This isn’t really something I initially felt compelled to comment on, because the story seemed relatively benign; a long-running TV show is coming to an end, and is doing so on top. But this opinion piece at news.com.au prompted me to write a response.
The column contends that detractors of the Big Bang Theory sitcom largely have things wrong and that criticism of the show is misguided. The thrust of the argument seems to be that it has given rise to nerd culture, and that it proves an inspiration to people to show an interest in science.
The article also outlines that:
… viewers now realise nerds can be funny and charming and not just locker stuffing.
The last part of that sentence being rather glaring – in that it doesn’t denounce the bullying of stuffing nerds into lockers, and rather seems to “normalise” it.
The reason that I care not for Big Bang Theory’s demise is that the brief watches I did have of the show didn’t celebrate nerd culture as much as it made it the butt of jokes. The characters were playing Dungeons and Dragons, and that was the joke. They were passionate about comic books, and that was the joke. Sheldon did something socially awkward, and that was the joke.
Big Bang Theory was not so much a celebration of nerd culture as much as it was the gentrification of it. It seemed cynical. The pastimes of nerds was distilled down to cliche and stereotype, and then served in a milquetoast beverage for people to consume. This lead to dilettantes to move into the space that nerds had long received bullying for pursuing, and then have them dominate proceedings.
Star Wars, for instance, was that nerdy movie franchise with the very dedicated fan base. Now it’s akin to a religion, with nigh on everyone excited for the next episode on the franchise. It is almost creepy.
Comic books are being transformed into mainstream blockbusters, rather than being a niche product for a passionate audience.
It could be argued that this is something that should be celebrated, as it brings greater prominence to something that needed it, but I would counter that, like any gentrification, that kind of flourishing robs any culture of the genuine heart, soul and character that had given it the charm, and it replaces it with a thin veneer that satisfies enough to stave off complaints, and remains – ultimately – profitable.
Big Bang Theory, from my observation, was an initial breaking of dirt of the gentrification of nerd culture. It has brought much success to the culture, and has introduced new people to something they might have dismissed (or stuffed nerds into lockers over), but it has seemingly left behind those initial customers who had given it the culture to begin with.
I don’t care to rate the humour of BBT, as comedy is subjective. I don’t care about how it introduces science to people – anyone with an enthusiasm for science will get into it anyway, and I would guess that anyone who obtained an interest in science from BBT would soon abandon it for being too boring.
But BBT has left an indelible mark on nerd culture, and it seems to have been administered in a largely cynical way. I understand that capitalism relies upon presenting a product that people want, but to appropriate nerd culture in a way that seems to mock its core is the kind of offensive that I would have though more people would understand.
But nerds are still just locker stuffing, right?