My Problem with The Big Bang Theory

An analysis of inequities of power, income, social status, and issues of representation in the popular media. “Holy shit, get a life”

After some consideration, I have determined exactly what it is about The Big Bang Theory that makes me uncomfortable: It’s not funny.

Or more accurately: I don’t think it’s funny, while millions of other people — including many in my peer group! — absolutely love it.

And I think that’s ultimately the entire problem. There’s a blog post called “The Problem With The Big Bang Theory” that was passed around back in September of last year, and now for whatever reason has been getting a lot of circulation again in the past few days. In it, the author explains how the show doesn’t celebrate nerds, but simply continues to mock them. The character of Penny, the normal one, is the only character the audience is supposed to identify with; the others are supposed to be seen as weird and alien. Plus it’s a little racist, a good bit misogynist, homophobic, and it makes fun of people with genuine mental disabilities.

The only part of that post that I agree with is the one complaint that the author quickly dismisses: the show relies on lazy humor. It has references for their own sake, not as part of a well-constructed joke, or even to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and inclusion over a shared memory. The references just come across as pandering.

I wouldn’t be able to go into detail, since I’ve only seen a handful of scenes from the series and never a full episode; my opinion of the show sounds about the same as Angus T. Jones’s opinion of Two and a Half Men. But in one of those scenes, as the characters were fighting to be heard over the laughter, there was a whiteboard in the foreground covered with an Objective C class diagram. For those of us who roll our eyes whenever we’re subjected to ridiculous abuses of technology in CSI and the like, an accurate inclusion of something real computer programmers would actually use would seem to be entertainment nirvana. But in the show, it just sat there, inert. It might as well have had an arrow pointing to it, with the caption YOU RECOGNIZE THIS.

Turning It Off And Back On Again

You could contrast it with The IT Crowd, a series which inverted the power dynamic of The Big Bang Theory by making its nerds and geeks identifiable, and making its “normal” character the subject of mockery. You could say that, but you don’t have to, ’cause you got pronouns, you can say: The IT Crowd understood how to include familiar references without drawing attention to them. It made its references both more subtle and more absurd. The nerd-pandering EFF stickers and action figures and T-shirts (for which Graham Linehan requested recommendations on Twitter) are kept to the background and almost never explicitly acknowledged. The only episodes that were explicitly about technology were deliberately ridiculous, centering around Friendface or convincing someone that the Internet was a black box with a light on it.

While I think it’s true, more or less, that The IT Crowd flipped the predictable premise by making the nerds the heroes and making fun of the normals, I don’t think that says anything of merit. For one, because The IT Crowd wasn’t about IT any more than Father Ted was about Catholicism. And more importantly, because The IT Crowd didn’t choose sides. It made fun of all of its characters. It spent as much time making fun of Moss for being dysfunctional and weird, and Roy for being insecure, horny, and a little homophobic; as it made fun of Jen for being dense and shallow.

That blog post tries to compare Big Bang Theory to Community, and concludes that the latter is better, partly because the audience is meant to identify with Abed. I say that’s absurd; almost half the episodes showed how Abed is deeply dysfunctional. Community was meta-television — often self-consciously so — that made fun of the idea of protagonists vs. villains, identifying with any character over the others, and the entire premise of a situation comedy.

In fact, both Community and Big Bang Theory started with the same structure; Community presented itself as a fish-out-of-water premise with Jeff Winger as the normal guy surrounded by a bunch of crazies. It then dismantled that premise by making it clear that he was every bit as messed up as the other characters, but they all grew to depend on each other. That doesn’t sound so different from the first season or two of Big Bang Theory. The biggest difference is that Big Bang Theory focused on the old “Will They Or Won’t They?” storyline, while Community referenced it, mocked it, rejected it, and then repeatedly used it.

Nerd Blackface

All of that leads me to two conclusions:

  1. The whole “geek chic” thing is gradually turning into something malignant; and
  2. Don’t attribute to complex social dynamics and inequalities of power what can be more easily explained by inequalities of talent.

For the first part: I’ve seen The Big Bang Theory described several times as “nerd blackface,” which makes this all heartbreaking because I absolutely love that term. But the problem with it is that it results in weirdly defensive over-reactions, and it relies on simplistic assumptions that act as if Revenge of the Nerds were a documentary.

For instance, that blog post, in which the author feels obliged to establish her [I’m assuming, based on the rest of the blog] geek cred. It’s always a little sad to see someone feeling it necessary to establish themselves as a geek when their blog is full of animated GIFs from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; you’ve already made it quite clear you’re a nerd, and to be clear that is awesome. It’s like a few weeks ago, when the ridiculous “fake nerd girl” kerfluffle arose, and a lot of women responded by establishing themselves as legit nerds. Instead of doing the more sensible thing and simply pointing out that the entire notion of a “fake nerd” of any type is asinine and immediately dismissible.

Another example: this honest, heartfelt, and probably well-intentioned post (in Gawker-friendly list format!) by Annalee Newitz called “Six Good Habits I Learned From Being Bullied as a Geeky Kid.” Sincere kudos to Newitz for putting herself and her experiences out there, and it’s always welcome to see a reminder not to let yourself be driven by what other people think of you. But the whole thing seems to be predicated on the old ideas that nerds are somehow more discerning than the mainstream; and that the best revenge is being successful while seeing the people who bullied you fall to obscurity and realize that their best days are behind them.

The first idea is belied by The Big Bang Theory. It’s a Chuck Lorre television series, which almost by definition means it’s mainstream. And a ton of nerds love it, to the point of buying the merchandise, identifying with the characters, and naming scientific discoveries after catch phrases from the show. Plus it’s a mainstream television series that must have a sizable percentage of nerds on staff, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to have whiteboards full of Cocoa Touch class names. (Or for that matter, have frequent guest appearances by celebrity nerd hero Wil Wheaton).

That Tumblr post specifically calls out Wheaton, Sara Gilbert, and Jim Parsons for being more or less Uncle Toms because of their participation in the show; I say that’s absurd. Their participation should be a clear sign that the whole notion of Jocks vs. Nerds is simplistic and exclusionary. “Nerd” isn’t some homogenous group — even if you try to subdivide it into geeks, dweebs, and geeky dweebs — everybody’s into weird stuff and has had their own experiences of feeling rejected or feeling like an outsider, to some degree. If that were in doubt, I’d think the revelations that Rosario Dawson knows Klingon and Vin Diesel plays D&D would’ve laid waste to that tired old notion. But still, I frequently see people trying to martyr themselves and put forth the idea that nerds are somehow The Chosen Ones, suffering nobly until their time in the spotlight. In fact, what they’re doing is anything but inclusive; it’s building an internet treehouse and attaching the sign “No Pretty People Allowed” out front.

The most blatant example of that is The Guild music video “I’m the One That’s Cool”, which I find disturbing in at least a dozen ways. How is it that a bunch of actors wearing unflattering hair styles and accentuating their overbites is not as much a case of “Nerd Blackface” as anything on The Big Bang Theory? Is it because actress and producer Felicia Day has firmly established her geek cred, while a Jewish television writer — who ends every episode of every series with a wall-of-text vanity card only legible to those who record the show and pause it — is one of those beautiful people jocks? (And while I’m at it, one of Lorre’s high-profile privileged early jobs was writing for Roseanne, just like another television series creator who never earned his geek credentials).

Even more important than the question of “who’s this coming from?” is whether it’s a good message to be sending at all. It ignores the fact that some of the biggest bullies I’ve ever encountered were nerds who themselves got bullied when younger and were trying to over-compensate for it in adulthood. Or that if you’re an adult and still complaining about the jerk who pantsed you in high school, that means you haven’t really gotten over it and moved on.

“Nerd” or “Geek” isn’t a protected class, and it shouldn’t be one. Some of the most awful people I’ve run into have been at nerd conventions, and some of the friendliest people I’ve encountered have been at board game conventions. The stuff nerds like isn’t necessarily any better or smarter than the mainstream; for the record, I don’t personally like The Guild at all, either, but I’m glad that it exists and that there are tons of people who can enjoy it. If the thing that unites a “community” of nerds is that they’re really, really invested in the stuff they enjoy, then shouldn’t that be the focus, instead of bitterness over the people who don’t appreciate it?

So essentially, I’m saying: Get off the 20-sided dice, we need the plastic.

How Not To Tell People How To Make A Rape Joke

And then there’s the attempt to attribute the problems of the show to some imbalance of power between Normals vs Nerds, or Gays vs Straights. That’s a lazy trend that I’ve been seeing more and more of lately, and it’s worse than just a Geek Pride debate because it actually intersects with genuinely serious issues.

A couple of months ago, there was an internet controversy when Daniel Tosh insulted a heckler with a stupid and insensitive comment about rape, and hundreds of people were tripping over themselves to be the most vocal to condemn it. There was a post called “How to Make a Rape Joke” on Jezebel — Internet go-to site for shallow social analysis — that correctly called out Tosh for being a moron, but then went off into straight-up BS territory by trying to establish what’s offensive vs. what’s acceptable, and trying to explain to readers how exactly to tell an offensive joke. The author insisted that it’s about context, that sexual assault is more statistically likely to be sensitive to more members of the audience than other horrific events, and that it is ultimately about making jokes from a position of power mocking those with less power. She concluded by trying to explain why when Tosh makes a rape joke it’s offensive, but when Louis CK makes a rape joke it’s funny: it’s because Louis CK has spent 20 years making it clear that he’s on the side of good, and that he’s against rape.

Which is bullshit. What makes one offensive and the other funny is that Tosh is an opportunistic hack, and Louis CK is actually an extremely talented comedian. Lindy West’s claim that there’s some kind of hierarchy of offensiveness, where sexual assault trumps cancer, AIDS, industrial accidents, and infant death, is just plain ghoulish. And her tortured attempts to explain it in terms of actuarial tables based on CDC data is 100 kinds of wrong-headed bullshit. The only difference between Tosh’s comments and Louis CK’s joke is that the author thinks one is stupid and the other is funny.

And she’s right, but for all the wrong reasons. Louis CK has built a career out of being an awkward misanthrope, and he’s made fun of women, men, rape, race, politically correct language, and repeatedly called his children little shits. A huge part of his stand-up material depends on shock value. Tosh’s depends on shock value, too. To imply, as that Jezebel article does, that Tosh actually believes what he’s saying, and he hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt because he may actually be in support of sexual assault and complicit in “rape culture,” is ludicrous. Louis CK didn’t spend the last 20 years earning the right to not have audiences automatically assume he’s pro-rape. Unless you’re a writer for a blog that makes ad revenue off of links to controversy, you should automatically assume that no one is actually making light of rape, until they prove otherwise.

What Louis CK spent the last 20 years doing is learning how to construct a joke. Louis CK’s joke that West quotes depends on shock value just like Tosh’s comments; the difference is that one was cleverly constructed, while Tosh’s comments are the shallowest version of “wouldn’t this be shocking?” possible. Tosh’s whole schtick is firing a shotgun blast of every racist, misogynist, homophobic, or otherwise offensive thing he can think of — and from what I’ve seen, I’d guess it’s literally every single one he can think of — and grin through the whole thing because he’s being naughty and subversive. There’s little cleverness or originality to it, and he almost never takes it any farther than the initial shock value. (I’ll admit that I’ve laughed at some of Tosh’s material on the YouTube clip show, but always when he takes the joke to an absurd extreme, instead of just going for the obvious “old joke about Mexicans/blacks/gay people/asians/women”).

A lot of people have defended Tosh by pointing out that he makes fun of everything and everyone, which is something that West acknowledges and then dismisses. She tries to counter by explaining how there are things that are appropriate and inappropriate to make fun of, which is missing the point entirely. The defense, such as it is, isn’t that Tosh is making fun of the wrong things. The defense is that by making fun of everything, he’s in reality making fun of nothing. It’s simply crossing the line for its own sake. Contrast it with, say, Sarah Silverman, whose stand-up routine is a similar uninterrupted string of offensive, shocking things, but who’s a lot more clever about making it clear whom she’s mocking. To put it in Big Lebowski terms: Silverman is clearly opposed to conservatism, misogyny, racism, and anti-Semitism. Tosh believes in nothing.

What’s most heartbreaking is that the Louis CK joke that West quotes in her article isn’t really a “rape joke” at all, but instead makes fun of and dismisses her entire argument. The entire shock value of the joke comes from the initial implication that there’s ever an acceptable excuse for rape, or in fact that there are degrees of acceptability when talking about horrible things. It doesn’t depend on context at all; it’d be funny no matter who told it, because it only requires the audience to know the difference between right and wrong. Please, bloggers, if you’re going to take it upon yourselves to explain jokes to people, at least take a few minutes to study how jokes actually work.

Everything I Know About Human Interaction I Learned From Buffy the Vampire Slayer

And “how jokes work” gets back to why I’ve got a problem with that attempt at analyzing of The Big Bang Theory. It tries to drag in issues of social inequality, popular culture’s representation of women, and homophobia when the better explanation is that the jokes simply don’t work for some of us.

I blame Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Or really, the fact that popular entertainment started getting really good around the same time that self-publishing in the form of blogs became really viable. It meant that “low art” like Buffy — which was designed to be as easy to pick apart as any good parable or fairy tale — got analyzed and over-analyzed, to the point where self-apparent interpretations were accepted as genuine insight. Back when colleges first started offering courses that gave literary analysis of Watchmen, or discussed Buffy in the context of feminism or folklore, people commented on how unusual it was. But it quickly became accepted as commonplace. That, along with Oprah and TV psychologists, meant that pop psychology or social studies came to be seen as on the same level as academics.

And anyone who thinks I’m being overly dismissive of “low art” or pop culture is free to read any of my long dissertations in defense of pop culture. In brief, though: my defense of “low art” and rejection of “high art” is not that low art is as nuanced or as complex, but that art is about communication, and there’s no inherent superiority of obscurity for its own sake. A piece of entertainment that is intended to be “easily digestible” — e.g. how Buffy the Vampire Slayer used the supernatural to intensify the trials of adolescence and young adulthood — can be every bit as valid as something that invites multiple interpretations.

In any case, and whether that’s the actual cause or whether I’m full of it, the result has been a glut of shallow interpretations of media and popular culture passed off as more complex and insightful analyses. For example, using cultural context and background to determine the right way to make light of sexual assault. It’s similar to how some feminist blogs explain their use of the word “bitch;” or Dan Savage’s stunt attempt to “take back” the word “faggot;” or the people who twist themselves into knots explaining exactly how and when it is or isn’t appropriate to use the n-word, based on the race and cultural background of the speaker and his or her audience. In reality, though, it’s all much more simple: the n-word (and for that matter, the c-word) is fucking irredeemably hateful and offensive, and no one should use it, ever.

In the past few weeks, I’ve seen the same type of false logic used to try and explain how the game Cards Against Humanity is “problematic,” how certain scenes in American Horror Story are objectionable while others are fine as lurid entertainment, and why the violence in Tomb Raider is more objectionable than the violence in any other video game. With the first two, at least, it’s a misguided attempt to establish a “do not cross” line with something that exists entirely to make the “line” irrelevant. And all of them to one degree or another assume that modern audiences are primarily made up of sociopaths, unable to distinguish fantasy from reality, unable to tell even the difference between right and wrong. And yet, somehow able to discern what it is that makes death from AIDS or the Holocaust somehow less sensitive than sexual assault or racism. It assumes that the audience is actually reveling in or making light of the horrific, and then compounds that by suggesting that there are degrees of what’s horrific and what’s appropriate fodder for comedy.

Even worse than that, it makes discussions about actual issues spin out of control and descend into unproductive noise. It’s how “you don’t understand a joke” gets interpreted as “you can’t take a joke.” Or “your analysis has no merit” gets interpreted as “your premise has no merit” and then “racism/misogyny/homophobia don’t exist.” And why people so often get infuriated to hear “You’re over-thinking it,” when the actual complaint is “You’re making an easily-dismissible mockery of what is actually a serious but ultimately simple issue.”

Which is the most roundabout possible way of explaining my accusation: that article about The Big Bang Theory is over-thinking it. That’s not to say that smart, tech-savvy women aren’t grossly under-represented in the media. It’s not to say that homophobia is no big deal. It’s not to say that it’s okay to make fun of people with mental disabilities, and it’s not to undermine the damage caused by being bullied or socially ostracized.

All I’m saying is that you don’t need to mention any of that to explain why the jokes in Big Bang Theory feel uninspired and clumsy. Or if you do use that as your justification, then you have to explain why it’s okay for The IT Crowd to make fun of nerds and gay people, Community to make fun of the mentally disabled, and The Guild to pander to an audience of self-described geeks, but not okay when Big Bang Theory does the same thing.

Instead of trying to come up with a tortured explanation involving in-groups and outsiders, traditional inequities of cultural power, gender roles and role reversal, and institutionalized sexism and racism, the simplest explanation works best. All require people to be able to laugh at themselves, some people are simply better at writing jokes than others, and not everyone is going to find the same thing funny.

12 thoughts on “My Problem with The Big Bang Theory”

  1. I’m with you on pretty much all of this. I hate the idea of nerd as a protected class (see also “gamer”). I had a miserable time of it in middle school and high school but it boggles my mind that anyone would want to keep fighting those battles after college. Much less tell anyone that they’re not pure of heart enough to be a nerd. (Though by the same token, I can’t see the point of banging at the gates trying to establish some sort of “credibility” on the subject.) What a restrictive, limited way to see the world.

    And elaborate rules for what jokes you can tell immediately become elaborate rules for when the humorless should be offended. I think intent counts for virtually everything. David Foster Wallace said something pretty spot on about this in one of the footnotes for his piece about John Ziegler:

    “If it causes you real pain to hear or see something, and I make it a point to inflict that thing on you merely because I object to your reasons for finding it painful, then there’s something wrong with my sense of proportion, or my recognition of your basic humanity, or both.”

    Which is clearly what Tosh was doing and not what Louis CK was doing.

  2. Thanks for that link to the DFW article; if I weren’t trying to make up for lost time towards a deadline (from writing stuff like this post) I’d read it right now. For a long time I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the whole idea of how you voice an objection to political correctness, without turning into one of the assholes who’s always complaining about political correctness. I’d bet that Wallace explains perfectly and insightfully what I’ve spent months and thousands of words trying to figure out.

    I don’t want to get into the “mind” of Daniel Tosh, but I’m skeptical that it was even that sophisticated. From what I’ve read, he was spontaneously responding to a heckler while on stage, so I doubt he had “wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped by a bunch of guys” prepared in advance. (Unlike the radio pundits, who carefully craft just the right offensive phrase that’ll Stick It To The Lib’rals). I’d bet that Tosh’s lizard brain thought process was nothing more than “INSULT HECKLER. JOKES WORK ON IRONY. SPEAK NOW.”

    Obviously your brain has to be wired a certain way if the first thing you think of to belittle a female audience member is “gang rape.” But trying to put it into some larger cultural context seems as pointless to me as putting thought into 8-year-olds’ playground taunts. It’s not like, say, Andrew Dice Clay or other shock comics who were every bit as stupid, but who crafted their stuff deliberately to provoke some shallow anti-PC reaction. They were playing to the crowd of dumb people who say stuff like “How come there isn’t a White History Month?” Tosh is playing to the crowd of dumb people whose understanding of comedy began and ended with the Truly Tasteless Jokes books we got in elementary school along with our Weekly Readers.

    I’m still not sure I agree with DFW’s quote entirely, though. I started to try to explain exactly why, but I think it’d be better served by a separate blog post. (Although I don’t have a life, I do have a job right now). Basically, though: does someone’s right to be offended take precedence over whether or not I intended to offend? If someone says, “That offended me,” is it insensitive to respond with anything other than silence or a full apology? Blowhards complain about “PC Thought Police” and the like, but then you see a shitstorm like the Penny Arcade “dickwolves” debacle play out, and all of a sudden smart people who should know better are acting like characters in The World According To Garp.

    Which is the other reason this topic drifted into a Jezebel article and other semi-feminist topics: the geek & nerd crowd generally has a lot of problems treating women with respect. So I can see why some women in particular would feel like there’s some bizarre pressure on them to establish “geek credibility,” when of course, they shouldn’t feel any need at all to defend themselves. And then of course that adds a little layer of complexity to everything — if you complain about nerds being mocked, I’m going to say, “Get over it. We’re supposed to be able to make fun of ourselves.” If you complain about the representation of women (or like in the blog post, gay people), it’s not as clear cut.

    1. “If it causes you real pain to hear or see something, and I MAKE IT A POINT to inflict that thing on you merely because I object to your reasons for finding it painful, then there’s something wrong with my sense of proportion, or my recognition of your basic humanity, or both.”

      “Basically, though: does someone’s right to be offended take precedence over whether or not I intended to offend? If someone says, “That offended me,” is it insensitive to respond with anything other than silence or a full apology?”

      I feel weird clarifying the comment of someone I don’t know, but I happen to agree with Mr. Wallace’s point very much. I’ve capitalized the part that is the most important to me. It’s not just making an offensive, offhand comment, it’s when you FORCE someone to listen to offensive comments. I had to deal with this in school all the time. Bigots I had dealt with all my life, and from a young age I dismissed them and their comments as unimportant. There is no point in arguing with a bigot, because bigots are not logical. Bigotry never is; hating or insulting a group of people based on one shared trait is ridiculous.

      But when you’re forced to read texts that are offensive and inaccurate or face getting a lower grade that is very, very different. And when I explained to teachers that they were spreading misinformation, and they said they had no control over the curriculum and I should “suck it up” or “deal with it” or else get a lower grade that was wrong. (And yes, I did read the texts because I couldn’t point out their inaccuracies without doing so. And I did point them out in class the next day. That was MY way of dealing with it >:)

      If you say something once, and someone says they’re insulted that’s one thing. And if you’re confused, ask why, politely. You don’t have to keep silent or apologize. They might even appreciate your interest and being given a chance to explain their point of view.

      On the other hand, if you were someone’s boss and you KEPT making comments you KNOW make them uncomfortable, that is a completely different thing. It’s not being politically incorrect, it’s being rude and perhaps even abusive. I think it is that sort of situation Mr. Wallace was referencing.

      As a side not, the ironic thing about political correctness is how it’s often insulting and/or funny for people on the receiving end. Like when people say “Happy Ramadan!” at Christmas time … even though the Muslim calendar is lunar so Ramadan (which is a month anyway, not a day) moves around the Gregorian calendar and it hasn’t fallen near Christmas for years … I just smile and say, “And Happy Holidays to you, too!” They feel so proud of their little bit of knowledge, why should I bother correcting them?

      So the Big Bang Theory is a TV show and it’s politically incorrect? Did I just lose my Geek Cred? Can I trade in a Nerd Token for a new one?

  3. I think you’re totally right that the distinction lies in someone’s purposefully inflicting something on you because they know it bothers or offends you. That’s what the shock comics and talk radio guys who pride themselves on being politically correct are doing, mocking people’s taking offense. And for that matter, that’s what the Penny Arcade guys started doing after the whole nonsense blew up and they started getting juvenile about it, losing most of any sympathy from me.

    But I really believe that the distinction has been lost in an environment where you have thousands of people outlining what is and isn’t offensive, and tens of thousands of people at the ready to start an internet mob when they feel someone’s been wronged. For a very minor example: a couple months ago I read a lengthy, earnest blog post encouraging more inclusiveness in the “nerd community.” Some jack-ass responded in a comment by quoting the one part where the author had used “guys” to refer to both men and women, followed by “Um, seriously?” or something equally asinine. The author responded to her quickly by apologizing and editing the article to change “guys” to something more generic.

    Another commenter and I said that the apology and the edits weren’t necessary; it was perfectly clear that “guys” was being used as gender-neutral, and the rest of the article made it overwhelmingly clear that the author was being inclusive. In response, the commenter went on a tirade against me saying that she was constantly being reminded that she was being excluded and being a man I couldn’t possibly understand, and then the author added to the pile-on by saying that those of us in a position of power don’t get to decide when someone else can and can’t be offended.

    It’s the predictable white male guilt bullshit, amplified by a million people on the internet with a sophomoric understanding of sociology, trying to apply broad-stroke theories about class and gender dynamics to every single interaction including comments on a website. Of course the author was free to apologize if he chose to; what I was objecting to was the idea that he was somehow obligated to, because if a woman says something that a man writes is sexist, it automatically is.

    And again with the Penny Arcade thing: the part that continues to bug me, years later, after most of the people actually involved have already moved on, is that initial attack. One blogger misinterpreted a comic strip and said that it offended her, and it instantly became a situation in which the PA guys were obligated to apologize for making light of rape and contributing to rape culture. Even though that was in no way the intent of the strip, the strip was actually saying the opposite, and most importantly: even though they had never, in over a decade of making their webcomic, shown any indication of being anything other than inclusive of women.

    What I’m saying is that they were perfectly entitled to flat out respond: No, you’re wrong, this is not offensive, and you have completely misinterpreted it. And in fact, to respond that it’s offensive even to accuse them of making light of sexual assault. But instead, no, they were obligated to apologize for something they never did. To do otherwise is dismissed as a non-apology (“they just don’t care about rape!!!”) and an intention to offend. Some people, predictably, said that it all boiled down to some power differential, as if their success automatically makes their intention meaningless. Others attributed it to white male privilege — their intention doesn’t matter, because they were being offensive without even realizing it. It was all bullshit, a FOX News caricature of politically correct speech made horrifyingly real.

    (And of course, since those guys make their living trying to be funny, they tried to take the unfair position they’d been placed in, and make a joke out of it. Which just incensed people even more).

    Of course the example you give — forcing an offensive curriculum on a student — is an abuse of power. But I think that the understanding of genuine class and power differences has been corrupted to apply to whatever people want it to, in much the same way that ignorant people try to claim their First Amendment rights on private forums. It has nothing to do with teacher/student, boss/employee, or similar relationships, and is used for anyone who’s in a politically-incorrect demographic: basically, if you’re a straight Christian white male, or any combination of those, then you’d better be ready to do a lot of apologizing and get used to being told to Check Your Privilege.

    And then if you complain about that, you’re immediately lumped in with the idiotic “Men’s Rights” groups. It’s kind of an untenable position for anyone who wants to be progressive but doesn’t want to have to be constantly apologizing for stuff he hasn’t done. It puts people in a position in which their race, gender, or economic background matters more than what they believe and what they do.

    As for your account of Ramadan greetings at Christmas time, I think you’ve got it right, for what it’s worth. The whole War On Christmas BS is nonsense generated to manipulate the simple-minded — people with any sense and common decency will just accept a greeting in the spirit in which it’s given. There’s a Jewish blogger who used to write (maybe he still does, for all I know) an annual diatribe about how horrible Christmas season is for him, as he’s surrounded by Christmas decorations and is constantly being wished a Merry Christmas. It always struck me as hopelessly bitter false martyrdom — you’re taking offense at someone’s greeting and wishing you to join in their happiness.

  4. “You could contrast it with The IT Crowd, a series which inverted the power dynamic of The Big Bang Theory by making its nerds and geeks identifiable, and making its “normal” character the subject of mockery. ”

    I’m not sure I agree. Moss certainly isn’t identifiable and I wouldn’t say Roy is any more so than Jen. I can’t really abide by the argument that The Big Bang Theory doesn’t offer any geeks that the viewer empathises with, I think all but the jockiest jock can empathise with Leonard’s woes to some extent.

  5. In the sentence after the one you quoted, I said that I don’t believe it’s a valid comparison. I don’t think the difference between the two series isn’t “laughing at” vs “laughing with” like is frequently suggested; I think the difference between the series is that one is a well-crafted absurdist comedy, and the other is a bunch of cliches and references that don’t go anywhere.

  6. Watched a full episode of this show for the first time the other day after hearing my nieces rave about it constantly (they’re in their 20’s, I’m in my 40’s). The episode concerned one of the characters needing to get a driver’s license because he was getting on the nerves of his friends who drive him everywhere. All I can say is that I recognized what the show was going for in terms of humor (“the check the check the light light”), but I only actually laughed one time (speed bumps on a moped with two riders). So the only thing that made me laugh was a surprise action shot. The talky, chatty writing was completely understandable, but just never hilarious. Not being mean, but it seems as though the show is surviving (or soaring) at a time in television when there really isn’t that much to compete with. My 2 cents, I’m sure I’m wrong 😉

  7. “For one, because The IT Crowd wasn’t about IT any more than Father Ted was about Catholicism.”


    I have worked in the IT industry nearly 30 years. It’s VERY MUCH about being in IT. A friend of mine in IT for some 20 years and I identify with it – for being about IT – VERY much, as do other acquaintances of mine in IT.

    This alone tells me you don’t get it…

    1. Important PS – I do otherwise like your article (even though I disagree re BBT not being funny, I think it’s fairly funny; however, its jokes, as such, are less the point of it, I feel, than the long-running storylines and the funny situations).

  8. I don’t want to be a smart-ass here. But, oh, the irony to see the header of your so-called problem is, “Holy shit, get a life”. Thus, you write a “too-long-resume” about why people should hate it. You know how entertainment works, some people like it, some people hate it, as simple as that.

    Actually, entertainment doesn’t care about what you are liking currently. Entertainment doesn’t care about what you feel right and wrong. Entertainment manifests what people should like. So, when it comes to their expectation–most people like it, entertainment will never see the point of “why should we stop producing it right now?”

    When you are being the one of the haters, the only way you can do is ignore them. Entertainment is so superior, we can do nothing against them.

    I’m sorry for my english, I’m not an english native speaker.

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