In Defense of The Big Bang Theory

By Saurabh Gandhi

Edited by Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist

This article provides counter arguments to a piece published on titled “Questioning Popular Culture: ‘The Big Bang Theory’ And Its Discontents”.

The said article begins with a dig at American sitcoms. The author believes that these TV series have become a rage in India because they bring to us the carefully packaged “American Dream” which we Indians are more than eager to devour because of our tendency to mimic western culture. In the context of The Big Bang Theory (TBBT), I ask, what part exactly portrays the “American Dream” here? Getting a doctorate and graduating “summa cum laude”, designing a space toilet, becoming a micro-biologist or wanting to be able to speak to women? In fact, TBBT is a complete work of fiction. Such characters are not found in reality. It is not the desire to imitate the characters that makes people like the show. Rather, it is their strange and outrageous behavior. Do you know anyone who has a roommate agreement whereby he/she controls the room temperature? I guess not and it is these histrionics that make Dr. Sheldon Cooper a hit. Western culture or its mimicking (the favourite hitting bag in these nationalistic times) has little to do with it.

Coming to the specific allegations, the first one being that misogyny is palpable in the show. The author mentions specific instances from the show to buttress her point. She says Penny’s lack of education is made fun of by Sheldon. Last I heard, misogyny meant hatred or dislike towards women or girls. Sheldon had no misogynistic traits. He made equal fun of Howard, the only guy in their gang without a doctorate, the one who was ‘just’ an engineer. In fact, when Howard’s fiancée Bernadette got a Ph.D, it was Sheldon who made fun of Howard’s lack of qualifications. If he was misogynistic he would have made fun of the fact that Howard had married someone with higher qualifications. But this was not so. Sheldon made fun of Howard in a manner which clearly conveyed that he disregarded the ‘lesser educated’ and not the ‘other gender’. Sheldon felt he was superior to everyone. It had nothing to do with the gender of the other person, hence nothing to do with misogyny.

The other instance raked up by the author in the piece is of the two other girls, Bernadette and Amy, agreeing to date socially awkward guys, on their terms. First of all, I fail to understand the problem with ‘socially awkward guys’. Is the problem that the guys were socially awkward or is it that even though they were highly educated, they fell for these guys? Isn’t that like saying Penny was not an achiever so it is alright for her to settle for the nerd but the other two are hugely successful so they must not settle for such creepy and weird guys? What is this, if not elitism, I ask. Secondly, why do we fail to understand the simple point that all the three girls had every right to not get into the relationship? But they didn’t. Why, because Penny found Leonard very different from the other alpha males that she had dated who didn’t want anything but sex. Why, because Bernadette had fallen in love with Howard. One might very well find Howard desperate and a creepy but Bernadette sure found him cute. Why, because Amy was completely smitten by Sheldon; she had finally found someone who could challenge her on an intellectual level and at the same time she could be sexually attracted to. Yeah, Sheldon had a relationship agreement. As mentioned earlier, he also had a roommate agreement. He is a control freak. That has nothing to do with misogyny. Did you miss those special moments of silent love between Amy and Sheldon? Watch them again and you will realize how this wasn’t a relationship on Sheldon’s terms.

The second allegation is that the show celebrates hyper masculinity. There couldn’t have been a stranger argument. If anything, the show celebrates anti-hyper masculinity. The said piece cites an instance where Sheldon and Leonard return half naked from Penny’s ex-boyfriend Jack trying to get Penny’s TV back. Did Penny call them jerks? No. she took them for dinner as she respected them for trying to help her. Who was celebrated, Jack or the nerds? I cite another instance, where Penny rushes to the rescue of the guys when they go to someone who had stolen their online stuff and helps them. Not just this. Sheldon can’t drive. Raj can’t speak to women. Howard needs to stuff himself in order to be able to wear a shirt. Leonard is afraid of physical fights. In spite of all this, people love them. If all this is hyper masculinity, I just don’t know what the definition then.

The third allegation is that the show asserts heteronormativity more often than not. Two instances are cited in this context. Let me take them one by one. There is a homoerotic angle between Raj and Howard, who is always treated with derision by Howard, whom she describes as more “masculine”. The author construed it to be an assertion of heteronormativity. What if I tell you that you are again relying on stereotypes to judge whether men are gay or not? Raj is a lonely guy who is not able to speak to women and Howard is his best friend and he likes certain things that women like. So he is gay. Howard is heterosexual so he is automatically more masculine. What are these if not stereotypes?

In this same context, the author says, “The possibility of a romantic relationship was also left unexplored between Amy and Penny, even though the former had on numerous occasion made homoerotic references much to the latter’s bewilderment and discomfort.” Now, isn’t this going too far? Penny, who is a heterosexual, has to have an encounter with Amy just so that she can prove that she isn’t homophobic. If Penny had decided to treat Amy differently because of her advances (which are completely normal, she might have been bisexual, so what, does that mean that Penny also has to reciprocate?) then it might have been a different case.

If someone had questioned the creation of extremely hyperbole situations to create humor in the show, I would have had nothing to say. If someone had argued about the silly characters in the show, I would have had nothing to say. But, you can’t dismiss the whole Harry Potter series on the mere fact that there is nothing called magic. Likewise, TBBT is based on a foundation of extremely weird and whacky characters. You can question the logic behind it and I would have nothing to say. It is fiction, after all. But to say that things are something, which they are not and that they should be something else is going too far. Bazinga!

A commerce graduate from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata, Gandhi is a politics enthusiast. He has been an intern at Youth-Ki-Awaaz and has a keen interest in current affairs. Innovation in India’s education system and gender equality are issues which are very close to his heart. When not following news, he is either reading or crossing movies off his “To see list”. A self confessed social media addict, Gandhi can be reached on Twitter @saurabhgandhi92. Call him mad and he will love you for the rest of your life.