Hey, Geeks! Welcome to Your Favorite Thing Sucks, where I get to talk about all the worst parts of your favorite things. It took 12 seasons, but The Big Bang Theory is ending. And honestly, at this point, I’m just wondering what took so long. Let’s talk about why it caused more harm than good.
The Big Bang Theory is Really Just a Show About Stereotyping. And Not the Stereotyping You Should Expect.
Look. I get it. The Big Bang Theory is supposed to be a positive representation of nerd culture. The poster children for the ‘losers’ that don’t normally get to be the hero or even the lead. In fact, it’s known as the show that catapulted ‘realistic nerds’ forward to be something other than just being the comedic relief in sitcoms. But really… they’re just the same old stereotypes as before.
Penny is your classic dumb blonde. She’s so classically blonde that she’s the butt of most of the ‘nerd realism’ jokes. Until she falls in love with one of her belittlers. Classic. But the stereotypes don’t stop there. All the jokes about Raj have something to do with him being “The Foreigner” (in this case, Indian). Howard is a creepy, womanizing, Jewish stereotype with a ‘harmless perp’ feel. Sheldon really just seems to be there so that you can laugh at someone with Aspergers without feeling guilty. And Leonard is ‘the nice guy’ that people always say ‘never gets the girl.’ (Spoiler Alert: He proves that stereotype wrong. Just like every other nice guy stereotype to come before him). We’ve seen all of this before. We just feel like it’s new because these guys look different and give ‘that look’ anytime someone only thinks of d6 when they hear “dice.”
We’ve seen all of these people before a dozen times. They’re the same stereotypes we’ve always known, and that should have grown stale by now. But throw in a random Star Trek reference and we suddenly decide that they’re ‘enough like me to be relatable.’ When they’re still so… not. They just split Urkel up into four guys instead of one. Even down to the fact that Urkel got the girl, too. But not in the same way…
The Mysoginy in The Big Bang Theory is Horrific…
There are three really incredible women in The Big Bang Theory. Penny, Bernadette, and Amy deserve so much better than this show. Over time they actually develop into strong and realistic characters all on their own (and Mayim Bialik rocks on and off the set). But this isn’t their story. Instead, they are, at the heart of everything, “The Prize.” Walking proof that the ‘nice guys that never get the girl’ are sufficiently fuckable at the end of the day. That’s it. That’s their thing.
This show works overtime trying to prove that the main male characters are actually deserving of sex, despite blatant and constant sexism and toxic behaviors. TBBT’s “jokes” range from constant patronizing comments to literally using drones to stalk models. It’s not a secret. The characters are called out on it often enough, even in the show itself– only for the sexism to either be lamplighted as another joke or used to make the audience feel bad for the sexist character who ‘just wants to make it right.’ The fact that Howard exists as a ‘relatable’ character at all is pretty damning on its own. And even in the rare case of him getting called out on his bullshit by Penny for being a creep? Yeah. Guess who’s the one who has to apologize at the end of that episode?
…And Perpetuates it in Real-World Nerd Culture.
Even when the audience isn’t laughing at an entire episode devoted to sexual assault or traditional sexist humor, the women of The Big Bang Theory are still portrayed as failures where it matters. Remember that this show is supposed to be about nerds. It might help normalize feminism in STEM fields with Bernadette and Amy, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t perpetuate the idea that Nerd Culture is still a man’s game. Video games, comics, science fiction, tabletop games– all the things that these characters love (and that their partners should at least take an interest in) are still out of the realm of understandability for the women on set. And rather than the women trying/loving it (like what would happen in a healthy, nerdy relationship) these things are once again relegated to ‘women just don’t get it’ and played off as one more uncrossable line.
This drives me crazy. Do the creators of The Big Bang Theory not realize that women can like nerdy pastimes, too? That 50% of videogamers and movie-goers were born with ovaries? Actually, they probably have no idea about nerdy pastimes at all because…
They Can’t Even Portray Nerds Right.
Wow, The Big Bang Theory. You’ve literally failed at the one thing you were going for.
Even if we look past the stereotypes and sexism that you find in basically every show, The Big Bang Theory should still offer something new and different enough to keep our interest. How else would they be going into their 12th freaking season? Well, that ‘something’ is supposed to be nerd culture. But actual, real-life nerds pretty universally hate it. And why wouldn’t they? Every nerd joke is so blatant, so thin, and so overexplained that it quickly becomes clear that this isn’t a show for nerds at all. This is a show for people who like to laugh at nerds. And then they do. For 30 minutes where a laugh track pause is put in every 17 to 20 seconds. And people say this is a show for the smart ones.
Tahani Nelson is a “Geek of All Trades.” She’s dabbled in pretty much everything, but holds a special place in her heart (and schedule) for video and tabletop games. Other interests include attending Renaissance Faires and Cons in full dress, practicing calligraphy, writing fantasy novels, discussing comparative philosophy and morality, and apparently listening with a blank smile on her face anytime someone tries to convince her that Magic: The Gathering is as much fun as D&D.