The Television Humour Polarization Postulation
January 3, 2013

I have found that many geeky people - self-proclaimed or not - tend to eschew things considered "popular." I think the more you are used to being on the "outside" for liking to program or enjoying D&D or what have you, the more you begin to suspect that "popular" things are simply boring ... or vapid. I found myself falling into this trap with Harry Potter. I love smart children's books. I love good fantasy novels. I refused to have a thing to do with the Potter books at first because how could a children's fantasy novel wind up on the NYT bestseller list? Obviously it must be crap. After Prisoner of Azkaban hit paperback, though, I finally relented.

I found the entire series just brilliant.

My fault for judging the book by its perceived popularity. At least I did finally come to my senses and when I gave it a chance, I gave it a fair chance, an open-minded chance and found a clever new world to play in.

Another thread in this tapestry.

I don't usually like American sit-coms. In general, they insist that I turn my brain off and be vapid for thirty minutes. In addition, I tend to be character-driven in my stories (be they written or acted). Most American sit-coms create caricatures rather than characters and I generally don't give a crap about the characters and thus the show. Seinfeld was one such show for me. I know a lot of people loved it, but because the characters were empty to me, I couldn't care about the show.

I don't know if any of that is true for most geeks and nerds, but it's an important thread in what I'm about to say.

I am a geek. I am a nerd. I am proud of those things.

I love The Big Bang Theory.

I have read more than a few geeks and nerds ripping on the show in the last year or so. (Before that, I had only heard praise.) Hey, difference is the spice of life. You don't like it, that's cool. But I find some of the reasons people are complaining about it to be ... well, honestly? A bit disingenuous.

Complaint 1:
Real nerds are not like Sheldon, Raj, Howard or Leonard. (Oddly enough, Bernadette and Amy Farah Fowler are usually left out of this.)

Oh FFS. Seriously?

Look. Nerds come in a lot of flavours. And, The Big Bang Theory never said ALL NERDS ARE LIKE THESE GUYS. Nope. They said, these particular physicists and this engineer are like this. And you know what? I know people like each one of these guys. I know sleazy dudes like Howard. Dudes who still live with their folks - often because their folks need taking care of - and who think they are awesome at picking up the opposite sex. 

I know guys like Raj. Sweet as can be, but can't quite get over the opposite sex. Guys who like to talk about the possible symbolism of ponytails in Avatar or exhaustive details of The Two Towers.

Sheldon? Know nerds like him, too. Leonard? Again, yes! Hell, I'm a nerd like Leonard and like Sheldon.

When the movie Philadelphia first came out, I heard the same kind of complaints. "All gay men do not love opera!" was the oft-heard lament. Agreed. That character did. Nobody said all gay men love opera in that movie. The same thing goes for The Big Bang Theory. No one said all nerds are like these guys. I think you're taking your fiction a little too seriously if this is your complaint.

Complaint 2:
Everyone is laughing at us and we're not all like that. Nerds are cool, dammit.

This is the most frequent complaint I've seen recently. Of course, it's usually phrased differently. "We're not laughing with the geeks, we're encouraged to laugh at them." Or even "we're not made to like these characters, we're made to be the bullies who laugh at them for being idiots."


Well, that's how I feel, anyway, and I think feelings are key in this complaint which is why I phrased it "everyone is laughing at us" [change in emphasis intentional] - I think that "us" is the telling word here. I think they're interpreting the humour of the show through some pretty serious baggage of their own. The humour has always struck me as self-deprecating rather than a bully pointing and laughing. I love Sheldon because I see myself in some of what Sheldon does. It's comedy, so that behaviour is taken to a ridiculous (or aspergian) extreme, but dammit, I'm laughing at myself. 

I have not, for example, told someone they cannot sit in my spot because it's the perfect spot, where:

"In the winter, that seat is close enough to the radiator to remain warm and yet not so close as to cause perspiration. In the summer, it's directly in the path of a cross breeze created by opening windows there and there. It faces the television at an angle that is neither direct, thus discouraging conversation, nor so far wide to create a parallax distortion."

But I damn well laugh when Sheldon goes into this oft-used explanation because I do have oft-used explanations for things I have thought FAR too much about and other people just think I'm being silly. Or stubborn. Oppositional. Overly attached to routine or ritual.

I laughed when Sheldon was just a few days past his haircut day because he started blowing his hair out of his eyes. The hair which was nowhere near his eyes - it was just not that long. And yet, today? Today, I kept trying to toss the hair out of my eyes. It wasn't in my eyes. I was just a week "late" for my haircut.

I'm laughing at myself, not pointing and laughing at someone else.

Complaint 3:
The show isn't funny. The humour isn't laugh material. If there was no laugh track, no one would know when to laugh.

This one, frankly, has the most validity as a complaint. And whilst I obviously disagree, humour is a subjective thing. I have laughed at the YouTube snippets where they cut the laugh track out. I have laughed before the laugh track (or studio audience) laugh. Obviously, I find it funny. But hey, that's just me and my sense of humour. Yours is different and that's a good thing. We just disagree is all.

Look, if you don't like something, don't watch it. I didn't like the few episodes of How I Met Your Mother that I saw. I don't whine about the show - it just wasn't for me. I can't watch Game of Thrones. I ought to love it - from all I've heard, it's a great fantasy show. But, for personal reasons, my own personal baggage, I can't watch it. I can't get past my baggage. That's okay. I'm glad the show is out there even though I don't watch it. But I own that. It's my own issues that cause me to not watch it. I'm not going to go on some kind of soapbox, high-horse tirade about how it's a bad show because I don't watch it. I have no concrete complaints.

The reboot of Battlestar Galactica I understand was excellent science fiction television. I can't watch it. I grew up with the original show, and dammit, Starbuck is a man. (And where are Boxi and Daggit, dagnabit!) I can bemoan those choices, but the reason I can't watch the show is because I cannot get past my own baggage. And I own that. 

So really? I don't care if you don't like The Big Bang Theory. You don't have to. 

But come on. Be an adult about it. Own your baggage. Don't fall into silly traps like claiming not all nerds are like the main characters. 

I get this distinct feeling from the self-proclaimed and aggrieved nerds I've read ranting about the horribleness of  The Big Bang Theory that they either are simply reacting to something popular (there's no substance to their rant, nothing concrete, but I do see a trend of "it's so popular"), or they're bringing their own baggage to the show (the show is bullying me and I am not either like any of those characters) or a very pedantic "not every nerd is just like the ones in this show." 

All of these - with the exception of the very simple I don't get the humour - seem far less like reasons to rant about the horribleness of a show to me and instead say far more about our own very human insecurities.

The show, like most, is not perfect. This season hasn't been my favourite, but tonight's episode ("The Egg Salad Equivalency") was just brilliant and I laughed all the way through it.

But that's just me.

Posted by Red Monkey at January 3, 2013 7:46 PM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Ged said:

Great post! Haters gonna hate, don't mind them. I LOVE BBT to death and this season has been the best so far. Onward ho I say!

January 3, 2013 8:54 PM

Yes, this, 100% exactly.

There aren't many sitcoms I watch these days (compared to years past, much less), but like with any TV show, movie, book, etc. you have to suspend reality. They're (normally) not meant to be realistic; we watch to escape reality.

January 4, 2013 7:39 AM
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