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[personal profile] lizzieladie
So I've been watching the big bang theory with JB for the last couple of days. The show has some issues, like not very well developed characters and the Jewish and Indian characters being less well-developed and more sexist than the white characters. However, the premise of the show is that the four male, extremely smart, and geeky best friends are socially awkward and don't know how to talk to women. And across the board their sexism is portrayed as part of the social awkwardness that women should not and do not respond well to. There is nothing that will make Penny leave a room faster than sexist implications and she had a normal and healthy response to boys that she had just met sneaking into her apartment while she was asleep. The episode with Sheldon's sister was particularly good, where the boys essentially divided her among themselves without consulting whether or not she was actually attracted to any of them, and she shoots them all down. When Raj gets drunk so that he can talk to his date that his parents set up and is boring and rude, she leaves with Sheldon who it seems actually has something in common with her. And while Leslie Winkle is just as much a caricature as the other smart characters, she refuses to take crap from anyone.

The structure of the show ensures that Penny often comes off looking smarter than the boys. Here Kaley Cuoco is not the dumb blond she was in 8 Simple Rules, she's the everyman. As the only regular non-genius character, she is the show's center of common sense. Time and time again she points out the most logical way to do things when the boys miss it by a mile.

In fact, my biggest complaint about the show is its premise - that geeks know everything about every Star Trek episode, comic book character, and branch of science, but lack common sense and any knowledge of pop culture or social conventions. Both the breadth of geekish interests and the lack of knowledge of anything else do not ring true to me. The writers of the show seem to have missed that there are different layers and flavors of geeks and nerds. There are people who read comic books obsessively and won't touch anime and vice versa. Not every geek has the exact same set of interests! And all of the geeks that I know are interested in "geeky" stuff as well as things like politics and music and plays. In fact, choosing the interests for the characters would have been a good way to get some characterization into them that wasn't based on how they relate to women. I think that the writers of the show are either more like Penny in real life or decided to make all of the geeks interested in everything to appeal to all of the real geeks in the world, but in either case the decision makes the show weaker and emphasizes the caricature over the characterization.

This also applies to Penny's complete lack of knowledge of anything remotely geeky - at the end of the Physics bowl episode she says she has no idea who William Shatner is. While he is probably most famous for Star Trek, in recent years he has starred in Boston Legal and been all over TV in the Price Line ads. Penny might not have known his name, but she could probably have recognized him in about two seconds if the show hadn't been going for the cheap joke.

In fact, the boys' complete inability to translate things so that the average person can understand it rings incredibly false to me. Since the Lord of the Rings movie came out, I think that most people would probably know who Frodo is, if not that he's a hobbit. Most geeks that I know, when asked who Frodo was, would at least mention Lord of the Rings, as most people are at least passingly familiar with the movies. These geeks responded to that question by explaining that he was a hobbit from Middle Earth, without ever mentioning the incredibly famous source material. Translating your interests to everyone else is a skill that I think most geeks learn early and fast, especially for much more obscure references than Lord of the Rings.

In terms of shipping, while I think it would be nice for Penny to date someone like Leonard rather than the usual assholes she seems to go for, their relationship is doomed. Unless Penny rather suddenly develops an interest in at least some of geek culture or Leonard gets out of his bubble a bit, what in God's name are they going to do on a date? Every outing will end up being something that one person wants to do but the other doesn't. And the birthday party episode, where Leonard's friends all got him something that he would really enjoy and Penny got him a sweater is telling. To Penny, Leonard is just the only nice guy that she's friends with, but she in some ways lumps with all the other guys she knows instead of understanding what makes him special. This is probably a result of the shoddy characterization - all we know about Leonard is that he likes Penny and is a nice geek. Next season we need to see more of both of their personalities and what the bits that aren't geek and everyman have in common or the relationship will probably break the show.


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July 2012

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