Adrock's quote is the perfect example of this:
> . . . the main difference between Sheldon and Abed is that Abed is treated as a hero. . . Community tells us it’s cool to be a nerd. If Abed is better then we are better. Community is a warm hug of acceptance whereas The Big Bang Theory is a pantsing and a punch in the face.
This is just sad. Nerds insist that you coddle and pander to them because their egos are too delicate to handle a joke? Please, that generalization is far more insulting towards nerds than any joke TBBT has ever made.
As a nerd and a geek, the thing I find most offensive is the way other geeks and nerds react to The Big Bang Theory. It's almost embarrassing to be associated with people who behave like such spoiled children.
> As a nerd and a geek, the thing I find most offensive is the way other geeks and nerds react to The Big Bang Theory. It's almost embarrassing to be associated with people who behave like such spoiled children.
I know what you mean, but I actually often laugh about this about as much as I laugh at the actual show. Knowing how many of the real geeks around the world would collapse into a Sheldonesque tizzy fit about a scene is half the fun of the scene.
I can't imagine writing a scene where HJPEV is laughing with Hermione over someone's terrible popular explanation of Heisenberg's Uncertainty. They'd never go to a comic-book store just to laugh at it. It would violate their character identities completely. In a story where Harry Potter has to be rescued from certain death at the hands of a yaoi fangirl horde (Ch. 42, and you didn't even notice) a scene like the one in TBBT would be just too unrealistic. And if somehow anything like that _did_ happen in a scene, if some wizard _did_ undergo a comic misunderstanding of quantum physics, it would be after I'd done whatever it took to explain correct-Heisenberg to the reader so that they would be laughing (and commiserating) right along with the protagonists. If you don't explain Heisenberg, what's the point? There's nothing left but empty feelings of superiority.
It's absurdly common amongst people of our kind to assume TBBT is written for us, when in reality it's written as a caricature of us, for the general public. Much like Fraiser is not written for radio hosts, and Friends is not written for New York living twenty-somethings, TBBT is not supposed to be for nerds.
It's just not a big enough audience, yet, to cater to.
If you want realistic drama then try watching a realistic drama. I like TBBT. Its easy chuckles and its fun to see the exaggerated high school version of me getting roasted. There's a lot of comedy to mine in the overly serious and socially clueless nerd stereotypes. The show really is about the hilarity of manboys trying to make their way in the modern world and less about geekdom or 'smart people.' It would be trivial to retool the script to be about obsessed sports fans instead of obsessed nerds.
Anecdotally, every recommendation I've encountered for the show has come from self-described nerds who feel the show does speak to / for them.
I think you might be underestimating the number of people who will relate to and even try to emulate a popular caricature of themselves.
I personally know multiple people who after watching BBT now identify as a nerd despite not having any sort of hobbies or technical experience.
How dare they.
Besides, it's only the nerds of yesterday who had to deal with the endless bullying and loneliness! Future generations should get a free pass to associate themselves with the identity just because they watched some stupid sitcom.
Anecdotally, every self-described nerd I've encountered has described themselves as a nerd because it it currently cool, and they own a phone which makes them "such a nerd".
That empty feeling of superiority is exactly what is being ridiculled most of the time in this show. Maybe you've choosen wrong 60 seconds to judge the show.
That show laughs as much at the smart-but-socialy-stupid people (mostly Sheldon), as at the ignorant masses. Actually - even more at the geeks. And it's ok - geeks often ARE condescending and pretentious. It's ok to laught about that.
Also it was very funny to me to see some of my early attempts at male-female communication almost perfectly presented in that show :).
Not every fiction about geeks has to be education vehicle. This show is "a portrait of geeks-non geeks interactions".
The reason Sheldon's comments were more derogatory is a reflection of Sheldon's character as he sees those people as beneath him. However there's plenty of times he makes extremely complimentary remarks about other physicists - albeit ones not usually known for making the sciences more accessible.
I have nerd friends who like it, but these same friends rarely notice that they're being made fun of. So.
A good comparison would be between Frasier and TBBT. Frasier used very highbrow rebuttals delivered in a slapstick way. So even if you've never watched Opera, didn't drink wine and generally understood little about the interests of protagonists, you could still enjoy the slapstick jokes and silly situations that Frasier and Niles Crane would often create for themselves.
And this is why TBBT is such a great show - because it's nerdy and my wife still enjoys it.
Furthermore TBBT has a lot of subtlety that only a geek or someone living with a geek would notice. Things such as background props (eg desktop computers with the side panels missing). That level of detail only comes from a crew of people wanting to pay homage to nerds rather than ridicule them.
So while TBBT does play to the stereotypes a lot and while there are undoubtedly some cringe worthy moments, do think it's a well rounded show if you look at it as a whole.
To me, given how the show is written, that feels more like pandering. "Oh look, LEGO Millennium Falcon, this show _GETS_ _ME_"
> To me, given how the show is written, that feels more like pandering. "Oh look, LEGO Millennium Falcon, this show _GETS_ _ME_"
And frankly those kind of comments are not the slightest bit constructive either. It has a terrible -almost "flamebait"- tone to it and offers no reasoning ("TBBT isn't funny because...") nor objectivity ("In my opinion it's not funny.").
I recommend reading the whole thing. The snippet that pulled me in was the perfect comparison to Community:
"There’s a saying which made its rounds in geekdom recently – “Real nerds watch Community”. Now I take issue with the idea of “real nerds” but the sentiment still stands. Whereas The Big Bang Theory sees nerd culture as an object of ridicule, Community celebrates it. Community’s laughing with you whereas Big Bang is giving you a wedgie and laughing at you. When TBBT makes a pop culture reference it uses it as a punchline, it names a show like Firefly and asks you to laugh at it. When Community makes a pop culture reference it commits. Community makes a whole episode based on a trope or a genre, it doesn’t just use paintball as a plot device it takes paintball seriously and bases two season finales around epic battles of paint. Community doesn’t laugh at the idea of playing D&D it bases an episode on it. Parallels can be drawn between the characters of Sheldon in Big Bang and Abed in Community. Abed too has trouble reading sarcasm and emotion, he has obsessions with routine and structure as well and disruptions in routine cause him considerable distress. Abed sees everything in terms of television and film tropes. This is how he understands the world around him and how he figures out how best to react. Unlike Sheldon, it is often confirmed that Abed does have mental difficulties, most likely Asperger’s Syndrome. But, crucially, the main difference between Sheldon and Abed is that Abed is treated as a hero. In the pilot episode Jeff Winger, arguably the most conventionally “cool” member of the group says this: “Abed is a shaman. You ask for bread and Abed gives you soup because soup is better. Abed is better”. In one episode Abed is literally treated as a god. Yes, his neuroses do at times inconvenience the rest of the group but his belief that they see him as a nuisance is dismissed as his own insecurity rather than the truth. Community positions us, its audience, as Abed. It knows that we are knowledgeable about the things we love, it knows that we understand tropes and genre conventions, it gives us the benefit of the doubt and treats us as intelligent human beings who will not only understand the meta pop culture references, but will find them funny and love the show for it. Community tells us it’s cool to be a nerd. If Abed is better then we are better. Community is a warm hug of acceptance whereas The Big Bang Theory is a pantsing and a punch in the face."
TBBT is not supposed to defend geeks / nerds it's supposed to make the majority of people laugh and it succeeds.
His points are valid but his sentiment is over the top.
I never before heard of Community, I'll try it so I have some comparison.
Which is a bit more rewarding than a German not knowing the word 'schadenfreude'.
>Most viewers probably haven't even heard of loop quantum gravity, and yet for the joke to be funny you have to understand Sheldon's occupation as a "classical" string theorist, and that loop quantum gravity is a competing theory that is supposed to supplant string theory, and around that time was being touted as the hot new thing.
Most people who watch the show do not understand that. They still laugh at the "joke". You don't need that understanding, the joke to most people is simply "haha, the nerd won't date a girl because of some nerd thing she likes". There is a difference between making a joke based on something "nerdy" and merely making a reference to something "nerdy". TBBT does the latter.
That sure sounds a lot like the superficial, narcissistic plebeians from whom nerds constantly strive to differentiate themselves. Not to worry, though, I'm sure they're all smart enough to detect the overwhelming irony.
There is nothing smart about the jokes; the punchline (and frequently, the entire joke) is usually [something vaguely nerdy sounding that most people don't know]. Basically, TBBT just randomly says "quantom superstring theory" and you are expected to laugh at it because the phrase sounds ridiculous; there usually isn't any more context to it than the utterance of the nerdy-sounding thing.
In contrast, Community takes the concept and builds into something substantial. They'll take "quantum superstring theory" and, for example, turn it into an episode where the vibrations of silly string perfectly predict events going on elsewhere on campus.
Mayiam Bialik (a minor but recurring character) holds a PhD in neuroscience (taken after playing Blossom so many years ago) and there's been quite a show of renowned scientists as guest stars (at last two Nobel prize recipients, Hawkings and George Smoot). I think they'd disagree with with your dismissal of the scientists portrayed as "new samba blacks".
On the 5-season Bluray set they show how the show is taped -- I think it took 4 hours to get the 25ish minutes done, all in front of a live studio audience, and an incredibly engaged one. In the breaks the interview some of the audience -- one was a female rocket scientist from Texas.
I personally found "Community" rather dull, and far less engaging than other in the new wave of non-laughtrack comedies/mockumentaries a la CYE, Modern Family, Veep, Parks & Recreation and Arrested Development.
Humans avoiding discomfort! In their entertainment?! How dare they? Who do they think they are?!
HN contrarianism at its finest, people.
However nothing about being a geek is considered normal by popular opinion. If there was no geek shaming going on then inviting someone you just met out to a game of D&D on Friday night would be as normal and banal as going down to the pub for a drink or catching the new Seth Rogan flick. However it's not and as someone who enjoys the role-playing hobby, I am careful to get to know someone first before I ask them to join us on a quest to slay the terrible wizard, Mordrak.
Instead of using satire to say anything interesting about why that is, TBBT just exploits these social norms. It's about as hilarious as any other Chuck Lorre show these days. The same formula is used for Two and a Half Men and is equally as vapid in my mind.
So when I do watch an episode of TBBT, I don't really identify with any of the characters and feel like I am being laughed at for the most part. The jokes are predictable and not funny for me. These kinds of shows are typically the most fun for the people who are not being made fun of.
Shows like Community, Journey Quest, and movies like Dorkness Rising are funny. They pander to the sub-culture I most identify with and lack any condescending stereotypes. I can laugh at myself in these sorts of contexts because they're written from a perspective that is sympathetic and jovial. It makes fun of the stereotypes in our own sub-culture without laughing at them because they're weird and unconventional and not like us, the people doing the laughing.
And what would be a sitcom where this is not the case? Let's take one of the tamest and more humane sitcoms, the Cosby Show. Even in this case, you are more often than not laughing at the characters (to be specific, at certain quirks in their personality), not with them.
Am I the only one who remembers Numb3rs? That show treated Charlie (one of the two leads, a math professor) with respect, at least in the episodes I saw. His supporting cast in the math and physics departments was excellent as well.
Hell, there's an episode where he actually teaches a class, on-screen, on the Monty Hall problem:
Real math nerds fondly recall -- and search for on YouTube -- old episodes of Mathnet, the cop show that made up the last 1/3 to 1/2 of PBS's Square One TV.
Yes, it's for kids, and the math that's there focuses on basic things like prime numbers and Fibonacci sequence. But it's brilliant, laced with humor, and you're likely to see more actual math being done in one 10-minute episode of Mathnet than in a season of Numb3rs.
The time I gave up was when Charlie announced he could use math to figure out the time the crime took place based on long the block of ice had been melting, which he could calculate based on ambient pressure and temperature and surface area and lots of extra things they made up. Or they could just look it up in a book.
That said, in the episodes I've seen, Charlie is almost always treated as an important contributor by the other characters. His work is glamorized and treated with respect by the writing and production staff. He's awkward, but treated like a human.
I found Arrested Development mediocre as well, and a lot of people claimed it was the funniest thing since sliced bread.
By the way, BBT is a mediocre show too. Which is why it is so amazing to see people arguing against it like it is worse than Hitler.
I watch BBT. I don't take it that seriously. It is a fine way to waste 20 minutes, and has low re-watch value. Just like tons of other shows (Family Guy, Friends, HIMYM, etc).
It's not a nerd vs. cool people thing, it's just a mature thing: acting superior because your chosen 30 minute tv comedy is better than another one is pointless.
Elitism over entertainment is ridiculous on its face.
I find much more humor in a show that has hilarious jokes/PUN's and doesn't need to stress them so much. For example, Arrested Development, is one of the best comedies ever done (in my opinion) because the complexity in their jokes and there is no need to stress the idea of when to laugh.
If "The Big Bang Theory" goes by the idea that the laughing from the live audience helps them determine what to cut parts of the episode, they should just film it without the live audience then air it to a screening crowd separately to decide what to cut and keep. Why dilute the show for other viewers not watching it live with that extreme annoyance of constant laughter? I just don't get it.
People need to stop worrying if everyone got the joke or not. The best comic pieces are layered such that even if you only get half of it it's still hilarious.
If it was a real studio audience it would be good. I love Colbert report and the Daily Show. They have a legitimate live studio audience and the energy is pretty real.
It goes from annoying to awkward.
According to my friends, Sheldon's tireless and obnoxious pedantery is a perfect caricature of me. When he drops some furniture he is carrying to debate the point that pulling it up the stairs would reduce the required vertical force by exactly fifty percent and not about fifty percent, he is doing something weird and nerdy that I could also see myself doing. It is still funny.
For lots of geeks that brings back really painful memories. I can easily see myself, at another point in my life, hating TBBT.
People always tell me that I'm like that kid on "Real Genius" and don't I love that movie? Well, no, I don't, I hate it, and the end of OP's essay goes into it: because it doesn't show the pain of being the geek, and it shows that it's easy for the geek to get the girl without moving out of his safety zone.
I enjoy TBBT, but I'm sure some of that comes from the fact that I watch it with my geek wife. If I was 15 years younger I might think it's just another boulder that society has nonchalantly placed on my shoulders.
IMO Sheldon's personality is the personification of a kitty cat.
First, while I don't know a Sheldon, I have known someone who trended in that direction. It is not a shock to me that someone like that could exist.
Second, for all that you may complain about the geeks having "limited romantic prospects", they've all "gotten some", and by the fifth season three out of four are in relationships and one is engaged. Actions speak louder than words.
Third, accusations of stereotyping geeks are more limited when there are four main geek characters and several other ancillary ones, spanning all sorts of spectrums. The characters are Hollywood'ed up, but given that, reasonably realistic.
Penny started the series as a flat-out dufus, which concerned me. She got upgraded to an average person after about 10 episodes, who may not be able to keep up with the math (who can, after all?), but is no longer actively stupid. A bit o' bad judgment perhaps, but who doesn't have that?
I do wish the laugh track would go away.
And finally, at the risk of being a pedant, I can add to one more bit of shocking, shocking! inaccuracy in the show... but, bizarrely, it has nothing to do with science or geekdom. They play Jenga wrong! Consistently! The rules of Jenga are that you must complete all three pieces of the top row before you start the next one. You can not put a piece on each side, then start building across the gap! Argh! Of all the places to screw up... (I have not yet seen all Jenga episodes; my wife reports there's one where they play a very large version in the season I have not seen yet. But all two or three times I've seen it to date they've played it this way! NERD RAGE!)
I recommend going into it with an open mind, and bearing in mind that in first few episodes, as is always the case, the characters are still coming into focus.
The writing making the characters repeatedly try and display how smart they are (which I'm aware is integral to the show) but to me makes them totally and desperately unlikable. That, coupled with the general tension building component of most sit-coms where all too frequently characters do what is clearly a bad idea, followed by some form of "make it better" set of actions.
I know that if they [the characters] made a mistake and just repaired it in a very mundane way this would not be good television, but I find it incredibly jarring that these unlikable characters have one thing going for them, their intelligence, yet seemingly couldn't find their way out of a paper bag.
(EDIT: This reflects the relatively few episodes I've seen, but every time I see one I feel exactly the same)
(EDIT2: Perfect example from a comment below,
"When he [Sheldon] drops some furniture he is carrying to debate the point that pulling it up the stairs would reduce the required vertical force by exactly fifty percent and not about fifty percent, he is doing something weird and nerdy..."
Debating yes, absolutely, but scientific debate by itself isn't funny to the general population (Deestan would enjoy it, I might enjoy it, but Joe Bloggs on the street probably wouldn't care) so he drops it. That's not smart. If the show was consistent he'd then point out that the loss of energy from dropping it far outweighs the benefit of moving it around, or he'd break his toe.
It's this orthogonal slapstick which seems totally incongruous with Sheldon's typical behavior which annoys me.
And it isn't unrealistic - I've watched teams get into debates over how to perfectly optimize some corner of code, and ignore the fact that it doesn't matter for the use case, because that bit is rarely run or happens fast enough that it isn't a bottleneck anyway. At my makerspace I've seen people go down crazy design rabbit holes and come up with overly-complex designs to do a task when there is a simple practical solution that they are over-looking (e.g lets figure out how to 3d print this internal piece to snap in and stay fixed permanently, and spend hours on it, instead of just using the super-glue we need for other parts anyway to hold it in place).
It is fun to go down these rabbit holes sometimes. It is also annoying and humorous when we do it and waste a bunch of effort on it, and there is a simple, common sense solution staring us in the face.
In my experience, a subset of very smart people do "not smart" things at a very high rate. A trite example is the absent-minded professor who can't find the glasses he's wearing on top of his head. But it's a real thing, a depth of focus so intense that they temporarily lose sight of the bigger picture.
It happens, and sometimes it's funny.
Sheldon: Leonard, where do you stand on the anthropic principle?
Leonard: Interesting question. On the one hand, I always thought…
Sheldon: You don’t even know what it is, do you? The anthropic principle states that if we wish to explain why our universe exists the way it does, the answer is that it must have qualities that allow intelligent creatures to arise who are capable of asking the question. As I am doing so eloquently right now.
Leonard: I know what the anthropic principle is.
Sheldon: Of course. I just explained it to you. Now, where do you stand on it?
Leonard: Where do you stand on it?
Sheldon: Strongly pro.
Leonard: Then I believe that God created the world in six days, and on the seventh he made you to annoy me.
Raj: Hey, guys.
Sheldon: Yeah, wait, Raj, where do you stand on the anthropic principle?
Raj: I’m all for it.
Leonard: Well, hang on. Why do you believe that he knows what it is and I don’t?
Sheldon: Oh, Leonard. Let’s not take a saw to the branch we’re sitting on, shall we?
As for Sheldon generally being a douchebag, the article does a good job of explaining his (partially deserved) sense of superiority.
Have you ever read Hacker News comments?
I've also noticed that for all they dump on Howard, he's the only one in the show who they show accomplishing things (plural!); I have not yet figured out if this is dramatic oversight or something they are doing on purpose. I'm assuming accident; neutering your main characters like that isn't a good narrative move, unless they're being really meta (which I doubt in this case).
Leonard doesn't want to discuss science with Sheldon because Sheldon thinks lowly of Leonard's scientific merit, and doesn't hesitate to express that sentiment (see above).
"My friend who works at a school for autistic children believed he had Asperger’s Syndrome [...] She told me that [Sheldon] was a totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum and had many characteristics of someone with Asperger’s – specifically the inability to recognise sarcasm or understand human emotion as well as the obsession with “his spot” and his distress when routine is changed."
And then wrote this:
"If you think Sheldon is autistic, then you have never met an autistic person. We had an autistic kid who hung out at our shop on Saturdays. It was tough. He would bring boxes of toys in with him to pile up on one of the tables. The slightest thing could set him off into a screaming rage fit. [...] When you argue that Sheldon is a “totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum,” then you have broadened the definition of autism to the point where you have rendered the word meaningless."
The author obviously has no grasp on the Autistic spectrum , didn't take five seconds to Google 'Asperger syndrome' or 'high-functioning autism', but that doesn't stop him from ignoring an expert's opinion. Lazy and arrogant, but it gets worse:
"[Claiming Sheldon is a totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum] seriously offends me. It offends me on behalf of the mothers and fathers who are living with autistic children who are now adults and still require constant supervision, are still in diapers, or still have violent humiliating outbursts in public. Go listen to this account of the daily trials of two parents living with an autistic child, and you’ll understand how ignorant and disrespectful it is to compare the quirky physicist on a sitcom to someone with a seriously debilitating mental illness that consumes the lives of those caring for them."
The author is basically saying that there is no such thing as high-functioning autism and that those who pretend it exists are offending sufferers of 'real' autism and the ones with the misfortune of having to deal with them.
Talk about offensive.
How so? It's called the "autism _spectrum_", after all, so it's natural that there are varying levels of severity among those affected. Sheldon having high-functioning autism doesn't somehow invalidate anyone else from having more severe autism.
> That seriously offends me. It offends me on behalf of the mothers and fathers who are living with autistic children [...]
To me, this smells like a pre-emptive ad hominem against those with an opposing viewpoint. If you disagree with me, then you've offended me, you're disrespectful, you're ignorant. If you want to argue that Sheldon doesn't have autism, that's fine. But if you do, then keep in mind that part of your audience _does_ think he has autism. Why would you attack the people you're trying to convince?
I'm sure that would make some people fly into a rage, but the depiction helped her figure things out from his perspective.
I didn't realize this was a thing.
Just because you can google for "Big Bang Theory Sucks" doesn't demonstrate that there is lots of hate for BBT "in geek culture".
I can also google for "Puppies Suck". Okay, you only get two results of relevance. But still.
There are haters for every TV show in the universe. Haters are always louder than those who love the show. And easily googled. This doesn't mean they're numerous.
I wonder if the psychology student message boards also raged same way about "Frasier" (also an award-winning comedy with a live studio audience).
To me, BBT is great and I've just finished a second run through its 5 first episodes on Blueray. That Jim Parson is in no way a true geek makes his performance even more hilarious.
Amusingly the reddit snobbery over BBT can be found within BBT itself: the way Sheldon absolutely despises "Babylon 5" while fawning over "Star Trek" etc.
The question is not "should I hate this because everyone else does?" but "is BBT really a champion of geek culture, or is it pandering to the anti-intellectuals like every other show out there?" Read the article I linked and decide for yourself.
In the episode where the female characters go to the comic store (described in the OP), they then have an episode long argument on exactly who can move Thor's hammer, which I'm sure rang true to any comic reader.
>> When you argue that Sheldon is a “totally accurate portrayal of someone on the autistic spectrum,” then you have broadened the definition of autism to the point where you have rendered the word meaningless.
No true Scotsman much? The arrogance to accuse people of mis-labeling while seeming to have such ignorance of the realities of the autistic spectrum left me slightly gobsmacked.
"Ha! Memory is RAM!"
That's comedy for geeks. Not some odd tangent about string theory.
I might enjoy the show more if its mocking and condescending overtones were at least met by one self-aware character. At least then there would be the chance for satire. Instead it's just a laugh track of predictable tropes: geek says something geeky about math or science that is completely disproportionate to the current, mundane situation. Normal character rolls their eyes. Audience laughs. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Add a dose of the usual, "normal," sexism once in a while and laugh at how "geeks," shrivel like flowers when faced with the objectification of their, "desires." Ha, ha.
The show is hardly any different than any other sitcom on television.
The extras in the movie were frequently real Caltech students, recruited because the art director for the movie was unable to duplicate the look :-)
Dork -> Geek -> Nerd -> Hacker -> (Ritchie || Wozniac || Tesla)
It does in fact go deeper, but its a little more controversial:
Jock <- Madden Gamer <- Gamer <- Dork -> Geek -> ...