Bleeding Cool and The Big Bang Theory

Big Bang Theory

Comedy is very personal and either you find something funny or you don’t. So I’m not surprised when someone tells me that they don’t like such and such show or they don’t think that Jim Belushi is very funny. Deciding that you don’t think a show is particularly funny is your right as a viewer, even if you can’t put your reasoning into words. So when people tell me that they don’t like Big Bang Theory  and don’t think it’s funny I really don’t give it a second thought. I disagree, but as I said, comedy is personal.

What I do find strange is that people are getting angry at The Big Bang Theory. Really angry. Bleeding Cool seems to be outraged at the show and feels that it is making fun of nerds and is laughing at, not with, all of us.  The website refers to it as the show that hates you. Now I am not so naïve to think that Bleeding Cool doesn’t know that slamming Big Bang Theory generates hits, but beyond that I just don’t buy the argument offered. 

Nor do I accept the notion that The Big Bang Theory (BBT) is “nerd blackface” . You can feel that BBT portrays nerds in a negative stereotypical fashion but to compare it to the racism of Minstrels shows is hyperbolic foolishness that downplays the serious racism of actual Minstrel shows.

But what was the episode that so recently set internet anger to maximum? In summary, the male leads of the show set off and attend a comic book convention (cosplaying as Star Trek characters) and while they are away the female characters note that they don’t understand why the men like comic books. The women then get the idea that because it is such an important hobby for their husband/boyfriends that they should visit a comic book store to understand the interest.

I know. You are seething with anger.

Once at the comic book store the trio of women are stared at by the customer base and the store owner needs to threaten to hose somebody down. Bleeding Cool took great offense to this and in advance of the episode asked female readers to talk about the good experiences they had at comic book shops.

If you feel that BBT representation of how women are treated in comic book stores are grossly misleading and not at all based upon reality that is fantastic because it means that you have a great local comic book store. But the reality is that at least 50% of the stores out there are awful (and I’m being incredibly generous there). If you are a woman you do get stares from the clientele. Or you do get treated poorly. Now this isn’t only for women, lots of stores just treat everyone poorly. My point is that while there are many great stores out there that are positive experiences for female readers many shops are not. Still. After many, many years. If we asked women to send us stories of a time when they had a negative experience in a shop we’d get a lot of feedback.

I’ll give Bleeding Cool that a clean, bright store in a large city would probably be a bit friendlier to female shoppers, especially since the show has already established that the store does have women as customers, but we are talking about a bit of comedic license.

So Bernadette, Amy, and Penny decide to buy a comic book (Thor) and read it. The verdict is that superhero comic are stupid. Are you offended by that? Half the writers for the Comics Journal think that. Superhero comics are stupid. Awesomely awesomely stupid.

The trio then get into a heated debate about who can lift Thor’s hammer and when, thus showing one of the most fun aspects of the hobby which is discussing the minutiae of superhero powers. While all of this is happening the men have their car stolen and are actually bullied by strangers for dressing up as Star Trek The Next Generation characters. But, surprisingly, this show that hates you doesn’t make the bullies the heroes, but BBT creates an element of pathos for a group of geeks who have been mistreated.

Perhaps I watched a different episode. I find it hard to be angry at a show that suggests those not interested in the hobby try it out by showing one of the many reasons why people enjoy the hobby. I also find it hard to be angry at a show that demonstrates that anyone who throws food at a cosplayer is an idiot.

If you don’t like the Big Bang Theory and you don’t find it funny that is fine and totally understandable. If you are personally offended by the series you should ask yourself why. Don’t get me wrong, you’re allowed to be offended, but I do think that BBT is laughing with and not at you. The BBT does use nerdy stereotypes for comedic effect, but many of their stereotypes are spot on. I’m sorry but I have been or still am every nerd joke that has been on that show.

And that all of North America now knows that every Wednesday is new comic book day seems like a pretty neat thing to me.

Anthony Falcone Written by:

Anthony Falcone is a freelance writer living in Toronto and he is the Ayatollah of Rocknrolla. You should definitely follow him on Twitter. If you have need of his services you can reach him via [email protected]

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  1. January 18

    I thought that episode was one of the best of BBT. The scene where they are sitting in the restaurant, and started to rethink their lives and if they should grow up was a very touching scene. It felt real.

    People are going to get offended at the show regardless. I bet there are a lot of doctors out there who get offended at Grey’s Anatomy too because it doesn’t show “doctor culture” accurately too.

  2. January 18

    Nice one Uncle Tony (lol) — I keed, I keed.

    Honestly, I don’t hate BBT, and I have heard that the episode itself was funny, but I did find that the commercial for the episode, with a graphic that said “where no woman has gone before” frustrating to me as a retailer as that’s not the reality I work with on a daily basis, as women are 50% or more of my customer base and growing.

    (Plus as a viewer I know that at least Penny has been to the shop on many occasions so it’s not true for even the BBT world).

    To me that ad plays to a stereotype, and I found it interesting that it played — serendipitously — just days before our scheduled “Ladies Night at the Lounge” event that was proposed to us by female customers. We kicked the guys out to reinforce that message that we want female fans to feel welcome in the shop and it was very well attended and received so we plan to do it again on a regular basis. To me, portraying the comic shop as a hidey-hole for male insecurity is a very 90s.image of a comic shop, Lady Death posters and all, and isn’t it time to shelve that particular image and build something new?

    Yes, BBT does reach a wider audience who may know little about shops, so that is a good thing. I did have some non-comics folks I know remark on it, including my father who thought the ad was hilarious. It’s just irking to think that that is how people see comic shops.

    • January 18

      The ad for that episode had a different tone and feel than the actual episode. I find that CTV’s ads for BBT really play on the nerd/geek/comic book fan negative stereotype. I don’t find the actual episodes of BBT offensive as a self proclaimed geek.

      • January 18

        Ed, I agree I thought I was going to hate the episode based on the ad. I thought “here’s another crack about nerds staring at girls” but once I watched the episode I actually liked it. And, as Anthony stated, it’s TV so it’s a hyper version of reality. It’s like watching CSI and comparing it to real crime scene work. It’s not at all alike.

    • January 18

      People still see comic shops that way because there still are a lot of comic shops like that. You know them. I know them. But until the norm becomes places like your shop the stereotype, and the jokes, will continue.

  3. Colleen
    January 18

    I wouldn’t say I was angry, but as a woman who regularly shops at comic shops (and who has many female friends who do as well) I found myself misrepresented. So I would say disappointed rather than angry. From observation, I would say half the attendees at cons are non-guys. My kids won’t watch BBT because they think it’s making fun of them – I don’t share that view. And I did like the way the women bonded over Thor at the end.

    • January 18

      The crux of a lot of the humor was that the BBT comic shop doesn’t seem to have a lot of (or any) regular female clients. This is a misrepresentation for a lot of comic book shops, but not all, and there still are a lot of shops that don’t retain women as repeat customers because of poor service or treatment. I’m looking forward to the day when we talk about a comic book store being a dirty, sweat-filled man-cave as a complete anachronism from a different time. But we aren’t there yet.

  4. Robert Haines
    January 18

    The issue I have with BBT is that is makes fun of intelligence. Not comic books, comic fans, comic shops, cosplayers, sci-fi fans, but intelligence. The laughs, be it live studio audience or laugh track, are elicited when the characters, a variety of PhDs, and MScs and MEngs, are discussing very real science.

    “Gluons are the exchange particles for colour force in quarks,” says the PhD in particle physics. Cue laughter.

    That happens repeatedly, every episode. Science and, by extension, intellect and learning are funny to the viewers. The audience is laughing at knowledge, and that is pathetic. But then there is an ongoing culture conflict in the United States around science and knowledge and intellect, be it States allowing creationism to be taught in Science class or the purposeful use of language such as ‘ivory towers’ and decrying those with highly specialized educations and higher degrees, so the writers are certainly playing to the current national mood.

    • January 18

      I don’t think that the viewing audience sees intellect as a trait ripe for derision, but rather that humor exists either in the application of complex scientific principles to the mundane or humor is found in the socially awkward, but still lovable, characters and the way in which their intellect lets them see the world. But as I said, comedy is personal. Not everyone loves dick and fart jokes either.

    • January 19

      I would go so far as to say BBT is THE biggest reason to the incredible upswing in the general population’s interest in science that we’ve seen in recent years. If you think they’re laughing at intelligence I don’t know what show you’ve been watching.

  5. nillyville
    January 19

    To add to Elaborate on Robert Hanes comment, I totally agree. Having born and raised in Toronto and focused on Science in Highschool and attending Arts and Science at U of T, I was never labelled as a ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ I was a very social guy everyone and even played for my highscool soccer team. I feel there is a big difference in how Canadians and Americans see people in general. Having also lived in the US for 10 years and also going to Harvard for a time, I can say that Americans are very quick to label and put you into a group really fast without getting to know you. Jocks are sports guys, Nerds are science geeks, Frat boys are the ones who party all teh time and skip class…even there, you’re political views subjugate you to either being a Democrat or a Republican. America loves labelling individuals. BBT should also have shown one of characters, being an amazing lacrosse player, or kicker for a football team….but again, that would be a stretch for a ‘nerd’, because with great intellect there can’t be room for physical prowess! That’s where the problem is.

  6. January 24

    Just to check… you’re all talking about a fictional TV show? A COMEDY, fictional TV show that isn’t real?

    Ok then.

    If there wasn’t a show like this, would you all be saying… “hey, where’s the show about nerds?”

    can we all just relax a bit, maybe?

  7. Laura
    January 24

    If you want a good nerdy show then you should watch Community. Crap like BBT is getting millions of watchers while a great show like Community is getting half seasons and canned.

    • January 25

      I assume your opinion would change if BBT had a My Little Pony episode.

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