Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Big Bang Theory and Me

Quite some time ago, my friend Bobby started a discussion among those in his circle about whether they did or did not like the Big Bang Theory.  It was late when I noticed the long post, so I didn't read it at that moment, instead I went to bed thinking, "Great! Now I can discuss why I prefer ekpirosis. Also, why  think that the Big Bang Theory does not really require that the universe began as an infinitesimally small, infinitely dense, infinitely hot geometric point. And, finally, why that is not possible, anyway."

The next day I discovered that the post referred to my favorite television program.  That's okay. Also an interesting discussion.

Even more interesting, most of the responses from Bobby's notoriously geeky friends stated that they did not like the program.  It took me until now to finally get this post written, so I'm sorry it's so late, but if you know me, then it doesn't surprise you that it took me so long.

Why I Like Big Bang Theory

Short answer, 'cause it's funny.  Longer answer...I mean, much longer answer follows:

I understand the program can be interpreted as simply laughing at intelligence and what might be referred to as geekiness.  But when looked upon as a whole, I think a rather different picture emerges.  First, while the primary characters of the show are variations upon the absent-minded professor meme, supposedly normal Penny comes in for her share of humor at her expense. Second, the program goes out of its way to present a number of more normal, yet equally highly educated individuals as well.  They are only visitors to the show, it is true. However, it is clear that scientists can be motorcycle riding, girl attracting, socially confident members of society.  Third, it is important to remember that the history of building an atmosphere of acceptance demonstrates that the first stage is often one of self-deprecating humor.

Do you remember the movie La Cage aux Folles, or the play by the same name, or the inferior American movie version, The Bird Cage? It is true that all three presented homosexuals in very stereotyped imagery, but it is also true that they presented homosexuals as real, sympathetic human beings, a theme frequently utilized in those early attempts at attaining acceptance.

Perhaps even more germane is the case of Stepin Fetchit, aka, Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry.  Stepin Fetchit was his screen name. Lincoln Perry was his real world name.  His film persona was the absolute image of American prejudice against Blacks. He was lazy, he was stupid, he shuffled here and there, etc. etc. etc., ad nauseum.  It's hard to imagine anyone alive today, even someone in my age group, not wincing at the mere thought of his performances.  It is hardly surprising to discover that those who are aware of his career still find much to criticize.

But he also has been praised very highly. Why? Strange as it sounds, his performance made him acceptable to White America at a level which was previously unknown.  For all the flaws of his performances, he was the first Black actor to become a millionaire. He was also the first Black actor to actually receive screen credit. The latter may not sound like much to those of us who are not involved in acting, but I am told that it is of the utmost importance to those who are.

At a certain level, self-deprecating humor may be the only way to make yourself acceptable the world around you.  Most importantly, it is a tool to humanize you to those who wish to deny you membership in the human race.  Even amidst their laughter, the realization steadily and slowly seeps in, these people are people. Down at the most basic level, they really are just like the rest of us. They share the the same fears, the same doubts, the same failures...well, I guess they're just another one of us.

One of the main reasons that geeks and intellectuals face such sharp and cruel bullying at school is because the people doing the bullying are so utterly terrified of them, and feel so inferior to them. After all, you may be stronger than they are but they're smarter than you are.  If they put forth the effort, they could build up their muscles. However, it is generally assumed that a very high level of intelligence is something you're born with, not something you can acquire.  It doesn't take a genius to realize that a better brain can beat brute strength.  No, this isn't the usual, "All of you are only saying that because..." self defense.  This is actually the primary basis of much antisocial activity.  If you talk to the people who hate "those  brainiacs", it doesn't take long to realize the sense of inferiority and even fear that leads people to strike back the only way they can, through violence, both verbal and physical.

If we find a way to laugh at all of our foibles, both those of the brainiacs and those of the normals, we begin to see ourselves as different elements of the same family. That's progress!

So, while I identify with the brainiacs of the program, I feel a lot of empathy for Penny and the other normals.  How much do I identify with the gang?  Answer below:

OK, so Sheldon is extremely obsessive-compulsive. I wouldn't describe myself as extremely obsessive-compulsive, on the other hand, when I'm watching TV, it's not unusual for me to count the number of panes in the window or the number of spokes on the starburst effect from a bright light source, especially if it's the sun. I've even been known to rewind the DVR and hit pause so I can get an accurate count. It's not that I have to. I just like to.

Then there are the factors that point to Sheldon never quite getting the social milieu in which he is immersed. I wouldn't say that I never know what's going on around me. However, I would say that I often have a limited awareness of what's going on around me. I have had a most engaging and interesting talk with a pretty girl on more than one occasion only to have the person with me later say, "Wow, she was sure flirting with you, wasn't she?"

Which I would then brilliantly reply, "She was?  Wish I'd noticed!"

The reaction of the person accompanying me varies. If they know me well, they smile and shake their heads.  If they don't know me, they usually don't believe I had missed the obvious.

Does Sheldon drop into lecture mode at odd times? For example, at Christmas does he suddenly begin to lecturing everyone on the source of our customs?  I recall watching a program with my not yet prodigal daughter and son-in-law.  A character made a reference to Valentine's Day, causing the other character to mention the story of the martyr, St. Valentine, who died in about A.D. 300.  His response was the joke, so I assume he must have been a character rather like Sheldon, but of course, I added, "Yes.  His name was actually Valentinus…" And then I went on to tell the story of how he was arrested, fell in love with the jailers' blind daughter and… well, you get the idea.  We all laughed about it, but that's because we all knew me pretty well.

So, if you want an interesting lecture on the origins of Valentine's Day, including how the Victorians contributed; or would like to know the origins of Christmas customs; or are curious about how Halloween practices originated… I think you get the point. In such case, either I'm your man or Sheldon's your man. You get to choose.

Actually, all the characters on Big Bang theory are rather weird, each in their own way. Consider Penny, who is the epitome of normality within the program's structure.  But she obsesses about shoes and was stunned to discover that she had been a bully when in high school...etc.

Not convinced yet?  You must consider that there was a time when my fiancĂ© was sleeping at about 12:45, since she had to get up get up for work the next morning.  I, being already medically retired, was up reading a popularization of physics,  when I woke her up and exclaimed in delight, "I finally understand Hawking radiation!". She was by that time sufficiently accustomed to me to simply sit up, look at me through droopy eyes and say, "That's really nice, Dear," and go back to sleep.  The next day, she wasn't even angry.  Although I did have to explain Hawking radiation.

So, although I'm no Sheldon, there is a certain resemblance in some areas.  In other words, when I laugh at Sheldon, Leonard, or any of the other cast characters, I'm laughing at myself.  

In summation:  If you call me, just call me Sheldon.

PS,  I just learned, through watching the Daily Show, that Kate Middleton is NOT an American celebrity.  Who'd have guessed it?  Not me.  And don't ask me to name any sports stars currently playing, cause I can't...and that's pretty funny!

1 comment:

  1. Addendum: watching a rerun in which Sheldon complains because of Leonard's reaction... "I'm upset that daylight saving time started: Zachary Quinto. I'm upset that daylight saving time ended: Zachary Quinto."

    I don't care about who's playing Spock, but don 't get me started on DST, starting and ending! Both upset me!