At first, the Big Bang Theory as an entire concept seems like a great idea. It’s a TV sitcom that takes a handful of male nerds and has them live in an apartment complex across from a beautiful blonde woman. It seems like a great idea, right? Nerd culture on TV? That sounds pretty funny, right?
What’s nice about television, is that you don’t have to be there to become familiar with something. People like reality television because it shows them some other aspect of the world that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I love watching Project Runway, even though I can’t sew. My roommate and her family get incredibly wound up for American Pickers. Almost everyone loves watching Jersey Shore, because it’s nice to be able to say “Wow, at least I’m not that much of a trainwreck.” But those are reality television shows, and they’re kind of ridiculous.
Speaking of theories, there’s a great big theory in the Communication world, and it’s called the Cultivation Theory. I’m not going to bore you with too much detail here but the summation of it is basically this: The more you see something on television, if you are not exposed to the truth about it, the more you will come to believe the television’s portrayal as truth.
In other words, if there was a show on TV about a guy who owns an ice cream truck, and for some reason people have never seen an ice cream truck before, they’re going to believe that every guy who owns an ice cream truck is going to be similar to that one guy they saw on TV. Especially in the case where another show has a guy who owns an ice cream truck and he acts pretty similar to the one that they saw in the other show, last week. This is where stereotypes get reinforced, and I’m sure you get the picture. If a dark skinned male is portrayed as a villain in nearly every drama on TV, or if every situation about someone who is Not Caucasian on the news is covered with something negative, the idea that all dark skinned men are villain like figures is going to stick in some people’s heads. It’s ridiculous, but it happens.
In the very first scene of the Big Bang Theory, we are shown with the Dumb Blonde stereotype. How she introduces herself starts with her astrological sign. She then goes on to say about how she’s “a vegetarian, except for fish, and the occasional steak, I love steak.” She doesn’t tell them about her job until she’s prompted, because of course her job doesn’t actually matter compared to her self-identified vegetarian-but-not-really-haha and her sign.
Penny is portrayed as a “ditzy” blonde, a waitress with Hollywood aspirations of fame. She has social smarts, which are implied in this entire premise of the sitcom (just look at the tv.com description of the show) to be incompatible with geeky intelligence.
Representation in TV is important because the more socially accepted something is, the better it is. So a show about “nerds” on TV should theoretically be great because it would show the general public something that they’re generally not really seeing before – the only association they have in a society where the popular kids make fun of the nerdy underdog. Honestly, that’s the show.
You have to step back and view it from another viewpoint. The point of the show is not to empathize with Sheldon. People don’t like Sheldon. It’s funny to laugh at him, and his Aspergers-like symptoms. It’s really funny, because he can’t interact with people as well as the social norm.
One episode’s premise is that They watch America’s next top model, and they’re “stunned” So they go on a search to find the girls. The problem is that the show gives the impression that Women exist as sex objects for men to lust over, and they don’t really have a purpose other than that. Penny doesn’t even have a last name. The show has gone for eight seasons
Another time, Sheldon literally treats Penny like a dog – Pavlov’s experiment, and it’s supposed to be funny. It’s not funny, it compares her to a dog.
The jokes that the characters are making isn’t the point of the show, or what we should be finding funny. It’s the characters themselves and the “bizarre” situations that we find them in. The humor relies on the audience siding with and relating to Penny, or most of the jokes aren’t funny. We aren’t supposed to relate to Sheldon or Leonard or any of the other guys.
Rather than celebrate uniqueness and geekery, these traits are the punchline. Quite frankly, I’m tired of it.