The brand new ‘Star Trek’ has moments higher than my finest homilies

Within the very first days of the web, “social media” was a really small group of very sensible individuals who owned this factor that nobody actually knew about but referred to as a “modem,” writing forwards and backwards to one another on on-line message boards. They wrote about the right way to resolve the Rubik’s Dice, new Dungeons & Dragons modules, Space 51 conspiracy theories and theoretical physics. It’d sound like a kinder, gentler time on reflection, and in some ways the early web was a spot of refuge for individuals who didn’t slot in or have been mistreated by the exterior world.

However even amongst these folks and in that very fundamental context, the sort of cruelty we see on-line right this moment was doable. One of many web’s authentic sins, if not its first, was its therapy of the teenager actor Wil Wheaton, a.ok.a. Wesley Crusher.

When you’re of a sure age or like science fiction, you understand of Wesley Crusher. He was the genius-level teenager on the Eighties “Star Trek: The Subsequent Era” reboot, a slightly apparent try by the franchise to enchantment to its personal subsequent era. This “Star Trek” was so cool, it even had room for youths like us! You may additionally know of Wheaton due to his attractive efficiency at age 14 as Gordie in Rob Reiner’s 1986 coming-of-age movie “Stand by Me.” The present couldn’t have solid a extra gifted and genuine child.

Whereas “Star Trek” has introduced itself as a present about exploring unusual new worlds, at its coronary heart it has at all times been about elevating those that society has ignored.

However Wesley was a whole catastrophe. Whereas his character was apparently modeled on the younger Gene Roddenberry, the beloved creator of “Star Trek,” the writers leaned into all of the issues that may make him the least likable and most problematic for audiences—the truth that he didn’t slot in, have mates or act like a traditional child; his determined insecurity; and worst of all, the truth that he was a lot smarter than everybody else.

When my era was rising up, being good in school was just about the worst factor that you possibly can be (significantly in the event you didn’t have the social expertise to cover it). Youngsters didn’t such as you, and neither did many adults. My fifth grade math trainer would make her lessons play a sport the place one child stands and walks desk to desk competing with each seated pupil over math issues till they lose. And he or she appeared to do it to get different children mad on the sensible children; she would egg the group on of their anger, snicker at their rising rage.

Within the Seventies and ’80s, moments like this weren’t uncommon. All these hilarious caricatures of imply lecturers and helpless dad and mom that John Hughes put in his films have been each correct and loads much less humorous than he made them appear.

The standard geek confronted harassment from a single faculty full of individuals. However for Wil Wheaton the entire world turned his schoolyard. Immediately the time period for being humiliated on social media is “being dragged.” That was precisely what “Star Trek” fandom did on-line and off to Wesley Crusher and Wil Wheaton each week. We dragged him, as arduous as we may. A scene wherein the beloved Star Trek captain Jean-Luc Picard instructed him, “Shut up, Wesley,” turned an early on-line meme, and in every single place Wheaton went, he was mocked and hated—and I think most particularly by these of us who may most determine with him. He was simply an excessive amount of of a mirror of our personal experiences.

For the final 5 years, the “Star Trek” franchise has been going by way of a sort of renaissance.

Throughout the present it was a lot the identical. Whereas his castmates handled him effectively, “Almost each director we had handled me like I used to be an fool who had no thought what I used to be doing,” Wheaton wrote in a FAQ on his weblog. William Shatner, the nice Captain James T. Kirk,ridiculed Wheaton, which devastated him. A few of the present’s writers appeared to hate the character, too. Wesley so typically turns into the butt of the joke or is in a technique or one other the issue of the episode (at the same time as he’s additionally typically used to magically repair all the pieces). “Let me inform you,” Wheaton wrote lately, “when each room you stroll into is stuffed with individuals who have already made up their thoughts about you earlier than you even introduce your self, you simply cease strolling into rooms.”

Wheaton stop the business (and was kind of shunned by his dad and mom for doing so). However over time he made peace with what had occurred, and truly turned a sort of skilled lover of popular culture, with exhibits, podcasts and writing all constructed round geeking out on numerous issues, together with “Star Trek.” He additionally grew extra in a position to admire the followers who did love his work, who recognized with Wesley’s struggles and took consolation that they weren’t alone.

To its credit score the franchise realized from its failures with Wheaton. When “Subsequent Era” had a by-product it launched a brand new teenager, Jake Sisko (performed by Cirroc Lofton). This time he was allowed to be only a regular child; he had mates, girlfriends and a lifetime of his personal. Followers adored him (and nonetheless do).

For the final 5 years, the “Star Trek” franchise has been going by way of a sort of renaissance. It started with a brand new present set earlier than the unique sequence, “Star Trek: Discovery,” with a superb Black feminine protagonist who seems to be Spock’s adopted sister. (You need to watch it, it’s improbable.) The franchise’s regeneration has continued with quite a lot of celebrated animated exhibits (together with one that’s made up nearly totally of youngsters) and “Picard,” an surprising sequel to “Subsequent Era” wherein an aged Jean-Luc Picard works to save lots of the universe whereas additionally making an attempt to make sense of his previous.

On final evening’s second-season finale of “Picard,” out of the blue and in probably the most unlikely of the way, the present introduced again Wesley Crusher.

On final evening’s second-season finale of “Picard,” out of the blue and in probably the most unlikely of the way, the present introduced again Wesley Crusher. And gone was the insecure, please-affirm-me know-it-all of the previous. In his place was principally Wheaton himself, an grownup with a wry humorousness about himself and life, who views the universe as a factor of unimaginable delicacy and sweetness, to be watched and guarded, and invitations another person who has been horribly mistreated to come back with him and do the identical. It was only a single scene (which can result in extra), and but it managed to show Crusher (and Wheaton) into what he ought to have at all times been, somebody particular, somebody to be celebrated and liked.

When Twitter first started, I selected the title “Pop Tradition Priest” as a deal with, on the suggestion of one other America editor, Regina Nigro, who at all times had an incredible sense for what might sound sensible. I noticed it as a press release of aspiration, of the place I wish to be wandering as a priest, and the folks I wish to stroll with.

Since then I’ve turn into sort of embarrassed by it. For one, I don’t know many clergymen that aren’t into popular culture. I additionally know plenty of non-clerics who’ve far more enjoyable and fascinating takes on popular culture, beginning with Wheaton himself. However for now I hold that deal with as a press release of popular culture’s worth. I actually imagine popular culture is a spot that may assist us confront the demons of our previous and heal. I imagine it’s a spot that may allow us to know who we’re and what we have to do in our lives.

I even assume it’s a spot the place we will meet God. In its second season, “Picard” reintroduced one of many weirdest and most problematic ideas in the entire franchise, the alien Q, a being so superior he can change all of actuality with the snap of a finger. Performed with impish abandon by John de Lancie, Q is commonly described as a god, and from the primary episode of “Subsequent Era” he has had an odd fascination with Picard. In final evening’s finale, Picard insists Q inform him why he’s at all times been so fascinated with him. The reality is written throughout Q’s face, however nonetheless Picard retains asking, “Why, why me?”

Q walks over to Picard, leans down and takes his face in his fingers, like a father to a toddler. “You matter to me,” he says. If I had a thousand homilies I couldn’t give you an easier and clearer picture of how our God feels about us or appears at us.

“Star Trek” has been round for nearly 60 years. And whereas it has introduced itself as a present about exploring unusual new worlds, at its coronary heart it has at all times been about elevating those that society has ignored or shunned—girls, folks of shade, members of the L.G.B.T. group, immigrants, refugees, even nationwide enemies (in the course of the Chilly Struggle, Roddenberry included the Russian Chekov)—and insisting that they matter. We’re the aliens for which we search, and this stunning and fragile existence wouldn’t be what it’s with out every of us. Thank God we proceed to have “Star Trek,” and characters like Wesley Crusher, to assist us see that.