Space Oddities: The Big Bang Theory and Science on TV

Space Oddities: The Big Bang Theory and Science on TV

This is my first ever post for the Young Australian Skeptics blog, so hopefully I can kick things off with a poorly-​​thought-​​out analysis of television comedy and keep expectations low. That way, all future postings will seem witty, well-​​researched and revelatory. I’m nothing if not a terrible, terrible human being.

Where was I? Oh yes. Science in television will be the general topic of today’s post. But let’s get specific, shall we? I don’t want to talk about science in science television – your Discovery Channel documentaries, your Catalysts, your Beyond 2000s – but rather science in popular television (for lack of a better term). I’d be remiss if I didn’t speak at least a little bit about the most popular science-​​related television show of our time, The Big Bang Theory.

Now that you’ve wiped the angry saliva from your screens, let me frame the discussion with my own, admittedly subjective, thoughts on the show. It’s pretty bad. As a sometime comedian and writer, it’s fairly insulting purely on a joke-​​writing level. It’s cheap, it’s dumb and it’s formulaic. Every punchline can be seen at least a mile off, two miles on a clear day.

However, its biggest crime, and the biggest cause of consternation amongst the science-​​minded among us, is its representation of science and scientists. It’s not flattering. It’s the opposite of flattering. It’s Gnirettalf. Wait, no, that’s the bad guy from The Legend of Zelda. The Big Bang Theory’s depiction of science and scientists is insulting, reductive and painfully stereotypical. I’m not talking about the literal science discussed or referenced in the show – that could not be further from my area of expertise – but rather the representation of scientists as members of society. Or, in the case of The Big Bang Theory, barely functioning anti-​​social nerds who struggle to connect with anyone outside of a tiny bubble of hyper-​​intelligent sci-​​fi obsessed men (and, very rarely, women).

Oh, don’t even get me started on the depiction of women in this show. Don’t even.

Chuck Lorre, Executive Producer of TBBT and the man responsible for Two And A Half Men, is not a nerd. He did not envision TBBT as a paean to geeks worldwide, a show for the academically-​​minded, pop-​​culture obsessed and athletically weak. The biggest problem, the root of the evil, is that TBBT laughs at its protagonists rather than with them. TBBT positions its awesome foursome as outsiders, strange space oddities that deserve our ridicule as they bumble through social mishap after awkward misunderstanding. It positions scientists as near-​​autistic robots whose intellect and accomplishments inherently place them outside of normal society and restrict them from acting like normal, well-​​adjusted, socially-​​mature people.

This is bad. It’s enforcing old stereotypes, stereotypes that encourage the continued bullying and mockery of a group of people who are, by and large, incredible, hard-​​working and generous. Do we really want our culture to oppress potential cancer-​​curers, planet-​​discoverers or alternative-​​fuel inventors? Do we want Chuck Lorre to continue to reduce the noble modern day nerd to the chicken-​​head-​​eating geek of the carnival?

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by therainstopped]