The Big Bang Theory is about a group of scientists. They struggle with their romantic lives and, in the case of Jim Parsons’ Sheldon Cooper, everyday social interaction. As characters who are, by the traditional definition, not popular, and with interests in sci-fi and comic books, they are said to represent “geek culture.” The show is nonetheless one of television’s most-watched comedies, earning the affections of geeks and non-geeks alike.
In an interview with U.K. magazine The Big Issue published in March, Parsons responded to the proposition that The Big Bang Theory‘s popularity has “destroyed geekdom.” Parsons denied the assertion, stating that geek culture simply changes over time.
“God I hope not. Geek culture, like anything else, is an evolving thing. It is interesting to see a lot of things that were/are termed geek culture are now mainstream but that very thing leaves an empty space to be filled and therefore there’s something else that’s becoming geek culture as we speak. But it’s also a way of being, a state of mind.”
The Big Bang Theory has actually faced resistance from some self-proclaimed “nerds,” who say the show does not actually represent them or their interests. Writing in Uproxx last year, Dan Seitz said Big Bang is actually a generic sitcom whose “geeky” elements could easily be traded for any other gimmick, such as sports. Seitz goes on to argue that Big Bang is actually aimed at a general audience.
Variety critic Katherine Brodsky told The Guardian last year that The Big Bang Theory celebrates geek culture and allows audiences of all stripes to feel a part of it. Brodsky’s statements seem to bolster the assertion that Big Bang is subverting geek culture for mainstream appeal.
“This is the age of the geek and The Big Bang Theory’s popularity is a reflection of a massive cultural shift where we’re celebrating the brainy, the intellectual and the different – instead of making them an outcast. ‘Big Bang Theory’ lets audiences identify with and be part of that geek world. The jock and high school beauty queen are dead.”
Writing in Slate last fall as The Big Bang Theory was revving up for its eighth season, David Auerbach stated that mainstream “geek culture” has little tangible meaning.
“[W]hat our mass culture perceives to be geek culture is just a packaged set of marketable trends, as empty a brand as Gen X or millennials.”
On a personal level, Parsons told The Big Issue he can relate to at least one aspect of geek culture: feeling out of place. Since people are so used to seeing him play Sheldon Cooper, his true personality can take them by surprise. Sometimes he attracts attention that makes him feel uncomfortable.
“I should say first I find that, knock on wood, I have the most pleasant and wonderful interactions with strangers because of the show. But there are times when you notice people looking at you and even if you consciously know why, you do feel a little alien. It can be very disconcerting.”
The Big Bang Theory airs Thursdays on CBS.
[Jim Parsons image courtesy of Getty]