Rethinking The Big Bang Theory

Back in episode 295 we had our own ürbernerd, Ben McKenzie, talk about The Big Bang Theory and its poor portrayal of nerds on TV. Listener David Lay sent in his thoughts and we present them here in a slightly edited form.

I recall having a first look at The Big Bang Theory when Channel 9 first started airing it (whenever that was), and not liking it enough to regard it as ‘appointment television’. My initial impression was that the show was very much laughing *at* nerds rather than *with* them. But some time later, when the hair was on fire at Channel 9 and they were all about repeats of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory around the clock, I began watching it more regularly.

I studied maths, physics, and computer science at University during the 1990s, so I felt like this was a show pitched squarely, if not, alarmingly narrowly, at me.

When Channel 9 went nuts with TBBT repeats I came to enjoy it. In the later seasons, the balance seemed to have tipped more towards “laughing with” than “laughing at”. I enjoyed it in much the same way I enjoy The Simpsons and Futurama.

And then I listened to Boxcutters episode #295 and heared it spoken of in some confronting terms like “misogyny” and I was startled. There was an initial shock of one’s personal sense of taste has been maligned, and an impulse to fly off the handle into half-cocked, HeraldSun-esque moral outrage. I’ve listened to that segment again several times over the course of the last two or three months, and it has made me re-evaluate my thoughts.

In probably more of a “the scales fell from my eyes” moment. I realise that I’ve been letting some things on TBBT slide.

Like in that episode where Howard and Koothrappali put on fake tattoo sleeves and eyeliner and go to a club to hit on goth girls. It’s easy to picture a macho-jock type date-rapist and say “now *that’s* misogyny”, but Howard and Raj preparing for a night of trying to lie their way into a one night stand isn’t materially different now that I think about it.

I managed to overlook things like this in TBBT because you know they’re so socially inept that they’re doomed to failure. I guess there’s something in the power dynamics: one tends to picture misogyny as being perpetrated by confident and powerful macho types. When perpetrated by sexually inexperienced socially awkward nerds with low self-esteem, it seems less obvious.

Although it’s taken a while for me to get to this point, I agree with what Ben McKenzie has said, and I can see TBBT from more of a distance now.

Something that still surprises me, though, is that I was so readily able to identify the misogynistic humour in other Chuck Lorre productions: specifically the Ukrainian cook in 2 Broke Girls and pretty much every facet of Two and a Half Men.

Somehow the misogyny in The Big Bang Theory ;escaped my immediate attention.

There are degrees of TV show love. ;The Big Bang Theory was “record on DVR and erase after watching”, but now it’s bumped down to “watch it if it’s on”. Community, for contrast, is “record on DVR and keep it until I get it on DVD” love.

You can send your letters to Boxcutters so we can know what you think.


  1. Just wanted to point out that Chuck Lorre has no involvement in 2 Broke Girls.0

  2. Phil Zachariah says:

    Oh, good grief. How did putting on eyeliner & fake tat sleeves suddenly become date rape? Do you ever choose your shirt or other garb carefully when you go out, with the expressed or unexpressed thought that girls (or whoever) might like it? Ever brush your hair to look more attractive? Or, perhaps, just less unattractive? It’s exactly the same thing as the fake tats & eyeliner, except in degree. And I know I shouldn’t need to explain it, but using force, or intimidation, or drugs dropped in drink, or just making your move when she’s so full of intoxicants that she has no control over events — now THAT’s date rape, and is, indeed, “materially different” to trying to make yourself interesting.

    That part of the comedy (such as it is) in the not-very-funny TBBT involves the nerds going to ridiculous lengths in trying to do what reasonable people do all the time.

    As Kurt Vonnegut Jr said in Mother Night:
    We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.

    David, it sounds you have been as easily persuaded as, say, a goth girl in a clumsily plotted sitcom might be persuaded by insincerely applied eyeliner.

    Clarifier: the characters in TBBT might, for all I know, be, in some way, misogynistic. Just not according to the example you gave. And certainly not because they want to have sex with women.

    And further: given the way the men are portrayed, why are the makers of the show not proclaimed as misandrists? (Or…um…misnerdists?) Long sigh.

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