The Wilsons, pt. 1: A Survey of Typology

When I moved to Atlanta, I was immediately assigned a personality and social role by the friend group into which I assimilated–the Wilson. At first I balked at this, as it is chiefly a supporting role, and I have ever considered myself a leading lady in the unique story that is me. But, as I became familiar with the Wilson role, I grew to understand and appreciate the ways in which the definition was apt. I explain myself and my social function in terms of this paradigm, and thus reaffirm to myself that it is a worthy and well-fitting role. As you are likely unfamiliar with the Wilsons, I thought I would begin with a survey of its most famous examples.

Wilsons are, essentially, a type of sidekick. The title of Wilson is drawn from the TV show House, in which the apathetic and disinterested Dr. House can be said to have one friend–the caring and engaged Dr. Wilson. Wilson provides a more human grounding to House’s worldview, in which a person is the sum of its parts, humanity the sum of the persons. It is worth noting that the people who mapped this relationship for my social group have something of an interest in Myers-Briggs personality tests. I accept their assessment, that House is an ENTJ, while Wilson is likely an ISFJ. Thus the title of “Wilson” came to be associated strongly with that same type (although with some room for movement, to be discussed later).

Wilsons are generally intelligent, compassionate, fastidious,…and loyal. Loyalty is the key trait, as it pushes them to attach themselves to a leader, a House–a protagonist, if you will. But the Wilson’s storyline is not a function of the House’s–rather, the Wilson finds a comfortable grounding in supporting a main character. The House’s storyline is home base.

The first Wilson I would point to is also my favorite: Samwise Gamgee. Sam’s loyalty to Frodo is obvious. What makes him a Wilson, however, is the manifestation of his intense followship. Despite the world-saving nature of the hobbits’ quest, Sam’s first concern is always for Frodo’s well-being. He takes care of Frodo in the wild, as he did in the Shire. He is eager to stand up for Frodo to those who would create problems for them. And, although he cannot truly bear the burden of the ring, he carries his friend in the final moments of their journey. Wilson!

The next Wilson is the ever-harried Dr. Watson. For our purposes, the most exemplary incarnation of Watson appears in the BBC TV series Sherlock. One function of the Wilson role is that he will take whatever crap his person dishes, and no one dishes quite like Sherlock. Time and again, Sherlock tests Watson’s loyalty, putting him through untenable emotional trials. But Watson always comes out on the side of Sherlock, proving his Wilson through-and-through. Wilson!

Female Wilsons are more rare in pop culture (something to do, I think, with the popularity of the modern bromance), but there is one to whom I would like to point: Meg, from The Phantom of the Opera [WATCH THIS ONE ONLY, on Netflix]. I first began to see her as a Wilson because my best friend is a singer who loves the show. Carmen’s dream, is, of course, to be Christine, and it is not unwarranted. As a less able vocalist, I love Meg’s lines–much power, little tone. But Meg has other classic Wilson personality traits as well. Although her primary role is to support and laud Christine, she takes almost more readily to her secondary role of inciting panic. Meg cannot keep calm. Neither can most ISFJs. In crisis, Wilsons lose their minds. Go, Meg. Wilson!

I said Wilsons are sidekicks, and I stand by that (despite debate in certain academic circles). However, the Protagonist Wilson is not unheard of in cultural memes. A good example of this is a Wilson who begins in a supporting role and transitions to main character: Samwell Tarly, from A Song of Ice and Fire. I am not current on Game of Thrones (the show), but I am fairly certain that I am continuing without spoilers. In the books, Sam begins as a loyal acolyte of Jon Snow, who protects him from the harshness of The Night’s Watch. However, as the books progress (and main characters die off), he gains an independent storyline, including his own chapters. He retains his Wilson status, however, in personality, temperament, and decision-making process.

The Wilson is not a simple type. One size does not fit all. Not all Wilsons are even the same personality type. But the role does exist, and it is easy to spot once you are familiar with the paradigm.

Got it? Good. You are ready for next week’s post.