The Big Bang Theory is a major player in geek popular culture. You either love it or hate it, and if you hate it and think it’s only loved by people who aren’t “true geeks” (whatever that means), then you haven’t seen the presence and draw of this show at San Diego Comic-Con.
Personally, I don’t actively despise the show, but I do think it’s a one-trick pony that has been getting beaten long after cessation of any vital functions. It’s biggest problem is that it is a comedy show full of unlikable characters who aren’t funny, haven’t been funny for years, and maybe never were.
I don’t think Big Bang Theory has ever done any favors to the geek community. But where it crosses over into doing actual harm is exemplified by the recent episode “The Meemaw Materialization”. io9 recently blasted this episode and their handling of the cover to the hit series Saga, wherein a woman is drawn breastfeeding her infant child, and all that characters Howard and Raj can say amounts to, “boobs, heheheh boobs”. From the article:
Nerds—we sure do like to masturbate, huh? That’s all our interests are! Star Wars, cartoons, Lord of the Rings, video games—we’re all just looking for things to jerk it to! Thanks, Big Bang Theory, for reminding us that nerds are only nerds because we’re too socially awkward to have sex with other people!
God fucking dammit.
I would like to go a step further and point out that this scene isn’t even the worst thing about this episode. Not by a long shot.
In that scene Howard and Raj are talking to a woman in their favorite comic book shop that they’ve never seen before (it’s her first time there). Turns out the woman (named Claire) is an aspiring screenwriter looking for inspiration. The fact that she’s reading Saga makes what happens all the more painful, because Saga is fucking perfect for inspiring the sort of sci fi epic Claire wants to write.
After Raj comments that he is a scientist and astrophysicist, Claire asks if he could meet her for coffee some time to talk, as he could answer a lot of questions she has. Raj agrees, and then spends the rest of the episode thinking Claire was flirting with him, and wondering how he should handle the situation, given that he has a girlfriend. He even calls Claire to tell her as much, to which she is completely nonplussed. Raj decides to go through with the meeting, and say nothing about it to his girlfriend, BECAUSE HOW CAN HE POSSIBLY HAVE A COMPLETELY CASUAL, NONROMANTIC, NONSEXUAL MEETING WITH A WOMAN??? She was TOTALLY into him! Won’t his girlfirend be INSANELY jealous? Or maybe she’ll be turned on and be open to a three-way (this is actually a thing that is discussed in the episode).
Let’s be clear here. One of the main characters, one of our heroes, if you will, has a delusional flirtation with a total stranger and even when confronted with the assurance this was delusional, is willing to do the following. 1) Break up with his girlfriend to pursue the other woman. This is the least desirable choice. 2) Cheat on his girlfriend with the other woman. This is more desirable. 3) Engage in sexual intercourse with both at the same time. Most desirable. Raj discusses these possibilities with Howard and Bernadette. Neither of them confront Raj with the fact that these are all the douchey, dickish behavior of a complete asshole.
The episode ends with a scene of Raj and Claire meeting and talking about her screenplay. And what do you know, it’s actually productive! Raj is answering Claire’s questions, they’re brainstorming, and coming up with great new ideas. The scene ends with Raj fantasizing about them, together with 2 kids, and Raj telling one of them, “and that’s how mommy and I met.” And the punchline to this is that Claire asks when Raj is going to get around to telling his girlfriend about them. Seriously, the joke is that Raj has been cheating on his girlfriend for years and has a secret family with another woman. Cue laughs!
Here. Right here is the problem with this episode, and with Big Bang Theory in general.
Of the 4 main nerd/geek characters on the show, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj, all are men and 3 are white. Penny is most definitely not a nerd/geek. Howard’s eventual wife Bernadette and Sheldon’s girlfriend/emotional punching bag Amy are both smart, accomplished scientists, and there have been other such characters on the show, but none of them are nerds/geeks the way the guys are. In fact, in all the years I’ve been watching this show, I don’t think there has even been a female character presented as a nerd/geek the way the guys are. I could be wrong, if so, I welcome correction.
I would go so far as to say that all women in the Big Bang universe fall into two camps. They are either related to the 4 main guys, or they are objects of sexual attraction for the 4 main guys. One could argue Sheldon is an exception to this rule, but then I would argue he is the character with which fans of the show identify with the least, if at all. He is the Charlotte of Big Bang Theory.
Female nerds/geeks do not exist in the Big Bang universe. There is even a recent episode where minor recurring character and would-be recipient of multiple restraining orders Stuart, who owns the local comic book shop, laments at the lack of women customers and wonders how he can attract more. That he oogles and hits on any woman that walks through the door is played for laughs. His perplexed and oblivious response to the notion that maybe he shouldn’t do this is deserving of none.
In “The Meemaw Materialization,” Big Bang Theory introduces a female character who seems to be a nerd/geek. She wants to write a sci fi epic, and one could infer is therefore a fan of sci fi. She knows enough to go into a comic book shop to do some research and pick up Saga. She is then immediately and summarily reduced to Sexual Object Exhibit C. And understand, this has to happen. If Claire was Clark, this subplot would not exist because there would be no joke. Just because Raj is more well-adjusted and less socially awkward than he was in earlier seasons, he can’t suddenly NOT objectify women! It’s one of his defining character traits!
And that’s the real shame. This whole thing is played for laughs. It’s supposed to be funny. And it is indeed popular. And the sort of thing that happens in Big Bang Theory happens all the time in the real world. Women are objectified all the time. At comic book shops. At conventions. Especially at cons. If they’re not being oogled and near-molested, they’re being accosted and quizzed to somehow prove their fandom and “right” to be there.
And this is where Big Bang Theory starts to do actual harm. Instead of making an effort, any effort, even the smallest effort to reach out to female nerds and geeks by representing and portraying a character with dignity and respect that they can identify with, all women are objectified. Instead of challenging male nerds and geeks to do better and be better, it’s jokes about boobs and three-ways.
Way to go Big Bang Theory. Fuck you very much.