"The Big Bang Theory": Televised mockery or homage to science?

(First, I realize that the show is already in its fourth season.  But I didn't have a television for a long time and, consequently, have only recently discovered this sitcom.  So please bear with me even if this is "so 2007.")


Last Thursday, the season premiere of The Big Bang Theory aired on CBS.  As I have been catching up on the first three seasons, I have found myself wondering whether the show is positive or negative for the promotion of science.  

On one hand, all of the science in the show is accurate.  Thanks to a resident physicist consult, the equations on the numerous whiteboard props are real and the dialog references actual current topics in various scientific fields.  This inherent scientific veracity would seem to at least familiarize the general viewing population with what may otherwise remain obscure science.

Conversely, the show does not paint a very attractive picture of scientific brilliance nor of intellectual excellence in general.  Although the awkwardly adorable Leonard is the series' protagonist, his intellectual success is still subordinate to his social failures.  The other three male scientists--Sheldon, Raj, and Howard--all embody various stereotypical aspects of the archetypal geeky guy with the social capacity of each character in an inversely proportional relation to his intellectual prowess.  Sheldon, the most brilliant of the bunch, is inarguably the least capable of functioning within a social group.

And that's just the men.  Women in science fare no better--and potentially worse--on the show.  Aside from an oversexed physicist and a controlling grad student, female scientists on the show are portrayed in bare make-up, massive glasses, and a forgettable wardrobe.  This is in sharp contrast to Penny, Penny's friends, and Sheldon's "hot sister."  Of course, none of the sexy female characters are scientists or academically inclined in any manner.

So what do you think?  Is this show a positive or negative force in the popularization of science? Personally, I still find the show entertaining.  Maybe I'm being too harsh; after all, geek chic is all the rage these days.


P.S. Is it weird that I have the biggest crush ever on Sheldon?

Tags: bang, big, cbs, culture, media, pop, science, sitcom, television, the, More…theory

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I've enjoyed it since the first show. I don't think that I look for depth in sitcoms. Maybe not in TV in general.

It comes across as positive to me as Sheldon eviscerates anyone who proposes anything remotely lacking a factual foundation. They are awkward, but a large portion of us feel that way, don't we? I know that I was the popular kid, the jock, but I have countless experiences of not fitting in. For me it's almost normality. There aren't many Gil Grissoms out there that command expertise in every field and respect in every situation. There are plenty of fakers though. I hadn't considered the female portrayal issue. I'll have to pay better attention. It's that whole depth and sitcom issue.

Also they mock religion openly. I can't get enough of the religious jabs on National TV. You might be able to say that this is an early atheistic show. Maybe the first atheist sitcom?
They are awkward, but a large portion of us feel that way, don't we?

I definitely identify with the awkwardness, but I just wonder at it being an inherent part of extreme intelligence. (Not that I am extremely intelligent; I just understand the awkwardness.) Does being smarter than average doom a person to social ineptitude?

I probably am looking too far into the female portrayals on a sitcom. It just seems like the science girls are painted as undesirable foils to hot Penny, whereas "hot" male characters are painted as undesirable foils to the lovable geeky guys. Although they have made Penny's character less ditsy and more of an emotionally intelligent (if that is not oxymoron) figure, she is still the female paradigm of beauty over brains; the women who choose brains over beauty are not portrayed in a likable, empathetic fashion and invariably have some revolting trait (sexual compulsion, controlling, emotionally cold, etc.). Maybe they could just incorporate a likable female scientist to balance it out.
In the science field I've seen all kinds of people (including people who were not that smart, believe it or not), good looking people from both sexes and sexual orientations, socially awkward but also gregarious and very personable, etc. Just like in any other walk of life.

Maybe this is what bothers me: science being portrayed as strictly the domain of a geeky subset of the population rather than just another walk of life. Perhaps part of this is my own regret at not having pursued science earlier in my life due to these misconceptions; I misunderstood science and held such a limited notion of "who" a scientist was that I excluded myself from the discipline in high school (which would have been the optimal time to pursue it).

When I finally went to college in my late twenties, I chose to pursue a liberal arts degree because I still held some notion that science did not "fit" me. Now, over halfway through a bachelor's in English with enough science to have shattered my misconceptions, I realize that I could have--and should have--pursued a science degree. It would be highly impractical for me to switch from a B.A. to a B.S. at this point. Therefore, my new plan is to finish the B.A. in English and embark upon an amazingly lucrative career as a novelist. At that point, I will use my massive bank account (lol) to fund a second bachelor's degree in physics. Fantastic idea, right?

So perhaps my overreaction to the exaggerated portrayal of all scientists as geeks is born from the bitterness of my own misconceptions and the resultant poor decisions. Ironically, I now identify with the geek image anyways and would probably follow that path if the decision were place before me once again.
I personally enjoy watching The big Bang Theory from time to time. I've never put as much thought into the show it seems as you have. When I watch TV it's either a tool to veg out after a particularly stressful day or as something going on in the background while I do other things. Anyways, I do think at times they go a little heavy on the stereotypes and it would be nice to see a hot female scientist whose not a sex freak but it's a sitcom and I don't expect much from them anyways except a few laughs here and there. Overall I think it's a positive thing and I'm glad to ind out that the science/math is accurate... plus I'm a fan of anything that mocks religion on TV.
I enjoy it. I don't expect much (if any) non-stereotypical portrayals of any characters from sitcom television. If it isn't blatant and so obvious even Cousin Lou with a shoe-size higher than his IQ can get what the characters are portraying, sitcoms avoid it as not being 'relate-able'.

But I laugh at the geek in-jokes ("I have the Sword of Azeroth!"), and generally enjoy the show even with the occasional wince at the required hackneyed relationship plots and sitcom setups that no sane person would actually attempt but are the mainstay of sitcom comedy.
But I laugh at the geek in-jokes ("I have the Sword of Azeroth!")

No way, Sheldon could not have sold that on eBay; that totally would have been soulbound!
Clearly it was a bugged item, and Sheldon took advantage of that. For shame, Sheldon. What's next, gold farming?
LOL!! Way to ret-con that for them Dave!
Yeah, they might get a lot of science and math right, but they totally dropped the ball on that bit of geek culture.
I own all 3 seasons and have seen every episode. I really like the show. Overall I think it's a positive promotion of science. One conversation in the first episode of season 3 confirms that for me. The situation basically went like this

Sheldon went home to Texas because Leonard, Raj, and Howard all did something to make him angry so they all went to Texas to get him back. They are trying to convince Sheldon to come back when this conversation occurs.

I'm just going to include the link instead

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0XhUubEFl3s

I understand the reason why they portray the main characters the way they do. The show just wouldn't be that funny if they didn't. However, if you watch all the episodes you will notice that they do occasionally throw characters in that break the stereotype.
I'm not big on TV, especially sitcoms. The only one I liked is Seinfeld because it was basically a satire--all the characters were warped individuals--just as real people. But most sitcoms are just pablum, mind candy, reflecting the IQ of their dumbed down audience.
Great show, I really enjoy it. I really don't think it's geared at making a mockery of anything other than people's idiosyncrasies and quirks. It paints physicists in an appropriately highly intelligent light and just plays on the social awkwardness that results as a result of their brilliance. It might not do a very good job of changing people's perceptions of stereotypes about scientists, but overall I find that it's a harmless show.

I have especially found that people who do not agree with the Big Bang Theory itself (not the show, the actual theory) because of religious beliefs have their views towards it softened because of this show. They watch the show and they like it, and the Big Bang Theory as a theory stops being a swear word to them.

Oh, and Sheldon rocks my world.

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