The Big Bang Blog: The Toxic Relationship Comedy

By Veronika M. Heinrich

The Big Bang The­o­ry is pure poi­son in a soci­ety that just got a wake-up call.
Just yes­ter­day, I saw anoth­er post reveal­ing its prob­lem­at­ic themes. What tru­ly shocked me were the com­ments – most of them in defence of their beloved series. “Don’t get your feel­ings hurt. It’s just a fun­ny show!” they claim. But it’s not.
Like many oth­ers, I also enjoyed watch­ing The Big Bang The­o­ry in my teenage years. I was hap­py that there was a show that por­trayed nerd cul­ture and ref­er­enced it. I didn’t ques­tion the harm­ful themes the show relies on. To be hon­est, I didn’t even see them. Now that my eyes are opened, I can’t unsee them. I can bare­ly stand to watch an entire episode. The char­ac­ters’ behav­ior around women and each oth­er is just too painful.
I can’t wrap my head around why this show ran for so many sea­sons and wasn’t can­celled ear­li­er. Sheldon’s quirk­i­ness is so fun­ny after all, isn’t it?
The Big Bang The­o­ry fol­lows the stereo­typ­i­cal nerds and sci­en­tists. Shel­don Coop­er (Jim Par­sons) is a straight-up mean per­son and know-it-all, sup­pos­ed­ly with Asperger’s. Then there’s Leonard Hof­s­tadter (John­ny Galec­ki), whose is con­stant­ly annoyed by Shel­don and falls in love with his neigh­bor Pen­ny (Kaley Cuo­co), a dumb blonde wait­ress who lives across the hall­way. They’re friends with Howard Wolowitz (Simon Hel­berg), who sex­u­alis­es any woman he meets and behaves creep­i­ly around them. Final­ly, there’s Rajesh Koothrap­pali (Kunal Nay­yar), who can’t talk to women unless he drinks alco­hol. He’s also the most fem­i­nine of the men, lead­ing to many inap­pro­pri­ate jokes about homo­sex­u­al­i­ty. As the show con­tin­ues, the char­ac­ters slow­ly devel­op. Pen­ny smartens up a bit, gets a ‘real’ job, and mar­ries Leonard. Rajesh man­ages to talk to women with­out being drunk. Howard Wolowitz mar­ries Bernadette Ros­tenkows­ki (Melis­sa Rauch), who basi­cal­ly replaces his moth­er. Shel­don mar­ries Amy Far­rah Fowler (May­im Bia­lik), who man­ages to ‘cor­rect’ his rude behavior.
While the char­ac­ters do evolve to sup­pos­ed­ly bet­ter ver­sions of them­selves, the cru­el jokes of the show stay the same. Yes, Shel­don gets mar­ried, but he’s still sex­ist and mean to his wife. Yes, Howard is not that much of a creep any­more, but he’s still sex­ist and self-absorbed. When­ev­er some­thing nice hap­pens to a char­ac­ter, the oth­ers are there to ensure they won’t be hap­py for long.
Often enough, the jokes go too far. While the cre­ators said that Shel­don doesn’t have autism, Jim Par­sons stat­ed that some of his char­ac­ter­is­tics appear on the Asperg­er spec­trum. With this in mind, sen­tences like “Do you think he (Shel­don) would react like a nor­mal human being?” take on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing, imply­ing that peo­ple with autism are nei­ther nor­mal nor human.
Also, The Big Bang The­o­ry depicts nerd cul­ture inac­cu­rate­ly and mock­ing­ly. We don’t laugh with them, we laugh at them. Addi­tion­al­ly, almost all the nerds are men. Can’t women be nerdy, too? Why couldn’t at least one of the girl­friends be a nerd? Even if some of the part­ners are geeky, they’re not into nerd cul­ture, which fuels the usu­al trope of ‘wifey destroys all the fun’. All girl­friends com­plain about their child­ish behav­iour. But the nerd cul­ture is such a big part of their boyfriends’ lives that it rais­es the ques­tion: If you hate it so much, why be with them at all?
This leads to the main prob­lem I have with The Big Bang The­o­ry. The rela­tion­ships are as tox­ic as they could be, both the roman­tic and the pla­ton­ic ones. These peo­ple wouldn’t be friends in real life because of how they act towards each oth­er. The lead­ing men all suf­fer from low self-esteem, which makes them envi­ous of each oth­er. They’re not real friends, and they cer­tain­ly are not sup­port­ive of each oth­er. Even when they reach their life goal, like win­ning a Nobel Prize or becom­ing an astro­naut, they try to steal each other’s glory.
None of the rela­tion­ships is healthy, but the rela­tion­ship between Howard and Bernadette is the weird­est and most tox­ic one. She assumes the role of his moth­er, shouts at him for no valid rea­son, and doesn’t respect his inter­ests and opin­ions at all. On the oth­er hand, he behaves like a man-child and doesn’t take care of house responsibilities.
Why are these peo­ple in a rela­tion­ship any­way? There is no log­i­cal expla­na­tion except for the show want­i­ng to rely on ‘mar­riage is hor­ri­ble’ jokes and ‘los­er gets the girl’ themes – which unfor­tu­nate­ly seems to work. In doing so, how­ev­er, the show pro­motes a lifestyle that not only keeps you stuck in an unhealthy rela­tion­ship but also nor­mal­izes creepy and rude behav­ior. There’s noth­ing wrong with por­tray­ing tox­ic rela­tion­ships; how­ev­er, I think crit­i­cal think­ing should be involved at one point.
I guess I’m try­ing to say: Don’t use The Big Bang The­o­ry for rela­tion­ship advice. When dat­ing, look for red flags; when a per­son is out to harm you, leave. Don’t ever set­tle for less. You deserve all the love in the world.
If you’d like to watch a more astute analy­sis of the misog­y­nis­tic tropes in The Big Bang The­o­ry, you may want to watch this video:

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