Hollywood and the Big Bang

Do you watch “The Big Bang Theory”?  I have, but stay tuned, I’ve got more to say.

I didn’t watch it until it went on re-runs a few weeks ago, but that’s because I don’t watch prime time TV, I’ve got better things to do.  Like write and blog.  I only picked it up when it came to the local CW channel, which seems to support itself with re-runs of shows that are still on prime time but from other networks.  I’d watched a few seconds of it very occasionally, not enough to get a real flavor of the show, but for the past several weeks I’ve seen enough to learn what it’s about.  I must say I’m appalled.

First of all, the show is funny, yes, Hollywood screenwriters can make a joke about anything, and I can see why it stays on the air.  Much of the science that’s displayed is well researched, but it’s the way the scientists who are the main characters are portrayed that bothers me.  Sheldon, in particular.

I’ve been a scientist for most of my life, ever since before high school when I began to follow the US space program, such as it was.  (Remember the V-2 rockets we captured from the Germans?)  I’ve known a lot of scientists (and physicians, who are scientists in the field of medicine), but I’ve never met, seen, or even heard of a scientist like Sheldon.  The portrayal of Sheldon as a scientist is so bad it isn’t even a caricature of a scientist.

Granted, the characters on a Hollywood sit-com are written solely to get a laugh, and that’s all that’s required of them.  That part I have no quarrel with.  What annoys me about Sheldon is that the extension of his scientific abilities into the comedic is so far removed from reality that it distorts the real science that could be portrayed.  In all my years in the laboratory or the library or at scientific meetings, I’ve never seen someone as cut off from his fellow scientists as Sheldon.  Most scientists that I’ve ever met are people like everyone else.  They have their own desires and fears, they have friends (and enemies), they like a lot of the things that others in our society like, including cars (Sheldon doesn’t drive!), and they relate to others reasonably well–and that’s one of the most important factors.  Most scientists relate well to others because the vast majority of scientific finds nowadays are made by groups of people, each of which makes his/her own contribution to the overall discovery.  Granted, a few isolated scientists in the world may exist, doing their own thing in total anonymity, but there’s no evidence they’re as anti-social as Sheldon.

A few details:  Sheldon is so erudite he insults people with big words and the people don’t even know they’re being insulted.  And he does it repeatedly.  But at the same time, he’s so unfamiliar with many social conventions he doesn’t understand why the average person (his friends on the show) do what they do, or why they react that way in regular society.  He’s so arrogant he can’t relate well to other people, and totally sexless, even toward his girl-friend who’s sexless too!  He apparently doesn’t have testicles and/or hormones.  He’s so totally wrapped up in himself that he feels he can’t do anything wrong, yet his life is one big social mistake after another, a concept he can’t understand.  He goes about his business totally oblivious to others, never caring, never stopping to offer a word of advice, encouragement or help.  And he revels in it.  Apparently, the basic concept behind Sheldon is that he’s so intelligent–way beyond Einstein– that his intellect tells him to disdain other human company, and that sex is “messy.”

I’ve never known someone as cut off from human emotion as Sheldon.  Not scientists nor any one else.  It’s so totally unrealistic, I don’t understand why the producers of the show decided to go this far to get a laugh.  Is this the view of science we get from Hollywood?  Is this what Hollywood thinks of science?  I hope not.

But will I continue to watch the show?  I have mixed feelings.  It is funny, well-produced (outside the insult to science), and the girl is cute, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to handle the anger that might result.  ‘Nuff said.

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