CBD’s 52Q | #22: ” Is The Big Bang Theory’s influence on comic culture positive or negative?”

Every week CBD’s Editor in Chief Pete DeCourcy asks the question and the crew (and special guests) give their answers, we’ll be doing this for 52 weeks. Tip of the hat goes to the gang at Scans_Daily for the inspiration.

Today’s Question:As per a recent 52Q, a debate was raised on who is influential on comics today. The commenter, Laura, raised the point that Big Bang Theory is influential on comic culture today. Is BBT’s influence on comic culture positive or negative?

Alexa Tomaszewski (reporter for Comic Book Daily and contributor to the Daily Planet.)

Well NOW you have my attention. Let me just pose this question – Did Seth Cohen from The O.C. influence comic book culture?

What I’m getting at is the characters on Big Bang (and I love the show, I watch it twice every night on Comedy and Global) are constructs of what a comic book fan might look or act like. Unfortunately while the characters get a lot of laughs they are type cast in a way that almost does a disservice to comic culture. First of all – the boys are mostly interested in Marvel and DC – way to support the big guys. Second off, where are all the chick comic book fans? I think once Sheldon met a girl who knew some Green Lantern trivia, but in this show comic book culture is a world of men. Third – where’s the manga? Bet Sheldon would love AKIRA!

What this show does is similar to what the O.C. did but it takes it a step further – comic books are experiencing a resurgence in the popular domain (TV’s, movies, etc) but it’s their most comical aspects that are put on display. Never do we hear a reference to the great authors or artists behind the books, nor do we hear reference of the great books like the Watchmen or The Long Halloween. The show takes the flashiest, most predictable elements of comic book culture and makes them into a joke. I laugh along, but I know better. I know what’s out there on comic book shelves.

It’s almost like the writers of the show think up a clever Batman reference or Green Lantern issue to pull those fringe audience members into the show – “hey, like video games, science, and the internet – well you must love Batman, here’s a great reference.”

The affect becomes negative and positive. Positive in the sense that its getting the word out there – comics are cool! wednesday is new comic day! “green lantern! green lantern!” – and interest in comic book culture grows, becomes more popular and the industry experiences a slight growth in interest.

But its negative because it makes viewers think about comic book culture as a nerdy thing, associating it with guys who can’t get girls and play COD all day. It doesn’t do anything for the fans who don’t fit into that niche and if I’ve learned anything from visiting my local comic book shop fans come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life – teachers, businessmen, women, children, teenagers. No need to stereotype a wildly diverse crowd of readers. And so comic book culture is ultimately molded into something to be laughed at along with these nerdy boys. And we do all laugh along.

Shelley Smarz (Comic Book Daily’s resident Comic Book Goddess)

I don’t think that the Big Bang Theory influences comic culture than comic book superhero movies or other adaptations of graphic novels do in terms of increasing comic culture’s popularity or helping comic culture (or parts of it) to become appropriated into mainstream culture.

Do I think that new readers are attracted to comics and graphic novels because of superhero movies or TV shows like Big Bang Theory or the Walking Dead? A hit comic book or graphic novel property can and often does drive sales up for the source material (Nielsen BookScan reports that the Walking Dead was #1 in bookstore graphic novel sales in December 2010). But these sales booms are transitory (there was a decline in overall comic book (4.7%) and graphic novel (1.5%) sales between 2009 and 2010) and does not, by itself, indicate an influence on comic culture (or that comic culture has influenced, or has begun to be appropriated into, mainstream culture).

All these sales booms represent is exposure to the medium. A initiate into comic culture is not made by simply reading a comic book. Comic book culture is not mainstreamed because of a film or TV adaptation (especially since that most of them still rely on stereotypes of geeks and comic book nerds*). And not everyone who buys a graphic novel because Thor’s coming to the big screen or because the Walking Dead is already on AMC continues to do so or even thinks about learning the language, norms, and practices associated with the comic book culture.

*If you look at the Big Bang Theory (or Fanboys or any other film or TV show that has a comic book fan – or any type of “geek” as people seem to think that the two are synonymous – as a character) in terms of influencing how comic culture and its fans (e.g., the ways that we speak about, acquire knowledge, and act as comic book fans) are depicted on the big or little screen, well that’s another story altogether.

Chris Howard (From Egesta Comics, one of the masterminds behind the fan favourite webcomic series Dressed For Success)

I have never watched the show. But I can’t see how perpetuating stereotypes helps us. I saw a group of neighborhood kids this morning and one was sporting ‘nerd’ glasses and obviously acting out the old stereotype for his friends. I wonder if he beat up some poor fan to get them…

And when do we get a show about the sports nerds? The one’s who paint their faces, dress up and chant stuff when they go to their games. and can quote ridiculous facts about minor point of sports lore.

Ugh.

Peter DeCourcy: Chris – have you watched the show “The League” if not – you need to remedy this right away. It’s the closest I’ve come to seeing some of my friends’ freakish behaviour played out on television.

Chris Howard: Okay, I’ll bite. I tried the first couple episodes of Parks & Rec last night. didn’t do it for me. I’m relatively open to trying things, but my success rate isn’t that high.

Peter DeCourcy (Editor and Question Asker of CBD‘s 52Q)

I personally see Big Bang Theory as a nerd minstrel show. There are a few moments that are funny – I caught a bit of an episode where they mimicked  a time machine going backwards – which made me laugh. But the rest of the show seemed to rely on making fun of the social awkwardness of the lead who seemed to be on the spectrum of aspergers.

I think it’s time that we quit embracing a stereotype that is not true.

Sure there are people out there that read comics that have no social skills, but the same could be said of people who read Chauncer or Byron, play Tennis or play guitar in a band.

Just be yourself, don’t be what other people expect you to be because of one facet of your life.

Plus: Big Bang Theory really isn’t that funny.

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Comic Book Daily Staff
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8 Comments

  1. Oh sorry about that Greg, I put it up before you sent it off. This was for last week’s Q, right?

    i’ll make sure you’re back on for next week!

  2. I agree with Pete on all fronts. The only upside is it gets people into the stores for us to talk to, but 99% of the time they are here for t-shirts and nothing else. At least they are in the store and we can talk to them about comics and maybe get them interested.

    But in the end the show isn’t funny and those who do like comics shouldn’t force themselves to fill some stereotype because some TV show is popular. Like your mom said, be yourself

  3. First off, I am a fan of Big Bang Theory. It is one of my favorite comedies on television (along with Community, Modern Family and Cougar Town). The stereotype of the “nerds” are exaggerated as much as they are accurate. Some fans are definately not as bad as the cast portrays, but some are probably worse.

    I think there is benefit to Sheldon being a fan of Green Lantern or getting a Batman cookie jar or dressing up like The Flash. It shows people who may be “closeted” comic book fans that it is ok to wear a GL t shirt, or go to comic-con in cosplay. It may give new fans or reluctant fans ideas that being a comic book fan is a great hobby, have fun with it.

    The other thing I find humourous about the show is they talk about new comic book day. There are probably kids or adults, that are interested in comics that don’t know that new comics come out Wednesday. We may take it for granted, but BBT shows that these guys will just go down to the comic shop to browse or talk about comics. It is a good way to show new fans this is what the community is about.

    I think the stereotype of the “nerd” is fading. Super hero shirts are available at your local “Mart of Walls”, the toy aisles are filled with Iron Man and Marvel Universe toys, and everybody on the planet have seen The Dark Knight. BBT is just celebrating or cashing in on it.

  4. Sorry Pete, but methinks the lady doth protest too much. Big Bang Theory is funny on a whole number of levels, including the fact that many, many nerds are that socially awkward when not talking about Planet of the Apes or Moebius.

    The show can only help nerds by showing the rest of the world that they are lovable despite these egregious social shortcomings.

    I agree with Ed on this one. But what would Pierre D say?

  5. The question was “Is Big Bang Theory’s influence on comic culture positive or negative?”; not sure what the rest of that was in the title…

    It’s impossible to answer this without defining comic culture.

  6. Peter: Oops! My mistake on being slow with my answer. But my answer for all questions in the future will be Garfield Minus Garfield. And maybe I’ll say some other junk, too.

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