It started last summer, I was talking to my dad, who had just started watching The Big Bang Theory online, and he compared the boys on the show to my brother and his friends. You see my brother has had the same group of friends since high school, and they are by most people’s standards, nerds. They like comic books, movies, video games, board games, and yes, even D&D. My brother though was seriously offended. We are not like them, he told my father. We do not treat women that way, we do not treat each other that way, and we are not like them. He was pretty adamant about it. While I had never compared my brother to the show it changed the lens with which I watched.
Next it was an episode about Howard’s Mother. I like the gag where we never see her. I think that’s cute in a Cheers/Frasier way. But it has gotten mean. You know Howard’s mother’s defining feature? She’s very fat. That’s it. Well, also she’s needy and naggy but mostly she’s just fat. I know this because the show insists only telling me each and every time she is mentioned. In the first season she took a lover and we got to see the fallout from that. This was a interesting story line. There is humor to be found in adult children seeing their parents as sexual adults. But this/last season there has been none of that no expanding of her character, no personality, no nothing. Mom is fat. Mom is gross. Mom is soo fat that ____________. For an entire episode the only jokes were about Mom being fat. In fact to be a mother on this show you must either be: relentlessly religious, cold and detached, or fat. (I know we see Raj’s mom at some point also but only in the context of Raj’s father.)
After the itchy feeling the treatment of Howard’s Mom gave me I started to notice other things. There are a million ways subtle and not so subtle ways they degrade women on BBT. From Penny being dumb, to Bernadette being shrill, to Amy being undesirable these women (who are essentially written as tropes) are verbally mocked week after week. The sexism in BBT is all over the internet. There are great think pieces on the lack of girl-geeks and lack of well rounded characters.
Tonight though I want to take issue with the episode I just watched entitled, “The Misinterpretation Agitation.” The basic premise is this:
Penny flirts with a doctor she sells pharmaceuticals who takes her “3-Mississippi arm touch” as a invitation to look her address up on the internet and then show up at her door. (This is what some people might call stalking.) He then discovers she is engaged to Leonard who apparently won her by sheer determination, which his friends point out at every turn. Doctor Stalker then takes the boys to the basement of his mother’s house where he locks them in order to win Penny by wearing her down.
This episode makes it very clear that none of Leonard’s friends think he deserves Penny and on top of that, she did not choose him so much as she just finally stopped saying no to his advances. (Excuse me, whilst I vomit.)
The are 20 million people that watch BBT each week and let’s say half are people like me, people who like things that are traditionally considered “nerdy.” Of that half, let’s assume half are men. This means there at 5 million men who are being told week after week, season after season that if a woman says no, if she doesn’t want to date you, if she doesn’t want to talk to you, you should just keep trying til she does. Or at least until she stops saying no. This is terrifying to me.
I’d always sort of liked Penny and Leonard’s relationship on the idea that they balanced each other there have been really good episode where we see all the reasons Penny loves Leonard but, this week, this week I am done. The small scattering of pop culture, nerd ready jokes are no longer enough to hide the mean, petty, sexist, shit they are slinging each week. So I am deleting my season pass and quitting. Next week BBT will only have 19,999,999 viewers and if one of them is you I hope you start getting a little itchy, too.
2 thoughts on “Quitting Big Bang Theory”
Big Bang Theory is indeed humor via making fun of the various “types” of characters in the show. Penny humanizes the characters of Leonard and the others. We are allowed to see the “perception” of the boys that never grow up, the Jewish mother, the dumb blond – the butt of every nasty, cruel joke is a character made very real on that show. Like the Simpsons, where dad is a stupid oaf, and Bart is the only smart person (can you name other cartoons like this?), I quit watching because it was teaching my children how to disrespect parents at the grossest level. I can’t watch BBT anymore because everything is so lame and old. They can’t grow and change, without moving outside of the premise of the show: nerds who can’t function in the “normal” world.
It seems that every new show has to put down somebody or some group to be hip (forgive the old term). Remember the stereotyping of homosexual characters – and then they just became another “type” of character mainstreamed into every group cast. But the stereotype jokes are still there, buried in to remind us of the differences, because otherwise, we begin to accept them as just another person. We no longer see them as something different. Something to be made fun of, or to look down on. They become family, like Leonard and Penny (but never Howard – he is too weird!) and we know she is smart and we know he is lovable, and it will turn out alright. If they ever got married, the show would probably end, because one of them would have broken the cycle of dumb and/or unlovable and it wouldn’t be funny anymore. Just normal life – and, I would imagine it would look something like the old movie about the absent-minded professor, always forgetting his dinner or appointments, or his eyes glazing over as his brain took off, again.
You are right about the attitudes on the show. When the storylines are gone, the only things they can push are the stereotypes. It’s time to put the show to bed. But what else is there to watch. Personally, I just can’t get into the zombie stereotype. At least with BBT I knew what they were talking about – I lean toward string theory myself….
I’m often left wondering at how the desire to pump money out of shows kills the possibility of seeing characters have actual character development from start to finish. One of the parts about Babylon 5 I loved is that it was meant to be 5 seasons long and the character growth along the way was amazing. If shows were started with the entire major plot arcs constructed and everyone knew it would be x years +/- a bit than how would things look? Is part of the love people have for Firefly due it how few shows exist and thus there was never really any beating of dead horses?
I sometimes miss having TV, but I find more often that I watch something now and end up sad at the sexism/tropes/misogyny/lack of poc’s/etc.