Home > Ape Mind, Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Dystopia, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism, Thoughts on Economics > Two Dystopic Themes Running Through “The Big Bang Theory” Sitcom

Two Dystopic Themes Running Through “The Big Bang Theory” Sitcom

First, a quick word about the title of this post. I am aware that it was not the best, most concise or most accurate description of what I am about to discuss. But it will have to do (for the time being) since the post is far more important than its title. So let us begin..

As many of you might know, “humorous” sitcoms with outrageous extrapolations of reality (other than sex, violence and grittiness) have been a staple of network TV since its inception. These shows can usually be identified by their tired laugh tracks (or forced live-audience laughs), almost exclusively indoor settings, supposedly “witty” dialogue and highly contrived situations. Shows on this genre were extremely popular from the beginning of broadcast TV to the early 2000s when they began to lose their prominent place in the public imagination to “reality” TV shows.

I can give you many reasons why sitcoms have always been worthless crap and why the successors aka “reality” shows are no better- but that is best discussed in another post. This particular post is about the accidental (and I suspect, unintentional) depictions of dystopic reality in one of the still successful holdouts of the “sitcom” age- The Big Bang Theory aka TBBT.

Sitcoms, by their very design, are not supposed to depict reality, or anything even approaching it, as there are the escapist entertainment of plebs in developed countries. Unfortunately, the real world has a tendency to bypass even the best attempts to stop it from making itself apparent. Sitcoms usually handle this by trying to sugarcoat some really obvious aspect of reality or just skip onto to the next zany contrived situation. Yet aspects of reality that are not specifically targeted for suppression often sneak into supposedly humorous and feel good crap.

Many premises of TBBT have been criticized for a few years now, as have the supposedly negative depictions of certain groups in it- Link 1, Link 2, Link 3. You can find more of such critical articles, as well as a few supportive ones, by using Google. Now, I largely agree with much of the criticism leveled at this show. However whatever little I have seen of this show (largely through channel surfing) also suggests that it, perhaps accidentally, depicts some pretty realistic and dystopic stuff.

One of the two major dystopic theme running through the general storyline of TBBT concerns how the characters (specifically ‘nerds’) treat each other. It seems that each of the supposedly high-IQ nerd characters are always just an opportunity away from betraying or murdering the others, even if the gains are very small or temporary. While this premise is used by the show to develop ever more convoluted and eyeball-grabbing storylines, it is far closer to the lives of the real-life counterparts of the characters than anybody would dare admit.

One of the main reason behind my contempt for most academics, scientists and pretty anyone who measures their self-worth by jumping artificial hoops is that such endeavors tend to concentrate the most pathetic, short-sighted, egoistic, backstabbing, backbiting and yet largely powerless pieces of shit I ever had the misfortune to encounter. Even worse, most STEMers are stupid and gullible enough to be enthusiastic tools for any sociopath who can flatter or tempt them with insultingly small rewards. STEMers love to denigrate, betray and abuse fellow STEMers- especially if they believe that such actions might win them some imaginary brownie points (and acceptance) by sociopaths.

Readers might have noticed that most episodes of that show center around somebody in the group trying to screw over, sabotage or berate, its other members. Such mindsets, attitudes and behaviors are far closer to reality than most people (including STEMers) would like to believe. Curiously, it also show the rather bizarre phenomena of STEMers hanging out and pretending to be friendly with the very people they want to denigrate, betray and abuse.

The second dystopic theme running through the show concerns the arrested development (personal and professional) of its main characters. If you have seen enough snippets of that show over the years, it is obvious that none of the main characters possess the ability to actually make some large or innovative contribution to their field of knowledge. This is so inspite of their supposed high-IQs, “ivy-league”/”top-15” educational pedigree or even access to enough resources.

Sadly, or not, their inability to achieve any of their personal intellectual milestones mirrors the real and accelerating decline in scientific productivity in developed countries- especially the USA. The real world drop in real innovation and progress started in the late 1970s- at almost the same time educational and research institutions started using proxies of ability such as metrics and pedigree to determine funding and promotion. The false scarcity of resources and reliance on proxy measurements of ability which characterize science and similar endeavors today favored their domination by pathetic, petty, aspy and uncreative but impressive sounding witty losers/tools.

Characters in that show also display signs of personal arrested development, which while often played for laughs does sadly (or not) mirror the very real trend of STEMers being increasingly obsessed with their “jobs”, “credentials”, “careers” and other imaginary bullshit. It is as if they (or even the non-STEMer characters on that show) are increasingly living in a make-believe world because they are terrified of what lies beyond the decaying prison of the status quo they so desperately want to hold on to. Perhaps, part of that show’s persistence and popularity are due to its dystopic undertones.

What do you think? Comments?

  1. Glenfilthie
    April 19, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    I suspect you are a humourless liberal arts flunky. Basket weaver, methinks. You aren’t smart enough to “get” humour and you resent those who do. Then you project your own failures on them.

    Liberal toads are at their most humorous when they get serious.

    • The Plague Doctor
      April 20, 2015 at 8:24 am

      Dirty Diablo got a Ph.D. in biochemistry so he could synthesize his own PDE5 inhibitors.

      You are half right about my Ph.D.

  2. brian
    April 19, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    Suffering Lord. Can’t a silly nerd show just be a silly nerd show? I remember watching it and just chuckling at the doufus ness. I also remember the discussion every morning after every episode of Gilligan’s Island.I was twelve. I’m not twelve anymore,and I am surprised that the childishness still carries on into adult hood.Adults should not have opinions on childish shows.

  3. ridman
    April 19, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    I have to agree with previous posters. The show is popular because it is well written and witty, even if it depicts the vicious infighting that is endemic to academia. Some males like the show because it seems to validate nerds actually having some sort of life.

    One point I have to take issue with is your notion that declining scientific productivity in the USA (and presumably the western world). You seem to attributing the decline to a personnel problem. That is, science is now dominated by credentialism and that poseurs and tools take up positions that were formerly occupied by masterminds.

    I think the poseurs have moved in because we are in a pronounced period of diminishing returns in scientific discovery for the time, money and energy expended. The low hanging fruit and the big ideas have been discovered and comparable advances are now really, really hard. Many have commented that physics is basically stuck in the 70’s. Society pours in tremendous resources each year, but we get a pile of research papers published daily that are small beer. Einstein outlined the theory of relativity in 20 odd pages, without co-authors.

    A guy to read is Joseph Tainter (“the collapse of complex societies”, 1988). He pointed out the diminishing returns in patent generation and scientific discoveries. You can get it on kindle for a few bucks and it will change your world view.

    Tainter is only half- or quarter- right. The real problem with complex societies is that humans as a species are defined by their desire to hurt others around them- even if such actions do not benefit (and even hurt) them. Consequently, all complex societies will eventually become schemes that allow the worst individuals to hurt and kill others. While this can go on for some time, especially in high-fertility societies, the society will eventually become too dysfunctional to withstand fairly mediocre challenges- external or internal. At that point, the unraveling starts to become very obvious and visible. Attempts to stop the unraveling almost always involves doubling on the dysfunction which led it to that point and usually accelerates the final stage of collapse.

  4. hoipolloi
    April 19, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    These high IQ types (characters in the TBBT) do not have much to show except arrested development in their daily life is amazing.

  5. Skratchinator
    April 20, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Seinfeld, Married With Children, Good Times, Arrested Development, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, M*A*S*H and a few others are hardly “worthless crap” the fact that you talked about two societal themes from a show as watered down as The Big Bang Theory shows that they can be a source of criticism and thought.

    Also all entertainment is escapism for plebs, ALL of it, it’s just some happens to be better than others. If anything the decline of “good” content just demonstrates the general cultural/societal plummet happening.

    • Skratchinator
      April 20, 2015 at 8:05 am

      Also when I say “some happens to be better than others” I mean a sitcom like Curb Your Enthusiasm can probably be considered better than Zooey 101 in cultural and intellectual sense. Same as that The Godfather can probably be seen as more thought provoking than countless other films. Things like opera are just escapist entertainment for plebs who think they have better tastes.

  6. The Plague Doctor
    April 20, 2015 at 8:20 am

    Sadly, or not, their inability to achieve any of their personal intellectual milestones mirrors the real and accelerating decline in scientific productivity in developed countries- especially the USA. The real world drop in real innovation and progress started in the late 1970s- at almost the same time educational and research institutions started using proxies of ability such as metrics and pedigree to determine funding and promotion. The false scarcity of resources and reliance on proxy measurements of ability which characterize science and similar endeavors today favored their domination by pathetic, petty, aspy and uncreative but impressive sounding witty losers/tools.

    I see Advocrappedmytoilet Dialaplumber has been reading Not Even Trying: The Corruption of Real Science by Bruce Charlton, which has quickly become one of my favourite books ever.

    • mark
      April 26, 2015 at 2:16 pm

      I first found a link for Charlton here sometime ago. And, now his book too. I’ve been reading it and suspect I will agree with you. Thanks for the link.

  7. Retrenched
    April 20, 2015 at 10:28 am

    So STEMers are basically like socially awkward teenage girls with no fashion sense?

  8. Tim
    April 21, 2015 at 8:38 am

    Visited here for the first time yesterday and have been reading as much as possible. Brilliant blog.

    • Tim
      April 21, 2015 at 8:39 am

      TBBT, The I.T. Crowd and Friends always made me feel physically uncomfortable when watching them.

  9. P Ray
    April 21, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    The level of adversarialism in those sitcoms are amazing.
    On the other hand you also have the “normal” people who need to keep around someone they can make fun of, the way ugly girls orbit the hot one, or the way a vampire keeps mortal slaves.
    There is even a new movie about this, “DUFF” (Designated Ugly Fat Friend).
    But I always did see sitcoms like these as tragedies – for an even more extreme example see “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.
    The danger is in walking away from them thinking “wow, that looks like fun” … rather than “I laugh at them BECAUSE my life is not like that”.

  10. LOL
    April 23, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    • P Ray
      April 23, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      Unfortunately that’s real victory.
      As an example in the Olympics nobody gets a medal for being last — their proof of success … is the fact that everybody else except the top 3 failed.
      Even in education, a qualification where everybody passes is suspect.

      Nobody gets a prize for “completing kindergarten” for example.

      • LOL part 2
        April 10, 2016 at 2:52 pm

  11. April 24, 2015 at 9:03 am

    There is nothing about Big Bang Theory which is in the slightest part humorous to intelligent people. It is instead a sop for the morons and fools television controls.

  12. April 27, 2015 at 8:54 am

    Reblogged this on oogenhand and commented:

    یہ کتاب کسی بھی چلّہ کشی کی محتاج نہیں، اس میں سب عمل زکات یافتہ ہیں یہ کتاب جس کے پاس ہو گی میں اس کو عامل ہونے کی گارانٹی دیتا ہوں
    نوری : نوری اعمال کا وہ خزانہ اس میں ہے جو اس سے پہلے کبھی نہ دیکھا ہو گا بغیر زکات کے ہر عمل کام کرے گا
    علوی : علوی مؤکلوں سے کام لینے کے بغیر زکات طریقے موجود ہیں
    سفلی : اس میں سفلی ایسے قدیم و نایاب عملیات درج ہیں جو آپ کی آنکھوں نے آج تک نہ دیکھے ہوں گے
    کالا جادو : کالا جادو کے مخفی راز اور اس کا استمعال اور اعمال بے شمار
    نوٹ : یہ کتاب جس کے پاس بھی جائے اس کا استمعال جائز جگہ کرے اور اس کتاب کے اعمال کو ہمیشہ چھپا کر رکھیں تاکہ نا اہل لوگوں تک یہ علم نہ پہنچ جائے ورنہ فساد پھیل جائے گا اس کتاب میں کوئی بھی چلّہ کشی نہیں لہٰذا ہر عمل میں ایک ایک راز رکھا گیا ہے وہ راز اس کتاب کے ایک ورقہ پر لکھ دیا گیا ہے اس کتاب سے وہی فائدہ حاصل کر سکتا ہے جس کے پاس وہ ورقہ ہو گا حاضری جن ،پری ،دیو ،دیوی ،مؤکل ،سب عمل ایک دن کے ہیں لیکن اگر کسی وجہ سے حاضری نہیں ہوتی تو حد سات دن ہے اس کتاب کا اگر کوئی عمل کام نہیں کرتا تو مصنف کا نام لے کر دوہائی دیں وہ عمل بھی کام کرنا شروع ہو جائے گا

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