Approximately 162% of the total population of Twitter users has sent me this Gizmodo post about some mostly-awesome custom (unofficial) LEGO minifigs that are inspired by the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Approximately 600% of them asked me to comment, and since I can’t do that in 280 characters without resorting to the dreaded [THREAD 1/66], I’m doing it here.
Before I get into the Wesley part of this that you’re all here for: I love that this set exists. I love that enough people want to do TNG LEGO to create a market demand for these figures. I can’t speak for the rest of the cast, but things like this, based on us, are always awesome. Earlier this year, a guy gave me a little minifig that he made of Wesley, and even though it’s unofficial, it is a delightful thing to own. He’s in his little red spacesuit, and he looks like he’s got a course you can plot. I love it.
In this particular custom set, though, Wesley is depicted as a crying child, and that’s not just disappointing to me, it’s kind of insulting and demeaning to everyone who loved that character when they were kids. The creator of this set is saying that Wesley Crusher is a crybaby, and he doesn’t deserve to stand shoulder to minifig shoulder with the rest of the crew. People who loved Wesley, who were inspired by him to pursue careers in science and engineering, who were thrilled when they were kids to see another kid driving a spaceship? Well, the character they loved was a crybaby so just suck it up I guess.
“Oh, Wil Wheaton, you sweet summer child,” you are saying right now. “You think people actually loved Wesley Crusher. You’re adorable.”
So this is, as you can imagine, something I’ve spent a lot of time dealing with for thirty years. It’s been talked about to death (on this very blog, more than once), but I’ll sum up as briefly as I can: I reject the idea that nobody liked or cared about the character. Now, It is absolutely true that, for the entirety of the first season, Wesley was a terribly-written character. He was an idea, a plot device, and was not handled with much care or respect. I think the best example of this is in Datalore, which I wrote about in Memories of the Future Volume 1:
Wesley, who was sent to check up on Data, does what any smart Starfleet officer would do: He reports to his captain that something fishy is going on with the robot and suggests that maybe they shouldn’t be so quick to trust him.
Picard, the captain who recognized Wesley’s intellect and promoted him to acting ensign, and Riker, who chose Wesley over everyone else on the ship to check up on Data and report back on what he found, not only ignore Wesley’s concerns, they actually tell him that he’s out of line for expressing them!
“Data” (actually Lore) leaves the bridge — after making it clear that he doesn’t know what “make it so” means and arousing absolutely no suspicions from Picard — and Wesley decides he’s had enough of this bullshit.
“Sir,” he says, “I know this may finish me, but —”
And Picard, the captain who recognized Wesley’s intellect and promoted him to acting ensign, and the closest thing to a father figure Wesley has ever known, responds with three words that follow and haunt me to this day: “Shut up, Wesley!”
Trekkies around the country gasp in delight as an episode that was veering dangerously close to the Tkon empire suddenly has redeeming value. Printing presses, silk screens, and button-makers go into overdrive as entrepreneurial fans do what they do best: skirt the borders of IP infringement to make a quick buck. Children are still attending college today from the sales.
Wesley points out that everything he said in his report, and all of his concerns, would have been listened to if it came from an adult, or a competent writer. Picard considers this retort momentarily, and then sends him to his room to organize his sweaters. Then, for good measure, he sends Dr. Crusher to keep an eye on him.
“Personally, I hated the way they handled Wesley in this episode. He’s already on his way to becoming a hated character by the adults in the audience, and the writers cranked it up to Warp 11. It was stupid of them to have Picard give him an adult responsibility and then dismissively treat him like a child when he carried it out. It undermines both of the characters — how is the audience supposed to take either of them seriously?”
Another brief and related note on “Shut up, Wesley”, from a Reddit thread seven months ago:
People have been saying this to me since I was fourteen. I’m nearly 45. I’ve heard this for the entirety of my adult life. It’s annoying. It isn’t funny, it isn’t clever, and it’s just become obnoxious.
More than that, though, let’s put it into dramatic context: an adult says that to a kid who is doing his best to help, to do his job, to live up to the expectations that have been placed upon him. It’s used to shut him down, to disregard and silence him. And it turns out that, holy shit, the kid was right all along. In context, if we accept that it’s all real: Picard never says that to Riker, or Geordi, or Tasha, or to literally anyone else under his command because that would be profoundly unprofessional. But there are different rules when you’re dealing with the kid among the adults (and, believe me, the producers and directors on TNG treated me the exact same way).
So it’s a loaded phrase that bothers me, and I’d really like it if it just went away forever.
So back to the minifig: it’s “Shut up, Wesley,” made into what would otherwise be an awesome minifig, in a collection of truly amazing and beautiful minifigs. It’s a huge disappointment to me, because I’d love to have a Wesley in his little rainbow acting-ensign uniform, but I believe that it’s insulting to all the kids who are now adults who loved the character and were inspired by him to go into science and engineering, or who had a character on TV they could relate to, because they were too smart for their own good, a little awkward and weird, and out of place everywhere they went (oh hey I just described myself. I never claimed to be objective here).
I want to be clear here, because I know that future members of my Twitter blocklist will send me a cropped image of LEGO Wesley crying, or tell me to shut up because I’m making too much of this: this isn’t about me. This is about thirty years of people kicking Wesley Crusher around because writers in the first season of Next Generation (who gave us such memorable gems as Angel One, Code of Honor, and The Last Outpost) didn’t write him as well as writers did in later seasons, and once the fandom narrative was fixed, no amount of Final Mission or Starfleet Academy -like episodes could change it.
I understand that a lot of people will see the humor in this, and I respect that. From a certain point of view, it is very funny. I don’t think that this was done this way to be mean/ If anything, it’s just lazy. But because so many people asked me what I felt when I saw it: I’m disappointed, because this isn’t the way I’d like to see Wesley portrayed in a medium that I love. I just feel like Wesley Crusher and the boys and girls he inspired deserve something that isn’t making a joke at his expense, or just reducing him —again– to little more than an idea.