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Committed: Big Bang Theory Vs. Morgan Spurlock (or “When a Sitcom is Less Insulting than a Documentary”)

Like junk food, I expect my consumption of sitcoms to be unsatisfying and flippantly derogatory. I do not expect the same from films calling themselves “documentaries” but unfortunately that is what I experienced.

Last week an episode of the The Big Bang Theory (season 6, episode 13) featured the guys going to a small convention in costume, leaving their girlfriends to explore comic books. As usual, it was presented in a denigrating and ridiculous manner, belittling everyone involved. No big surprise, it was the usual mildly amusing collection of silly clichés played out by an ensemble of two-dimensional characters.

While I’ve written about the show before, I was careful not to express my own feelings lest I attract the fury of angry commenters. Ironically there will still plenty of comments from both sides; people angry at me for liking the show, and people angry at me for NOT liking the show. (I guess the moral of the story is not to worry too much about the fact that my having opinions might piss anyone off…) So here I am, telling you that I happily watch The Big Bang Theory. In fact, while I’m coming out with this not-very-interesting-revelation let me be really open; I watch a lot of terrible TV shows, and not just to mock and hate-watch them, but because I can get into them and enjoy them. I even like things I’m not supposed to, like Sherlock and Elementary. (I think the world is big enough for two shows about Sherlock Holmes.) I do all sorts of things I don’t talk about: I watch terrible romantic comedies about women with terrible value systems which I find embarrassing and destructive. I read some lousy comic books with bad art and lazy stories just because I like the characters. I go to crappy gossip websites and read about celebrities I don’t care about. I even eat unhealthy food on a regular basis. Shockingly, I can get into these things because my expectations of them are realistic. I know that these are disposable, pop-culture artifacts which will not feed my soul in any sustainable sense and I can enjoy them for what they are – trash.

Let’s set the scene; I’m sitting on the couch eating cookies for lunch even though I have a kale salad and steamed salmon with herbs already cooked. Yes, despite the tasty leftovers in my fridge, I am making a conscious decision to eat cookies and watch the much hated episode of The Big Bang Theory. After all the fury and crazy talk, it is quite dull, just what I expected – silly and just about amusing enough to outweigh how depressing and ridiculous it is. Just as I don’t expect to get any nutrients out of a cookie-lunch, or build muscles from sitting on the couch, I understand that this is a pretty low-quality sitcom and I get out of it what I expected to. To paraphrase Mr Smithers, I’m fine with wallowing in my own crapulence once in a while.

People and things insulted in this episode of The Big Bang Theory include:

  • superhero comic books are described as stupid in various ways
  • comic book shoppers are shown as unnatractive, poorly-dressed men who have never seen a woman
  • women are depicted as uninterested in comic books
  • women are also depicted as bitchy and mean to each other
  • male scientists are portrayed as socially inept with clichéd camp/homosexual tendencies
  • which leads to the fact that men who like dressing up and wearing make-up are depicted as having questionable sexuality
  • small, comic book-oriented conventions are disparaged as being not as good as the ones with movie stuff
  • convention attendees are shown slavishly attending, despite their supposed non-enjoyment of them
  • people who dress up for conventions are made to seem impractical and delusional about their appearance outside of conventions
  • Star Trek Next Generation fans are depicted as having little or no awareness of the “real” world
  • Diner waitresses and patrons are mean and bitchy
  • Car thieves are portrayed as stubbly men with shaven heads and tattoos

The list could go on and you know why. Tacky sitcoms are designed to depict a series of “amusing” stereotypes for the mass market in order to create advertising opportunities for a new market i.e. the “geek curious”. Sitcoms are not created to educate and enlighten. While a few may do this once in a while, they are the exception to the rule and to be applauded, but they are not the norm. Of course The Big Bang Theory doesn’t depict my interests as a comic book reader accurately, for the same reason it doesn’t accurately portray scientists, men, women, or relationships; because it is a just a dumb sitcom and like all sitcoms, it has almost nothing to do with the real, multifaceted nature of human culture.

A place where I do looked for a more informative, broad view of comic book culture is in a documentary, which is why I was so disappointed by Morgan Spurlock’s exploration of the San Diego Comic-Con; Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. Here is a film which purports to provide actual information about our comic book culture to the rest of the world, to be a sensible “documentary” film, offering real insight into Comic-Con and the attendees who love it. Spurlock has engaged comic book pros Joss Whedon and Stan Lee to “present” it with him (which doesn’t seem to translate to any overt involvement by the two so I’m not sure what that engendered on a practical level). Unfortunately it does not seem to have helped Spurlock to do anything more than present an extended Big Bang Theory episode to the world.

For some bizarre reason the bulk of this film focuses on five specific convention attendees, from their planning and preparation to attend, through to the end of their convention experience. None of these people are simple comic book readers who are excited to go to a conference to meet other comic book fans and hear creators talk about their work, not a single one. Instead there are people who want to be “in” the industry of comics or film, people who somehow expect to be deeply involved in the lives of comic book and film creators, and one is even an old-school comic book seller with a very tenuous grasp on the new economy. What unites them is not that they’re attending comic-con, but that they all have (unrealistic) expectations and dreams about how this one convention is going to change their lives. Not only is this not at all representative of the people attending the show, but it is not representative of most sane adults. While a convention or trip can be transformative, it is rarely in the ways we expect it to and most people are aware of this.

This strange choice of people to focus on is clearly simply to cater to the filmmakers’ idea of the audience’s expectations. In order to create something overtly marketable he focuses on these extremes, not on the reality of regular people who currently attend Comic-Con. I’ve been interested in comic books for most of my life (as have many of my friends), and the bulk of comic convention attendees are similar; we have regular jobs and a wide range of interests so our passion for the comic book medium and enjoyment of SDCC is a small facet of our personal life. The unifying factor amongst the many, many people I meet attending the convention is that we enjoy sharing our love of the medium, we like talking about the books with passion and enthusiasm to other people who share our interest, that is all. But I suppose that wasn’t inflammatory enough for the makers of this film.

The worst thing about Comic-Con – Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope is that it does the thing a documentary maker should never do – completely and absolutely changes the subject by filming it. It is obvious that every person that these five chosen people interact with is deeply aware of the cameras following them and they change their behavior accordingly. These poor, unfortunate caricatures become increasingly forced and awkward as the so-called documentary progresses and it becomes increasingly depressing to witness.

In between the semi-tragic stories of these socially awkward five individuals are a series of brief, one-on-one interviews with attendees, comic book creators, and actors at the convention. Filmed against a simple white backdrop, there is a simplicity to this format which could give an interesting insight into the people’s experience of the convention and what it means to them. However, while the comic book professionals are interesting, the large portion of interviews with attendees (again) focuses on choices which are predominantly clichés. Beyond lampooning the convention and insulting the attendees, there is no reason for Spurlock to have chosen only to show stereotypes of what non-comic book readers expect to see (i.e. overweight men, overweight women in corsets, underweight men with bad haircuts, etc.) The regular attendees I frequently bump into at Comic-Con are socially comfortable men and women who’re healthy, attractive, employed, getting laid (and they look it.) To go out of his way to find only antiquated stereotypes shows a disregard for the convention, for the medium, and most of all for the audience.

While I expect disposable sitcoms to ridicule and lampoon my interests, I do not expect this from a so-called documentary. It is far more disappointing and depressing and I can only hope that people who are interested in learning more about the passion we share for comic books will see it for the utter rubbish it is.

71 Comments

As someone who uses a GPS I was very offended by the characters’ use of a GPS in that episode.

I know that all documentaries have a viewpoint. That’s why I avoid Spurlock’s stuff. His viewpoints tend to be overly antagonistic. It’s like he makes these films just to piss people off. I’m not interested.

I do see a lot of weirdos at cons, but I think that’s just typical of humanity. Give people a reason to gather and the weirdos will appear. Every person who has attended a major sporting event knows this. Comics just aren’t enjoyed by as many people so I guess it’s easy to view the fans as “others”.

TBBT is hilarious. I don’t know why anyone would have been offended by last week’s episodes. It doesn’t ring true to my comic-book-store-going experience, but it’s not supposed to be real life.

I don’t know in what magical kingdom Ms Harris consumes her pop-culture, but over the course of my 26 years of comic book reading and convention attending and time spent with non-comic book readers I have experienced exactly the sorts of things depicted in TBBT.

As someone said, it’s not real life, but it is pretty typical (and yes, sometimes stereotypical) of the nerdy world I grew up in.

The thing that no one really talks about is how true-to-life the women’s argument was about Thor’s hammer. Julie and I were falling on the floor laughing over that one, having been present at many CBR barbecues at Mission Beach where beered up fans and pros were roaring at each other about…

1. Hal Jordan is NOT a misogynist dammit! (despite a pretty big pile of damning evidence to the contrary… someday I gotta get a copy of Beau Yarbrough’s “Hal Jordan Hall of Shame” list to put up on the blog here.)
2. Capes.
3. Whether or not working in comics leads directly to mental illness. (I would totally write that one up too except it’s libelous.)
4. Jim Croce and Superman.

…and so on. not to mention all the wrangles on the blog here over where or not Peter Parker and Betty Brant DID IT, or if Commander Steel’s package is too big and whether or not saying so makes you homophobic. After all those, the women of Big Bang arguing about lifting Thor’s hammer starts to look scholarly.

Sitcoms are supposed to depict extreme personalities etc and I can see how that can turn people off , I like BBT but I can see why others wouldn’t. But to play up to those extremes under the guise of impartiality of a documentary is not cool, agree totally with the writer here

Please just take into account we’re discussing Chuck Lorre and Morgan Spurlock.

Your point “…I get out of it what I expected to…” is a good one, and well described. Personally The Big Bang Theory is not for me, but similarly I do have shows, movies, comics, books which I’ll go to knowing that they might be… average, maybe sub-par, but still give me that little something I want. (In some cases I’ll find myself having to wade through mediocrity to get to some nuggets of entertaining gold.)

I’m tempted to call this a “guilty pleasure”, but usually “guilty pleasures” apply to entertainment which provides a great deal of enjoyment, yet one is embarrassed to admit this. Such as adults who love My Little Pony, or an adult purchasing a Happy Meal from McDonalds just for themselves. For what you’re talking about the word “pleasure” feels too strong, and I don’t sense the “guilt”. Perhaps we can invent a new word or phrase for this.

I have to agree with Sonia here.

Nerd-jokes-for-the-sake-of-being-nerd-jokes are just so incredibly played out and irrelevant nowadays. What’s funny about them anymore? We’re living in a post-‘Revenge of the Nerds’ future. The public finally sees the nerdier among us as quirky rather than cripplingly awkward–and even accepts that we’re all a bit awkward anyway. TBBT & Comic-Con jokes are just SO trite and recycled, they rank right up there with Jay Leno’s comedy (which I’m pretty sure has also covered Comic-Con in the same manner). I wouldn’t say the content of such lazy humor offends me on a personal level, but its banality certainly does.

I’d actually like to see this article re-posted around the interwebs to reach a larger audience–but with maybe some better proofreading (sorry).

I like Big Bang Theory, so meh shoot me.

Have one of those female blogging sites make a documentary from their point of view. Instead of tweeting or blogging about it, go one step further and show their healthy lives. Same for men who work at DC or Marvel.

One documentary from one point of view doesn’t say it all. I live along in an apt because I live in NY and taxes would be very draining if I brought a house plus I would still be living alone. So there’s reasons for everything.

Some day I would like to see a culture where being a geek as a single external aspect of a person’s identity, like being a fan of a sports team, or working at a particular place. Unfortunately, many geeks’ identities seem to involve making one’s entire persona based around being a fan of pop cultural ephemera, which is reflected and perpetuated in pop culture itself.

Correction, Sonia–MODERN sitcoms are the ones that “create advertising opportunities for a new market”. CLASSIC ones–I.E., The Honeymooners, I Love Lucy, Bewitched, The Odd Couple, The Monkees, etc.–created advertising opportunities for everything from cigarettes to appliances to plastic ware. BIG distinction.

Also, you admit that you watch all manner of terrible shows because even you, who has advocated for more high-quality fare, enjoy them. Do you know anyone, or know of someone, who won’t take ‘crap’ from any network/publisher/the like and only focuses on high-quality?

“Star Trek Next Generation fans are depicted as having little or no awareness of the “real” world”

This one’s actually true. TOS, FTW.

Thank you for putting into words what I’ve been trying to say for years – REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS! Nobody should watch a Van Damme movie expecting to see the next Citizen Kane. If the comics succeeds at doing what it sets out to do – provide an entertaining experience – it’s worth the money for me. Maybe I’m like Jason Mewes in that I don’t think I’ve ever read a bad comic (but I have read some fucking BRILLIANT comics), but rarely is it that I feel like I wasted my money on a comic. Sometimes I’m disappointed, but usually there are enough positives about it to get it past my 50/50 point in quality (which means it was enjoyable, and thus not a waste of money). The world needs criticism, but anybody calling for the blood of Rob Liefeld (like I frequently see online) is being way too uptight about things.

Because I’ve read test comments on sites that discuss comics and comic books I guess I can understand a derogatory opinion about TBBT every now and then, but I never could have predicted the voluminous amounts of vitriol I see thrown at this show over and over again.
I can see not liking a particular type of humor or maybe iiking or disliking an actor but what is with these comic fans who write these demonstrative remarks, saying in effect that that’s not how comic fans act.
Really?
You know EVERY comic fan out there?

So…. in that respect, EVERY bar patron acts like those shown on “Cheers”,
EVERY New York City cop acted like those on “Barney Miller”,
All radio stations have the exact type of people who were depicted on “W.K.R.P. In Cincinnati”,
“The Brady Bunch” was exactly how all white suburban families lived in the late 1960’s early 1970’s.

Sonia mentions it from time to time in her article but I’ll state it flatly here, Sitcoms are NOT documentaries of real life.

Dear comic fans all over the inter webs, TBBT is NOT depicting you. They’re broad characters written and acted that way to elicit laughs. They’re not going to depict how EVERY comic fan acts because, you know, not every one acts alike. So they poke fun at people who are obsessed over habits or hobbies. And so what if you happen to have a similar habit or hobby. They’re NOT writing about you.

TBBT walks an interesting line between nerd-humor and making jokes out of nerds. Sometimes they do a really good job straddling it, making it entertaining for a lot of people. Other times it veers too hard into making fun of the characters and their pursuits in a way that’s typical mean-spirited sitcom mockery.

This episode does both, I think. When the girls get caught up arguing with each other over picking up Thor’s hammer and his power source and so forth, it’s pretty damn funny to me. The stuff with the guys cosplaying has some decent lines, but the concepts behind them aren’t as kindly. instead of “isn’t this silly and funny” it’s “aren’t these people pathetic”.

The show is at its best when it’s rolling the geeky insider humor and the guys are joking with each other like friends would. When it brings the science and doesn’t forget that these are really gifted people. But it falls off the rails for me the more it treats its characters as objects of ridicule.

Haven’t seen Spurlock’s documentary, but can’t say I’m surprised. It’s always easier to go for the cheap laugh, the obvious stereotype then to tell the more complex story. An honest depiction is probably going to have one of those stereotypical people in it, because that guy is still showing up and is part of the whole show. But it’s a) not a very good or honest documentary, b) really lazy filmmaking, and c) missing a lot more interesting things and people that would make it appeal to a much broader audience.

@Richard J. Marcej

To be fair, Cheers had different people. Womanizer and innocent. Married and not married. Intellectual, wannabe intellectual, and happily not even close. The annoying guys you don’t want to be stuck with and the guys that are everybody’s friends. It wasn’t exactly a cross-section of America (and it really shouldn’t have been), but you’ve got a decent variety of barflies and bar employees. It also avoids the most negative bar figures. It at most has a loveable alcoholic, and none that obviously need to make immediate lifestyle changes. There are no dangerous angry drunks. No one gets dangerously drunk in general. Etc.

Barney Millar had a whole station of lovable cops, but again they had an acceptable bit of variety between them, and outside of what just goes with being a cop. And again, no negatives. No corrupt cops. No one that shoots first and asks questions later. No one who roughs up a kid for the crime of having the wrong skin color in the wrong part of town.

WKRP as well.

TBBT does carry a bit more of a negative edge than those shows. TBBT is more willing to go to the negative stereotypes and images for bits of humor than the other shows above would do. (Though, also to be fair, it is certainly “safer” to make humor out of nerd stereotypes than to make humor out of a guy drinking himself to death or a dirty cop.) And the characters aren’t quite as varied, particularly when you get beyond the “geek”-related issues.

As someone who started off as a smart, awkward kid, and grew into a weird adult who’s been to comic shops, gaming clubs, and cons for pretty much ever, I’ve met people in the geek/nerd/whatever spectrum who are cool and socially well-adjusted, as well as ones who are so creepy and pathetic as to make the BBT characters seem incredibly tame and normal by comparison. Therefore, I never really gave much credence to the idea that the show treats us particularly badly. It’s a comedy, and comedic characters are by necessity the butts of jokes. Geek culture, after all, is pretty big now, and it has plenty of foibles which are rife for teasing. While the show stopped being to my taste awhile back (right around when the relationship drama overwhelmed the humor), I am always stunned by the utter lack of proportion some people carry their distaste to. Calling it a minstrel show for nerds strikes me as the criticism of someone who probably has weaker social skills and empathy than even Sheldon.

While I am a fan of TBBT, Sheldon’s obvious Asperger’s Syndrome, and the way it’s constantly used as a comic device always makes me slightly uneasy. This is likely the result of having been working in the disability industry for 20 yrs and seeing similar people in similar situations, but with very different results – segregation, withdrawal, and isolation.

@Billy
“TBBT does carry a bit more of a negative edge than those shows”

I agree, though I believe that goes for just about every form of comedy for the masses theses days.
Compare the sitcoms and movie comedies to those of, oh, 30, 40 years ago. Much like how super hero comics began to embrace dark and edgy for all their characters and books, comedy has become harsher, snarkier and overall nastier.

[…] put my finger on why until I read an article on the website comicbookresources.com. Click HERE for the […]

” While I am a fan of TBBT, Sheldon’s obvious Asperger’s Syndrome, and the way it’s constantly used as a comic device always makes me slightly uneasy. This is likely the result of having been working in the disability industry for 20 yrs and seeing similar people in similar situations, but with very different results – segregation, withdrawal, and isolation. ”

Which would, unfortunately, make The Big Bang Theory an actual minstrel show.

Once I tried to watch this show. I only watched 4 minutes because it was painful. Laugh track every time they spoke!

I’ve seen neither of these things, but I do have one quibble. I can’t think of any documentary in which the interviewees aren’t hyperaware of being filmed and change their behavior accordingly, although some are better at hiding it than others. That’s inherent in being filmed, unless it’s a hidden camera or something. It may be more egregiously noticeable here than usual (or not–as I say, I haven’t seen it), but I wouldn’t call it “the thing a documentary maker should never do” so much as the thing every documentary maker does.

This just stood out to me because I interview people for a living (not for broadcast, just recorded for print articles), and of course no one talks to me the way they would normally, if they didn’t have to be “on,” though again some do that more naturally than others.

It was Mr Burns, not Smithers.

“No big surprise, it was the usual mildly amusing collection of silly clichés played out by an ensemble of two-dimensional characters.”

In other words, it was a TV sitcom.

First of all, to the commenters above, the writers have been pretty forthcoming of the fact that Sheldon does not have Aspergers, for much the same reason you outlined: it makes the show disturbing instead of funny. And it’s not even really that funny anymore.

As for the article itself, I can definitely agree that the depiction of geek girls (as in, they don’t exist) is really pathetic. I personally subscribe to the fan theory that women avoid Stewart’s shop because they know it’s a hive of misogyny where merely walking into it treats you to uncomfortable stares.

But the girls (who, btw, are the best part of the show and should get their own spinoff) in this episode seemed, as Greg Hatcher said up above, incredibly real. Frankly the fact that Stewart showed them an actual good book with cross-market appeal before they focus on the shallower entertainment (“ooh, Thor! He’s pretty!”) told me that this wasn’t supposed to be indicative of the comics experience as a whole.

I’m just glad they didn’t make the comic book= graphic novel false equivalency thing that everyone else in the media seems to. Of the book is less ten 30 pages, there’s no way it’s a novel!

TBBT is one of my favourite shows, I also read comic books. Anyone offended by this show is most likely offended by many many other things that are satire.
All of the things listed in the list of things complained about have at one point or other been true of someone out there, or at least an element of them at some level. Women at one point were generally not interested in comic books (I say in general as I remember going to comic shops and NEVER seeing females present, 20 years or so ago)
Women in general are bitchier than men (My girlfriend confirmed this during a discussion, so that’s coming from a female) and any other women I know would mostly agree with that.
Car thieves are portrayed as stubbly men with shaven heads and tattoos – They are, I’ve seen all of them together at a thieves convention.
People should lighten up and learn to laugh at themselves, the things they like and are into that others aren’t, and stop complaining about every little thing that displeases them.
The phrase “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything” is my favourite one, most of the time I manage to keep to it and my life is one full of smiles and good times.
Try it sometime.

I can’t stand TBBT not because it’s ‘making fun of nerds/nerd culture but because it’s incredibly banal and cheap with its jokes. Easy obvious ‘laughs’ that are just painful.

As for the comic con doc the article seems to ignore the guy who proposes to his GF. They were a ‘normal’ couple who were going to comic con just to go to comic con and see people they liked. He of course had the hidden agenda of proposing to his girlfriend but that wasn’t any sort of industry/career launcher.

“Some day I would like to see a culture where being a geek as a single external aspect of a person’s identity, like being a fan of a sports team, or working at a particular place. Unfortunately, many geeks’ identities seem to involve making one’s entire persona based around being a fan of pop cultural ephemera, which is reflected and perpetuated in pop culture itself.”

Move to a major metro area. Most people don’t bat an eyelash when I mention the fact I’m a comic book reader. It’s just another aspect of my personality.

In my opinion, Conan O’Brien (Albeit inadvertently) has done more for geek culture than any one person in history. He uses self derision very often, but he’s also exhibited that an individual can seem to have a wide array of atypical interests while still being well liked.

I have not watched the TBBT for years…but, I did watch Spurlock’s film a few months ago…

If you look at it in the context of a serious documentary, you will, of course, be disappointed…

But, if you consider it a “documentary” in the sense that Jersey Shore, for example, is a “reality show”, it isn’t so bad…

@catsmeow, sure the show is supposed to be funny, but reinforcing old stereotypes isn’t really funny because it’s dated and dumb. Plus, people who aren’t into comics aren’t even aware it’s a dated stereotype–to them this is shorthand for how pop culture junkies really behave and look. Everyone gets that it’s TV, but people are lazy and they’d rather apply that way of looking at things to the rest of their interactions as well.

I know this from experience. I have a coworker who constantly calls me and another geeky coworker by our TBBT “nicknames”. We’re nothing like those characters (for one thing, we don’t work in science). But to that first coworker, we’re just stereotypes and not worth getting to know on a personal level. It’s humiliating more to her than to us, but it ends up being destructive to all three.

Big Bang Theory makes fun of nerds, because if it didn’t, it wouldn’t be a COMEDY! Us nerds need to embrace a nerd comedy. The Office makes fun of office people being incompetent. Everybody Loves Raymond makes fun of families. Seinfeld makes fun of everyone in New York. Judd Apatow tears down his main characters. And so on. You HAVE to make fun of someone for it to be considered a COMEDY. We should be glad that finally, the zeitgeist has called for a nerd comedy. And the fact that it is the highest rated comedy on television? That’s just the icing on the Spider-Man cake!

I fail to see why a sitcom should cater to your desires. To do so would deprive it of all opportunity to be entertaining or have any comedic value whatsoever.

I am a ‘geek’ very much like the ones on the show. I wear shirts very much like Sheldon’s daily, am an RPGer (online and table top) and have some semblance of intelligence. My wife is a beautiful woman who had no exposure to the geek world before me. Going to comic shops and game stores with me over the years, she has frightened all manner of smelly nerd simply with her presence, and been hit on in all manner of odd ways – even in Klingon.

My point is, what you point out as being ‘offensive’ is simply exploitation of stereotype – a stereotype that has a firm basis in reality as I have experienced it. To avoid all possibilities of offending anyone would drain it of personality and make it far too bland to prosper.

If something offends me, I don’t rail at the heavens for it to be removed, I simply move along to something positive. Of course, that doesn’t get me hits on the intrawebz . . .

I know how you feel. This one time, I watched this documentary about Abraham Lincoln, and when it was over I found myself thinking, “WTF, not all presidents do things like this! What an unrealistic account of presidents. I’m upset.”

” First of all, to the commenters above, the writers have been pretty forthcoming of the fact that Sheldon does not have Aspergers, for much the same reason you outlined: it makes the show disturbing instead of funny. And it’s not even really that funny anymore. ”

That’s good to know. thank you.

That’s boring! C’mon, have a laugh!

” Move to a major metro area. Most people don’t bat an eyelash when I mention the fact I’m a comic book reader. It’s just another aspect of my personality. ”

I should’ve made it clearer that I was addressing how geeks view themselves just as much as how other people view geeks. When you see things like this video;

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ5iwGApwLM

; and you see how staunchly the subject adheres to his identity as a geek, how little he seems to have going on outside of his fandoms (based on what we see in this video, anyway), and how oblivious he is to the fact that this is what’s standing in his way.

TBBT is my favorite show. It’s hilarious. I love all the comic jokes. for what it’s worth I’m 30 years old and my parents used comics to help teach me to read, so I’ve been reading them all my life. I have taken my wife to the comic store with me and gotten some strange looks from the guys who were there. Once she went when we were dating and a guy came up to me and said, “you got your girlfriend to come to the comic book store! That’s awesome!” Those people do exist.

forgot to add that the one time she went to a store without me in her college town (because she kindly tracked down some issues I had been looking for) she walked in without me and felt really strange and uncomfortable. Though, that’s probably says more about that individual store and not the genre as a whole.

To paraphrase Mr Smithers, I’m fine with wallowing in my own crapulence once in a while.
Did you just pull that quote out of thin air? Because Smithers never ever said it. The actual quote was from Mr. Burns “Smithers had thwarted my earlier attempt to take candy from a baby, but with him out of the picture, I was free to wallow in my own crapulence.” It’s not even listed on the page that you linked it to on IMDB.

Man, why do people with nothing else to contribute always equate criticism with censorship? Saying something isn’t good, or even that it’s offensive, is not the same as saying that it should be removed. Why is that so difficult to understand?

The thing I was most annoyed about was the quote wrongly attributed to Smithers.

Also, if ANY sitcom actually perfectly represented real life, they’d be a million times less funny than they already are. I don’t know how anyone can find an episode of Big Bang offensive. It’s harmless.

I remember when BBT first came out and I did not want to watch it. There had been comedies before that centered on nerds as main characters that just missed the point of being a nerd, and I just did not want to go through watching another one. Then, my wife said she saw an episode and laughed out loud because characters reminded her of me and my friends, so I gave it a shot. I enjoyed it, because it was spot on with the depiction of these 4 nerdy guys, and I could definitely see some of me and my friends in there. Can it get stereotypical? Sure, but stereotypes are sometimes made because they are true. You comment on the stereotype of poorly dressed men who are shy around women attending comic shops, but that describes my comic shop, though I have to admit to not being friends with people who attend it.
I have a feeling that part of the problem you have with BBT is the same problem with most sitcoms: The successful ones tend to focus on losers, whether they be people who do not want to be in the situation they are in (MASH) or people who never quite get what they want. BBT definitely fits into the second, as the characters have trouble attaining certain goals (like finding love) because of their nerdiness. I think it works because I did have trouble finding love because of my nerdiness, and so did many of my friends. At the same time, people who are not nerds can watch this show and smirk about how they are happy they are not nerds because they would be as messed up as these main characters.
As for Morgan Spurlock, I am surprised you put him in such high regard. Yes, he is a documentarian, but he comes from the same school of renegade documentarianists like Michael Moore where they are not trying to discover the facts, but are showing their view on a certain subject. Because of this, you often get documentaries from these guys that are slanted a particular way. It does not surprise me that his documentary about comic conventions is bad, because I have yet to see a documentary I’ve liked about conventions, because they are often skewed towards making fun of the attendees. I think this is because Spurlock and other documentary film makers are outsiders on all of this, and I wonder what a documentary by an insider of conventions would look like. Part of me thinks the mundanes aren’t ready to know the truth though. I recently saw a tv special about the 100 things guys can do to not get laid, and one of them is attend a sci fi convention. This immediately made me laugh, because the idiot who made this special obviously does not have a clue about what happens at conventions, and why I, for example, attend them. There’s an independent film I love called Gypsy 83 which perfectly depicted my feelings when I first entered a sci fi convention. In the movie, the two main characters, who are considered freaks in their small town, enter an event called ‘Night of 1,000 Stevies’, look around to see a crowd of like minded people there for the first time in their lives, and smile and utter, “We are home.”
Finally, I have to comment on your point that the regular attendees that you see are all well adjusted, attractive, employed people. I cannot help but feel you have a perspective different from the rest of the fan community, because you are a professional attending these cons, so, obviously, your circle of friends are professionals. I find myself in the center of both extremes, since the people I hang out with at cons range from people who have become successful because they have both embraced their nerdiness and found a way to make it work for them professionally and personally, and those who fall into the stereotypes you wish to deny exist. Still, I used to be a member of the second group, and it took me a long time to crawl out of that, and, to be perfectly honest, I am not entirely out of it yet.

First, well written article. One should never be afraid to express their opinions and people need to respect the fact that we won’t all agree and stop the needless bickering and cruelty often found online.

To the meat of it, I can agree with the last third or so of your article, especially as it pertains to actual attendees interviewed and how those on camera are likely changing their behavior. As far as the documentary focusing on dealers and aspiring professionals is concerned, the only thing that the doc is guilty of is having a title that’s a bit of a misnomer. I think many outside of the comics culture would find it interesting to see that the convention is not just for entertainment, but is also a giant job fair and that this is how many try to break into the biz. I also think the focus on Mile High Comics shows the realities (to an extent) of selling print in an increasingly digital age and at a time when comics are losing audience to TV, movies and video games (as seen at the con itself). Perhaps the doc lacks proper focus and doesn’t know what it wants to be.

I agree, it would be refreshing to see a doc on the “average” comic con attendee, or showing these people range from those perpetuating the cliches to just average people. As you said though, that likely wouldn’t be “sensational” enough.

Again, in the end your opinions are your own and you have just as much right to express them as anyone else. Whether people agree or not is rather inconsequential other than it spurs debate and conversation (and interest) about the medium of comics and that is always a good thing.

While that Spurlock documentary is certainly lacking, I didn’t think the Holly Conrad section was particularly semi-tragic. She is shown as talented, surrounded by friends, and reveling in the enjoyment of making costumes. Her “hope” — winning the Masquerade — is something that is actually attainable and reflective of that portion of ComicCon. It certainly didn’t seem forced to me. It also didn’t appear that she was trying to use the contest as a stepping stone to other things.

The single biggest structural problem with film was profiling two people trying to break in. I can see following around a single hopeful, but having a couple — one who seemed utterly unprepared from the word go — creates an imbalance and excludes the greater mass of people who are just there to have fun. To me, it seemed like the obvious balance would have been retailer, cosplayer, hopeful, attendee, pro. Come to think of it, following around someone like Bill Willingham or Cliff Chiang might’ve been interesting and offered the “working the Con” viewpoint.

I can’t even remember the fifth profile, now that I think about it. Was it “geek love?” A guy hoping to propose to his girl in Hall H?

“and you see how staunchly the subject adheres to his identity as a geek, how little he seems to have going on outside of his fandoms (based on what we see in this video, anyway), and how oblivious he is to the fact that this is what’s standing in his way.”

Such is the case with a zealotous fan of anything. Sports fans are guilty of the same sort of behavior, as an example of a more widely accepted hobby.

Some people just can’t develop their own identity outside of their fandom. That’s not really exclusive to comic fans.

Note: I’m going off your description. I don’t have the capability of watching the video currently.

Kevin to the B.

January 17, 2013 at 9:54 am

“disposable sitcom”? Really author, please do some research to match your obvious disdain. It’s one of the most beloved and lucrative sitcoms out there right now. It has doubled the size of it’s audience since it arrived six years ago. It started at the low 60s for it’s first season and is now a top 5 show six years later. That is VERY rare.

Mike & Molly is a disposable sitcom. BBT is a mega-hit obviously made by people who seriously love comics… but are willing to laugh at themselves.

“Geek Curious” is that a syndrome or a fetish? Enjoy Big Bang, didn’t see the movie, liked the article. later!

Not gonna lie, I enjoy the Big Bang Theory for the same reasons Sonia does, but I just can’t get behind this episode that presumes a gender stereotype that was outdated LONG before this show ever began.

And yeah, that whole riff on how the Comic-Con documentary follows people with unrealistic dreams? Well, one of those five–whose name I can’t remember, but I know she was a cosplay enthusiast–actually wound up working IN the movie costuming industry as a result of the film. So yeah, unrealistic…not really.

Yay! Finally someone else who is willing to say “Yes, it’s stupid, but I like it.” That being said, I agree with Greg that the nature of the Thor’s Hammer argument was so spot on. It basically saved the episode for me after the stupid scene in the comic shop. I informed my mother that Penny was in fact right about the hammer being liftable in space.
And I’ll also chime in in agreement with those who expected that kind of crap from Spurlock. He’s the worst so-called documentarian I’ve ever heard of. He’s always been crass, exploitative, and massively biased.

Lady, you gots LOTS of learning to do.

I feel very sorry for you.

It’s always fun to flip through the comments and see how many people completely missed the point. Why it’s necessary to defend the show from mild criticism with teeth bared is beyond me. The show is pretty darn popular. You don’t need to defend something that millions already enjoy.

The Big Bang Theory is disposable in much the same way as a #1 song by the likes of Katy Perry. People may remember it some years from now but there will always be more of the same to replace it.

Bottom Line you need to have a thicker skin and be able to laugh at yourself. These are Caricatures people. My wife and I watch the show together and find it amusing for what it is. Were they depicting stereotypes in the shop when the women waked in…Sure they were!
Let’s be honest though…we’ve all seen the guy in the Captain America (or similar) T-Shirt tucked into the sweatpants at one time in our LCS!

@ P. Boz

I have to disagree with your first comment; it is more sad than fun, and the post right before yours highlights that. Every thing else you wrote I agree with.

The point of the article is that Ms Harris like TBBT, views it as light entertainment and does not expect much from it, and that she expects a documentary film to try and analyse its subject fairly and honestly, not to make an effort to make it look silly and hold it up for ridicule.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

January 17, 2013 at 1:22 pm

I’ll admit that I’ve only watched TBBT very casually, but it really doesn’t seem that far-fetched. Pretty much everyone who writes comments on a comic book website acts exactly like Sheldon. The only unrealistic bit about the character is that he actually has a succesful career,.

I don’t really care what the creators say about Sheldon having/ not having Aspergers Syndrome. It’s in their best interests to say he doesn’t because they know that it will fall into the realms of offensive. He clearly is portrayed as a caricature of someone with Aspergers. Anyone who has ever worked in the disability field can see he is a caricature of someone with Aspergers. It’s not debatable.
Bill Clinton told us outright that he, “did not have sexual relations with that woman,” and we all know how that panned out. Just because the writers say it’s not a fish, doesn’t mean it’s not a fish. The proof is in the pudding.

Wikipedia entry
In an interview, Jim Parsons noted Sheldon “couldn’t display MORE traits” of Asperger’s. Parsons, who plays Sheldon, has read John Elder Robison’s memoir Look Me in the Eye about his life with Asperger syndrome, and said that: “A majority of what I read in that book touched on aspects of Sheldon”. He also stated that “the way [Sheldon’s] brain works, it’s so focused on the intellectual topics at hand that thinking he’s autistic is an easy leap for people watching the show to make”.

@Jamie

Exactly. Maybe the writers didn’t realize they were creating a character with Asperger’s, and maybe they now realize that it would be creepy if they’d meant to, but they clearly did create a character with those traits. They might have gotten it from people they knew, but then if so, those people had Asperger’s. I’m glad Parsons gets it. I like the show, though honestly less lately than before in part due to some of the concerns the author raises, but Sheldon is becoming less forgivably funny-but-odd and more simply nasty. Before he seemed not to understand why others were bothered by his actions/words, but now it seems to have moved beyond not noticing to almost thinking they deserve his scorn because he’s above them. Implicit before, more explicit now.

Surprized she wasn’t mad the carjackers weren’t black and Hispanic. But let’s just be honest. Women are bitchy. Always have been, always will be. Most patrons in comic shops look like the customers in Stuart’s shop. Sure there are more well adjusted people who purchase comix now but in my 26 years of being a CBG, it has been primarily dorks with poor fashion sense because they blow all their cash on books. Just plain old reality but in sitcoms you have to push the notions of stereo types to the breaking point. Or else viewers won’t care and money won’t be made

Spurlock trades in bad insulting stereotypes and exploitative crassness. For example, check his segment in the Freakonomics documentary. It was jaw-droppingly racist.

Yea ! Comic Con was a disappointment. I share your overall perspective. It was not at all about the event. The piece could have been set at any of the larger comic or gaming gatherings. San diego was only a backdrop. Kinda joyless and staged.

@T-Rex: If the people at your shop are primarily like that then you need to find a new shop. Unless you yourself are like that. Then please stay away from the cool comic shops were you live.

I found the show odd that a guy who works at NASA is deemed the lesser of the group just because he doesn’t have a doctorate. Big deal, he works at NASA. That’s the coolest geek job of all time. Not to mention there’s a couple of them that have gotten way to much ‘action’ to be asocial around woman. Just saying.

I have no real opinion on this whole thing other than the following.

I found it funny that the ladies were discussing Thor’s hammer only days after the same discussion was had in this very blog under Drawing Crazy Patterns.

Wow..what a terribly bitter and indifferent person you seem to be. My sympathies.

You know, its just a show. Its only purpose is to provide some light entertainment. It doesn’t need to be analyzed to the nth degree. It doesn’t need to be searched for deeper meaning and hidden agendas.

Lighten up a bit.

It would probably be easier to take this article seriously if the author didn’t come off so completely obnoxious in it. It’s not enough for the author to say that TBBT wasn’t quality television; she had to stress the point that it (like the sitcom genre as a whole) was unsatisfying, derogatory trash. Mind you, it’s unsatisfying, derogatory trash that the author stresses that happily watches, but so we’re clear, it’s trash, because it’s important to stress how beneath the author this show is.

The author also needs to stress that while watching the show, she will be dining on “cookies for lunch even though I have a kale salad and steamed salmon with herbs already cooked.” We should be grateful for this review, since the author has spent hours bouncing from Whole Foods to Trader Joe’s to various farmers markets in search of the perfect, free-range organic ingredients to construct this lunch which if you do not understand its deliciousness it is because you probably enjoy sitcoms, you plebeian. She will eat the cookies while she watches the sitcom, because that is what the common people do, isn’t it? They eat the cookies and watch the sitcoms and ride the autobus to their employment factories where they make widgets or tin foil or whatever they sell in those horrible Wall Marts.

The irony of criticizing a show for using general stereotypes, only to make generalizations about the sitcom genre as a whole wasn’t lost here. I understand the basis for the article was to rip on Spurlock’s documentary, but when you waste a third of your article establishing how great *you* are, then another third contradicting yourself by stating how you like TBBT but breaking down into fine detail how depressing, low-quality, denigrating, and belittling the show is, it makes it difficult to take your review seriously.

A person who feels that way about a show doesn’t watch it. This comes off as an attempt to cater to both sides of the argument – you say yourself that you expect angry comments from those who like the show and those who don’t – but by rehashing the common criticisms of the show while in the same breath stating you happily watch it you come off as someone who wants to appeal to everyone. That’s not criticism – that’s pandering. Either you actually feel that way about the show and you’re saying that you watch it to keep from being called out for not even watching the product that you’re criticizing, or you’re a regular viewer of the show that actually enjoys watching it but is afraid to admit liking a show that is considered to be stereotypical and derogative to the majority of people who would read this website. You can’t have it both ways.

Or maybe I just need to have some kale salad to better understand.

@MrWorkrate

Perhaps her relationship to the show is far more complicated that simply love or hate. Perhaps you’re simplifying her experience for rhetorical purposes. To wit, there exists a common (practically universal) concept of the guilty pleasure. Thanks to residual media, our access to an infinite amount of art means we have the ability to choose the best possible art we can, but we never do, do we? We choose easy stuff and we feel guilty about watching The Big Bang Theory when we could be watching a complex or nuanced sitcom from the UK. We watch things we know we shouldn’t, but these things alternately give pleasure and shame.

Her premise is not pandering. Rather, it’s her clumsy way of negotiating that tension between the pleasure of safety and the guilt of not taking advantage of high art. The cookies and the kale salad are not an attempt to show how much better she is (dude, you can get kale and salmon at EVERY grocery store, not just Trader Joe’s) but to illustrate her perception of her responsibility to “healthy” behaviour but her desire for “unhealthy” behaviour.

Personally, I hate this show, but I hate Spurlock even more. I’m torn on this one.

The reason Morgan Spurlock’s movie is about exceptional attendees probably has something to do with it. . .well, being a movie. I mean, really, imagine YOU’RE making a documentary; what do you film, the exceptional or the mundane?

I’m not saying you’re wrong, mind you; it certainly wasn’t representative of MY fandom. I just don’t think it was meant to be offensive. I could be giving the fellow too much credit, though.

There is a large subset of people who go to cons thinking it will get them “in” the business. With some of them, it works. These would be cosplayers, some who somehow make a living dressing up and going to all the conventions.

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