The Adorkable Misogyny of The Big Bang Theory
September 2, 2017 2:49 AM   Subscribe

The Big Bang Theory provides a perfect lens through which to deconstruct a popular media trope I like to call the Adorkable Misogynist. Adorkable Misogynists are male characters whose geeky version of masculinity is framed as comically pathetic yet still endearing. Their status as nerdy “nice guys” then lets them off the hook for a wide range of creepy, entitled, and sexist behaviors.
posted by Blasdelb (96 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was an excellent and thoughtful take-down of this trope -- having never watched this show, but perplexed by its ubiquity, it is both interesting and disturbing to note how greatly misogyny figures in its plot and character development.
posted by nonmerci at 3:25 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


And, has anyone noticed this is one of the raunchiest TV shows going?
posted by WinstonJulia at 3:53 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I have always thought Big Bang Theory was the biggest load of shite and this video explains very well why that is so. It's like when I heard about the Bechdel test and realised the inherent sexism is why I more or less stopped watching movies when I was in my early 20s.
posted by roolya_boolya at 3:57 AM on September 2 [24 favorites]


I'll take any and every excuse to hate on this show which I hate. Though I honestly couldn't make it very far into that video because I can't handle hearing that many shitty jokes. I think I get the gist.
posted by Room 101 at 4:03 AM on September 2 [19 favorites]


Insightful, but the real insight isn't revealed until "lampshading" is explained about 14 minutes in. I wish they had led with that.
posted by amtho at 4:04 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


I can't watch the show. I've tried. (Full disclosure: I have tried because more than one person, on more than one occasion, has informed me that I am very... Sheldon, or anyway what Sheldon would be if he were female.) It's a show that does not genuinely like any of its characters, makes unkind and hurtful fun of all of them, and is sexist in a way I see all the damn time in geek culture. It's not funny there, either.
posted by which_chick at 4:12 AM on September 2 [61 favorites]


because I can't handle hearing that many shitty jokes.

Same here. Instead of dialogue it's just snark tennis hung loosely on whatever plot elements they squeezed out. Dunno how people can tolerate more than a few minutes of it.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:13 AM on September 2 [9 favorites]


Mr hippybear LOVES this show. I can't stand it. I think it's mean-spirited and is comedy entirely based around mocking these characters. He thinks its fun because he can identify with the characters and their separation from society in their geekdom. It's truly one of the few things about which we have agreed to disagree.
posted by hippybear at 4:18 AM on September 2 [12 favorites]


On why this is so desperately important from the same channel:
Donald Trump: Lovable Sitcom Misogynist
Why wasn't Donald Trump's blatant and unashamed misogyny a deal breaker for voters? I argue it has a lot to do with the ways pop culture, especially television sitcoms, work to normalizes sexist behavior.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:35 AM on September 2 [42 favorites]


I've never made it farther than one minute into this show. It seriously bothers me that it's popular. Anyway, the lampshading stuff was interesting, that you can get away with making sexist jokes so long as you communicate that you are aware that you are making a sexist joke. I didn't make it all the way through, but I would go further and tie stuff like this to the alt right. I've spent some time trying to understand them, and it goes like this: I am a special guy snowflake with special feelings I thought girls would be into. When I discovered that girls like to fuck guys based on superficial things like looks (like me secretly) I felt totally betrayed and decided to make it my life's mission to use any and all underhanded methods to sleep with them. Once you start to view women as less than human, you gradually begin applying that viewpoint toward other humans for whatever reasons further your self interests. Voila monsters.
posted by xammerboy at 4:47 AM on September 2 [17 favorites]


It's interesting how disliked BBT is on Metafilter, mention of the show tends to draw people out, really touches a nerve.

I'm just surprised the show is still on, was mildly amusing early on, but quickly milked that vein dry.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


TEN YEARS! And scheduled to run for two more seasons!

I mean, I love Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki and Mayim Bialik and all of the cast. They're very talented people creating art in a mud pit. But honestly, there are children who are going to enter Junior High whose parents have been watching this show all their lives, and thus they've been watching.

Planting toxic seeds.
posted by hippybear at 5:02 AM on September 2 [17 favorites]


Hey y'know what we should do? We should take every Chuck Lorre sitcom and put it the garbage where it belongs and forget about it.
posted by adept256 at 5:07 AM on September 2 [37 favorites]


Chuck Lorre show is still like a Chuck Lorre show, a full decade in...glad people are critical of it for sure but this is pretty dog-bites-man. It's gross, but it's not surprising. It does sadden me though that someone as smart as Mayim Bialik continues to ride its paycheck.
posted by trackofalljades at 5:07 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


Okay, so now I'm going to stick up for Chuck Lorre because the beginning of the first season of Dharma & Greg was truly a joy. Greg, the straight-laced conservative finds this free spirit hippie girl and she is teaching him lessons about life that he needs to learn and that she can't believe he doesn't already know.

The problem is, focus groups and corporate executives got involved in continuing the program as a money maker and so the show slowly morphed into being about how a free spirit hippie girl ends up with a straight-laced conservative and she's a problem and look at all her antics all the time and how can he possibly cope with her!

c.f. Perfect Strangers (not a Lorre show), which started out as The Foreigner being a source of wisdom to The Foreigner being the source of mocking-comedy.

I wish sitcom television were more about comedy emerging from situation and circumstance than from pointing and laughing at a character because of who they are. But that is more difficult to write, and is more rare.
posted by hippybear at 5:16 AM on September 2 [13 favorites]


I'll offer up The Larry Sanders Show, Veep, and Weeds as positive examples of comedy that emerges from character and circumstance and isn't about pointing and laughing at people in a cruel way.

I will also mention It's Garry Shandling Show because it broke down a lot of sitcom tropes decades ago and is worth rewatching on a regular basis.
posted by hippybear at 5:25 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


This is a OK (bit long) video, and Big Bang Theory is (to me) an unwatchably bad show which is also genuinely misogynistic and generally unpleasant, but either I've got low standards or its male leads are all, in fact, conventionally handsome. They're not portrayed as conventionally handsome, in the same way that Hollywood pretends that tied back hair and glasses turn an attractive woman into a ridiculous ogre. In this case, that conceit is part of the same "adorkable" framing of the misogyny in the show - artificially contriving the idea that these men are "low status" and accordingly sympathetically non-threatening.
posted by howfar at 5:35 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


"Okay, so now I'm going to stick up for Chuck Lorre because the beginning of the first season of Dharma & Greg was truly a joy. Greg, the straight-laced conservative finds this free spirit hippie girl and she is teaching him lessons about life that he needs to learn and that she can't believe he doesn't already know."

I've never seen the show, but from what you're saying, it sounds like the the high point of the show was a manic pixie dream girl teaching a straight laced guy about the wonders in life. The show then went downhill from there. This does not sound like much of an improvement over current TV.
posted by Hactar at 5:35 AM on September 2 [18 favorites]


I'm glad they mentioned Abed from Community. 'OMG are you charting our menstrual cycles?'

The guys on the big bang theory are all really handsome. The joke is that they're unattractive because they're smart?
posted by adept256 at 5:37 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


Hactar: Yes, it was that. But it was peace and love hippie values that were being imparted and I'm a bit partial to those and it felt great for a while that those ideas were being imparted on television as a source of wisdom but then it turned to mockery.
posted by hippybear at 5:41 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Johnny Galecki has been a huge favorite actor of mine since his days on Roseanne (also a quality show), and I hate that he's been stuck in this for over a decade.
posted by hippybear at 5:42 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


I may add, blasdelb, thanks for this post, it's the best of the web and why I come here. The list of tags is as long as the post. It's just a thing I noticed. It's okay. Good post.
posted by adept256 at 5:45 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


@howfar
I don't think the leads are *traditionally* attractive, physically, except for Johnny Galecki. But I think it's mostly their lack of social skills and what is appropriate with women that is supposed to make them unappealing to women/people.
posted by mkuhnell at 5:51 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I hate that he's been stuck in this for over a decade

I'm sure the million dollars an episode, plus back-end money, helps with the pain.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 5:53 AM on September 2 [33 favorites]


Chuck Lorre shows are intentionally bad. Look at Disjointed. You, that is Chuck Lorre, have Kathy Bates, unlimited money and freedom, a genre, stoner comedies, that allows for stupid joke after stupid joke, and somehow you make something that's not funny. Lorre is rolling in money and can hire whichever writers he wants to so he must know that you don't make money by producing funny comedies. Lorre makes his money by producing shows that have the form of comedy shows but aren't funny.
posted by rdr at 5:54 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place was the original title of Two and a half men. No-one thought a girl and a pizza place was worth half a man though.

You know it's all the same guy right? He keeps making this shit and people keep watching it.
posted by adept256 at 5:59 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I'll offer up The Larry Sanders Show, Veep, and Weeds as positive examples of comedy that emerges from character and circumstance and isn't about pointing and laughing at people in a cruel way.

I'd like to add People of Earth to the list of very funny, very positive comedies.

My opinion of BBT is skewed, because I associate the first season with a fun time in a new relationship. I stopped watching it season two, when the relationship fizzled, until Big Bang Theory Without A Laugh Track happened, and since then I find it completely unwatchable, even in tiny doses.

Look at Disjointed

This was me, upon learning of the show:

1) Kathy Bates: !
2) in a comedy: !
3) about stoners: !
4) from Chuck Lorre: sad trombone.

No amount of pot could get me to watch this show, based solely on #4.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:10 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


BBT is a show for dumb people about smart people.
Community is a show for smart people about dumb people.
posted by sydnius at 6:29 AM on September 2 [42 favorites]


My wife loves BBT. I...tolerate it (mostly because I can get invested in any TV show. It's...a flaw of mine and why i try to avoid TV in general).

I've always thought it to be "nerd blackface".
posted by notsnot at 6:30 AM on September 2 [19 favorites]


One of my ex-coworkers, a woman who has worked in technology for 20 years, loves this show. I know she has been subject to repeated sexual harassment. I've seen her go home in tears. I don't get it. Internalized misogyny? Pop culture (all of culture) really does hammer home the message that "boys will be boys, and there is nothing you can do about it."

They need to start showing men who stand up to their friends. Friends who say "you're disgusting and I don't want to be friends with someone who behaves like this." It's not enough to show women revulsed by this (they often get the "girl" anyway). Sexist men only listen to other men, because they don't believe women are full people.
posted by AFABulous at 6:35 AM on September 2 [13 favorites]


The guys on the big bang theory are all really handsome. The joke is that they're unattractive because they're smart?

They're played by professional actors, a population for which the baseline of attractiveness is higher than the broader population, so, yes, the “dorks” and “wallflowers” will have symmetrical faces and straight, shiny teeth. Short of hiring Werner Herzog as showrunner, there's not much that could be done about that.
posted by acb at 6:38 AM on September 2 [16 favorites]


I'm wondering just how many people will laud this video as it stands now, but would not do so if there were nothing different except that Anita Sarkeesian had made it...
posted by mystyk at 6:42 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


Eh, most of the people who automatically hate Anita Sarkeesian automatically hate anything that has the faintest touch of feminism to it anyway. I've never seen any particular hate directed at Anita Sarkeesian from the traditional Progressive Circular Firing Squad. No more than usual, I mean.
posted by Scattercat at 6:56 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


I grew up as a nerdy/geeky guy (and it's fair to say I still am, excepting that I never really got into cosplay). I'd also like to think that I'm a nice guy. Plus I doubt I'd be considered all that attractive.

And yet, I've long been bothered by not just the media portrayal of the nice, unattractive nerd, but by the fact that a whole bunch of guys are more than willing to live up to it -- knowingly allowing themselves the excuse of ingrained social ineptness as a cover for not having to act appropriately, and then feeling self-pity (which often turns to anger) at their resulting worldly troubles. BBT is a show that my wife and I find some limited enjoyment in (because many of the really geeky jokes are ones we both can appreciate), but its critical success has definitely launched "nice, unattractive nerd" to a new and troubling level.

When I look at the disturbing popularity of MRA, "Incel," and "Red Pill" beliefs and attitudes right now, I can't help but wonder if it has as much to do with the high praise the media often bestows on the downtrodden male by way of shows like this as to any other influence.
posted by mystyk at 7:00 AM on September 2 [29 favorites]


It must be preachtothechoir Saturday! So it falls on me to defend the indefensible.

First, a little story. Two winters ago I found myself sick and in need of an english speaking doctor in germany. First two hits on google, no walk-ins. #3 is some sort of teaching clinic and the guy who sees me looks barely old enough to shave. But he asks me what I do, where I lived before... suddenly this bulb goes off and he goes woah man, you're exactly like that Indian physicist in the Big Bang Theory. So we talk about the show blahblah and he's so excited, he can barely hold the stethoscope. So I get my antibiotics and Doogie Howser working over Christmas, gets some sunshine in his life. Everyone's a winner.

Now I understand that like all American sitcoms, this one is industrially processed to package all the old jokes into newer sausage. But:

1. We got a character who's supposed to be pretty smart and went to space. And it is stated quite explicitly and repeatedly that his wife is smarter and makes more money than him.

2. When the guys bounce a laser off the moon and are try to explain to Penny's neanderthal boyfriend exactly why that little peak on the graph is so amazing. That's a lovely illustration of the Mayor of Magdeburg's legendary reply to the man who asked if he could peek into that little vaccum of his - 'not with the eyes, but with the eye of the intellect, one might see a great deal'.

3. The schroedinger's cat ending to the episode about Howard's dad's letter. If you weren't moved, you've lost your soul and should look for it.

4. Not only does a character have a real Indian accent, but even that annoying singsong thing Raj does sometimes, is uh uncomfortably close to home. How's that for verisimilitude.
posted by tirutiru at 7:04 AM on September 2 [21 favorites]


I've always thought it to be "nerd blackface".

I prefer 'geeksploitation.'
posted by box at 7:10 AM on September 2 [20 favorites]


1. Howard is unqualified to go to space. That he does is pure unexplained privilege.

2. You don't get it because you're stupid.

3. Haven't seen it. I was orphaned when I was a kid though, does that have something to do with it? My soul is probably under the sofa cushion next to the remote.

4. doesn't it slice you to the bone that being Indian is the joke? One wears glasses, the other has aspergers, and he's Indian.
posted by adept256 at 7:19 AM on September 2 [20 favorites]


Okay, so now I'm going to stick up for Chuck Lorre because the beginning of the first season of Dharma & Greg was truly a joy.

Dharma & Greg was and remains a spectacular piece of great Art because all by itself it made Criminal Minds worth watching. for, like, at least an hour. just the pure mental engagement of wondering what had HAPPENED to Greg to send him to this dark place could carry you through a whole episode (that is my instruction manual for how to endure Criminal Minds if you live with some inexplicable creature who enjoys it: every time Thomas Gibson wanders in with his dourface on, say "Oh no, what's happened to Greg? Do you think he misses Dharma? boy, can you believe she let him join the FBI, bet her mom had a lot to say about that")
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:46 AM on September 2 [43 favorites]


Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place was the original title of Two and a half men. No-one thought a girl and a pizza place was worth half a man though.

I can't tell if this is a joke or not, but those are two different shows.
posted by chainsofreedom at 7:50 AM on September 2 [9 favorites]


I'll offer up The Larry Sanders Show, Veep, and Weeds as positive examples of comedy that emerges from character and circumstance and isn't about pointing and laughing at people in a cruel way.

I did not find that to be true for the last season of Veep, which to me lost most of its humor and leant very hard into its meanspiritedness.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 7:55 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


I think BBT is the show Lorre decided to do after hearing "his shows are dumb" a few times too many and thought "OH YEAH?! I'll make a show with a couple of eggheads on the writing staff to make jokes about smart things".

It's not a good show, or even a passable one; it's also not irredeemably bad. The cast can carry it to a point and it manages to land a decent joke here and there between the formulaic sitcom and geeksploitation jokes. However, being formulaic is how they manage 46 Emmy nominations, and a show like Always Sunny got three (for stunts).
posted by lmfsilva at 7:56 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Guyagonalize is a theoretical physicist, and it is agonizing to see people try to interact with him solely based on behaviors they see on this stupid show. The conversation always starts with them trying to figure out how "Sheldon" he is, and it always ends with mild disappointment at how "normal" he is.

These comments are generally directed to me, because I am perceived as the "Penny" of the relationship, and therefore allowed to be treated like a regular human being and not a trained monkey.

It is a bizarre bit of...I'm really not sure. I guess it's better than a lot of alternatives, but this show remains a blight on our lives.
posted by Diagonalize at 7:58 AM on September 2 [41 favorites]


I'm a scientist and one time one of the characters reportedly wore the tee shirt of my national organization (in fact...), so everyone was always telling me to watch this show. I was hoping at the very least the show supported science, but it seems to treat science as a geeky prop. In my entire life of reading fiction and watching movies about science, so few get it right. Barbara Kingsolver does (more or less) in "Prodigal Summer" and "Flight Behavior". Miyasaki does in "The Wind Rises". But this show is so horrible it embarrasses me.
posted by acrasis at 8:08 AM on September 2 [12 favorites]



I've never seen the show, but from what you're saying, it sounds like the the high point of the show was a manic pixie dream girl teaching a straight laced guy about the wonders in life.


No, it was "Dharma & Greg", not " Greg & Dharma". She was the more fully formed character. Most of the start of the show was her dealing with his difficult family - and her own crazy family.

as an actual MPDG(TM), we do have lives and stories of our own.
posted by jb at 8:10 AM on September 2 [13 favorites]


I've never seen the show...

One should probably stop there, before offering commentary about a show they've never seen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:15 AM on September 2 [13 favorites]


Short of hiring Werner Herzog as showrunner, there's not much that could be done about that.

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.
posted by corb at 8:15 AM on September 2 [44 favorites]


[One deleted. Taking this in the direction of old comedy tropes vis-a-vis trans people is a guaranteed hurtful derail; please don't.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:20 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


That thing that stuck me the most about the post's video is the lamp shading explanation and how it indirectly highlights the passive mode of most tv.

People often don't want to be challenged and just want something light to take their mind off things or "something to relax to". With the world becoming more tense, I think that explains the continued popularity of BBT. It's a mental comfort blanket.

I wonder if there's a similar video/paper/whatever that takes a similar critical look at the problematic themes perpetuated in the much beloved Archer. A quick Google search found nothing. Anyone know of any?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:25 AM on September 2




Dunno, I actually like TBBT. Yes, it's a formulaic sitcom, like most other formulaic sitcoms written from the POV of a white privileged dude's sensibilities (and popular because as such it fits within the majority of "mainstream culture"), but it's a formulaic sitcom set in environments that are familiar to me - university crowd, grad students and postdocs, with different levels of geekiness, mixed with an odd "normal" person. I can identify much more with these contexts than with the family-centered, middle-class America sitcoms of the 70s/80s, or the young-and-beautiful-hip-friends-in-a-big-city sitcoms of the 90s. Like Brandon says, it's a comfort blanket, one that it tailor made for a subset of my generation.
posted by Ender's Friend at 8:49 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


My grandmother watches this show because she feels it gives her insights about me, a woman in tech. She was sad and disappointed when I mentioned that I'd seen about five minutes of it and felt afterwards that I'd just been through a regular bad day at work.

This was like five years ago and she still watches it tho. Like other posters, I love the cast and detest everything else about it.
posted by annathea at 8:50 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


I have a passing familiarity with this show because my parents love it so most of this video was not surprising to me, but the throwaway joke that Marie Curie had an "honorary penis made of science" made me gasp. Has Chuck Lorre been shamed into a big donation to a women in STEM organization yet?
posted by telegraph at 8:51 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


I enjoyed BBT for the early seasons because even a not great portrayal of nerd-life was better than none but it's gone on way too long for its own good.
posted by octothorpe at 8:51 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


LobsterMitten, I get why you deleted the comment, since the issues re: trans & the military is currently a sensitive topic, but I do think the commenter's larger mention of MASH is worth exploring -- especially the broader mention that there were some bad tropes in it that were largely excused since it was, as that comment pointed out, supposed to be a comedy.

What I would respond to that commenter is that MASH was popular for so long in part because it was more than just a comedy. It was a comedy fundamentally based on the sardonic human desire to find some glimmer of positives to latch on to when otherwise stuck in hell. Remember, it aired at the tail end of and for several years after what was a long and wildly unpopular war, one that is still within living memory for many, and used the setting of the immediately prior shorter but nearly as unpopular war in the same rough region of the world (from biased U.S. perspectives, anyway) to focus itself.

And because of that, it also acted as a form of (sometimes deep and profound) social commentary. Much as Star Trek was more than just sci-fi/drama, it allowed us to process and contemplate issues much broader than just the war it was set in or the one it was produced during.

And to bring it back to the topic at hand, I'd ask this: no matter whether you enjoy BBT or not, can you really say that it acts as anything broader than just its comedy value? Can you say that it contributes in any meaningful way to the idea of TV as larger social commentary? Or is it just a comedy show that can be fun at times, but uses some harmful tropes for a punchline, and not much more?

[Note: Reposted per LM's recommendation after editing to remove the more explicit reference to potentially-derailing subjects.]
posted by mystyk at 8:55 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Mystyk, I grew up watching the classic 1970s sitcoms, and I understood "Mash", "Mary Tyler Moore" and "All in the Family" as a person living through those times. I "got" what was revolutionary about them as they unspooled (feminism, anti-racism) and I didn't (and couldn't, as a kid) grasp what about them would seem problematic today. I heard Norman Lear recently talk about what he would do differently today. He said he thought hiring black actors and examining black life in prime time was revolutionary enough and he didn't realize how much of a problem it was that the writers were white (he does now).

When my father was in the nursing home a few years ago I used to watch "Mash" reruns with him, and I was surprised at how poorly the series had held up- not just the unexamined biases, but also the preachy sanctimony about the examined biases. So maybe I'm being too harsh on BBT. Maybe younger people are watching it and detecting satire. I'm no longer immersed in the bath of popular culture the way I was in the 70s, when I honestly could sense unspoken undercurrents in dopey sitcoms.
posted by acrasis at 9:35 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


Acrasis, I agree that MASH felt on-point at the time, but was ultimately quite hit-and-miss with the social commentary it put forward (and it certainly was preachy about it either way). Some elements hold up quite well, others are downright cringe-worthy today, but the show did genuinely try to be more than just a comedy, and not just as a commentary on war but on a whole host of topics about the human condition, as seen through the lens of the day.

The comment I had been responding to compared those now cringe-worthy elements (or more specifically one particular element that was the reason it was deleted) to the things people are cringing about currently with BBT and appeared to me to suggest that our criticism of BBT was off base because they were both fundamentally comedy, and we should evaluate them through the eyes of comedy as it's seen at the time, and thus further appeared to me to be letting BBT off the hook for the things people are complaining about. My comment is that I disagree, because as pointed out, for better or worse MASH *aspired* to more than just being comedy, while I don't get the sense that BBT does. (I also disagree with the idea that we should let ongoing problems off the hook for any reason, though that's a separate issue.) I read your comment as saying that you're not sure one way or another whether the younger generation sees more value in it beyond comedy (or for that matter, whether I do); I personally come down on the side of saying I don't think it's trying to be anything else or anything more.

Of course, I could have horribly misread the original comment -- it did get deleted while I was drafting a response, and thus disappeared less than halfway through my writing -- but hopefully this addendum more clearly explains what I meant to say.
posted by mystyk at 9:56 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


At the time, TV Guide would *highlight* an upcoming episode of "Mash" as of special interest because it was going to tackle some issue of topical importance. That topicality was understood to be a feature of the show. All of us understood it was not a show about the Korean war, it was about Vietnam, so we ignored glaring anachronisms. I guess a few recent sitcoms are like that now-- "Community" or "Parks and Rec", but for the most part I don't see sitcoms now aiming that high. No one talks about them the way we did back then when there were only three networks and we all watched the same shows. Back then it really seemed to matter what Archie Bunker had said on Saturday.
posted by acrasis at 10:10 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I read your comment as saying that you're not sure one way or another whether the younger generation sees more value in it beyond comedy (or for that matter, whether I do); I personally come down on the side of saying I don't think it's trying to be anything else or anything more.

So, this comment isn't about anyone involved in the comments. it's about concepts.

I think it's dangerous when there is a show that people watch just for comedy which contains toxic attitudes disguised as jokes.

I've felt this for decades. At some point during my growing up I had some kind of education which told me that it is the unconscious messages present in your world that are the most dangerous and that one should try to be alert to them in order to be aware and not have them affect you.

It's not quite subliminal material, instead it is atmospheric. It creates or reinforces a reality which doesn't have to exist. I have a full on rant that I could go into about these kinds of shows, but I won't.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 AM on September 2 [40 favorites]


And Barney Miller is an interesting example of a show which did aim for cheap stereotypes but did it to make a point that seemed to matter.
posted by hippybear at 10:21 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


I watched this show for a while early in its run. And then the humor just seemed to get way too mean.
posted by rmd1023 at 10:36 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


So, I found the first couple of seasons reasonably entertaining, but my God the thing is a visibly rotting zombie at this point.

Skimming through this, I'm not seeing a discussion of Leslie Winkle, probably my favorite character, who used Leonard for her own sexual gratification and corrected errors in Sheldon's math (which may technically make her the smartest original character on the show). "There are no mistakes on my whiteboard." I've always thought it was telling that they supposedly wanted to make her a full-time character, but just "couldn't figure out how." She didn't even get to recur as a nemesis like Kripke. Then, seasons later, the girl nerd girlfriend characters, one of whom weirdly starts out as a waitress even though she's in a Ph.D. program, and the other of whom has to get all her edges sanded off, until she's just mopily hanging around enabling Sheldon like everyone else, like the prototype Ask Mefi: "I know my boyfriend loves me, but he [outlines garbage treatment]. I've tried to explain why I don't like it, but he keeps going. How can I persuade him to treat me better?" It's like they get "mean girl" and they get "long-suffering girlfriend" but they don't get "woman human."

I've always thought it to be "nerd blackface".

This analogy needs to be taken out back and shot pronto, however.
posted by praemunire at 10:39 AM on September 2 [29 favorites]


And to bring it back to the topic at hand, I'd ask this: no matter whether you enjoy BBT or not, can you really say that it acts as anything broader than just its comedy value? Can you say that it contributes in any meaningful way to the idea of TV as larger social commentary? Or is it just a comedy show that can be fun at times, but uses some harmful tropes for a punchline, and not much more?

Comedy is misunderstood, if it is any good. It is based on social dangers, and it has little to do with something being funny to everyone, but everything to do with someone being anxious about something. I would guess that Big Bang Theory is attracting an audience that is anxious about political correctness, but not because of nerds with status offering their social perspective. Rather, those nerds are the epitome of scientific correctness, but never graduated from adolescent sex, therefore most people can feel superior to them. It is about their innocence rather than guilt, or the attitude that correctness about sexuality is well and good, but some have never experienced much sex, for reasons to be laughed at now as adults. Watching them fail at it not only can explain what sexism looks like, but allows us to differentiate between levels of correctness. To make it more serious or lecture the point is impossible in their inept characters, or they may as well tip their hand and teach evolution, environmentalism, and debunk the world's religions under their scientific correctness. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is also about social correctness, as offending comedy, but it doesn't pretend to be about smart people so it doesn't challenge our sense of order.
posted by Brian B. at 10:50 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Yes, but you are also defending the existence of Tosh.0, which I cannot let stand.
posted by hippybear at 10:54 AM on September 2 [13 favorites]


I came for the geeky tech jokes/situations in the first few seasons. The show got me in a way that nothing else had, so I tolerated the dating stuff as a necessary evil to keep the show on TV. Fast forward a few years and the show had somehow morphed into the next incarnation of Friends. I lost interest pretty quickly, right around the time its appeal skyrocketed. I don't feel embarrassed to have enjoyed it initially, though. Not sure if it would fly with me anymore, but for the cultural context into which it was born, there was some comedic gold in those first few seasons.
posted by mantecol at 11:07 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I've always thought it to be "nerd blackface".

This analogy needs to be taken out back and shot pronto, however.
posted by praemunire at 12:39 PM on 9/2


Cannot agree more. Nerdsploitation is fine. Nerd blackface is intolerable.
posted by great_radio at 11:51 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


4. doesn't it slice you to the bone that being Indian is the joke?

This is so far from the truth that I cannot apprehend the confusion that could lead to the question. Look, it's perfectly alright if this character and the show give you no satisfaction. But he is fleshed out, at least as much as anyone else in the show. And with as much farce alternating with realism.

Oh and he occasionally takes off his shirt to reveal a red jasper torso of Harappa (slightly nsfw). Sitcom verite.
posted by tirutiru at 12:28 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


I remember seeing a flyer for a summer science camp that asked the question "is your kid like Sheldon from BBT?" I was outraged because it was sent to those of us who had a kid in the TAG program and my kid and none of her friends did not fit this stereotype! So, did that mean this science camp was not for smart girls who are also sociable?
posted by vespabelle at 12:56 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


The original sin of TBBT is nerd bashing. The misogyny and sexism are just another way in which, check it out, these dorks are hi-lariously unfit for life. Wheee.

That said, some of the early episodes have their moments. And some of the science is real. And there are ways in which I know (and am) some of these characters. Except Howard.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 1:10 PM on September 2


OK, but is the guy who made this video fearing for his life right now? Was he doxxed? Did he have to flee his home for the safety of his family? I'm glad a guy is saying these things, and yet it's no different than what Feminist Frequency was doing and had their lives ruined over. It will be interesting to see if there is *any* personal backlash he experiences. As of right now, the youtube comments are fawning and coherent. Looks to be another example of the old "When a woman says it, it's crap. A guy repeats it and it's gold" situation.

(I'm not disparaging this video. It was very well researched and I think it's effective. A+)
posted by greermahoney at 1:19 PM on September 2 [42 favorites]


mystyk: "I'm wondering just how many people will laud this video as it stands now, but would not do so if there were nothing different except that Anita Sarkeesian had made it..."

greermahoney: "OK, but is the guy who made this video fearing for his life right now? Was he doxxed? Did he have to flee his home for the safety of his family? I'm glad a guy is saying these things, and yet it's no different than what Feminist Frequency was doing and had their lives ruined over. It will be interesting to see if there is *any* personal backlash he experiences."
Guys, this is Jonathan McIntosh, who co-wrote and produced the first season of Feminist Frequency. He hasn't attracted the same attention from these fuckers that Sarkeesian has, being a dude, but thats not through any lack of effort on his part and he has certainly attracted plenty.
posted by Blasdelb at 1:40 PM on September 2 [19 favorites]


who co-wrote and produced the first season of Feminist Frequency.

Well, no wonder it *sounded* like Feminist Frequency. (Thanks for the info, btw.)

He hasn't attracted the same attention from these fuckers that Sarkeesian has, being a dude, but thats not through any lack of effort on his part
I never thought it was due to lack of effort on his part. I thought it was due to sexism. That was entirely my point.
posted by greermahoney at 1:46 PM on September 2 [23 favorites]


I really wanted to like this show because a friend of mine does production on it (or did, not sure if he's still working on that or another project now) and it's really awkward to be like, oh yeah, that show you work on that you're really excited about... it's terrible.

I also get a lot of "oh you should watch this because one of the characters has your name" and... let's say that I find the comparison unflattering at best. Like, yeah, I have an unusual name, and it really sucks that it's coming into vogue, but there's no reason for me to get excited that a terrible person on a terrible show has my name.

There are a lot of shows that I don't like out there, and for many of them it's a "that's not my thing but I get why you like it" kind of dislike, like Game of Thrones. But with this I don't get why anyone likes it at all. It's not funny and the misogyny makes my skin crawl.
posted by bile and syntax at 1:58 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Dharma & Greg was and remains a spectacular piece of great Art because all by itself it made Criminal Minds worth watching. for, like, at least an hour. just the pure mental engagement of wondering what had HAPPENED to Greg to send him to this dark place could carry you through a whole episode

This is EXACTLY what I wonder every time I see Criminal Minds.

(I usually assume that Dharma died somehow and that Greg changed his name and swore to avenge her but sometimes I think that the entire series is just one of Greg's fantasies.)
posted by octobersurprise at 3:20 PM on September 2 [8 favorites]


it's really awkward to be like, oh yeah, that show you work on that you're really excited about... it's terrible.

Add bands to that and you've summed up socialising in L.A.
posted by Room 641-A at 3:40 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


Woody Allen is probably the godfather of nerdsploitation, what with all the films he made (partially, undoubtedly, for therapeutic reasons) where he played the Dorky Neurotic Who Is The Only Actual Human With An Inner Life and ends up Getting The Gorgeously Unattainable Trophy Girl despite tripping over his own tongue.
posted by acb at 3:55 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Count me in as someone who really liked BBT ... until they ran out of ideas. It follows the pattern of almost all sitcoms: awkward and finding footing seasons 1-2, pretty awesome seasons 3-6, jumping the shark after that. Watching them do the same jokes over and over and over again the past couple of years has been excruciating.
posted by Melismata at 6:57 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Most of my thoughts on BBT were nicely encapsulated in the scene where Bernadette first meets Howard on a blind date.

Howard's trying to entertain her, and she's not laughing; he says, "it's a joke!" and she replies, "are you sure?"

(Someday I want an animated gif of that.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 7:22 PM on September 2 [8 favorites]


The video pointed out a ton of "ironic" sexist jokes, which are indeed pretty bad, but I felt like it was missing the forest for the trees. The problem with Big Bang Theory is that it portrays guys as the only True Nerds. Sure Amy and Bridget are smart scientists, but they're not portrayed as individual characters with rich nerdy inner lives like the main four (and they were a late addition to the show). And Penny, the completely stereotypical blonde ditz, is even worse.

I can tolerate a few dozen "ironic" sexist jokes in a show that makes thousands of jokes. I actually missed every single one of the sexist jokes that were in this video. But I really, really don't like that the women are portrayed as incidental outsiders, rather than plot drivers.
posted by miyabo at 7:24 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Thank you!! I've always hated this show for its misogyny and it drove me nuts that no one else saw it. Particularly being a woman in the sciences, this offended me to no end.
posted by Toddles at 8:37 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


The video pointed out a ton of "ironic" sexist jokes, which are indeed pretty bad, but I felt like it was missing the forest for the trees. The problem with Big Bang Theory is that it portrays guys as the only True Nerds. Sure Amy and Bridget are smart scientists, but they're not portrayed as individual characters with rich nerdy inner lives like the main four (and they were a late addition to the show). And Penny, the completely stereotypical blonde ditz, is even worse.

This is why I could never watch the show: that they made nerd=male. I had the same problem with the IT Crowd too, but at least that show is redeemed by also being really really good. (also very small cast).

women are nerds. women do science and/or read comic books, etc. And nerdy women are also (sometimes) socially awkward and find it hard to date and not conventionally attractive.

I love that BBT makes nerd culture jokes. I just hate that their nerd culture seems to have no room for me as a female-presenting person, no matter how many Star Trek novels I've read.
posted by jb at 9:02 PM on September 2 [11 favorites]


I liked the first few seasons but when Howard went to space it jumped the shark. When all the guys realized their fantasies (hot girls, duh) it became pointless so I stopped watching in like 2014 or so.
posted by Glibpaxman at 9:03 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed the show for the first few seasons. Lost track of it at some point. Am continually surprised to find that not only is it still on the air, but seems to be more popular than ever. I was certain it wouldn't last more than two or three years.

Either way, add me to the list of members of the Leslie Winkle Fan Club. Sara Gilbert's few appearances were such gems that I probably kept watching the show for longer than I otherwise might have, knowing what BBT had the potential to do, which it never came close to again.
posted by Devoidoid at 9:04 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


mantecol: "I came for the geeky tech jokes/situations in the first few seasons. The show got me in a way that nothing else had, so I tolerated the dating stuff as a necessary evil to keep the show on TV. Fast forward a few years and the show had somehow morphed into the next incarnation of Friends."

Me too, I watched the show for the first couple seasons despite the need hollywood has to make everything have a relationship component. But as the guys relationships ramped up (and the on again/off again drama of those relationships) my interest waned.

And I probably enjoyed the first few seasons because representation matters. You could see reflections of my college crowd everywhere in the show (sadly including the raw PUA efforts of Howard). The intense focus on projects of interest. The playing with dangerous things and the solidarity of the coverup. The encyclopedic knowledge of things that Just. Don't. Matter. coupled with a real lack of knowledge of things that matter to "normal" people. (EG: We once were flabbergasted that one of our regular Sunday hangouts was closed for the day when we showed up. Turns out the proprietor was off doing some Super Bowl party and all of us were oblivious to it being Superbowl weekend. Sure we were in Canada but still). The bonding via meaness (combined with the previous point sometimes. We once got a 26 year old guy (who hailed from the Slurpee capital of the world no less) who'd never had a Slurpee take a long hard suck as his first Slurpee experience. We LOL'd).

The fan service nature of Penny was annoying and disappointing but she got to play the straight guywoman a lot too and those tended to be some of the best moments. EG: Penny's Pop Culture Quiz is comedy gold especially if one doesn't know half the answers to the quiz.

TL;DR: BBT was at its best when it wasn't dealing with relationships.
posted by Mitheral at 10:11 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


The entire discussion about Lampshading summed up by the excellent observation that acknowledging sexism or bigotry or homephobia etc etc, is not the same as challenging or condemning it is really good. I believe the same thing could often be said about Tina Fey's comedy.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 11:12 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I'm probably going to come across as a bitch for saying this, but I have no problem laughing at nerds. In fact, I quite enjoyed watching Leonard and Howard getting shot down by women in the early seasons of the show. And why is that? Because as a female with nerdish or nerd-adjacent interests I have had so, so, so many bad encounters with "nice-guy" nerds that I never had any clue how to deal with, and as a result I suffered through social interactions with them that ranged from awkward to horrible to intimidating.

I never really considered myself a full nerd or geek or whatever the term de jour is, but I could still converse with them. Because I always tried to be a nice person, I used to make it a point to try to find common ground with people and talk to them about their interests. With full-blown "nice guy" nerds, this pretty much always blew up in my face. Once they found out I could converse about Star Trek or comics or [pick a topic] they'd latch on like leeches and wouldn't leave you alone. Seriously.

I couldn't walk through the halls of one university department because the guy who wore his Star Trek (Next Gen) communicator and phaser and tricorder would pretty much pounce on me and I couldn't escape a conversation with him no matter how hard I tried. If I got unlucky and left my graduate/professional class as the same time as one particular comic nerd, he'd follow me home from school. Thankfully, my place of residence had a back door through a commercial building so I always made sure if he was following me (well, "escorting" me while talking my ear off and giving me creepy, leering looks) I entered through the back door so he couldn't figure out exactly where I lived. I could go on and on.

Since this was pre-MetaFilter, I couldn't post a question to Ask requesting advice on how to stand up for myself and shoot down these "nice guys" while still being nice and polite myself and not hurting their precious feelings. Now that I'm older, I don't care as much, so I don't engage with them as often (I've learned my lesson), and I won't put myself out if they decide I'm going to be their nerdy gal-pal or potential romantic interest or whatever they see me as.

So for me, the appeal of the show was twofold: I could enjoy the "nerdy" in-jokes and references (and during the early years of the show, that was the kind of stuff you still didn't really see on TV), and at the same time, I could also watch the guys suffer as they couldn't get the girl or realized the girl only used them to steal government secrets, or whatever the romantic trauma of the episode happened to be.

While I understand that many nerdish MeFites may find the idea of people laughing at nerds to be a sensitive topic that hits too close to home (which amounts to the majority of complaints I've read about this show prior to this post), I don't mind that part of it at all. I can laugh at my own nerdish tendencies, so I don't mind others doing it as well.

I'm also aware enough to acknowledge that the show has a problem with women, and it's a problem that has grown over the course of the run. I get that, but one some level, I'm able to tune a lot of it out, mainly because there is so much TV and film and music out there that has similar problems that it becomes that ever-present low-level background radiation of misogyny that is just part of our daily lives.

The one thing that I do like about the representation of the women on the show is that overall, they're less nerdish, better rounded and with more social skills than the guys, but are still able to embark on stupid nerdish stuff (arguing over who else besides Thor can pick up Mjölnir) when they feel like it. As jb above points out, they're not nerds, and I personally appreciate that. I like that they're more multifaceted (at least in TV sitcom terms) than the guys.

Overall, however, I agree with all of the previous writers who could see a definitely drop-off in quality between early seasons and later ones.
posted by sardonyx at 11:44 PM on September 2 [9 favorites]


I really enjoyed the video, and it summed up sooo much of what I loath about this piece of shitcom. The few episodes I've seen were intolerable, but while watching this video, my mouth was hanging open at just how overt and offensive the racism/misogyny is. Like, it's not funny to /make a racist joke, insert your laugh track, point out that the joke is racist, then insert another laugh track. If anything, that makes it worse because the writing staff clearly know better, but can't be arsed to write a joke without racism. Same goes for sexual harassment/transphobia/homophobia/ableism/other-ism.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 12:26 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


I don't think at this point it's okay to put "nerds" as a class that it is okay to make fun of, primarily because the "nerd" traits on that show (and in real life) are often due to symptoms of Autism. I think a show that is as mainstream as BBT should be held to a higher standard too.

That being said, the misogyny always seemed the most problematic to me, so I'm glad that this post exists to point that out.
posted by Drumhellz at 1:07 AM on September 3


Look, for me it was clear that Lorre didn't care about Penny - the lead and only female character for several seasons - because he refused to or didn't care to give her a surname. All the male characters had backgrounds and histories and Penny was the token blonde girl who didn't warrant being anything but The Girl. This show is fucking awful for a lot of reasons, but this was key indicator of the show's misogyny. Four guys and one girl and she is the baseline/typical/normal/average/token girl because she's white and blonde.
posted by crossoverman at 5:28 AM on September 3 [10 favorites]


Another actual woman scientist (happily married to a man who is not a scientist) who doesn't watch shows that act like I and people like me don't exist as real, fully functional human beings.
posted by hydropsyche at 10:15 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


Some thoughts:
BBT was originally going to be "Leonard and his Wacky Sidekicks". (You can see this clearly in the early promos for the show.). A show about hilarious nerds: putting each other down for their various social failings, and pining after unobtainable girls (...ESPECIALLY the Girl Next Door).

And then 'Wacky Roommate Sheldon' literally stole the show, and it changed.

The absolute peak of the show was "Raj loses his funding and briefly goes to work for Sheldon": and there's a moment when it's just two smart post-grads STARING at the blackboard, TRYING to make the next step - and the soundtrack to this is "Eye of the Tiger".
American TV has never shown intellectual labor so perfectly.

And then Lorre somehow moved the show from "Leonard and his Wacky Sidekicks" into yet another terrible sitcom about "Four clever guys and their wives/girlfriends".
BBT today might as well be "Friends".

I stopped watching it years ago.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:08 PM on September 3


So for me, the appeal of the show was twofold: I could enjoy the "nerdy" in-jokes and references (and during the early years of the show, that was the kind of stuff you still didn't really see on TV), and at the same time, I could also watch the guys suffer as they couldn't get the girl or realized the girl only used them to steal government secrets, or whatever the romantic trauma of the episode happened to be.

Yeah I dance around the nerd/geek line where I never was geeky about the stereotypical nerd things but could speak the language. And also dealt with my fair share of barnacle-like attachment from guys at the merest indication that I knew Star Trek or had played D&D. In fact, I consider part of my stone-cold bitch persona was developed as a defense against them because I had to act like a complete bitch to get a couple of them to stop stalking me.

So anyway, my husband and I started watching BBT because his parent's loved it and made us watch it, while pointing to my husband and saying "it's you" when Sheldon did something particularly OCD. This was first season, and we found it pretty funny, partly because it we got the jokes and partly because I felt the nerd guys WERE the butt of the jokes and they so obviously reflected the creepy-ass obsessive nerds I still had to play avoidance with at conventions.

I mean, are most geeks like that? No. Is there definitely a sizable subset of desperate misogynist creeps in the nerd community? Umm, yeah. So when I thought the joke was how terrible those guys were, I liked the show, despite the Penny thing. But once the guys became the heroes of the show and the joke became how the women around them didn't understand their quirky genius, yeah, no.
posted by threeturtles at 7:30 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Why Are 23.4 Million People Watching The Big Bang Theory?

Because lots and lots of people are awful and stupid and unaware. Why we don't have a "10th season of Community" but have this run of BBT bullshit.

Adorkable? Please (and fuck that) - this is apologia in line with the GOP/Republicans tolerating Donnie.
posted by porpoise at 12:37 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


And then 'Wacky Roommate Sheldon' literally stole the show, and it changed.

As he might say, Bazinga!
posted by peeedro at 4:01 PM on September 4


I have a full on rant that I could go into about these kinds of shows, but I won't.

Respectfully ask that you expand on your comment about shows like BBT that reinforce the background/atmospheric toxicity of our present day and age, hippybear. I think it's super relevant to 45 and the like, as mentioned above.
posted by knownassociate at 12:31 PM on September 5


Premieres Sept 25 on CBS

Young Sheldon’ Reinvents ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Formula. Will It Work? (John Koblin, NYT)
posted by Room 641-A at 10:59 AM on September 12


What was the last successful spin-off? Not the property spin-off where Caruso or Stick-up-his-arse appear as a guest on the show to launch another :variant, but a proper spinoff where one of the leads or secondary characters gets a show of their own.

Between the 80s fix being dominated by The Goldbergs (that is the scarface-desk-at-the-end-of-the-movie of all 80s fixes) and being a new format for Lorre, it will have to be please BBT fans hard, otherwise I don't think it will have the pull everyone is expecting.
posted by lmfsilva at 9:51 AM on September 14


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