When looking at perceptions of science in the media it’s impossible to ignore the influence of extremely popular television show “The Big Bang Theory.” Strangely enough however, there’s no real consensus on whether the show is beneficial or harmful to these perceptions.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven years, “The Big Bang Theory” is an American sitcom which follows five characters living in Pasadena California. Leonard Hofstadter and Sheldon Cooper are physicists who live together, Howard Walowitz is an aerospace engineer and Raj Koothrappali is an astrophysicist. The other character Penny, is a waitress who aspires to be an actor who is portrayed as not as intelligent as the others but more socially competent.There’s two conflicting ways to look at the show as far as how it influences perception of science.
One of the great criticisms of “The Big Bang Theory” is its heavy reliance on stereotypes of science and scientists. All of the scientists are portrayed as geeky which is food for most of the jokes of the show. But the stereotypes run much deeper than just geekiness. Sheldon is portrayed as showing signs of Asperger syndrome and Raj is so socially incompetent that he is unable to talk in the presence of women unless he has drank some alcohol. The jokes in the show rely and reinforce these negative stereotypes of science and scientists.
Another way of looking at the show is apparent however. Who would have thought that there would be such a successful sitcom following the lives of fictional scientists? The scientists are depicted as young and successful in what they do. “The Big Bang Theory” humanises science and scientists which is something that has never happened before with science being portrayed as emotionless and cold in the past.
Much like how previous sitcoms based on African-American families used stereotypes to engage viewers “The Big Bang Theory” uses stereotypes of scientists as geeky and socially awkward to engage their audience. Although “The Big Bang Theory” is not perfect at portraying science in a positive light it’s better than not having science in the spotlight at all.