by Rick Mazumdar
Remember that really cool show y'all used to watch while in school (that some, if not all of you continue to watch now), the one with the science quotes, the t shirts with pop culture references and the glib mentions of comic books? Yeah, that one.
The Big Bang Theory is probably the most influential TV show of the last 11 years, premiering on the fall of 2007 this show had a ridiculous fan following across the world including here in the sub continent. It was a pretty interesting time in the world pop-culture, The Spiderman Trilogy had just ended in May that year and nerds were caught dead centre between the Dark Knight films, it was the perfect maelstrom of all the things that fans of comic-books and similar pop culture always wanted, it was a simpler time when we weren't given the full jolt of live action films by Marvel, DC and Star Wars every 5 months or so. The show itself fed off the fanfare that these franchises generated leading nerds to believe that this was in fact their moment in the sun, they were going to take over the world one episode at a time.
The year 2007 was a confusing time for most of us, it was pre-Obama, Doris Lessing had just won the Nobel Prize for literature and for me nerd culture was finally becoming acceptable, I could finally read a comic book in class without being cast down with the sodomites. People were getting to know what it was like being part of being in a culture that was largely underground for several decades and were no longer reacting to it in the way that popular media has showcased it, a.k.a bullies were no longer cool. And of course TBBT had a role to play, here were four awkward, uncoordinated people whose life choices were quite different from the environment around them, which influenced the way they dressed, their conversations and how they viewed the world. Nerd culture had been well documented over the years, but there were only a handful of shows which showed the world through their POV (IT Crowd maybe). Nerds around the world flocked in droves to follow this show like moths to a flame, most of us likened ourselves to the leads personalities, some of us were a Raj, a Howard, a Leonard (I don't think anybody likened themselves to Sheldon though he was the most popular character).
The question is however if even with all of this popularity why was there a drop off? Why is this show not relevant anymore ? and most importantly is the show aware that it is negatively showcasing nerd culture?
It's pretty obvious to fans who have been watching the show for years and have gone through each and every episode that there's a certain schematic that the sort of humor and themes that this show explores and have made it their bread and butter, and to be fair that sort dry reference humor masked with derision to show either superiority or just display knowledge done over 11 seasons can become cloying and monotonous however clever the wit or the science behind the joke is. Over the years even the self referential humor seems have withered away, for me personally I have to be heavily under the influence to feign laughter of any sort especially because of the fact that I know how each scene is going to pan out and where the humor is going to come from. The art of the joke has been so overused that sometimes it feels like you could watch each episode with the volume turned off and point to each moment when a joke has been made and the second after it when the camera points to the person the joke(insult) is directed at and you could make a quasi understanding of what has taken place. The predictability of the show is probably what makes a certain audience keep coming back for more, because it's packaged in a way that seems comfortable and accepting because it's been done over and over again because the reference humor is made to look much more intelligent than it claims to be. The well known established jokes on the show revolve around the ironical situations where the typically nerdy leads have to carry out stereotypical masculine tasks and how their awkwardness in those situations result in hilarity.
Comedy has moved on from the backhanded compliments masked as insults, the casual racism, sexism and bigotry, but that doesn't stop The Big Bang Theory from "lampshading", a method used by writers who make the flaws of their own writing apparent to the audience through a casual reference to it and then simply moving on from the issue in the very next instant, thereby taking away the the power of critics who would naturally address these issues. An obvious example of this is the rampant misogyny that is spread by the characters throughout the episodes, my favorite example being Sheldon's line "My father use to say women are like an egg sandwich on a hot summers day". Now the writers would have you believe that they are in with you on the joke and would have you believe that they understand the problem with their humor when they are making a sexist statement but what they are actually doing is not addressing the problem at all. The show plays on the fact that these lovable scientists are incapable of sexual harassment, rape and molestation because they're so awkward and geeky that associating this sort of behavior to them would be absolutely ridiculous, and that only the quintessential beer drinking jocks basically hyper masculine men are capable of such actions. So what the show essentially does is deem this sort of behavior as naturalized as we've seen throughout the history of Pop culture in films like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club and Revenge of the Nerds and propagates the already well established stereotypes about nerds and the fact that their "attempts" at engaging in companionship or sexual encounters is harmless. All that this does is propagate a culture that is very problematic to say the least, if the recent Incel (Involuntary Celibate) Rebellion is anything to go by then all this show is doing is adding fuel to the fire. Pop culture detective discusses this issue quite well:
The show also focuses on aspects of nerd culture which are almost speculative and sometimes non-existent, it showcases people who are of a particular mold and can never anything outside of the set standard seems unnatural or out of place, in a way its a very closeted universe where this characters exist. Essentially what it doesn't allow is for the characters to pursue interests other than what their character is made to do, in a way even dressing outside the set norm or having sexual preferences or different choices becomes a subject of ridicule. A well established example being Raj, a brown Indian character written by white writers who have a half baked understanding of India, which comes out through the manner in which he expresses himself. For the first half of the series he was unable to communicate with women unless under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and for the most part he's depicted as an effeminate man who becomes a subject of humor at the hands of his friend Howard. If the writers and show-runners were brave enough they would establish him as a member of any part of the LGBTQ spectrum but they would rather have him as a cis-heterosexual man because it becomes easier for them to write, and would save themselves from a significant amount of criticism if he were established as anything other than heterosexual because then it would just be pure hate.
The Big Bang Theory functions in a bubble, it's universe has no little to no consequence with the real world even though it tries so hard to be, bringing on guests like the late Stephen Hawking, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Elon Musk and Bill Gates among several only goes so far, it doesn't really deal with current scientific breakthroughs or problems with the world because the writers aren't capable enough to generate humor in ways that have already been established by them. It isn't any wonder that even the actors have doubled and tripled their salaries over their years because they've realized that they've given the best years of their lives to a show that was relevant for only 3-4 seasons at best. Big Bang Theory could have easily become the most influential shows on television if they looked around themselves to deal with issues that actually affect nerd culture but they chose to limit themselves and delved themselves in self referential banality. Gamergate, could have easily been one of the topics of discussion on the show, but they all they chose to do was care for the established audience and the ratings.
The treatment of comic books on the show projects an attitude of ignorance among the staff at TBBT, it clearly reflects that they little or no idea about any of the comics that they're talking about, personally I felt hurt by the show when they reduced an Eisner award winning comic book , Saga by having Raj say "not a lot of comic books have a woman with wings breast feeding a baby right on the cover" , which shows that obtuseness of the TBBT as a whole, they literally judged a book by a cover. That would have been one of the important moments where the actual fans of comics and pop culture started feeling alienated from TBBT as a whole, never mind the constant jabs at Stuart who was a struggling artist who set up the comic book store which were constant reminders to fans that liking comic books and indulging in similar activities is childish and absolutely pointless. The ignorance further escalates when you each of the main characters talk about have the mind numbing pointless clickbaity conversations "Who would win in a fight between X versus Y?". I'm fairly sure if the show writers indulged themselves a little into comic books as a medium they would a sense of what a story is and how it keeps the audience coming back for more.
Overall this show tries very very hard to indulge in things that they have absolutely no ideas about, it blows my mind that people consider Chuck Lorre a good television writer and producer and also that this show gets awarded and nominated year upon year at the EMMY's, Chuck Lorre the same dude who created the dumpster fire known as Two and A Half Men. I am so glad the TV has becoming so much more better since 2010.
Peace. Happy Revenge of the Fifth.