishness that his character exudes. Because Wesley-centric stories in this era of the show tend toward Wesley-saves-the-day narratives, the stories' structures make all the more reasonable and ethical characters seem dumber and less capable for the sake of idolizing Wesley.

    As viewers, we see through this immediately. We see how egotistical and petulant the character of Wesley is, and it rankles us to see admirable characters like Picard, Riker, and Beverly Crusher constrained by Wesley's smug rictus.

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  3. K. Jones
    December 27, 2014 @ 12:58 am

    My brother and I have a recurring joke fictional narrative called overtly "Destiny of the Chosen One". It's more than just a hashout of "The One" Trope, of course, it's really a game for us, a thought exercise to see who can top whom in just how far each instance of Destiny of the Chosen One can pile up. Best played by the way, at movie theaters, during the trailers … loudly … with intermittent Obi-Wan Kenobi impressions.

    I always really liked the senior staff debate in Pen Pals, much for the same reason I liked Home Soil for actually having the scientists and explorers of the crew actually play out the Scientific Theory in real-time in the narrative instead of taking melodramatic flights during.

    I like seeing future humans actually engage in a full debate and cover the angles. TAKE THAT PLOT HOLES. Of course patching all the potential plot holes ironically points toward the elephant in the room of plot holes – that of course Data has emotions and a soul. Or at least, if he doesn't, neither do any of the rest of us.

    I can't believe I'd never noticed that The Dauphin was Elaan of Troyius. "I Fell In Love With A Space Ambassador" is fast becoming a trope of its own in Trek, but Wesley is so milquetoast that it's hard to notice him do anything. At least in the Kirk/Elaan relationship, Kirk was interesting.

    And that gets to a root of why I hate Wesley Crusher. I was a child who was regarded as a high-potential, multi-talented little know-it-all. I was in all the advanced classes, was frustrated at being talked down to by adults, and was shy.

    One thing I never was was naive. Someone who reads that many books can't be reading nothing but tech manuals. Good writers, good artists, and good old fashioned curiosity and taboos will pique your interest. And we did all that with our free information in print form, which took far more work than omnipresent computers do now.

    The implication that this kid would rather read a tech manual than pornography even at an early age had me writing him off as some kind of strange neuter … or the fact that the Enterprise has other kids his age, presumably many of whom are girls. "Girls are scary and confusing" never made any sense to me. Girls are the easiest thing in the world to understand because there isn't that much relevant data to have to sort through past "interact with each individual individually".

    But that just speaks to the fact that the universal constant of human teenagers is some degree or other of rebellion – everyone identifies with an outsiders because we're all outsiders. Therefore having our teen hero be a kiss-ass workaholic shouting about how he wants to live up to everyone's expectations kind of defeats the purpose of having a teen character at all.

    Which brings me all the way back to Jake Kurland.

    Because that kid should've been Wesley Crusher. Or at the least, if you're going to have a male lead Destiny of the Chosen One type, a Luke Skywalker … you've gotta have a Han Solo around to knock him down a peg, look cool doing it, be a natural, maybe make the grown-ups in their lives feel a bit out-of-touch, guilty, admiring, whatever else.

    And they should've all been cadets and hot shot pilots, too.

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  4. Jacob Nanfito
    December 30, 2014 @ 7:27 am

    Well, I've always had a soft spot for Wesley. Watching the show as a kid, I thought he was pretty cool (shows you how cool I was). Of course, I see him a little differently now and I don't dispute anything you've said here.

    I don't know if this has been brought up here before — but has anyone seen Rod Roddenberry's documentary "Trek Nation"? It was on Netflix, so I gave it a whirl — and it was one of the more interesting Trek docs I've seen. For anyone unfamiliar with Rod, he's Gene's son … and the two of them did not have a great relationship. Consequently, he's not been a big Trek fan for most of his life. With his movie, he decides to explore what all the fuss about Trek is all about, and he attempts to get a new perspective on his dad through everyone else's visions of him.

    There's still a fair amount of hailing GR as a genius visionary, but Rod is pretty candid about his dad being an alcoholic, womanizer, and absent father. One of the most interesting and touching parts of the film is when Rod talks about Wesley Crusher. Rod explains that Wesley is Gene's idealized son — the son he never had. Rod was a bit of an anti-social, anti-academic kid growing up, and he felt he was a great disappointment to his father.

    Gene took this as far as treating Wil Wheaton like a son behind the scenes … sharing interests, joking around with him, and spending time with him in ways he never did with his own son. Rod was extremely hurt by both Gene's relationship with Wil, and by seeing this idealized version of who his dad wanted him to be on screen.

    In the documentary, Rod sits down with Wil for the first time (now both fathers themselves) and shares his feelings and resentments …. it's pretty moving.

    Anyway, worth a watch and it changed my perspective on Wesley a little bit.

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  5. Daru
    January 8, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

    Gosh, that sounds horrible, the idea of being constrained by a smug rictus.

    Reply

  6. Daru
    January 8, 2015 @ 8:52 pm

    Great points K.Jones and Adam above.

    I was weirdly also singled out as a bit of a golden child for some reason when I was young. I read massively and widely, was bigged up by all my teachers at school and was singled out by most of my peers as being a bit of a professor as I was also quite socially awkward. Odd experience, I never liked it and actually pushed against it and resisted the image, to create my own path and identity, rather than that being placed onto me.

    All touching on your ideas about rebellion above K – that quality is perhaps what's always been missing in Wesley for me, his lack of fire or rebellion.

    Reply

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