Saturday, July 26, 2008


The other day I was talking with Melissa and for some reason (I can't remember) Jonathan Brandis ( at IMDB ) came up.

You'll remember him looking more like this, though (from Steven King's "It"):

Or, if you're a bit more proud of your geekiness, like this (from SeaQuest DSV):

He died on November 12th 2003. Apparently, he had hung himself.

I'm not going to pretend that I understand what child actors go through even for a second. I'm not going to wax poetic as so many of the other blogs out there have done about Brandis and his death (there are tons of memorial entries out there if that's what you're looking for). Here's what I will say: I had a huge crush on him from the first time I saw him in SeaQuest . He's only a little younger than I am; in
'93, when the show first aired, I was 18 and he was about to turn 17.

What makes my reaction relevant to what I'm going to say is that all these years later, I've heard that both he and Wil Wheaton felt some resentment from fans of their shows. I think I do understand, at least theoretically, why that occurred (based on some work by Richard Phillips ):

--Science fiction is often felt to be a "boy space"...a place where the viewer (who until relatively recently was often an adolescent boy) can insert himself into the text and become explorer of that unclaimed space ("there are no other boys here; therefore, I have discovered this space alone").

--Here, though, in the case of both SeaQuest and Star Trek: The Next Generation , there are characters present already who are "boys." This was a move from the producers to create a character that young viewers could identify with, and live vicariously through. However, what most "boy" viewers wanted was to be the boy within the space.

--So, instead of identifying with the "boy" character, viewers were inclined to feel resentment because there was already a boy in the unclaimed space; they could not claim the space, but instead had to form community with that character--not the traditional model for the "boy explorer." Wesley Crusher and Lucas Wolenczak had already planted their flags on their ships in a way that no one had aboard the Nautilus or aboard the other Enterprise .

--I think, too, that it was mostly adults who had negative reactions to the presence of these boys on these ships because their "inner child" was unable to claim the space from the very real adolescent already" onboard.

When I found out that Wheaton had felt resentment from fans, or that Brandis felt SeaQuest was rather a low point in his career I was shocked. I, myself, had the exact reaction producers had hoped for: I felt connected to these characters (and more than just a little bit of a teenage crush). I'd have watched anyway, but them being there made the space feel, maybe? Sands and Frank talk about how the goal of children's science fiction is often to use children protagonists and/or fuzzy cute animals to make the space setting more comfortable, less threatening. Maybe that's what it did for those of us who were the same age as these adolescent characters. Why we did connect to the show for the precise reasons that the adult fans couldn't understand.

I hate that he felt so lost that he took his own life. That he never got to make the transition to adult that Wheaton did. I wish he could have seen the outpouring of support and care that happened after his death from others like me who grew up with his character on that submarine. I hope that there is something in place for teen and child actors to help them make the transition into adulthood so that we don't have to read other stories like this. But I also hope that adult fans of shows that include teen actors (especially shows that have casts that routinely go to conventions as many SF shows do) would cut the young actor a break both in their public appearances as well as their critiques of the work. I would hope, too, that we all are a little more forgiving of the transitions these young actors have to go through as they move to adulthood--maybe we don't need to run thirty stories about how some young actor just got another DUI. Instead, maybe we could offer them support and recognize that they aren't their characters and that going through adolescence is hard enough, even without having to deal with every crack of the voice and every not-so-great acting choice in a scene forever.

Okay, so I lied: I really was going to wax poetic. So sue me.


Mira Chan said...

yes, i remember him very well from SeaQuest. i had a huge crush as well and had a few pictures of him on my wall (next to the numerous photos of the New Kids, Devon Sawa and Joseph Gordon-Levitt). i first saw him in the movie "Sidekicks" with Chuck Norris. and yes, that VHS is still at my parents' house. i knew he was dating Tatyana Ali ("Ashley" on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) just before he died. it was really tragic, but other than online, i don't think it was in the press much. i didn't find out until i was in japan that it had happened and was extremely sad.

J. Campbell said...

I can totally picture the room you describe.

M said...

I'm not gonna lie--I had a total "cold shower" moment when I saw those pics on your site. Unfortunately, I was on the phone at the time so I succeeded in making quite a fool of myself.


Oh, and you totally forgot about the movie Ladybugs (which put him in drag and certainly complicates our childhood crushes...)

J. Campbell said...

Nope; I just wanted this post to focus on the SeaQuest character and the fans' reaction to him

G said...

I consider myself way out of the loop when it comes to SF, but you're blog really is making me feel better. I'd forgotten that I loved Seaquest. This comment adds nothing to your content, but is really me just not feeling lost for a moment. Thanks :)

J. Campbell said...

are you kidding? I'm stoked that you guys read and comment!

I have the entire first season on DVD, btw; you're more than welcome to borrow it at any time.

Supernetuser said...

The whole situation Brandis faced makes me really mad. Wil Wheaton got to become an adult while he didn't. I'm just shocked by the way he committed suicide rather than live with everything. I'm not pretending to understand what he went through, the fact that everybody around him suffered is not something that went through his head. SeaQuest was by no means a low point in his career but if he felt that way, its hard to change what someone else feels. Did people know he was bipolar? I read somewhere he was bipolar or something. Does anybody have any idea about this?

J. Campbell said...

No idea about that, really. It wasn't in any of the "official" bios, but I'm sure at some point there'll be a book (if there isn't one already). I'm gonna go see if I can track that down, actually.

Beth said...

I still have my Jonathan Brandis poster somewhere. It was the first of my teen idol posters, and certainly my favorite. I didn't find out he died until a couple of years after. It was a bizarre experience; I'm really sad to hear he felt that way about SeaQuest DSV. I watched that show faithfully every Sunday night and absolutely loved it. Lord help me, I'm a sci fi geek at heart. Thanks for reminder of a great show- we have to get together and watch it.

J. Campbell said...

Absolutely we do! Let me know when you want to do it, and I'll be there with the discs!

jamona said...

i was watching seaquest in one of the channeles today and i remmebered how good it was watching it i dont know why someone say its bad show (its even better then many shows showing now) anyway so i said let me search what brandis is acting and i just found out he died in 2003 i know its a long time ago but still everytime i see his picture i say what a poor sad soul he was to kill himself. and how sorry to lose a young life because of neglect and forgetting the past stars :'( he was still young and life might did him much better