Friday, October 23, 2009

TBBT accused of sexism

The Big Bang Theory is a great sitcom. The most recent episode, 3x05 "The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary", can be watched e.g. at CBS.

People seem to agree that it is the most scientifically accurate show on TV (which is guaranteed by Dr David Saltzberg, their science adviser). And there are many big fans of the show among the well-known bloggers, including The Reference Frame and Bad Astronomy.

However, some people - e.g. Sam Lowry and Sean Carroll - claim that the show is misleading or inaccurate concerning the sociology. They claim that scientists are no nerds and women are equally likely to become scientists, and all this stuff.

They also claim that Sheldon - and maybe even the other guys - are "misfits" and that they understand the world except for science and technology less than Penny does. And finally, Lowry and Carroll think that the "real scientists" are no more "misfits" than the average people. Well, I happen to think that they're wrong on all counts.

First, I obviously relate to Sheldon. In my optics, the other guys are already "too ordinary". Only Sheldon represents the true symbiosis of the passion for the truth and the innate aptitude to search for it. He's right not only when it comes to physics but he's also right about seemingly mundane topics. He may not be living the life of the ordinary people but he understands its logic and laws more deeply than the other characters.

Also, the geeks - like Sheldon - and semigeeks - like Leonard et al. - are usually male, with a smaller percentage of minor characters who are female and semigeeks (such as Leslie Winkle). This composition corresponds to reality, too. And it has some very well understood biological reasons that have been repeatedly discussed on this blog. The sitcom doesn't claim that all physicists are male but it correctly portrays a community where the males dominate, especially at the tail of the Gaussian.

Finally, some of those critics have complained that the sitcom paints the scientists as "misfits" although it's not the case in reality. Well, let me say that if those people don't think that most scientists have the characteristics that are described by the term "misfits" as used by the average people, it's because those critics are not really living in an environment of genuine scientists - maybe just a community of ordinary, average people who have been social-engineered to become scientists.

The genuine scientists surely do differ from the average people, even when it comes to their attitudes to everyday life and mundane questions. Such a statement has many reasons that could be explained in detail - but let me assume that this fact is obvious to everyone who thinks twice about it. I am not saying that this difference is a rule that must hold for every individual scientist. But once again, it is an indisputable statistical proposition about the subset of the people who are scientists, especially scientists in Sheldon's category.

To summarize, TBBT is doing a very good job in presenting scientists as they are, while Sam Lowry and Sean Carroll are not. If I understand well, Sam Lowry and Sean Carroll have a hidden agenda, namely to fill the scientific body with a preponderance of people who shouln't really belong to it under healthy conditions.

The people who actually dislike science and who have no passion for the truth are likely to see how they differ from people like Sheldon - and this difference is very real. They may be repelled from science after they watch TBBT, and it is very correct that they are. They should be. On the other hand, there are also many people who don't identify themselves with Sheldon but who still understand that he is adorable - a beautiful mind.

And it's just great that TBBT makes many people (especially female viewers) like the characteristics that are so tightly correlated with someone's being a genuine scientist - as opposed to characteristics that are linked with social-engineered, non-genuine scientists - including the extreme honesty, detachment from biological and material instincts, and the nearly naive expectation that it is always good to say the truth.

By the way, Penny is supposed to represent the average people in the show. But she is not stupid. Even though she obviously likes science much less than they boys do, I still think it is correct to say that Penny is much smarter and friendly towards science than Kaley Cuoco, the actress who plays this character. Jim Parsons has to pretend an elevated IQ when he plays Sheldon, but so much Kaley Cuoco - sorry! ;-)

The previous statement is reflected in the emotions, too. Penny clearly has a crush on Sheldon (and it's obvious that the Penny -Sheldon chemistry is what attracts a significant portion of the viewers to the TV sets!) while Cuoco seems to be somewhat fed up with Parsons (and his success) recently. I hope that the TBBT team will be able to deal with that. :-)

Apologies - I don't have time to edit this posting now.

No comments:

Post a Comment