There has been a lot of rumblings among comic fans about the stereotyping of Geek Culture in the hit television show The Big Bang Theory. This seems to have really come to a head after the episode “The Bakersfield Expedition” where the female characters went to the local comic shop advertised as “where no woman has gone before.” The conclusion being that all involved with the production of the show must hate comic book fans because of what was interpreted as negative stereotyping of comic shops, comic books, and comic fans.
This reaction surprises me because I assume, and I’m sure this is a stereotype itself, that comic fans have a keen sense of popular culture, and would recognize that, as an outrageously popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory most likely would employ all the usual conventions of the typically successful sitcoms which generally include, stereotyping and low brow humor. Since comics and cartoons have a long tradition of capitalizing on stereotypes through characterization literally and visually, I expect that comic fans would at least be accustomed to its use.
Is the pot calling the kettle black?
Humor is generally rooted in something painful. Our ability to laugh is a primal reaction that is soothing to the anxiety of dealing with what hurts or causes fear. We fear things that we do not know or understand as much as we fear things that we are sure will hurt us. Stereotypes are a false but identifiable veneer that keeps us focused on the superficial, preventing our awareness of the distinct particulars that define the true structure of the subject. The stereotypes used in sitcoms preserve their humorous impact by maintaining the mask that prevents a more complete understanding of the subject.
Occasionally, through sitcoms, our laughter accomplishes its primal goal and soothes cultural fears.
Vice President, Joe Biden received a lot of attention when he credited the sitcom Will & Grace for its impact on social mores regarding gay lifestyles during his appearance on Meet the Press. “When things really began to change is when the social culture changes,” He told host David Gregory. “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anybody’s ever done so far. People fear that which is different. Now they’re beginning to understand.”
No character could have fit the gay stereotype more than Jack, played by Sean Hayes yet the show was beloved by viewers throughout its eight-year run.
Last week Charlie Sheen walked on the stage of The View to a rousing ovation. He was credited by Barbara Walters as being “loved by America.” His character on the insanely popular sitcom Two and a Half Men, produced by Chuck Lorre who also produces The Big Bang Theory, was an often drunken, drug induced louse of a playboy whose sexploitations of women were the focus of the show, representing the ultimate cliche of the male chauvinist pig.
Sheen’s character was a frightening mirror of his actual life which exploded into public view during the antics of his tirade when he was fired from the show in 2011. Yet, he was welcomed into the open arms of Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Sherri Shepherd, the five co-hosts The View who are powerful morning voices of women all over America. Joy Behar even flashed him her reportedly perfect tootsies in response to his foot fetish. I suspect he is loved because somehow people feel they can relate to him now because of their familiarity with his character on Two and a Half Men.
Because of this phenomenon of cultural acceptance induced by sitcoms, I think it would do Geek Culture some good to be able to laugh at itself and simply accept The Big Bang Theory for what it is, a successful sitcom that is, not intentionally, paving a road of acceptance for a subculture that is not fully understood.
I am personally watching this phenomenon play out in my own house. My twenty-year-old daughter, Jenna, whose eclectic interests have never included anything remotely influenced by science fiction or superheroes ( with the notable exception of Captain Underpants when she was in third grade) is a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory. Her bedroom wall, which was once plastered with posters of the Jonas Brothers, now displays images of her currrent favorites: Junior Middleweight boxer, King Gabriel Rosado, rap star, Lil Wayne, movie star John Travolta, iconic beauty, Audrey Hepburn, and Big Bang’s character Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) barking “Bazinga!”
She named her cat Dr. Sheldon Cooper and her horse Leonard Hofstadter as homage to the show. Though she never read comics, she now proudly proclaims her favorite superhero to be Green Lantern and has a shirt with his logo, and a plush version of his character. She has actually ventured into comic shops unaccompanied by me or my son presumeably to shop for us. And though my own comic book swag was once a source of overwhelming embarrassment to her, this year, beneath the Christmas tree, was a Justice League belt, a Captain America wallet and a DVD of the animated Ultimate Avengers. All were gifts from her to me.
I can only imagine that her affinity for The Big Bang Theory has softened her attitude towards a culture she had formerly vocally denounced as “dorky.” She has more than accepted the characters, she has embraced them and opened a place in her life that is willing to accept a subculture that before was alien to her.
My final suggestion to comic fans is, though it is fine to be critical and analytical of The Big BangTheory, look around at everyone laughing. We know that the stereotypes are not a true representation of the sub culture but they represent what the general public sees on the surface. Laugh with them and invite them beyond the veneer where they can be actually laughing with you than at you. If we can’t laugh at ourselves we can’t expect others to take us seriously.
Making Comics Because We Want to,
Tags: Audrey Hepburn, Barbara Walters, Bazinga, Big Bang Theory, Captain America, Captain Underpants, Charlie Sheen, Chuck Lorre, David Gregory, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Geek Culture, Green Lantern, Jim Parsons, Joe Biden, John Travolta, Jonas Brothers, Joy Behar, JUSTICE LEAGUE, King Gabriel Rosado, Leonard Hofstadter, Lil Wayne, science fiction, Sean Hayes, Sheldon Cooper, Sherri Shepherd, Superheroes, The Bakersfield Expedition, The Big Bang Theory, The View, Two and a Half Men, Ultimate Avengers, Whoopi Goldberg, Will & Grace