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 more...safe, 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.