thanks to latimesblogs.latimes.com
Even in science fiction, scientists don’t often come off well. Take Frankenstein, for example, remembering, of course, that he was not the monster but rather the creator of the monster, and thus considered by many to be, well, a monster. It’s been 191 years since Mary Shelley’s tale was published but since then, stories written for a whole range of media and genres have featured a plethora of out-of-control lab geniuses (those mad scientists!) who are always mucking around with the laws of nature, creating mutants and doomsday weapons and unleashing man-made plagues, etc. All of it may be nothing more than fever-dream metaphors for what scientists really do — discover the data that generate worldviews that disconcert a large number of people — Copernicus and Galileo telling us that we are not the center of the universe; Darwin telling us that we are not the center of life; the neurobiologists that now may be telling us that we are not even the center of ourselves.
Damn scientists, they sure know how to darken the sunny celebrations of human self-centeredness.
In the face of all that, I would like to put forth the modest suggestion that scientists, as a group, are just as sane and socially capable as any other group of people. Which makes it a wry twist, I suppose, that I would also like to propose that the hit CBS sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” is the finest and best fictional portrayal of scientists in any current media — and a series that is carving out a spot for itself in the annals of television comedy.
“The Big Bang Theory” is not a family sitcom with a wise and knowing (or bumbling and oblivious) father, nor does it feature a single parent. It is not about East Coast friends who are beautiful or urban or beautifully urban. It does not focus on characters defined by their ethnic and/or social class. It is not about aliens or high school students or teachers, and it is not about doctors (not of the medical profession, at least). And it is not, by any stretch of the imagination, about Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms. Middle Class, Middle America, Middlebrow — the kind of characters that a vast audience can (supposedly) most relate to most easily.
What “The Big Bang Theory” is is a sitcom about scientists. Specifically, it’s about Leonard Hofstadter, an experimental physicist; Sheldon Cooper, a theoretical physicist; Howard Wolowitz, a spacecraft systems engineer; and Rajesh Koothrappali, a particle astrophysicist. They are not adventurously traveling through space (although I’m sure they wish they were), and they are not searching for clues to a murder. They are working scientists employed by Caltech, daily involved in theoretical, experimental and applied science. At least one of the four, Sheldon, is a certifiable genius; the other three possess superior intelligence and happen to be very good at their jobs. They are all mental giants. But the comic rub is, they are also — not meaning to be pejorative, just extending the metaphor — social midgets. They can wrestle with theoretical tangles but cannot pick up a girl in a bar. They can peer into the structure of the universe, but they can’t navigate simple social situations.
And the scientists’ lack of social skills does not set them apart from humanity, it actually defines their humanity.
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Go Sheldon!!…I mean YaY Big Bang Theory. For those who love comics, know the names of every Star Trek character, love sci-fi, this is for you. And if you don’t know it, you’ll learn a few things on the way 😉 With three seasons, funny jokes, a broken elevator and a finally Leonard & Penny couple, I’m sure that The Big Bang Theory will last a while longer. What do you think? Are you a fan of the show?