How does it feel?

So this hilarious picture was posted on Reddit yesterday.

We all made lots of jokes about how paying attention to the wife in each picture was the right decision, but eventually this discussion happened:

Screen Shot 2013-05-17 at 3.03.30 PMIf you can’t see that image clearly, here’s the important parts:

thatgengirl: At least he looks happy in your photo–we walked away from our photo op with a completely different opinion of Wil Wheaton.

me: Uh-oh. What happened?

thatgengirl then PM’d me, and gave permission to repost our exchange. It’s important to me, and I wanted to share it here, as well as at Reddit.

She wrote:

Hey Wil.

First off, I want to say that even thought we were a little soured by the experience–I still follow you on Twitter and read your blog. I started with WIL WHEATON dot NET years and years ago. (Your post about your son trying to communicate that he was kidnapped via bizarre text shorthand is my all-time fave.)

When we saw you were going to the Calgary Expo (2012), my husband and I were stoked! We bought a weekend pass for ourselves to celebrate our anniversary there.

The Calgary Expo is probably where it all went wrong. They were ridiculously unorganized, as was clearly demonstrated on the Saturday that everything was shut down. (My husband had to miss his photo op with Adam West because we were refused re-entry after the Fringe panel).

Luckily, our photo op was for the Friday evening, before others had arrived en masse. We stood in line for a very long time, crazy excited about getting to meet you. We knew from reading the Penny Arcade blog that you never touch people during photos to avoid the flu. We were cool with that.

When we were there, we saw how rushed people were being, and that sort of set us back, but we decided we could make the most of our 5 secs by just simply getting to say hi to an idol.

We were called, you didn’t make eye contact. I tried desperately by grinning a big grin, but you wouldn’t even look at us. My husband said he was a big fan, you didn’t even turn your head to acknowledge him. We were told to stand behind you–we did. You forced a smile (In the photo it looks like you secretly hate us) and the took the picture. My husband blinked, so they had to take it again–you seemed annoyed (But that’s probably projecting). Then you turned to someone who worked there and made a comment about the crying baby hating you. We told to leave, and that was it.

We were a little heartbroken. The whole experience felt like we were forcing you to meet us–forcing you to be somewhere you didn’t want to be. And I bet that’s probably true. You had probably just flown in, were tired, hungry, annoyed that the Calgary Expo spelled your name wrong…. You’re a human, and we get that. But gone was the impression that you were the fan’s fan.

The next day, we decided to get your autograph on the photo. Perhaps you were in a better mood? The line for your booth was insane, but it was what I saw when I got there that annoyed me. You had always affirmed that you never charge for autographs, and yet there was a sign at the front of the line that said “Autographs $30.” We could have afforded it, but it was just icing on the cake. We skipped your line and went to see Aaron Douglas instead. Great guy, I can see why you’re friends.

I’m really sorry I said what I did. I needed this reminder that we’re all humans doing a job and our words can make impressions and last forever online.

I love Tabletop, btw. After season 1 we went out and bought Catan, Smallworld, Ticket to Ride and Zombie Dice. We spend more time together as family now as a result. We would LOVE to see Zombicide on there sometime. We got in with the first Kickstarter and damn that’s a great game! Also, have you considered a children’s episode? My 6 year old loves Catan Jr. and I think it would be adorable if you guys got your kids to play it together (especially if most of the kids are under 10, but you made Ryan join too.)

p.s. Please don’t let them lynch me

I replied:

I’m so sorry you had a bad experience. Last year (2012) at Calgary Expo, I had the flu (Aaron and I went out for dinner one night and I ended up puking it all over a street on the way back to the hotel — good times) and was coming off of a three week performance tour of Australia. I wasn’t 100%, and probably was forcing things to a certain extent, because I felt an obligation to be there and entertain everyone. It was also incredibly emotional for me to be around the TNG cast for the first time in over a decade, so I was a little messed up on top of being sick and exhausted.

That con was the most overly-packed and unprepared for the mass of people I’ve ever been at, and I think that poor planning was most painfully experienced by fans during the photos. I hated that everyone was rushed through like you were, and I made sure that everyone involved knew that I wouldn’t be doing them in the future if they were going to rush people like that. This year, it was organized much better, and everyone was much happier.

I’ve always tried to keep autograph fees minimal or eliminate them entirely, but the reality is time I spend at a con is time I can’t spend working on Tabletop, my books, or any of the other projects I have in development. I give away tons of stuff to people at every con (I never charge volunteers for anything), and I’m never going to be one of those “give me $60 and get out” people cough Shatner cough. That said, it is work for me to be there, and though I’m uncomfortable even talking about it, I want you to know that I do my very best to be fair and reasonable. If someone gave you the impression that it was somehow required to fork over money just to visit and say hello and geek out about stuff, that person was wrong and I apologize for that.

I’m very sorry you had a disappointing time, and I hope that it hasn’t soured you on cons in the future. In the end, we’re all human, and though I make every effort to be as awesome to every single person I meet, when I’m meeting thousands of people I’m going to fall short at least once. I am sincerely sorry that I didn’t give you and your husband the awesome time you wanted and deserved.

I don’t think anyone is going to lynch you, and I honestly wish this exchange had been public; I imagine that you speak for a non-zero number of convention attendees who have had similar experiences. Thanks for taking the time to reach out. I wish you all the best.

Like I said, I believe you speak for a non-zero number of people — especially where the photo-ops are concerned — and convention organizers, the people who shoot the photo-ops, and the media guests who participate in them need to hear this and change the way we do them.

Redditor DireTaco added:

The photo ops are a kind of disillusioning experience in themselves, and not necessarily because of the celebrity; there’s just so many people, and while each fan wants to be able to talk 1-on-1 with you, they only get 5 seconds of a posed shoot and then they’re gone. If everyone got to spend the time they’d like to with you, you’d be there for a week.

And you as the celebrity have only so much time to squeeze in several hundred people, so you want to make the best of each shoot, but then efficiency gets mistaken for coldness. The no-touching rule is an entirely sensible and proper precaution when you have hundreds of people who want to enter your personal space, but it also adds to the perceived coldness.

Honestly, it’s a tough situation to be in for you and other celebs, and I sure as hell don’t envy you.

I replied:

I also have a certain amount of anxiety, and if lots of people are putting their arms around me, I start to freak out. If I reach out to a person, I can handle it, but when someone I don’t know tries to hug me or grabs me, I freak out, because that’s the way my brain is broken.

A general consensus emerged that the photo-ops at conventions are imperfect, but they’re probably the best any of us can hope for, considering the sheer volume of people who want to participate in them and the limited amount of time and energy that we all have to give.

I know “how does it feel” was asked in jest, and it was a really great joke, but I hope this gives a little insight into how it actually does feel, for both someone like me who appears at a con, and someone like thatgengirl, who attends a con.

I was attending cons long before I appeared at them (and even these days I still attend in ways — visiting artists’ alley, poking my head in on panels, jumping into photo-ops if I can) and I clearly recall how I wanted to feel when I went home, so now that I’m appearing at them, I keep that in mind and do my very best to treat people the way I’d like to be treated.


90 thoughts on “How does it feel?”

  1. I’ve been turned away… twice… from your autograph table because the line was already too full. As much as I understood it, it can also be frustrating… But I am determined to get my Fawkes comic autographed.

    I am sure there are others who have been turned away more… this just leads me to think we need more geek celebrities so we don’t have to all fight over one.

  2. Quarkright has a very good point. As people we want to feel valued by those we value. However, it’s just not realistic in fan/celebrity interactions. I don’t go to cons because while I don’t freak out at being touched, the noise and chaos wreaks havoc on my own anxiety disorder. I almost went to one of the Dallas cons last October, but my car did me the favor of developing a fuel pump and starter issue. I was hoping to attend some panels because I love listening to the stories behind the scenes, but I was also prepared myself for the letdown ( if I had gone ) of not seeing Ian McDiarmid because it just would not have been worth it for me – I don’t need a picture or an autograph – they would just be some I could lose. Besides, I had already gone to Chicago earlier that year to see him in Timon of Athens – an experience that I treasured. I even got to ask him a question about the play in the meeting with the audience afterwards and his willingness to give me a detailed explanation was far more satisfying to me, personally, than any awkward “Hi! My name’s Mandy! I really live your work.” In fact, my friend and I were chatting outside the theater afterwards when Mr. McDiarmid left several minutes after the rest of the cast did. I could see him just slightly brave himself when we made eye contact. I just have a brief nod and then launched into an animated conversation with my friend to distract her. He was grinning when he walked past (from either relief or amusement), but as I explained to my friend interacting at that moment would have just been awkward. Not to mention unfulfilling.

    Sure, there’s a part of me that wishes I had taken the chance to talk more. However, I don’t think I would have been happy with myself keeping someone away from their meal or whatever. I understand how others can be satisfied with just being able to verify with their own eyes that someone is real. I’ve seen these people be quite happy with their con trophies and I’m cool with that. I just know that I’m like most people in the way Quarkright describe and while I hate to admit to being so irrational, I can live with the fact that I can make conscious descisions to maximize my own satisfaction with a situation that is in many ways unnatural to normal human interaction.

    I’m glad you do performances and panels at cons, Wil. One day I hope to sit in the audience of one, doing breathing exercises to counteract my fear of crowds.

  3. Ah, the 2012 Calgary expo. I know it was somewhat of gong show at times, but the event is still so young, and that year they had something like twice (?) the number of people they were anticipating. This year was so much better organized.

    Anyway, I sometimes feel the same at cons… But I would never say it’s X celebrity’s fault for a disappointing experience. Unfortunately it’s just the nature of the whole interaction. We go into these cons feeling like we know these people, through their movies and shows and writing and blogs or whatever. We’ve been watching them for years. We grew up with them. We want to meet our hero and have it be a significant moment in our life. And sometimes we pay really big bucks for it too, ridiculous amounts of money for two minutes, if even that, to grin and mumble at our celebrity hero. But you have to consider it from the guest’s point of view. They sit there all day long having to meet people over and over and over, these people who they have no knowledge of whatsoever but who feel like they know you, and each person on this line has paid lots of money and has stood there forever and is so excited about meeting their hero, (and lets be honest guys sometimes we can get weird and awkward when we meet our heroes) and you have to make sure that this is a Special Significant Moment in Time for every. Single. Person. Every single person who wants to express these feelings of admiration and fellowship and significance, and feel like their feelings have been accepted and validated, and compress this whole interaction into two short minutes. Over and over and over all day long. And then you do it again the next day.

    Being a person who is shy and has some social anxieties, just thinking about this makes me feel exhausted. Sometimes these highly anticipated meetings with our heroes don’t go as amazingly as I wish, but I try not to go away thinking wow X famous dude didn’t even look at me. They’re probably late or maybe they’re sick or maybe they found out this morning their dog died, or maybe just really freaking exhausted by having to think of witty things to say to awkward grinning fans all day long. Instead I’m always super touched by whatever I get.

    ….Even when Linda Hamilton thought that I was my husband’s daughter instead of his wife. I still got to say hi to Sarah Conner and that is awesome.

    I hope, Wil, that you don’t get too discouraged reading some people’s negative experiences. (Which of course are totally valid and politely expressed, I don’t mean to attack that girl for saying she had a disappointing experience)

  4. I used to work in the media and met/interviewed quite a few ‘famous’ people. I have more terribly funny stories than awesome stories (though I have to point out that the interviewees who treated me best were of the the sci fi/geek set). What I came to realize is that people are people, you know? It’s not (usually) personal. People have bad days or off moments or they get tired or hungry or homesick. And yes, sometimes they’re just jerks 😛 And meeting strangers can get exhausting. I’ve learned to look at instances where someone might not have treated me the best (IE: the band who jumped the hockey boards and took off for their tour bus while I was announcing their encore and left me up there all alone or the former captain of the leafs who asked me for all the answers to my questions before we started) as funny instead of insulting because for it to be an insult, it’d have to be personal and it wasn’t so whatever, you know? It’s just amusing.

    That said, now that I’m in a different career, I have no real want to meet celebrities. And I also wasn’t paying my hard earned money to meet these people.

  5. Hi Wil! I really hope you see this!

    I’m not sure if you still remember me. It’s Naseem from Calgary and I must say you were nothing but an angel to me! I understand how fortunate I am for being treated so well by you since you were exhausted and feeling under the weather. I’ve met you 3 times and all 3 times are treasured memories. You were so sweet and charming. You complimented my costumes, laughed at my jokes/silly gifts I brought for you and comforted me when my nerves got to me and my anxiety rose. Not to mention treated me very well when I was told I couldn’t have a picture even though I paid in advance. I appreciated everything you did for me and the respect you treated me with. You are such an honorable, kind man and you’ve taught me to be a kinder, more loving being. You told me to always be awesome and to keep being creative and I believe those are words to live by.

    Calgary expo was my first con and I unfortunately am not a fan of anything geek (besides you =)) and I had such a wonderful time. So much in fact that I came back again this year. You’ve opened me up to an entirely new world that I would have never thought I could obtain joy from so I must thank you for that. I really hope you do decide to come back to Calgary. I know the 2012 show was extremely unorganized but you handled it very well and you managed to make me feel as if I were the only girl there due to your undivided attention and polite nature. Thank you for being so lovely.

    You’re truly a doll Wil! Please don’t feel discouraged from others disappointment. You’re a wonderful, classy individual and an amazing con guest. I hope you always stay awesome and keep being creative! Hope to hear back from you soon.

    <3 Naseem

    P.S. I heard you ran into my brother-in-law a week ago at the airport and still remembered me. You're kind of making it hard to not crush on you! <3

  6. To paraphrase Sheldon Cooper, “Ah, Reality. Thou art a heartless bitch.”

    We as nerds and geeks tend to live in a fantasy world of sorts, and then we feel betrayed by disappointment when Reality thoughtlessly rears her ugly head and photobombs our perfectly crafted existence. This fits in nicely with the typical human perception that the World does indeed revolve around us and us alone. I’m guilty of it, so are you, so is everyone reading this post. We’re programmed with a “me first” mentality. It’s the way we are, and it’s this perception that causes most of the interaction problems people encounter.

    David Foster Wallace’s 2005 speech “This is Water” should be required listening for anyone attending Cons or any other large event. In a nutshell, David points out that being “Educated” is more than just book-learning. It’s about expanding one’s perceptions to include alternate concepts and explanations. This concept applies quite nicely to Wil’s excellent post. If more people approached their idols/gods/persons-of-interest with the other person’s perceptions, I believe many of these exchanges would be unnecessary.

    While several celebrities are thoughtless, arrogant divas whose self-centric egos could anchor a small solar system, I believe that vast majority are like our dear Mr. Wheaton: regular Janes and Joes who happen to have a gift for entertainment and were lucky enough to find a niche where they could share that gift for the benefit of themselves and their fans. Were circumstances different, these same people could be the ones waiting our tables at a restaurant or bagging our groceries, toiling away in blissful anonymity while they yearn for the attention of their own idols/gods/persons-of-interest.

    They’re doing us a favor by taking time out of their busy lives to make themselves available to the adoring masses. They’re subjecting themselves to countless close-encounters with nameless, faceless mobs who, in their own manufactured realities, believe that the encounter will be memorable and meaningful to said idol/god/person-of-interest. We expect them to act as though they’re delighted to meet us, visitor #816, with the same enthusiasm that we ourselves feel towards the encounter. Then we’re bitterly disappointed when we receive that cold bucket of Reality to the face, and the reminder that we’re just one of countless others who will grace this celebrity with our collective presence.

    The point of my belabored message is that I gain more respect for Mr. Wheaton and those like him with every one of these unfortunate situations. I can’t begin to imagine the sort of life a Celebrity leads, being constantly in the public eye, having every word and move scrutinized by hordes of adoring (and not so adoring) fans, and being unjustly villainized for the crime of being Human. I myself would prefer to live in the sheltered anonymity of my comparatively boring life and perhaps one day share thirty seconds of it with one of my idols/gods/persons-of-interest in the hopes that we both leave the encounter better for having had it.

    So I say, “Thank You, Mr. Wheaton,” for having the courage to share your talents with us and gracefully accept our adorations and condemnations with equal humility and grace. “Thank You” for tolerating our “Me First!” attitudes and continuing to subject yourself to them, despite your own human frailties. And finally, a big “Thank You” for allowing us to visit behind the Curtain and share a drink with Reality, in the hopes that she doesn’t barge in unannounced upon our future collective experiences.


  7. I can understand people’s frustrations, but often it isn’t at all the fault of the celeb in question. I have had both great and horrible experiences at the same Con (PAX East). At the first East, I waited in line to see Wil, bringing my dogeared copy of Happiest Days. Wil paused and said “This is super cool, because I know that not too long ago, this was in my living room. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.” We didn’t get to talk a lot, but we had a good experience, and got to see Wil write an Apples to Apples card for one guy and get a fan-made D&D action card for Wheaton’s Vicious Cock Punch Of Furious Anger from another.

  8. I went to that Calgary con and it was my first, and my last, based solely on the disorganization of the entire event. Could hardly find a thing, got lost and went behind the wrong curtains a number of times just trying to find an exit. The line around you was so large it almost paled that of the Phelps twins. It soured my opinion of cons in general, but there are plenty of people to take my vacant place for sure.

  9. You are a great person, Wil. I’m glad you reached out to her to get her response and talk to her about it, because not everyone does that. There needs to be some sort of con council where con planners go to get advice and assistance in planning. And you would be on it.

    It’d be like one of those makeover shows, but less Ty Pennington.

  10. I’m very glad that I used the photo ops I had more to get a professional photo of my costumes rather than just to meet the celebs.. Because yeah, photo ops are pretty much useless to meet the people. Which is ironic, since I’d say the _point_ of a photo op is sort of supposed to be “hey look, I met this celeb!”. So I suppose it proves that you were at the con, and you probably heard them speak and such. Not much else.

    That said, I’m somehow completely tickled that I have a photo of Merida from Brave (myself) shooting Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day with arrows.

    So what would actually improve the fan experience while not overwhelming the celebs?

  11. I do not know, I had a more then amiable experience meeting Wil at last years GenCon (albeit it was day one) he was extremely gracious and gladly signed my copy of Memories of the Future, took a photo with me and accepted the gift I had made for him (GenCon Germ Warefare Kit ®) and chated with most of those in line. It was a pretty awesome experience.

    I am sure that a poorly organized Con is likely just as difficult to deal with as a celebrity as it is as a fan.

  12. I have always felt weird and strange about asking celebrities for autographs or photographs. We, the Joe Public, already get so much enjoyment/benefits from what ever it is celebrities do, why do I need to take one more thing from them? The only thing I really ever want to do is say thank you. But only at an appropriate time and place, cause hey if you are trying to have dinner or even just trying to get from point A to point B, you have a life. Now if you were Sean Astin … 😉
    So thank you Wil Wheaton for Stand By Me, Toy Soldiers, TNG, and Big Bang Theory and for just being you.

  13. This is a textbook example of how to reply to criticism with grace, honesty, transparency and a healthy impulse toward the teachable moment. Well done. Much to be learned from here.

    1. Also, this brief anecdote…

      MANY years ago, I found myself waiting to catch a flight at an incredibly crowded gate at SFO. (I think — it might have been LAX.) I was deeply weary, and really needed to sit, and I spotted only ONE open seat even remotely close to the gate. Grateful, I made a beeline toward it… and only realized nano-seconds before I sat down that I was actually sitting down next to one Wil Wheaton.

      This was pre-WWdN, mind you — or at least pre-my awareness of WWdN — but I knew quite well who you were. I was then, and am now still, grateful for the creative work you’ve given the world. But instead of reaching out to blabber something to that effect, I asked myself… what could I really do to repay the gratitude I felt toward you? And the answer, in that almost inhumanly-crowded airport, was abundantly clear: leave you be. And so I did.

      I guess my point is this: some people stand in line to see you because they want something from you, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable that you charge those people for what they want. I don’t think you need to feel badly about that transaction at all, as long as it’s an equitable one for both parties.

      But there are some people who undoubtedly want to give you things, not get them, as an expression of thanks. And I would put it to those people, respectfully, that perhaps an autograph line might not be the place to make that gift.

  14. I’m so glad you posted this. I had a similar, if not as upsetting experience in 2012. As a volunteer, they gave me a one-use opportunity to get into the VIP line for photo ops or autographs, and I was super excited to use it to see you. (mainly because tabletop had just started and because of your connection to board games and RPGs) I even asked Lyndsay (Dragon Chow) if she wanted me to give you the dice bag she made for you, but she had said that other arrangements were made. (I was volunteering in the traditional gaming area that year and her booth was nearby) But when I got to the line (I forget which day it was) they told us that way too many people had signed up for pictures so we could only say a quick greeting, take the picture, and get out of the way. You also looked a bit stressed so I didn’t want to make your day harder, so I just muttered a hello and moved on. Still it felt very forced and I felt disappointed, even though I could rationalize that it probably wasn’t really anything to do with you. I’ll try to post the picture later when I’m not on my phone.

    Still, seeing EXPOsed was a fantastic and heartwarming experience, and I’m glad to have met you. (sort of) I missed you this year, but I can tell you that Calgary loves you and the fans certainly want you back. There were rumours that you might visit the gaming area, but I think that getting the opportunity to play Gloom with Keith Baker was a pretty good trade.

  15. On that first photo, in fairness to Mr. Wheaton, it looks like that guy just has to smell bad. :-)

  16. Wil,

    I had an opportunity to meet and talk with you twice when you were on your Dancing Barefoot book signing in Portland, Oregon. That was…..oh my……many, many years ago. I still remember getting butterflies in my stomach because it was you I was actually talking with and we got a few minutes to converse. I feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to meet you. If only we could make time stop so fans could have 30-60 seconds to talk.

  17. I’ve always had great experiences meeting non actor folks at cons. The one time I had a bad experience was at Comic Con and it was no fault of the actor I was meeting.

    I had won a ticket to met the cast of TORCHWOOD and was very excited to get John Barrowman autograph. Even though he was very gracious and tried to knowledge everyone that was in line, the folks from Comic Con were just rushing and yelling at everyone to hurry through. They would actually go up to people and tell them to stop talking and move.

    After that experience I do not go for actors autographs. I may love the actor (had the chance to met my queen Gillian Anderson at ECCC 2013) but because of that experience, I just can not go through the anxiety of possibly being yelled at to move it but I will keep supporting my favorite actors!

    You just have to remember, sometimes it may not be them at all.

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