I am one of those folks who would like to get rid of all the t.v. sets in my house, but not for the usual reasons people give - "oh, I never watch t.v., there's nothing worth watching, I prefer to read, bla blah". I just think t.v.'s are ugly and take up wall space that could be more profitably devoted to attractive shelving displaying my ever-expanding collection of books and pottery. I am slowly learning to cope now that Lost is over. I don't mind unwinding now and then in the late evenings with some house porn on the HGTV network - ZOMFG! a couple is in need of a new house! with a walk-in closet! and a nice playroom for the kids! and a really great kitchen for entertaining! because everyone is always entertaining! even though no one ever cooks anymore! because feminism killed cooking!
I have enjoyed watching Merlin on the SyFy network, in part for sheer escapism, and in part because I like the way it deals upfront with class issues and Othering. In many ways, you could read the whole must-hide-my-true-magical-nature-or-be-killed-by-the-magic-haters as a metaphor for the persecution of homosexuals.
And then there is the Big Bang Theory. Oh, BBT. I have a love-hate relationship with you.
Mostly hate, even though you make me laugh sometimes. See, I love nerd humor, and I love the idea of having scientists as central characters in a comedy on prime time television. What I hate is tired, worn, cardboard cutout stereotypes. Scientists are socially awkward! They are dudes! Who don't know how to talk to women! They almost never have sex! Real, true, uber-geeky scientists have absolutely no interest whatsoever in sex anyway! Women who are not scientists are hot blonds who, no matter how much you try to teach them, are just never gonna get the finer points of physics. Women who are scientists are sorta ugly and wear glasses and are not blond and are socially maladjusted and don't care about their appearance and - if they do have sex - they are kinda slutty about it and sleep around. Moms - moms are all crazy, and they all have messed up their dear little scientist boys in some way or other (overbearing Jewish-y invasive mothering, southern Christian-y preachy mothering, skepticoscientastic uptight-y neuropsychoanalyzing mothering, nosey Other Asian-y match-making mothering), generally bearing the responsibility for the ill-fated attempts at mating of Our Dear Boys. Ha ha, Leonard finally gets in bed with Penny and can't do it, because he's thinking about Mommy! Ha ha, Howard lives with Mommy, who's always yelling at him when he does manage to get a woman upstairs in bed with him! Ha ha, Mommy nags Rajesh over Skype and he has to get drunk to talk to women! Ha ha, Mommy's crazy Bible-talk made Sheldon the most uber-geeky of all the geeks - he has no interest in sex! He wins!
Isn't it just ultra hi-larious that Sheldon and Leonard, via their Crazy Mommys, find common ground in the science v. religion debate: neither system will help you get it on with hot chicks! Everybody knows women have nothing to say in that debate anyway, so it's totally proper to center the hilariosity of too much skienz/crazy faith talk (by those crazy mommies!) on the tragicomic consequences for the male sex drive.
Possibly the saddest episode ever of this Showcase of Stereotypes was when Sheldon tries to teach Penny physics - and fails miserably. Of course this is portrayed as Penny's inability to learn, not Sheldon's failure as a teacher to really convey anything meaningful about the beauty of physics to a beginning learner. He teaches her how to parrot something she doesn't really comprehend, and she seems more or less content with that, having been convinced that any true understanding of actual physics is beyond her grasp. There are many awful parts of this sad episode, but a real low point is reached when Sheldon types pseudo-anthropological entries in a journal called "Project Gorilla", thus mocking Dian Fossey, all women in science, and all beginning learners of science in one fell swoop. I am pretty darn sure that Dian Fossey had more respect for her research subjects contained within the little finger of one hand than this show has shown to women in its entire run so far.
If the clip I linked to above were made as a parody of bad physics teaching, it would perhaps be funny. But that's not how it's played in the episode. Neither Sheldon nor Penny comes to any realization that Sheldon's vaunted physics prowess is meaningless if he can't convey anything of the subject he so loves to anyone but other jargon jockeys. Even my worst physics instructors on their off days weren't this bad. Maybe they, too, felt sad because other people were stupid, but they actually wanted to convey the meaning and beauty of physics to their students, even if they didn't really know how to do so very well. Sadly, Penny, and the viewing audience with her, is left to think of physics as some esoteric craziness that normal people just can't get. Sheldon tried his best, but physics just can't be taught to waitresses at The Cheesecake Factory. Memorize this sentence. You can dazzle your boyfriend with it, little lady.
Ah, it's a comedy, you whine. Her not learning is funny! Reverse the genders in that scene, let Penny be the physics savant sans empathy, and let Sheldon be the one crying so prettily on the couch because he just can't understand, and he needs to impress his girlfriend, and he thinks Fig Newtons were named for Isaac Newton, and he just can't keep a single fact in his little brain! Then later let him rapidly fire off a complicated sentence he totally does not understand, to dazzle his physics PhD girlfriend with. Does the comedy still work for you? Hmmm. I didn't think so.
I haven't even touched upon the clever mockery of homosexuality that is the running joke of Howard and Rajesh's friendship. Because two guys who are good friends to each other and aren't currently fucking the living shit out of something with a vagina have got to be faggots. Which is hilarious. Screamingly hilarious. Dudes cannot just be friends, so something's going on, amirite? I mean, not being aware of your own true sexual desires, or having to hide your homosexuality, because you live in a world of compulsory heterosexuality, that there is comedic gold. Everyone knows that science nerdboys can't get it on with hot chicks because they are geeky closeted faggots anyway, so this really is truly goddamn funny shit. And when you, the writer, have grown tired of pumping the Everflowing Well of Misogynistic Humor, dipping your bucket in the Stream of Homophobic Hilarity is a refreshing change of pace.
So, to sum up: the best scientists are asexual; hot women distract you from science; if you have a close male friend, you may be gay, and that's funny!; women scientists are odd and funny-looking; Mommy is to blame.
No wonder everybody loves this show so much. I admit it's got clever writing and the characters are more well-developed than the usual sitcom cardboard cutouts, but damn. It's the laughing at women and gays and others that makes it all cook. How much toxic swill are we supposed to just swallow because it comes along with clever? Tina Fey - there's a comedian and writer who knows how to do (for the most part) non-toxic clever funny. I want my nerd humor with a 30 Rock sensibility, not a reworked Two and a Half Men (mommy issues! I want to get laid! misogyny! homophobia! look, vaginas!).
So all this is bad enough on its own. Then, last week, I came across Jonathan Storm's column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, reporting from the television critics' press tour. Normally I enjoy his analysis of television shows. But his bit on BBT left me wanting to do a little shoe-puking.
I asked Nyaar [the actor who plays Rajesh Koothrappali] why so many Indian characters and actors were turning up on TV these days. There's Archie Panjabi, who plays the tough but mysterious Kalinda Sharma on CBS's The Good Wife. Reshma Shetty plays the simultaneously sultry and levelheaded nurse Divya Katdare on USA's Royal Pains. And this fall, NBC has an entire sitcom set in India, a TV version of the feature Outsourced.
So many, indeed. Three! Plus a whole sitcom! Why, that's practically an invasion! And it is only natural that Nyaar should be a complete expert on All Things Indian and serve as a SpokesOther for any topic that is in any way related to Acting While Indian. Why are there SO MANY of you on my t.v picture? I have to adjust the color and brightness settings because the screen is getting so dark! Fortunately your women are mysterious and sultry, and you, good sir, are funny, so I am still amused.
Bah. Nyaar told him to take his stoopid "three dusky indians r invadin' mah teevee" story line and shove it up his ass. Not really. But sorta.
"Indian actors always joke that we are the new black," he said. "Like, we are everywhere now. ... It doesn't surprise me. We are all really good-looking and talented, and I'm really happy that we continue to take over the world."
Okay, BBT fans. Have at it in the comments and try to convince me this show isn't just a bagful of fetid old stereotypes about women, scientists, religion, mothers, gays, and Others-in-General, with a light topcoat of clever writing, some occasionally delightful nerd humor, and great acting by Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco.