Abuse and Hatred: Why I won’t watch The Big Bang Theory

BBT-Blog

To get it out of the way: This is not a Community versus The Big Bang Theory thing. Yes, I am a huge Community fan, but I watch The Big Bang Theory. One thing I appreciate about the show is it allows characters to laugh when another says something funny. That does more than the distracting laugh track. And I do find some of the dialogue clever.

Moving on…

The Big Bang Theory is hateful

The Big Bang Theory is a show fueled by subtle hatred. What can be hateful about four nerds and the three women in their lives? While many think the four main characters are lovable nerds and the show promotes tolerance and acceptance, they are the butt of jokes and perpetuate the worst stereotypes about a subculture of which I am proud to be a part of.

There’s also K.W. Ramsey’s piece over on The Page of Reviews about The Big Bang Theory As A Tale of Misogynist Redemption. This was written a little over a year ago before Season 6 started. At the time, K.W. had great points, but a lot of what he said has been invalidated, most importantly by last Thursday’s episode using domestic/partner abuse as a punch line.

So, I’m done. But this is not the first time I objected to the content of the show.

Last season’s Valentine’s Day episode

Last season featured an episode taking place on Valentine’s Day. At first, I thought it was a strong episode. When Penny sees a former boyfriend with his girlfriend, a former friend of Penny’s who stole him from Penny, she has a hissy fit, threatening to ruin her dinner with Leonard. But Leonard, in a great moment of character growth, challenges her and risks a fight to make it clear how unreasonable she is being. Leonard showed backbone, stood up for himself and even pulled Penny out of a spiral of self-pity.

In parallel, Raj convinces Stuart to have a party for singles at the comic book shop. There, Raj gives a speech about how the assembled nerds don’t need to feel shame for being alone on a holiday about couples.

Up until this point, I was onboard.

But then, when a woman shows interest in Raj and accepts an invitation to coffee, Raj turns and announces “Later losers!” before walking out.

This completely invalidates everything Raj just said and confirms what Adam Shaftoe-Durrant has said about The Big Bang Theory‘s method of humour:

  • Establish the stereotype about nerds
  • Challenge that stereotype
  • Confirm that stereotype

Raj’s turnabout, played for laughs, seemed like the cool jocks wrote this joke for some unsuspecting nerd. “Say this,” they tell him, “and you’ll be cool like us. Insult the other nerds and you won’t be one any more.”

But in the end, the joke is on the teller and his intended victims.

It was cruel. It was hateful. It confirmed that there is indeed a pecking order. It says if you have a woman or man in your life, you can look down on single people as “losers”.

I stopped watching Season 6 after that.

So this fall I started watching again

I began watching Season 7 earlier this fall. Little had changed from last season so it was easy to follow.

Then last Thursday’s Thanksgiving episode where Sheldon gets drunk with Bernadette’s father. Near the end of the episode, Sheldon slaps Amy on the rear end hard enough to physically move her, then tells her to get some beers. Amy, apparently enjoying the rare physical touch from Sheldon, smiles and moves off camera. The other characters react with stunned silence. To quote Rorshach: “Good joke. Everybody laugh. Roll on snare drum. Curtains.

Here’s the clip:

The audience laughs, but it’s not funny. It’s abusive.

Now, I know there was an earlier episode where Sheldon puts Amy over his knees and spanks her, but it’s not the same. Sheldon arrives at the idea through comtemplation and Amy enters into it willing since she interprets it as erotic. And the absurdness of it softens the abusive element, but it does suggest their relationship is abusive, but more on that later.

In the Thanksgiving episode, Sheldon was drunk and acting on impulse. So where would he have learned to slap a woman on the rear while giving her a command? His parents.

Descriptions of Sheldon’s parents’ relationship suggest an abusive one. No doubt Sheldon saw his father inflict the same kind of abusive smack on his mother. And now Sheldon has brought it into his relationship with Amy. One could argue Sheldon’s actions are not abusive since he cannot interpret motivation and intent (and he was drunk). He is only mirroring what he saw. I might be willing to accept this premise… except the smack was played for laughs. Even if Sheldon does not understand the inherent violence, the audience—which was cued to find it amusing by the laugh track—should know better.

To put it another way, Chuck Lorre used domestic abuse as a punchline.

But then there is Amy’s reaction to consider.

Amy as an abused partner

Amy’s reaction to turn and grin at Shelon’s action suggests something troubling: she is the victim of an abusive partner.

I’ve wondered why Amy stays with Sheldon. The answer, of course, is this is a TV show and the infinite loop of Amy wanting more intimacy and Sheldon refusing to give it helps with the jokes.

But there is something more sinister here. In relationships where men are the abusers, the women state they remain with these men because:

  1. They believe that deep down the man really loves them.
  2. They believe they can change the man if they work hard enough, love him enough and be patient.
  3. They’re afraid no one else will love them.

While the first concept is debatable, the other two seems very likely.

Earlier in their relationship, Amy was portrayed as the female Sheldon. Since then, she has expressed empathy, sexuality and intimacy. She is a woman capable of a mature relationship (granted, with a patient partner). I had fully expected Amy to wheel on Sheldon and tell him to never touch her like that again. But Amy has been so worn down that she will appreciate any kind of physical attention, even when she would know it is intended to be coercive.

In real life, Bernadette and Penny would be telling Amy to leave Sheldon and find a man who can love her, respect her and cherish her. Being silent only encourages the abuse.

This does not bode well for future episodes. What other abuse must Amy endure from Sheldon to provoke laughter in the audience?

Looking forward to January 2

So, my Thursday nights just freed up until January 2, 2014.

That’s when Community‘s fifth season premieres.

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7 Responses to “Abuse and Hatred: Why I won’t watch The Big Bang Theory”


  1. 1 chadwickginther November 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    Good points, Matt. I haven’t watched any of Season 7, but I’ve definitely been losing the desire to continue with Big Bang.

    • 2 Matt Moore November 24, 2013 at 6:06 pm

      They seem to have hit a wall in how much they can recycle the same old character beats. Leonard and Penny has been refreshing, but that’s it.

      But that smack-in-the-ass “gag” crossed a line. Strike that: it crossed many lines.

  2. 3 Theresa December 1, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Matt,

    I’m a Big Bang fan, and I am hopeing to see some fallout from this episode. I saw Amy’s smile more as embarrasment and stunned shock.

    Unfortunately, I have been expecting something like this for a long time. Chuck Lorre also works on the horrible Two and a Half Men, which inexplicably is still on TV. It seems to be going strong. I have been waiting for attitude bleedover.

    I hope I am wrong, but Sheldon drunk in this episode is not like Sheldon drunk in the speech episode.

    I will wait to see what happens.

    Theresa

  3. 5 Ben May 1, 2014 at 10:46 am

    You’re an idiot. Why try to put a spin on the show? They’ve been pointing out the typical stereotypes across all walks of life, all the while showing how ridiculous and immature they are. It’s not to play pin the tail on the donkey (in this case, we could pin the tail on you) It’s actually been an exaggeration of said stereotypes.

    If the show truly takes these stereotypes seriously, why is Penny off and on with Leonard? If the stereotype is that it would never happen, then why is it? Raj needs to be drunk to speak with women. That happens frequently with many men. I don’t hear a complaint about that? Sheldon has sever OCD which includes daily activities and meals. Haven’t seen any hate on that. Howard is a Jewish man living with his mother. His mom has the stereotypical Jersey accent that many would pin as a the accent of a Jewish person. Yet, no mention of that in any of your write up. Sheldon smacking Amy’s ass. Who cares?! Are you missing what is happening there? It’s not about the ass smack. It’s about Sheldon being non-Sheldon like. He’s been drinking. Sheldon would never do that to Amy on any regular occasion. Everyone who drinks themselves to at least a buzz may say or do something that they wouldn’t normally do sober…

    You’re nit-picking. Looking for something that is potentially relatable to you. It’s television, not reality. You’re a bitter man that is looking for something to complain about. Are you sure you’re not a woman? (see the stereotype there buddy?)

    Get off your soap box!!!

    • 6 Matt Moore May 1, 2014 at 4:49 pm

      Wow, ad hominem, straw man arguments and thinly veiled sexism all in one post.

      I usually don’t approve comments that use ad hominem attacks, but I will let this through since Ben is raising some points. And I usually don’t reply to negative comments, but this level of vitriol deserves a response.

      BEN: Yes, there are a number of ridiculous elements to the show, and many more than you mention. (Penny as the “dumb blond”; homophobia in assuming Raj is gay; Howard’s meekness against Bernadette as a “whipped” guy.) But I’m not going to assume you’re not bothered by these because you didn’t mention them anymore than you should assume that about me. Those elements do bother me, but not to the point of spending a few hundred words on them. If others want to get up in arms about them and make a case, that’s for them to do and I will agree or disagree based on their arguments. But don’t make the assumption silence equals consent.

      But let’s get to the heart of it. You state: “Sheldon smacking Amy’s ass. Who cares?! …. Everyone who drinks themselves to at least a buzz may say or do something that they wouldn’t normally do sober…” Anyone who has seen partner abuse, especially when alcohol is involved, should care. Sheldon being drunk has been played for laughs, but it crosses a line when a violent slap is played for laughs. True, it’s just television but it normalizes the behaviour; a subtle way to making it socially acceptable. I have the same reaction to the “Hollywood slap” where a woman slaps a man in the face because of something he said. We don’t see something like drunk driving played for laughs anymore because we realize how damaging it is. I hope the same thing happens with partner abuse. I would not be this upset had Sheldon wanted to chuck Leonard in the jaw, but hit him harder than intended.

      Too often, when a man lays hands on a woman everyone shuffles their feet and looks down and says “Well, that’s just how it is.” If you have a sister, I hope you wouldn’t think it’s funny if someone treated her like that. Do you have a daughter? I hope you would be enraged. A wife? I hope physical contact is consensual and for affection, not a domineering act. Television too often reflects and influences reality, and this smack acknowledges we don’t take the abuse and domination in these actions seriously enough.

      As well, being drunk lowers inhibitions; we do things we normally wouldn’t, but they come from internal motivations. This was not a hallucinogen where Sheldon was in an altered state. That smack came from somewhere within Sheldon. That’s disturbing, not funny.

      If you want to go ad hominem, Ben, should I assume you think it’s funny when a man hits the woman in his life (or woman hits the man, man hits a man, or woman hits a woman)? Or, when you’ve been drinking, do you smack the woman in your life and tell her to get you more alcohol… so you can get even drunker… and more abusive?

      I will give you the benefit of the doubt by assuming “no”, but you see how much ad hominem hurts?

      You’re not the first the accuse me of reading too much into this. It’s TV after all. And others have assumed I must be against playful swats on the behind or groping of breasts or crotches. I’m not, as long as they are consensual acts of affection. Sheldon’s action was none of these things. It just perpetuates an unfortunate trend of using partner abuse for laughs.

      To sum up: this bothered me, so I wrote about. If it did not bother you, fine. But to call me “an idiot” and “a bitter man that is looking for something to complain about” makes me wonder if my objection to (what I see as) partner abuse has struck an uncomfortable nerve with you, Ben. For the women in your life, I hope I’m wrong and, like you accuse me of being, your looking for something to complain about.

  4. 7 Sarah Sidor June 11, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    I think Bernadette is terribly abusive. She is constantly insulting and yelling at Howard, and in one episode, screams at him that no one cares about him and he isn’t important. Are they saying, sure, a “nerd” can get a hot chick, as long as he let’s her treat him like crap? I don’t know why they chose to make Bernadette turn into the monster she is, but it’s getting hard to watch the constant abuse.


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