Looking at traditional depictions in TV and film of geeks and nerds, you’ll see spectacle, figure collecting, obscure quoting social misfits. You’ll often find the same thing in modern depictions of nerds and geeks too. But here’s the kicker, those are true.
So, what is being a geek about? Simon Pegg says:
“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”
Until recently, depictions of geeks and our culture have mainly been from a purely outsider perspective; most people reading this would be very familiar with these stereotypes. I’d argue that Big Bang Theory is far more balanced than that.
For a start, you have four main male characters (starting from the beginning), all of which are relatively successful. They’re not living with their mothers in a basement (well Howard still lives with his mother, but that’s not because he’s a geek), they’ve got their own apartments and they have jobs that they love to do – jobs that are associated with geekdom, but in a position high enough to be dream jobs for many.
Later in the series, we are introduced to Bernadette and Amy who are both illustrative of a kind of female geek. The seasons have slowly expanded and introduced more types of geeks. While the broad field of science is still represented, they inevitably have varying life experiences and even different opinions of their chosen culture.
One of the problems with traditional views on geeks is that we’re all the same (heck some are used as MacGuffins – figuring out a plans or coming up with something). What you don’t usually get are geeks that have no interest in something another geek holds dear. Amy is less than thrilled about science fiction shows that Sheldon absolutely loves. Sheldon, despite having a relationship with Amy, looks down upon her field of expertise as something less than his own. While the core four like comic books, the girls in general don’t.
Each of the cast members have their own personalities and approaches. Humour is made out of them yes, but the humour is not actually exaggerated. D&D, Sci-Fi shows, not being comfortable talking to ladies, being really into science (the many different fields), playing computer games, quoting things you like, collecting comic books and memorabilia, dressing up in costumes, playing card games, liking trains – these are things that geeks actually do. Heck I do a lot of them myself – and the same with every geek I know. Sometimes humour comes out of it, and I can relate.
Do you think anyone that hasn’t played Catan would get the references about having wood for sheep in that one episode? Do you think that making a non-newtonian fluid dance on a speaker or allowing people from around the world turn on and off your electrical equipment holds anything for non-geeks? How about building a laser system that you need to ninja past to win? Because it actually thrills me as a geek.
The Penny principle
As with every popular media product, you need a window into the lives of people you don’t understand. Yes, she’s a character that allows non-geeks to have representation in the show, but also she brings a breath of fresh air to it.
This isn’t a show just for geeks. It’s a show for everyone. Yes, there’s a lot of humour that is generated by the contrast between Penny and most of the characters but the humour goes both ways. For every laugh that is a derision of Sheldon’s inability to understand a social situation, there’s a joke at the expense of Penny misunderstanding a scientific principle. And surely it matters that Leonard makes as much fun of Sheldon as Penny does? Overall, because of the geek diversity in the show, it’s actually a far more positive and fair representation of geek culture than a lot of actual geeks acknowledge the existence of.
Over the seasons we’ve had a plethora of geek cameos from the entire spectrum of geekdom, from Stephen Hawking and Neil DeGrass Tyson to Wil Wheaton, Katee Sackhoff and George Takei. I don’t think they would really go on a show that was antagonistic about geek culture rather than supporting it. Heck, when they showed up, who was it that recognised them? Who was it that got anything out of their appearance? That’s right, it was the geeks! People who don’t tend towards geekish interetes wouldn’t have known who they were, or at best, have a vague recollection of them being in that one TV programme that was on years ago…
So what’s there to be bothered about?
In the end, I think the main point that a lot of people dismiss is that the Big Bang Theory is actually more or less for geeks. The representations taken from looking at most if not all episodes are actually positive in general, from the fact a traditionally beautiful young woman can fall in love with a nerd that is far from the supposed ideal man, and even enjoy, learn and participate in geek culture (remember when she got hooked on the Conan the Barbarian MMO or that time she kicked Sheldon’s ass at Halo, or that time she levelled the playing field with Leonard’s mother, etc…).
There’s only one thing that I dislike about the series, and that it makes me jealous of their situations – having fantastically stimulating jobs with opportunities like meeting celebrities, developing equipment to go into space and discovering principles, while they’re constantly surrounded by friends, with a lack of financial restrictions.
But why do people still complain?
Personally, I think it comes down to gate-keeping. Geeks and nerds have traditionally been outcasts, and some like it that way. They like having a language that corresponds to them and their friends. Any outside acknowledgment is considered to be intruding on their territory. It reminds me of the current trend to criticise girls that portray an interest in a geek subculture and simply disregard them as “fake”. If you’ve ever said “I bet she probably hasn’t even played ____”, then please go away. Stop reading this site, go to your naughty corner for 10 minutes. You’re not wanted here until you can behave and be accepting of other people. And in the end, that’s something that the Big Bang Theory does well, and it’s what our site is all about. Accepting you no matter how big or small of a geek you are.