Is The Big Bang Theory the show that hates you?

The interwebs are all ablaze with irate ‘geeks’ claiming to be offended by the most recent Big Bang Theory promos. Female comic readers are angry about the stereotyping of their gender in relation to comics shops specifically and ‘geekdom’ in general.

Get over it people! First off, when did ‘owning that word’ become the norm? Geek is not a positive word. Geek is a pejorative term for circus freak. Reclaiming a word that is used to reduce you is a fairly foolish thing to do anyway, but this furor over something as silly as a TV sitcom is even more foolish.

Complaining about a stereotype used in a medium where stereotypes are their stock-in-trade is a waste of effort. The Beverly Hillbillies were not aimed at, nor did it offend brainless hicks, and complaining about this show portraying you in a negative way (or at least negative in your opinion—after all, one person’s acceptable behavior is another person’s mortal sin) is not something you should waste your time on. In our ‘civilized’ society, issues on TV are what we get angry about instead of important issues in the real world. Angry about the portrayal of a group or issue on TV? Get off the message boards and write the network or the producers. It is their right to produce it though and your right to change the channel.

TBBT-the-big-bang-theory-18775082-637-552_thumbOne valid point in all this hoopla about the show last week is that women seemed to be more negatively treated (or again, perceived as negative by some) and marginalized by the very thing they love. That is true; women ARE the butt of the joke perhaps a bit more often than the men but that would also be a debatable point. The female characters in the show give as good as they get and as a viewer of the show, I can honestly say that the girls are the high point for me. Penny, Amy and Bernadette are the funniest part of the cast and have kept me watching the show. They are all smart, funny and quick witted, something that the guys often are not. This episode specifically, everyone is on fairly equal ground by the end and all look and act fairly foolish.

One thing to consider is the fact that all of these characters are caricatures and stereotypes by design. BBT is a sitcom and designed to have as broad an appeal as possible within the constraints of the premise. Without the broad generalization of the people and types, the humor is lost on most of the potential audience. I should also point out that the very same people that are complaining now, both men and women, are the ones that were laughing at the show last week (and likely next week as well). Just because a particular joke has struck you as attacking you personally does not allow you to be selectively indignant now. Do you laugh when they pick on Raj’s ethnicity or Leonard’s height and dietary issues? Do you enjoy laughing at Amy’s social awkwardness? If you answered yes to those and are angry about the current stereotyping then you should probably lock yourself in a room and not have contact with the rest of the world.

As humans we laugh at each other and ourselves. Is it right? Maybe, maybe not, but it IS the way we are. For every person that finds the jokes about Sheldon’s OCD funny, there are a great many people feeling bad or hurt by the joke and have to deal with those issue daily. Should we stop telling those jokes then? No we should not. Humor is mean much of the time but you are not mean for laughing and you are not a jerk or a whiner for getting upset either. Do I feel for the people offended by this? Yes, but I am also one of the people laughing at the above issues. Because the characters are fictional I think that it is OK. If these were real people that where treated that way then we need to listened and empathized with them. If a joke doesn’t offend at least a few people in the audience it probably is not very funny.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. The difference is, other shows (e.g. beverly hillbillies) create situations you know are fictitious, which makes it easier to laugh at the characters.

    TBBT, on the other hand, lacks this nuance.

    Indeed, on some discussion forums, people took the explanation as to why nerds read comic books at face value, which is funny because:
    (a) everybody turns to entertainment as means of escapism
    (b) not all nerds ready comic books, unlike what the show was insinuatng

    And many people do not get the correlation between a fictional setting in real life, especially if the show tries to wedge itself into real life without putting in a fictional aspect (could anyone really shoot a shotgun into the ground and become a millionaire via oil? Only if someone else’s pipeline was buried 10 feet down. Even the theme sells the ludicrous and ramped up nature of the show.)

    I don’t disagree with your points, stereotypes have always existed, I can laugh at this show and I fit some of the stereotypes, but usually, for most sitcoms, the farcical elements are a bit more straightforward and prominent.

    And another review sheds more info, even if it’s out of date (noting how changed Amy is in the more recent seasons):

    • Taylor Ramsey

      Hillbillies was as much a product of it’s time as TBBT. Each era of TV has it’s mindless tropes and required elements. The comparative realism of shows now cause them to strike a more personal chord in people and the characters become more realistic. That ‘realism’ is where this comes from, and the ‘everybody is a victim’ attitude people have today. You never saw people up in arms about negative depictions on Three’s Company.

      • seanbirch

        You shouldn’t write articles if you misspell the possessive pronoun “its”.

  2. Tim Riley

    Okay, I’ll tell you what I think…I was a ‘geek’ when it was something to be proud of, but really…GET A LIFE FOLKS, IT’S TELEVISION. There are things out here that really matter, that aren’t make believe. The NRA blames violence on games and video, I blame it on the low GASF (give a s*&t factor) society has for real problems. If we pay more attention to what’s going on around us instead of trying to escape reality, maybe we wouldn’t be in such deep shit.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      I have never been comfortable owning the label geek. I like what I like and F-you if you cannot let me, so I don’t get very upset by these kinds of things. I am very hard to offend. And yes, it would be nice as I pointed out above for people to take the irritation they feel over TV and put it somewhere useful.

  3. Sorry but Big Bang theory needs to find out who their target demographic is, they constantly laugh at nerds and geeks instead of with them. I can self-relativate as much as anyone but the last episode was just terrible in this ‘respect’ again (pun intended). It’s not terrible to be a comic book or star trek fan, no matter what this stupid show might have you believe…

    • Taylor Ramsey

      I too felt this episode was a little harsh. I did like the flip side though with the girls spending the rest of the show obsessing like geeks about something they found ‘interesting’.

  4. Jordan

    I haven’t seen the latest episode yet, so perhaps I completely out of line saying this. Doesn’t the Big Bang theory get most of its humour from making fun of nerdy (or OCD for Sheldon) behavior anyway?

    • Taylor Ramsey

      Yes, it does. There is a low level of self hatred in any fetish culture that is sad. It comes, I think, from the insecurity of being part of a minority (in a cultural sense-not a racial one). Anyone who feels outside of the mainstream can feel at times as if they are ostracized because they deserve it. Reactions like this one happen when the rubber band snaps and the self hate turns into self defense. As a fan of comics and the show, I feel it all the time. Just ask people at comic cons how they feel when mainstream media covers the event. Very often they feel good and appreciated until they think on it for a minute. We, as with any fringe group, can be objects of derision. Not such a great feeling at times.

  5. I think the Big Bang Theory is part of a genre of comedies that seek appeak by creating a facsimile of a social circle (albeit rendered through the narrow world view of the writers.) Whilst it’s jokes are occasionally funny, this show deploys canned laughter for almost every sentence in the dialogue, even when there is no joke. It’s very strange.
    What’s also very strange about this series is how they try to place every character in a state of ‘age stasis’ even though the age of Sheldon and Leonard is clearly greater than that of the characters they are portraying.
    It’s difficult to write a mass-appeal comedy, and there is a reason for this.
    When you try to make a show appeal to all humans, its very easy to write something which is populated by vague nonsensical situations, cheap overuse of the same jokes and plots and garish stereotypes that reveal the writer’s inadequacies. I put TBBT in with other mass-appeal comedies, that generally seek to lower the collective IQ. It’s no wonder it has the capacity to offend people. It would offend people more, if they were not utterly desensitised to this format.

  6. Tim Riley

    Okay, I find The Big Bang Theory, as a television show, amusing, but I find most television a reason to sleep. I do not understand Comic Con, I do not understand people that can in any way that deeply engrossed in a character. There are a lot of things I don’t understand and I’m fine with that. Sorry, I’m from an era when comic books and television were entertainment.

    Yes, I also “like what I like” and may not be able to describe what I like but know it when I see it, but I also don’t take myself too seriously. Maybe that’s one of our problems today, it’s definitely one of our First World Problems, we take ourselves too seriously.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      Other than Doctor Who, most TV bores me silly too. I like TBBT, but just like.
      I cover my regional comic convention for Bleeding Cool each year, but the main reason I go at all is to get books signed and meet creators.
      The obsessive aspects of fandom give me the screeming heebie-jeebies. The attention paid to TV is no different to me.

  7. Thecla Schreuders

    Oy vey people, Big Bang is hilarious and brilliant. It’s naughty and takes the piss, but it’s also made heroes out of people you’d rather avoid at a party. My 12 year old daughter, who is a mini-Penny, thinks the guys are cool. She thinks the girls are cool too. The show makes ‘clever’ a funny and fun thing to be. Have you ever watched one of the ‘making of’ / behind the scenes shows of TBBT? The audience – many nerds – are laughing their heads off. They are laughing at jokes the cast don’t even understand, but they do. This automatically puts it in the top 10% of TV shows. Hell, the top 1%. Really, what’s not to like?

  8. I agree that it’s alright to enjoy shows that might use stereotypes in their jokes and also that if people have a problem they should write the producers to voice their opinions and create change. I don’t agree with the idea that because it’s a tv show with fictional characters no harm is being done. Our perception of the world around us is shaped by the media we consume ( media isn’t the only thing that shapes those perceptions but it is significant). Jokes based on stereotypes about a group ( geeks, women, people of color, etc.) reinforce those stereotypes in the mind of the viewer and this can affect the way they interact with those groups in real life.

    I also disagree with people who think talking about these issues online is somehow wrong or pointless. Although so called “real change” will only happen if you get the people in charge to change the way they do things, it is important to talk about things that are problematic. It’s important to show other people that not everyone believes those stereotypes and it’s important to debate and share ideas.

    All this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy shows that have offensive humor. I think it’s fine to enjoy them as long as you’re aware of the fact that those jokes don’t reflect reality and that in real life it would be pretty messed up to repeat them.

    Also I would be careful when talking about the depiction of groups that you aren’t apart of. You might not be fully aware of what is offensive to that group because you don’t have the same experiences as them. To you an episode may end with everyone on equal footing, but to a woman who has been existing in this world ( either as a geek or something else) each episode might have a totally different impact.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      It is unfortunate that all we have in our mainstream media is surface gloss. Shows like TBBT are the rarest of all (smart AND funny), but it becomes more evident every day that we are dumbing ourselves down. Yes TV is an entertainment that should not be taken seriously, and yes there is a problem with humor based on stereotypes.
      Unfortunately this is more and more, all we get. People take TV seriously, as though the people and situations they see there are real, all the time. The people who would rather watch a ‘reality show’ (how can a show with writers be a reality show?)than interact with real people, or failing that, read a book.
      Human humor is largely based on broad generalizations, that is why it is able to make some many people laugh. Broad generalizations contain stereotypes. This is not good OR bad, it simply IS. You cannot change our nature in that way any more than you can make the sun rise.
      TV like any other mass media, is either a benefit or a danger. While the category that falls into is very much dependent on the intent of the source, it is more dependent on the intellect and willingness to be challenged held by the consumer.
      You craft you points above very well, but you speak as though there is a remedy for the issues. The only remedy is the removal of people from the equation. Maybe I am jaded, but I see more ignorance and stupidity every day. People do not want to be challenged in any way any more, let alone by their entertainment (a reasonable request I suppose).
      I do a lot of people watching and listening in the hope that I will find some glimmer of hope that we are not all just sheep.
      I have not seen much to give me hope.

  9. “Reclaiming a word that is used to reduce you is a fairly foolish thing to do anyway, but this furor over something as silly as a TV sitcom is even more foolish.”

    There is a long history of oppressed groups reclaiming previously derogatory terms – see, for instance, the reclamation of the terms “gay,” “dyke,” etc by the LGBT+ community; the usage of the n-word by black community; the reappropriation of the word “bitch” by women who detest the connections of strong women with negativity (or even by men in pop culture, e.g. Lupe Fiasco’s “Bitch Bad”), etc.

    This is not foolish; it is a historically grounded strategy used to take away power from the oppressors. By reclaiming the language of the oppressor, oppressed groups strip the word’s negative connotations.

    “In our ‘civilized’ society, issues on TV are what we get angry about instead of important issues in the real world.”

    Media representations have strong social repercussions. In the Philippines (a culture that traditionally valued larger women), the introduction of western media has caused an increase in eating disorders; for racial minorities, misrepresentations of their culture have resulted in historically problematic stereotypes such as blackface, the Yellow Peril, etc. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was seminal in pushing support for the abolitionist movement; Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle helped create food safety procedures and brought about major change in the meatpacking industry. Conversely, film and literature have been historically used as propaganda to support established institutions (see: Nazi cinema, the Italian Futurists’ devaluation of women, etc). The idea of a strict separation between “fiction” and “real issues,” then, is clearly spurious, making representation in media clearly an issue to be considered – especially when talking about underrepresented or historically oppressed groups.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      I can agree with the “Media representations have strong social repercussions” part of what you said. However, the media does much different things in different cultures. This article was a response to the asinine ‘furor’ over the internet griping about certain episodes of TBBT. The internet is a largely culture free zone where the forums are concerned.
      As to the reclaiming a word, I cannot agree. It has failed to de-power any of these words, and ultimately you proved the point by needing to use ‘the n-word’ instead of using the actual word. Any word can have any power the user wishes and the listener infers. To SOME people ‘fag’ is a powerless word, to others is shakes them deeply, just like the n word does for almost anyone of good conscience.
      The problem is that humans as a group are simply not capable of dealing in anything other than generalizations. One-on-one we react as we would based on our personal temperament, likes, dislikes and prejudices. But as a group, we feel the need to create other groups to help the individual IN each group have a personal group identifier. It is not right or wrong, it simply is. Unfortunately the form it can often take is derogatory.

  10. I enjoyed the article; it has a well constructed, valid argument.

    Interestingly, having not watched more than two or three episodes, as well as flickers of the show here and there, it has made me want to watch it now that I am aware there are individuals which are ‘protesting’ against it’s concept.

    There is one point I must disagree with though however Mr. Ramsey, and that is your point about ‘it’s just television’. Films and Television series are mirrors in which we see ourselves.

    We watch shows such as these due to the empathy we find in these characters, without this, the show falls flat on it’s large behind. Hence if there is a sector of viewers whom believe the characters are stereotypes, it’s important to accept that and courteously tell them to TURN THE PROGRAMME OVER!!!

    Unfortunately, writers and production companies feel they have ‘some’ moral obligations to fulfill, especially in the UK – America seems to have more freedom with this process, largely due to the fact viewers have individual subscriptions to channels.

    Agreed, writers should take creative freedom over these moral obligations. But to needlessly dismiss any responsibility to the audience would be a bad move.

    Anyway, Chuck Lorre is a genius.

    Nice article.

    • Taylor Ramsey

      I would agree that TV is a mirror, but it is ‘just a show’ would still apply. Like any mirror, many people do not like what they see.
      The real point to ‘its just a show’ is that far too many people take it far to seriously. That is why people protest things like BBT and ignore real issues right in front of them.
      And yes, Lorre is a genius.

  11. I fully agree with you on this topic. Yes, TBBT does induce certain social issues, but there is a part of that in everyone it makes the characters more relatable. Not to mention the comebacks that the characters are able to feed off each other creates the humor that makes these issues lighthearted and serves as a small distraction! People need to know when not to take life so seriously!

  12. Honestly I can’t see why this particular episode has upset female viewers. TBBT has always had a reputation for creating an ‘otherness’ between women and the male geeks, I can’t see how this episode is any different. The promo completely ignores the history that TBBT has built up for itself, and for viewers to take these promos as offence, they can’t truly be fans of the show to have overlooked this.

  13. My problem with TBBT is when a sober Leonard sleeps with a drunk Penny.

    That’s messed up.

  14. Jemma Baddock

    I totally agree with you when you say if the joke doesn’t offend at least someone, it probably isn’t funny! Some of the funniest lines in television and film have been highly offensive. Great article 🙂

  15. Danny Cox

    Hey I enjoyed your article, great job! I agree with your main point, if people can’t take jokes for what they are – jokes – while watching a sitcom, then when can they?

  16. I concur in principle with the argument and reasoning here, but I personally wouldn’t generally concern myself over reacting in written form over reactions in blog posts and fan forum settings (particularly about stuff like this). Additionally, the gripes had in these settings in this case date this article in undesirable ways.

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