Wil Wheaton has lived through every aspect of modern geekdom. He grew up loving comic books and Star Wars. He starred in an iconic franchise (Star Trek: The Next Generation) and earned legions of his own fans (and experienced the blowback inherent in involvement in an iconic franchise). He was an early blogging pioneer, earning a second career as an influential voice in the nascent geek internet, which led to his own web series and work as a published author. Oh, and he still acts, with roles in shows like The Big Bang Theory, Dark Matter, and Stretch Armstrong.
What we're saying is that few people have been so embedded in the geek community over the last 30 years, and so few have as much authority to offer up an assessment of the state of fandom in 2018. And while taking the temperature of such an increasingly broad, complex, and economically powerful force can seem like an equally formidable task, to Wheaton, a recent trip to Disneyland told him all he needed to know about the future of geek fandom.
"If you want to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi and just have fun watching a Star Wars movie, you can do that. I feel like you're not fully experiencing it, but you can do that. But for people who are willing and open to it, it's just so great," Wheaton says in the new episode of The Fandom Files. "Our friend and her six-year-old came into town so we took them to Disneyland. My friend's daughter is all about Disney, all about the Disney princesses, so she's wearing her Snow White dress and her Frozen stuff. She loves it, that's her jam, and I love her for it. But there was also a little girl who walked out in front of us at California Adventure and she was wearing an X-Wing pilot costume."
Spoiler alert: Wheaton wasn't just pumped to know that costume sales at Disneyland continue to be brisk. What the contrast in cosplay points to, he says, is an increasing diversity in both storytelling and opportunities for audiences of all kinds to participate in active fandom.
"That made me so happy and it made me so excited that my friend's daughter could be the princess that she wants to be and this other person's daughter could be the X-Wing pilot she wanted to be," Wheaton explains. "There was room for both of them."
That the new Star Wars films have focused so heavily on female heroes is a victory for both representation and good storytelling. But it's only a step in the right direction, and other works have fiction have gone even further. Just look at Head On, the new John Scalzi novel for which Wheaton reads the Audible audiobook. The protagonist of the book, the latest in Scalzi's Locked In series, is once again genderless, and so another version of the audiobook is read by Amber Benson. It's a gesture toward tearing down the notion that the default voice in culture is that of a straight white male, a movement that has roiled some dead-end fans but empowered many more.
"I think it is just terrific that we have speculative fiction that is inclusive and challenging and it just allows people who are not white guys to identify with protagonists and to identify with a narrative," Wheaton says. "I think it's real common — and I don't think that there's anything wrong with this — for a person who was basically like me, a middle-aged white guy, to have not really considered that before. But now you know that it exists. So now I challenge you, my fellow white guys, to be open to things being a little bit different and realize that opening up possibilities and opening up representation to people who don't look like us doesn't mean that anything is being taken away from us.
"It's not a zero-sum game," Wheaton continues, making a crucial point often lost in complaints over changes made to beloved franchises. "It's not like you take a book out of a library because you put a book into a library. Because the new Star Wars movies are so wonderfully diverse, that doesn't mean that the original Star Wars movies suddenly don't exist."
For more with Wil Wheaton, listen to the episode of The Fandom Files below:
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