Television has been a measuring stick for modern culture for nearly as long as it has existed. This sample sociology essay explores The Big Bang Theory and how the television show helped alter preconceived stereotypes about “geeks, “nerds,” and young people in general.
Modern culture and The Big Bang Theory
For some people, TV shows may be the only exposure they ever get to the constantly shifting tastes of pop culture areas like Los Angeles or New York. Often this is seen as television shows that are briefly popular but fizzle out after a season or two. Some shows manage to get a finger on the pulse of deeper, longer running trends in the public consciousness and these shows manage to endure for years. The Big Bang Theory is one such show. This example is interesting both for its inherent qualities that are common among all sitcoms that achieve such popularity, and the new trends in pop culture that it capitalizes on. Perhaps the most surprising innovation for a show of such broad popularity is the ‘geek’ culture that the show is built on.
In a time when vampire romance novels have diverged from the Dracula storyline and movies are among the best selling in their respective mediums and entire cable channels are devoted to video gaming, it is no surprise to anyone that geek culture is more acceptable today than it ever has been. But The Big Bang Theory represents a purer venture into that world than has previously been seen, at least with any success.
The main characters are not normal people with some geek interests or with geek friends. Nor is the show about the normalization of the main protagonists’ geeky characteristics. No, this show utilizes fully developed and contented geeks to tell stories that demonstrate how much commonality there is between geek and normal when it comes down to major human concerns. Though a comprehensive look at the entire show would reveal many interesting insights, only the pilot is required for a discussion of The Big Bang Theory’s role in and effect on popular culture.
Biased against lesser brains
There can be no doubt that the central and highly intelligent characters in the show have a low opinion of normal intelligence people, in general. Two of the jokes made early on in the pilot involve a disparaging comment about a main character’s sister for her job as a hostess at Fuddruckers and a moderately offensive joke about how that same character would not love a child with below-genius intelligence. Though the main characters are quite obviously flawed in their intellectual arrogance and social ineptitude, but this is what makes them popular with millennials. The theme of geniuses versus everyone else is repeated frequently throughout the show to the point that there is almost a lack of gray area between geniuses and people of embarrassingly average intelligence.
Understanding the shows themes
It seems like this trend would alienate audiences who cannot keep up with the advanced science that serves as background, and sometimes structure, to the rest of the show. Luckily the writers are highly proficient in finding punchlines that work for anyone, no matter how much of the rest of the joke they understood. The dialogue between Leonard and Sheldon, the two central protagonists, is fluently advanced and continually uses vocabulary that many people would not be familiar with, or at least not in common usage. Still, their day to day issues are familiar to almost anyone no matter the sophisticated language and geeky trappings.
Apparently, a show that manages to comically disparage people of both high and average intelligence is appealing to nearly everyone because The Big Bang Theory is possibly the most popular show on TV today. It was possibly intended as an opportunity to voyeuristically feel superior to the lifestyle of geeks, and it was possibly just intended as a genuine situational comedy. Regardless, it has resonated deeply with almost all audiences. The success of shows like this might indicate a move away from reality television toward a more intelligence, more self-aware kind of television that favors clever writing and sincere storytelling.
Lorre, C., Prady, B. (2007). Pilot [Television series episode]. In Big Bang Theory. New York City: CBS.
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