This may contain spoilers for people who haven’t been keeping up with, or haven’t yet watched, the following programmes: The 100, and The Big Bang Theory. As a continuation of last week’s post, here are two other TV series that have disappointed me and why. There is quite a lot of sarcasm in this, so if you struggle with things like that then please don’t hesitate to contact me for clarification. 🙂
The 100* – STOP KILLING LESBIANS ON TV
STOP IT. JUST S T O P .
The Big Bang Theory – I haven’t followed it for so long. The reason for this is because it’s incredibly problematic and just so unfunny. I found it exhausting and painful to watch (and I’m so sick of the constant reruns on E4, I’m sure there are other things you can show!) I’m probably going to have to bullet point this because there’s just. so. much. wrong with it. Short(!) list here: it’s sexist, slutshaming, ableist, queerphobic, racist, it makes frequent use of tired and ridiculous stereotypes and it makes fun of the very audience it purports itself to be for.
Its repeated put-downs of the women, assumptions that they (even the highly intelligent scientists) don’t understand what the men are talking about, the reduction of women to flimsy stereotypes (the overbearing mother, the creepy lesbian, the controlling wife mimicking the mother….need I go on?), Howard’s reaction to Bernadette earning more than him. It’s all so undeniably sexist. What about the notion that Raj is “too feminine” because he likes cooking, cleaning and is sensitive, so he must be gay? Then there’s the moment when shock, horror! A woman enters the comic book shop! Because women don’t read comics. But of course, it has to be made clear that she’s there on the behalf of a male family member. It also allows men to continue believing they have the right to gatekeep “masculine” areas such as sci-fi, video games, and comic books (hate to break it to you, but a woman wrote the first sci-fi novel
sorry not sorry). Women only exist in this show as objects to be sexually idolised, or as droning examples of the inferiority of the gender. Those women deemed smart are dressed modestly and are considered less attractive, reinforcing the “a woman can be smart or beautiful, but not both” idea. The men constantly talk down to the women (including being very dismissive of their interests) and make numerous sexist remarks that frankly hit too close to home for comfort. Television is an escape from reality, and women don’t want to be confronted with the gendered abuse they face in everyday life. In addition, what kind of message are you sending to audiences (men and young boys in particular) if you make sexism a joke, and therefore encourage it?
It’s extremely uncomfortable how often Penny is judged for her sexual choices. Implicit in the show is the idea that intelligent, “proper” women don’t sleep around, and women who do must be ashamed of their “bad habits” and realise they’re not going to get a man this way. Of course, men don’t have this kind of message. Howard is never subjected to the same kind of treatment as Penny.Also, the many uses of the word “whore” or “slut” are awful. Firstly, who the hell cares how many people a woman does or does not sleep with?! What does it matter to anyone except the woman herself? Secondly, stop using slurs against women! Especially if you’re a woman. You’re only putting them down for stupid, archaic reasons driven by the patriarchy. Thirdly, a person’s sexual history does not determine their personal worth. I think many people would do well to remember that. Penny’s whole character seems to revolve around being a love interest for Leonard, and being a silly, slutty bimbo, the “pretty one”, to the extent that she still doesn’t have a last name. I think that’s abominable.
So first I’m going to talk about Lucy and Social Anxiety Disorder. Mentally ill characters aren’t treated very well in TBBT, and Lucy is no exception. As someone who suffers from this illness myself, I was excited to see a representation of people like me on TV. Unfortunately, that was soon shattered when it became apparent that Lucy was going to be just another joke. Because mental illness is so funny, right? Right?? *insert laugh track* Her needs are never addressed properly, not even by Raj, who is arguably the most well-equipped to understand her (yet puts the most pressure on her and exacerbates her condition). A mockery is made of her and the fact she gets so overwhelmed with anxiety that she runs away, often by extreme methods (through the toilet window, for example). It’s just another kick in the face for people who already feel abnormal and like they’ll never be taken seriously. Thanks for nothing.Raj and his selective mutism have a rather prominent role in the show, mainly for the amusement of the audience and characters. It’s a convenient low blow to fall back on for the writers. His inability to talk to girls is written off by other characters as just that. And when he makes the discovery that being drunk makes it vanish, he spirals into alcoholism, which is treated pretty lightly on the show. The fact he is incapable of talking to female characters is cause for much hilarity, because heaven forbid people are supportive and understanding.The depressed Stuart: they all gloss over his pessimistic and sad view of the world. It’s just so funny how miserable his life is! Haha, he has to take so many pills! What a dismal caricature of a man! His sole purpose seems to be to remind the others that someone has it worse, and aren’t they so nice to put up with him? In the beginning, he was such a promising character. I find it quite discouraging that he was reduced to a clichéd, overdone image of depression.
Finally, many people ranging from professionals to diagnosed individuals have remarked that Sheldon clearly has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Of course, this is never explicitly mentioned over the course of the entire series, which is more than likely how they get away with it. It’s interesting (and incredibly ableist) that Sheldon and his mother state that he isn’t crazy, because he was tested, yet by his mother’s own admission they were invited to follow up with a specialist. First of all is the issue of the word “crazy”, but other people can explain so much more eloquently than I could, so I will leave a link below. There’s nothing officially “wrong” with him, so they get to explain him away as an eccentric, selfish narcissist. But his habits and mannerisms are again only there to be made fun of – it’s so funny how he gets worked up over small or inconsequential things that no one else cares about. How will I ever stop laughing.
- Queerphobia.Okay, so one of the major issues here is sexuality. Apart from the “humourous” will-they-won’t-they of Howard and Raj (but oh god no, they can’t be gay), there are several . The fact that they also diminished the character of Amy to “creepy lesbian friend”, leering at the conventionally attractive and increasingly uncomfortable Penny, only serves to perpetrate the stereotype of WLW (women loving women) as predatory in nature, preying on “poor, innocent straight girls”. Not only is this harmful to lesbians, but also the exploration of bisexuality is a very real and possible explanation for her fixation with Penny (minus the uncomfortable aspects). If only show creators knew how to say the word!Moreover, Amy and Sheldon never seem to have a fixed sexuality. Far be it from me to deny the fluidity of sexuality, but the programme seems to change its mind depending on what will create the most drama. At the beginning of their relationship, the two were presented as asexual and/or aromantic, Amy arguably more so. However, it’s never phrased this way and is seen by everyone around them as a negative thing, in a very “but you have to have sex!!” way. Not only is this categorically untrue, but further serves to separate people who deviate from the conceived norm of relationships. As time goes on she begins to want more from him, something Sheldon clearly doesn’t want. Not only is this not a good image for healthy relationships -especially since it is the subject of many jokes in the series, it’s also completely disrespectful to Sheldon’s wishes and sexuality. They both develop more feelings for each other over the course of their relationship, which could be framed as being demisexual/romantic, but then again, this is television, and heteronormativity reigns supreme. It is necessary to reiterate that sexuality is not a joke, and unhappy or unwilling relationships are definitely not either.
While it should be awesome that an Indian man is one of the main characters of a sitcom, unfortunately Rajesh’s character is often little more than an easy target to pin tired stereotypes and shallow attempts for cheap laughs on. The scripts are peppered with digs towards India and poorly-disguised xenophobia. Nearly every episode apparently has to make some terrible joke about the country, the nationality, the accent, or the character. It’s demeaning and ridiculous. Poor show, CBS.Secondly, and this is probably more of an unconscious yet still as important racist issue: barely any of the characters are POC. The large majority are white, and I may not know much about big cities in America, but I am more than certain that in reality, the characters would have more interaction with non-white people who actually live in the country, rather than Raj’s parents and his barely-seen sister.
- The inane laugh track. Yes, I am including this. Not only is it excessively used to the point of redundancy, but it’s quite honestly a persistent command to laugh at its flimsy comedy and offensive content. To be frank, it comes off a little desperate.
A friend once pointed out to me that The Big Bang Theory would be much better, and way more interesting, if it focused on exploring the (platonic!!!) relationship between Sheldon and Penny. She seems to understand him more than any of the other characters, and they have a closer bond as well. If they eliminated all the mindless stereotypes and boring “drama”, it could be a sweet series about two friends learning to get each other. God knows there’s enough “romantic” programmes around.
Of course, I’m not saying you can’t be a fan of or watch these programmes (I still like Teen Wolf and The 100), this are just the reasons why I, personally, find them disappointing. It’s important to be a critical consumer, so maybe just keep some of these points in your mind when you do watch them. If you have any similar experiences with TV programmes then you are more than welcome to share them in the comments.
**I do not intend to speak over the experiences of any of the groups mentioned that I’m not a part of, so please tell me if I inadvertently misspoke or offended anyone.**
*I got a little annoyed, as you can probably tell. So basically, The 100 does have relatively few flaws compared to some other series, but the killing off of lesbian characters is a very widespread issue which needs to be resolved. Also, some aspects of it are fairly racist (for example the darkening of a white actress’ skin so she appears darker than an actual woman of colour).
More In-Depth Reading:
The Outrageous Sexism Of The Big Bang Theory
The Problem With The Big Bang Theory
Slut Shaming and Racism Are Funny
What’s Wrong With The Big Bang Theory
Asexuality In Popular Media
Big Bang Theory: The Detrimental Effects of “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested.”
The Big Bang Theory With No Laugh Track (Video)