The Big Bang Theory: Model of the Nerd-Verse?
As television tries to serve the trend, we are getting more shows that are supposed to relate to nerd culture. One such show is The Big Bang Theory, a show about four scientists and one pretty girl living life through love, pop culture, and science. Big Bang Theory has blown up to a bit of a pop culture phenomenon in itself. However, does Big Bang depict geek culture correctly? Is it the next step in nerd representation we have been waiting for? Should authentic nerds ask themselves if it is a show for them or for THEM?
Why Is “Good” Nerd Representation Important?
What does it mean to be a nerd or a geek? Is there such a thing as a “true” experience of being one? As being a nerd becomes more mainstream, these types of questions are being asked more frequently.
This is understandable in a way. For many, nerd pride is like a red badge of courage. It is a blood rite earned over hours of figure collecting and getting curb-stomped in the schoolyard. Nerds were always the misunderstood bottom of the barrel. After years of being an underdog, suddenly having the supposedly “cool kids” want in may feel like a ploy of some type.
So, for Big Bang to shine as a public piece of nerd representation, it must pass “the test”. The show must aim to be relatable to the supposedly unrelatable.
Does it succeed in that? It’s a bit of mixed bag, so let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly…
Big Bang is at its best when it focuses on the awkwardness of specific situations. For example, as a budding scientist with an MA, I appreciate when episodes focus on the characters’ lives at their universities and labs. I have watched people try to butter up other colleagues to get to access the new cool equipment. The divide between soft and hard sciences exists. I have had my frustrations with working on projects and have had my fair share of tv mentors. I have seen the juvenile fights that happen over concepts and hypotheses. Likewise, I am pretty sure every comic fan has had the soul-sucking experience of waiting in line for Stan Lee.
What is also important to these moments is that, despite being nerdy things, they can be relatable to anyone. Everyone has waited in a line for sneakers, roller coasters, etc. and it was torture. Any project with other people can be a struggle. This makes what some people envision as the passing time for mole people into something very human. It also makes it feel natural because they are portrayed as things done in your daily life.
There is no need to beat around the bush. Big Bang’s cast can feel like they were ripped from Revenge of the Nerds or Weird Science. Whether it is Howard’s relationship with his mom or the brain crashes Leonard has around Penny, Big Bang reinforces old nerd stereotypes with gusto.
While specific situations serve as a point of sympathy, the characters themselves can be alienating in early seasons. Our four scientists were “the weirds ones”, and many of the jokes were about how little they fit in or how strange their tastes can be. As someone who is a nerd at an adult age now, it gets tiresome to see a group of grown men act like a high school geek club. After years of bad “nerd representation” through hunched and acne-riddled “creeps”, it is hard to not be easily annoyed and disappointed when you’re still seeing similar imagery in the 2010’s.
There has been much character development since the beginning of the show. These characters have been through a lot in ten seasons, and I can see traits of old friends in the cast. However, stereotypes was a real problem for early seasons of the show, and I still find the occasional episode that I can’t sit through out of projected embarrassment.
I am aware that there are people like this in real life and comedies live on exaggeration. However, nerds are people with different personalities and attitudes. We do see some of this variety in the background characters, but it’s disappointing that we don’t get that representation as much in the cast.
The Ugly Conclusion
Besides what I firmly think is bad or good about the series, Big Bang leaves me conflicted in many cases. I believe this is mostly because nerd culture is a very personal thing. I understand and resonate with the academic references in Big Bang, but this does not mean others would. What episodes or situations may fall flat for me may not for someone else.
Shows like The Office or Community work because they focus on very particular environments. There are comic book nerds, game nerds, sci-fi nerd, etc. Each one has its own community and social clicks. Big Bang tries to dip into each one a bit and, because it tries to please all, it can never please anyone 100% of the time.
Big Bang is an imperfect representation of nerd culture, but it does have a tall order to fill.
Do you like nerd shows like The Big Bang Theory? Read reviews of your favorite nerd shows here: http://wordofthenerdonline.com/category/entertainment/television-2/tv-reviews/