I’ve gotten sucked into the trap before. I’m spending a casual evening with neighbors or family and in the background, some TV starts to show a rerun of The Big Bang Theory. “Oh!”, they declare excitedly, “Isn’t this show the greatest? Do you guys just love Sheldon?” No. No I don’t love Sheldon. No I can’t even bear to watch this insipid, insulting tripe without making rude comments. And when this truth bears out in front of them–eye rolls and scoffs emoting wildly from my face–they act shocked and surprised. “We thought you guys would love this the most!”
Why? Because we are nerds. Real nerds. Not Johnny Galecki fake-ass nerds. My husband and I work as a chemist and an accountant, respectively. We have a board game collection, and we attend board game conventions where we dress up in homemade cosplay. We play Dungeons & Dragons, and other assorted RPGS, and damn, am I proud of my dice collection. We can mercilessly quote Doctor Who and A Song of Ice and Fire (notice I didn’t call it Game of Thrones, or even A Game of Thrones). I am a full blown nerd girl who would have married Mario when I was younger if given that chance. I wish I could pet a [nicely tamed] dragon, visit Hogwarts, and take a ride in Howl’s Moving Castle.
And damnit, as a nerd girl, (nay, nerd woman!) I judge The Big Bang Theory to be not only unfunny and disgraceful to all nerd-kind, but also patently offensive. I HATE this show. If I had to choose whether to vanquish this show or Joffrey Baratheon…I’d have some serious thinking to do. Why? That’s where it gets tricky. Early on, even I didn’t understand why it brought out so much malice from my soul. It took me a while to piece together what kind of shit stew I was sampling every time some poor simple-minded bastard made me watch an episode. Here is what I have concluded over these past miserable BBT-filled years.
#1 – Those Aren’t Jokes
Pop culture references and nuggets of academic information aren’t jokes on their own. “Stannis Baratheon”. Boom, laughter. “String theory”. Boom, laughter. Or, should I say “Bazin-” [glurp] “Bazing-” [wretch]. No I won’t say the catchphrase, which, by the way, is also not a joke.
You know what? I will just let this really justifiably angry YouTuber explain exactly my feelings on this topic. Please, to watch:
#2 – The Laugh Track
Most of us threw off the yoke of laugh tracks back in the late 90s, when we realized Friends and Seinfeld didn’t need them. The live studio audiences, made so popular in the 1950s, were a throwback to a really irritating time when television was a very forced and restrained art form. I don’t want a theatre experience where I hear the guffaws of dozens of yokels. Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and Gilmore Girls trusted that you could figure that shit out yourself. And you did. I did. We could hear the jokes and decided for ourselves. Damn, people, not even Sesame Street has a laugh track. Television trusts preschoolers’ sensibilities more than our grown asses.
But, just in case you go for that kind of stuff, the people over at ClickHole made a special laugh-enhanced version of BBT just for you. I hope you choke on it:
#3 – They’re Laughing At Nerds, Not With Them
So why does it matter that the audience is prompted to laugh at the sight of a fantasy-based board game? Or at the mention of Doctor Who? Or by a quantum physics theory? Moving past the obvious outrage that those aren’t actually punchlines, there is a deeper problem: This show is pointing at geeks like caged animals in a zoo. “Ha! Look, he said something nerdy! Did ya see that, maw? Do it again, nerd! Do it again!”
It all started the first time Penny knocked on the door. From go-one, she wasn’t just the “hot neighbor chick”, she was the “every person”. The average American dolt who was walking into a foreign world of nerddom. She was the outsider and observer who could speak on behalf of every moron out there and mock every scientific reference, every Lord of the Rings mention. Her eye rolls and puzzled expressions were specifically written to represent what Joe American was thinking at the sight of grown men embracing nerd culture.
You were never supposed to feel like one of the nerds–their POV was, and remains, separate from the consciousness of the audience.
#4 – This Show Has a Serious Woman Problem
Leave it to notorious television misogynist Chuck Lorre to create a show where the only woman in the foreground is a surnameless bubble-headed bimbette who is confused and curious about male scientists. She might as well be wearing a Pi Delta Pi t-shirt and releasing pigs into the boys’ apartment, since that’s about the level of respect and nuance that exists in her very limited role as hot neighbor chick.
Now, if we set aside the issue of the vanishing Leslie Winkle (Sara Gilbert) and jump three seasons ahead, Chuck Lorre decided the nerd world does have room for women after all. Finally! A representation of my sphere. Bold, crazy women who love learning, science fiction, and a well-placed Belt of Giant Strength reference! Women who aren’t afraid of their bodies, their sexuality, or expressing their interests in creative, if slightly over-the-top ways! Women with talent for sewing, literary analysis, drawing comics, martial arts, debating politics, and rolling ten D-20s in a single bound! Of all the mighty women I have met at conventions–in their bold, unapologetic, awesome homemade cosplay, or in a variety of t-shirts displaying a joke about their favorite show (it’s almost always Firefly)–who will most closely resemble the new cast members that Lorre has brought to the hit show?
Ohhhh. It’s Amy and Berndette. Captain Frumpy Masculine-Mustachio, and her sidekick, Squeaky Lollipop McGee. Both terrified of their own vaginas’ shadows. Both terrified of the outside world. And both so paralyzingly awkward, it’s hard to imagine they would ever get one foot through the door in any sort of real professional sphere.
See, the thing is, in order to be a nerd woman–even today–a lady has to be fearless, brilliant, and colorful. And these characters are an insult to us all.
Chuck Lorre, sir, you do not know women one bit, and it is a pity for us all that you are allowed to write for them.
#5 – There’s a Lot of Homophobia Written Into the Jokes
I think the header here says it all. Laughing at potential gay/lesbian attraction or situations isn’t comical; it’s cruel and bigoted.
#6 – They Just Get Nerds Wrong
Now, here’s where we get to the real truth of it. Dare I say it, this show feels akin to watching someone perform blackface. What a dangerous thing to suggest, I know! I certainly don’t want to imply that the struggles of the nerd culture are on the same level as what black Americans have faced (and continue to face), because they aren’t. It isn’t even close.
But when you see people stand up, put on bad costumes, and perform as derogatory stereotypes of an entire culture for the humor of others outside of the culture, it is wrong.
And make no mistake–these caricatures do not represent nerd-kind whatsoever.
#7 – The Proof Is In the T-Shirts
I’ll admit to you that this disdain has been bubbling in my gut for a few years now, and often surfaces when I am visiting my parents–who adore this show, by the way. And because my mother is who she is, and because we have the type of relationship we do, she has dismissed my above arguments as “not understanding” the show. It must be my problem, right?
“Lots of nerds find it funny.”
Really, Mom? Really? Because you really don’t have any nerd friends, neighbors, or acquaintances. Except me. And I’m telling you it fucking stinks. On ice. (Ohh, Ed McMahon burn!)
So, because I am a snotty daughter, I decided to set out and prove her wrong. I attended a board game convention in the midwest, which was packed with over 60,000 fans, gamers, and general nerds. This was my chance to survey the crowd. The best way to do it? Check their t-shirts. Con attendees love to brag about their favorite pop culture past-times and interests on their t-shirts. So I scanned every passerby as I pushed through the sweaty crowd full of body odor issues. Yep, there were plenty of nods to Doctor Who, Buffy, Batman, Star Trek, Firefly, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Breaking Bad, Monty Python, dinosaurs, and the periodic table. And I checked off a surprising number of X-Files and Animaniacs nods (who knew?). One after another I mentally checked them off, and more than once, chuckled at a cute pun or funny reference. I shook my head at an Urkel shirt, and was surprised to see how many shirts called for MORE COWBELL! A few Dharma Initiative symbols flashed past me, and more than once I saw the Merlotte’s logo (which made me a little jealous). The t-shirts that year also seemed to have a lot of animosity against sparkly vampires, but that’s another story. Schrodinger, Einstein, and Tesla (the man, not the car) all made frequent appearances.
But you know what didn’t? Bazinga! Nothing from the Big Bang Theory appeared. Not once. Even I was a little surprised. I mean, statistically, there had to be at least a couple people in the crowd who really loved the show. And after all, there were dozens of t-shirt vendors in the dealer hall SELLING BIG BANG THEORY SHIRTS. But, apparently, no one was buying. Guess the vendors got it wrong, too.
Then finally, on the third day of the convention, I saw a Big Bang Theory shirt walk down an aisle. I wanted to chase him and ask about it, but the dude got away. An hour later, I saw another guy, in the exact same shirt. This time I snagged him and got all awkward asking, “So, I’m taking a survey of people with Big Bang Theory shirts, and I want to know, are you a big fan?” (Hand to the gods, my husband was witness that this awkward exchange actually took place). “Oh, no!”, he replied enthusiastically, “That booth across the way is giving these away for free.” Instantly, my poor husband was mercilessly dragged across the dealer hall and through the convention center to the spot where they were handing out the BBT shirts. There I stood and watched. And to my delight, very few people took them. Over the course of the rest of the show, I saw maybe three more people wearing the free swag shirts.
Nerds know when we’re being mocked, and we don’t like it. Most of us ended up as nerds because we were ridiculed and stood apart from the crowd. And while I’m proud of who I’ve become and embrace the nerd culture with loving open arms (and coupons for deodorant, which I can circulate, if anyone’s interested), being mocked still stinks (ironic pun totally intended). Big Bang Theory, stop pretending to understand us or to be like us. At the end of the day, you’re just Alpha Betas in drag. We see the Ted McGinley of your souls, and it is rotten.