Philosophy At Odd Hours: The Big Bang Theory – Bullies, Boredom, and Philosophies of TV-Watching

                   Philosophy At Odd Hours              

(where SamanthaMaybe and AlanahSees talk about all the things)

Sam and Alanah at VidCon 2012

The Disclaimer

PaOH is largely composed of the opinions of two people that know each other very well, and who aren’t afraid that they’ll offend one another. As such, it is possible that we may offend other people and we would like to apologize for any unintentionally offensive discussions focused around people (alive or dead, fiction or non-fiction), religious orders, fandoms, or alien races. In the event that you do feel offended…well, we’ll probably just post a joint discussion dissecting your rationale for feeling offended, or on the philosophy of offending people. Also, keep in mind that these are direct transcriptions of chat sessions, and will appear as such:

AlanahSees: sam,we’re so cool

SamanthaMaybe: yeah, we’re pretty much the coolest kids in town

right? dont even play

  you just ruined it.

The Main Event


SamanthaMaybe: <- there are all the reasons I may not be able to in good conscience watch The Big Bang Theory anymore


AlanahSees: i’m only half way through this, but i can tell you already that i completely disagree with this opinion


totally disagree
i feel i could have a well-thought out response that argues against all the points she made
with the only exception being
that Community is the better show

haha yes

but i dont think it has a moral high ground
just better writers, and a better artistic angle
but even community stoops sometimes, and we forgive it for that, so

i mean there is something about Big Bang that I just don’t like anymore

but i think, if this article is really the reason you wont watch TBBT anymore…
see, i dont think this is the reason
there’s a reason we BOTH faltered in watching TBBT
its because they pulled out of their formula
they arent as funny, because they stopped being clever, and started changing things
they started adding new characters we didnt much care about and when LenPen finally got together – the YED of TBBT – they just broke em up again, and made them pursue each other again
a cycle that isnt compelling, because we already saw that show
TBBT isnt a fantastic show anymore

 no it’s not

because its either a re-run of a show we already watched

 and I mean i’m caught up now

or not the show we signed on to watch
not the show we watched for the first two seasons

and I feel like I haven’t learned anything new about anyone since like season 3

that makes sense to me

except maybe Amy but…there’s not much to learn

i dont feel bullied by the show

I feel like they’ve stagnated

i just feel unsatisfied
there’s no more tv-orgasm at the end

I mean I don’t necessarily feel bullied

its like sub par sex

but I agree with the idea that the characters are bullied

its still sex, and you like sex, but if there’s no punch, you wont come back for more
but its not abusive sex, or psychologically damaging sex
or rape

and in the beginning I was ok with it, because we didn’t know them and Howard was odd and it was ok to tell Howard he was odd and laugh at him
but now we kinda know Howard and realize he isn’t a complete and total sleeze ball
and we’re still laughing at him

well i told mike a while back
that he was “specific”
and we both laughed

we haven’t learned like…anything about Raj, he’s just an Indian who can’t be to women

because it was true, although we were noting his particular brand of mike-ness
when we told other people, they laughed
because its true
if i were to tell mike every single day that he’s specific
its not funny anymore
its just weird
then its boring
then it somehow becomes mean
because if i keep saying it, it suddenly might mean something different from what we all thought it meant in the first place
TBBT has not grown up as a show
its doing the same thing it did in season one
it says howard is odd
and its true
he’s not odd because he plays D&D
or because he’s a nerd like the other guys
he’s actually odd
and we laughed the first few times
because its true
and because we kinda relate to his brand of odd sometimes
but then they keep doing the same thing
howard is odd
howard is odd
and after a while, we’re like, okay, we get it
okay, we’re bored
okay, now it almost seems like you’re being mean…
and its not that at all
its that the show doesnt know how to do anything
but what it did in seasons one and two
which is why LenPen will keep happening and breaking up
and howard will always be odd
and have an oedipal complex
and raj will always just be an indian femalophobe

yeah it’s like at this point there can’t be any major character development…because it would seem out of character

and sheldon will always be just crazy/but not crazy-my-mom-had-me-tested/secretly loving friend at good moments
the characters are wonderful
and great depictions
but tbbt was not made to exist this long
i guarantee that
the characters are only three seasons deep


theyre too shallow for five seasons
thats not an insult to nerds
its bad writer-planning
not bad writing
bad planningso if you stop watching TBBT
totally okay
but dont let someone else’s insecurity be the reason
because its not very well backed up

I mean parts of it are true though, they say they do an activity…and the audience laughs at them for doing it
Sheldon carries a D20 around with him all day and it’s completely crazy for him to do so
i do that…
Sheldon…is not normal
everyone knows he isn’t normal

i disagree
because i laugh when they say something about a show they watch, because i do that too

sure he isn’t “crazy”, but he’s definitely…something

yeah but why is that a problem?
he demonstrates consistently that he’s incredibly hard to be around
not because he’s evil or its necessarily his fault
but because he is
so the characters on the show have no choice
but to go away
or stay and cope however they might
even if it means they become jaded about how they respond to sheldon, even being short and impatient with him a lot of the time
either way, they are set up to be demonized
if they leave, however mean, its not sheldon’s fault
if they stay, any way they treat him could be the wrong way
so i think its unfair to hold them to a standard of behavior
besides, i think we’re meant to understand that, despite his “normal” characteristics which point to him having aspergers
he has some “abnormal” characteristics, that point to “sheldon would probably be a bit of a jerk no matter what, disability or not”
everyone in the show is an exaggerated something
the boys are exaggerated nerds
penny is an exaggerated dumb blonde

I don’t know what characteristics of Sheldon are distinguishable from Aspergers symptoms that would still make him a jerk…

we got used to sheldon being “different” – and so we started keeping him accountable for being a jerk.
yet he is always forgiven
the fact that he cowers alongside raj and howard when leonard wants their help to beat the bully
he doesnt ditch because he cant see that leaving is mean, or unfair
he’s just normal-scared for his butt
and of course, he eventually helps
like raj and howard
stuff like that
is not the result of him being “different.” its the result of him being sheldon

it’s just hard to me to think of how it’s possible to consider his “normal” motivations. Aspergers isn’t something that only effects certain elements of your existence or your personality. It is an all encompassing kind of personality shift. I don’t think you can look at one behavior and identify it as being caused or effected by his aspergers and look at another behavior and say it isn’t effected. I mean if Sheldon’s a jerk then Sheldon’s a jerk…but I think a lot of the reason people think Sheldon is a jerk is because he just cannot understand how people are supposed to work. And even when he’s told…he still just can’t get it, but yeah it’s not his fault, he just lacks the ability to empathize. He doesn’t understand normal desires and motivations, he likes the things he likes, he has a lot of OCD, and social interactions make no sense.

okay, thats fair.
i agreee with that
but i also think that people who watch the show
who go, man sheldons a jerk. i mean, i get why, its cuz he’s got aspergers or something. but still.
is that wrong?
you can understand why a person acts a certain way
and recognize that we shouldnt hate them for something they cant necessarily control
but does that mean there shouldnt be a character like that one television?

it’s not wrong, because he’s part of the reason why the show is so compelling and I think a lot of people enjoy those moment when he does get something right and cuddles with amy, or realizes a time when a hug is appropriate
but i think what’s unsettling to me is the realization that there are natural elements of his being that are frequently used as comic relief

when sheldon tries to train penny like she’s a dog
with chocolate
thats funny
even though he does it because he doesnt understand that treating a person like a dog is wrong somehow
and that if a person would be standing next to him, laughing at all the moments the audience laughs, they might start to feel inappropriate
its still funny, because penny responds like a dog

that one was funny
i liked that one
the one example I can think of
is the door knocking
while hilarious
it is something he obviously does out of compulsion

if, when i met you, i did that
you would struggle not to laugh
and youd get used to it, and never laugh
and if someone else were to laugh at me, you’d get mad
but initially
it is funny
because we dont understand what compells him
only that he’s compelled
now, we laugh because its a reference
we laugh because we remember when sheldon did that before
and now, when his friends do it, they arent mocking sheldon
all of our friends do things now that we do
we adopt mannerisms, phrases, even their weird habits
why is that mean?
why is it bad if they do it with sheldon?
BECAUSE he has aspergers?
is that fair?

there’s a different between a quirk
and a neurological necessity

i agree that there is
but not every single person with aspergers knocks that way

there are reasons I don’t make fun of you for being afraid of spiders


but that’s one of his things


he also doesn’t do it to everyone
it’s just with Penny
well no
i think he does do it with almost everyone

yeah he does
but a LOT of people are afraid of spiders
not everyone who has a phobia
but a lot of people


a lot of people in the world have aspergers
and a lot of them have compulsions

and there too, there’s a difference between being grossed out by something, and being phobic of it

but youd be hardpressed to find a significant amount of them who’s compulsion is to knock that specific way
which is why the difference is funny
we dont laugh at sheldon for having apsergers
the same way we dont laugh at a person we meet who has aspergers
thats not why his knock is funny

 i’ve seen people who have to spin around a certain number of times before they can leave a room, or who have to rub the handle of a fridge 5 times before they’re convinced it’s shut

so have i
i had a friend who couldnt walk to class unless she walked the right amount of steps
if she didnt do it the first time, she had to go back and re-do her walk
it was really difficult to watch

the uniqueness of the compulsion shouldn’t be the reason people find it funny though

but thats not sheldon’s caliber of compulson
his knocking isnt a sad compulsion
and his friends dont torment him with it
when penny opened the door early
and sheldon looked uncomfortable
she stood aside, and let him finish his knock
i distinctly remember that moment
he got that he needed to do it
if she hadnt let him, we wouldve been irked
when she lets him, we laugh because we 1) saw that coming 2) are relieved and 3) have a reference to How Sheldon Knocks



are you crafting a paragraph to send me or are you thinking or are you distracted?
or are we picking a new topic?

oh no i was thinking/a bit distracted


no i think it’s…difficult to me to decide how i’m supposed to feel about people like Sheldon on a sitcom
Community doesn’t tell me when I should laugh…and I think that’s part of the reason i like it better

community doesnt have a laugh track
so its technically not a sitcom
the format of community lends itself to individual development
the sitcom doesnt
if TBBT didnt have a laugh track, people prolly wouldnt be questioning as much
i mean, its like the play Betty’s Summer Vacation
i agree
community makes me feel like im allowed to be an intelligent viewer
part of why i like it better
but i just cant say i think community is heroic where TBBT is a bully.


i don’t think it’s the show itself I perceive as the Bully, but the audience’s ability to become a bully to the characters
it’s a perception game
if a viewer relates to Penny and only Penny, and doesn’t understand any of the nerd references, and thinks that Sheldon is a crazy anti-social jerk, then the times when Leonard gets beat up or someone smack talks Howard, or Raj gets rejected by a female may be somewhat more enjoyable…even if that viewer wouldn’t admit it

thats the same way that we watch bad movies and make fun of them

granted that kind of person would in all likelihood be being forced to watch the show

or people watch buffy and think its oh so stupid

ugh i’m hurting my brain. I feel like I’m just being sensitive about geek-culture and how mental disorders should be displayed on TV and sure I probably am. In the case of mental disorders I don’t think that’s a bad thing though. There are enough misconceptions about what it means to be neurologically different from the average, and while not identifying what exactly Sheldon is helps to alleviate any stigma that may be placed on a certain disorder people will always make assumptions. While I think it’s good to makes things like autism seem more assessable to people, it’s bad to make people think that everyone with autism/aspergers functions like sheldon if they’ve never had contact with it before, and some people will shape their view of the disorder around their experience of Sheldon Cooper…they just will.
As to the siding with Penny thing
I guess there’s nothing wrong with watching the show and enjoying when Penny, the occasional antagonist (at least for sheldon) gets her way or outsmarts the guys. I like it when Loki has his moments of seeming triumph…but in the end I still want the Avengers to win.
i dunno my brain hurts…i need more tea
i feel like I just vomited a bunch of repressed essay writing onto skype…

no worries
i know where you’re coming from and i dont think its stupid
i know how you feel about neurological…variation, i suppose is the word
and yeah, a lot of people will shape their idea of autism from TBBT
or of mental retardation from What’s Eating Gilbret Grape
or of prison from Oz
or Prison Break
or of Christianity from Good Christian Bitches
see what i mean?
some audiences are stupid enough
to build their understanding of the world on entertainment
but some people
like you, or i
are a bit smarter than that
we know that not every kid with aspergers or autism is a sheldon cooper
or an abed
because we build our understanding on experience
and know, when we watch television, that deans of community colleges dont really act like Dean Pelton
and not all jail wardens are corrupt jerks like that guy from Prison Break


but its not like the makers of Prison break are out to misrepresent all jail wardens, and the makers of Community arent out to get Deans, and TBBT isnt out to get autistic/aspergers peeps

I do think there is a distinct difference though between portraying an idea of a character, and portraying a disorder

see, but when a character with a disorder gets portrayed, no one is willing to accept them as a character
they are only a disorder
and i dont think thats fair to television makers
its like telling a white person they arent allowed to write for asian characters, or telling a girl they can make a movie about a boy, or telling the makers of glee they arent allowed to write in a character with downs syndrome
who is easily the best part of season 3
if a character is only made up of their Big characteristic, then i think its the viewers who are unable to be fair to people with the disorder, not the character makers. victims of cancer dont freak out about House, even though I’m sure their representation of the experience doesnt come close to what its actually like
so, if you say there’s a difference between portraying a character and portraying a disorder, then what is it? what makes neurological disorders special when compared to other aspects of real people that are represented on tv?
not just sicknesss, but body types, and races, and accents, etc

personality types

ok, well i don’t disagree that writers should be allowed to write whatever types of characters they want, I don’t think that the fault is necessarily with the writer it falls to the audience again to not realize that just as a character can’t tell you everything about the human race, a character who has a disorder can’t tell you everything about a disorder, but no that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on television. That wasn’t what I meant
the cancer thing is interesting

well yeah
a character HAS cancer, or HAS a body type, or HAS a personality type
but a character IS a disorder?
that doesnt make any sense
everyone on a show is a character, except sheldon?
every actor portrays a character, except Jim Parsons, because HE portrays a disorder?
i dont get that

no i don’t necessarily mean that either, but when you label a character as having a disorder, they are a character within the scope of the show. Move away from the show, to the individuals perception. Ask a question about that disorder, and their instinctual association may be that character

no, no
we cant move away from the show
because this is about TBBT, and whether watching it is something we can do in good conscience
you can’t move away from it, because the question IS about whether or not it should be on tv
if you make a choice not to watch on the grounds we’ve been considering and discussing, you ARE making a judgment about what should or should not be on television
by removing our viewership for a reason other than being bored or uninterested, thats the end.
as far as individual perception
we just go back to before – people need to learn on their own not to base real life experience on tv

no that’s valid, but I think my uncomfortable-ess really stems from what the show is potentially doing to people’s perceptions of both nerds and autistics

otherwise, we’d have to abolish almost all of it

i don’t think it’s going to stop me from watching the show
but i think i’m uncomfortable with the idea of trying to…almost popularize a character with a disorder that is highly highly misunderstood by the populus

i think that things like cancer are different

because everyone understands cancer already?

well no, but the mentality is different

its fine if youre uncomfortable with it

a character with cancer can tell you about their experience in a way that you have a fairly decent chance of relating to and empathizing with

i just dont see how its different from the stereotypical black character, or the sterotypical Type A character – we know theyre not really accurate representations of black people, or girls who get straight As
but we let em exist for the sake of whatever story it is
yeah, thats true

a character with a mental disorder, whatever it may be, may not be able to relate to you and relay their experience, or may not even understand that they should try to. May not understand that there is any reason for them to feel the need to explain the way they are.

i think cancer is a bad example
because cancer is all bad
theres nothing we want from cancer except for it not to exist
so i think its a diff category

it’s just like, people, not characters just people with mental disorders can’t explain them or how they effect their lives appropriately in the real world most of the time. There aren’t words that can describe a completely different way of seeing and experiencing the world

but sheldon isnt there to explain his experience, and neither is abed. no one is saying “this is what it’s like.” in fact, when they briefly tried, with the stop-motion ep, then we didnt like it.

if we have to rely on words and experience to relay our perception, and it’s difficult in the real world, it just makes me cringe a little that it’s on tv

and people cant explain what its like to die, but we tell post-death stories all the time in entertainment. just because there arent words for it doesnt mean its off-limits

right, and I don’t mean “explain” necessarily to mean them sitting down and talking about what they feel or how they think. Explaining can be done through their actions and relations with other people.

are there really adequate words to describe certain emotions?
or other experiences?
i know vets would say there arent words for what theyve seen
but we dont mind veteran characters on tv
love, war, grief, etc.
big, non-word things
are we not allowed to make television about those too?

i think the past few weeks have taught me that I don’t think enough about the shows I watch


it’s just crazybecause i feel like I can sit and think about all my shows for hours on end
and talk about the characters and what happens


but there’s still so much that I would just never think of if I wouldn’t have someone pull me back from it a few feet

i mean, the philosophy of a show or of characters is cool, but when you get into the philosophy what it means to watch or subscribe to a show…


and i mean, im always gonna come from a prioritized perspective
the integrity of storytelling and the rights of the storyteller is always gonna come first for me, cuz thats my thing
unless it gets into a direct insult to my faith, but that almost never happens
its mostly a non issue
but neuro is your thing, so i figured we would end up on diff sides of that one anyway
TBBT i mean

yeah i’m still weird about that whole thing

which is fair
i think the thing is really arguable, in the sense that a debate could go on for ages
but overall, i really love the philosophy of television and film as an act
like, the watching of tv and film
i could teach a class on that


“PHIL 334: Philosophy Of TV Watching”
that would be SO COOL.

there are just so many different levels of “watching” you can do.


Author’s Note: We acknowledge that this particular discussion has a lot of unfinished or half-formed points in it that COULD have been elaborated upon or expanded, but were not. If that bothers you, we recommend crying a little bit and eating some dark chocolate. Or, you could try commenting with a question, and we’ll both respond with complete, fully formed, coherent and grammatically sound answers. We don’t in any way consider this, or any of our discussions, to ever be truly over. If you have a question, point, or request about this topic or any other, leave it in the comments, and we’ll address it happily (But trust us – the crying and chocolate thing really does work).

3 thoughts on “Philosophy At Odd Hours: The Big Bang Theory – Bullies, Boredom, and Philosophies of TV-Watching

  1. The cancer versus Asperger’s debate: If Sheldon were among the very first characters to be depicted on television with cancer, one could arguably have the exact same discussion.

    There is always shaky moral ground with regard to the writer’s responsibility as it relates to the audience’s potential perception of a concept outside of the show’s context.

    Should we limit the writers who would bring these stories to us? No.

    I think the problem that’s being addressed here (or, at least acknowledged) is that many television watchers prefer to be spoonfed, rather than do their own research. So, the question that acknowledgement raises, for me, is: how do we expand an audience’s perception without detracting from the entertainment value of a show?

    Is it a technological solution (like in Starship Troopers – would you like to know more?), or is it a solution within the medium itself?

    I don;t know, but it’s a fascinating question.

    • It certainly isn’t fair to totally remove mental disorders from the realm of TV sitcoms, but there is a need a higher level of understanding that shows, like TBBT in particular, just wouldn’t provide. Especially because they don’t even acknowledge that Sheldon has a diagnosable problem. What is the best way to disseminate that information? Aside from the NIMH investing in a run of educational commercial segments (that people probably wouldn’t watch), I also do not know. A lack of understanding for mental disorders, and affairs of the brain in general is a huge problem…maybe I’ll start a video series about it… :p

      • Well, you know of my fondness for all things psychology. I’d watch it. 🙂

Comments are closed.