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.
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:
- They believe that deep down the man really loves them.
- They believe they can change the man if they work hard enough, love him enough and be patient.
- 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.