Those who know me best can assess the truth of the statement that I am a little bit obsessive. A psychiatrist of my acquaintance says, “Of course you are obsessive. You have a PhD.” (I number several psychologist/psychiatrist among my friends; I think they like to study me.) His point is that anyone who spends a lot of time studying about a single topic which such intensity is not “normal” some ways.
In addition to studying math, another way this abnormality has manifested itself is in watching certain television shows over and over. This is so bad that when I was studying for my doctorate, I gave up television almost entirely. I only watched Dr. Who at 10pm on KOETA after finishing homework, and then I went to bed to get up at exactly 6am.
I forget when I let myself watch TV again, but I was able to control it until I was introduced to Law and Order by my daughters. They soon regretted that and attempted an intervention, but then a friend of mine (thanks Sherry) introduced me to NCIS which I obsessed on until I was introduced--again by my daughters--to The Big Bang Theory.
If you do your homework and apply yourself, I believe you can watch TBBT around the clock without having to resort to recording it.
Needless to say, I like the show, and, if you do too and you’ve read the article to this point, you no doubt can see that I can identify with some of the characters. In particular, I can see bits of myself in Sheldon, or, maybe to put it better, bits of Sheldon in me. This is not to say that I by any means have his technical abilities.
Rather, I share some of his obsessive qualities.
But Penny is my favorite. Doubtless some of this has to do with the mysterious charms inherent in a healthy 20-year-old female, but I believe it is also about how the acting talents of Kaley Cuoco are put to use. She has the amazing ability to transmit what her character is thinking through facial expression.
There is a scene in which Amy Farrah Fowler (played by Mayim Bialik, who used to play Blossom) who was NOT Sheldon’s girlfriend asks Penny if she considers herself a slut. Penny responds, “I’m not a slut.” But in doing so, she pauses and you can see her consider the notion.
Penny is opposite of Sheldon. To Sheldon, knowledge of science and all that is academic comes naturally, while he has to study his way through even the simplest social interaction. Penny is a natural people-person who is untutored in academics.
In spite of Penny’s many charms, the show is, of course, centered around the scientists but, and this is the important insight, not the science. The science is there as background to the study of the characters.
Page 2 of 2 - As an academic, at some point I came to the realization that I got most of the picture I had of the world through books and other media and--this is the important part--books are not the same as reality. Books are a sketch, a photograph, at best a statue. While these are all good, even a statue of Venus is not the same as being with her.
This is true of academics from the Arts, the Humanities, and the Social Sciences as much as the sciences, but each has its own flavor. (Cheers did a good job of showing how this is manifested in the Arts and Humanities with the Diane character.)
I would be remiss if I failed to comment upon Sheldon’s mother. This is a character we don’t see often on the show, but each appearance is to be treasured. Sheldon is from East Texas and his mother is a deeply devoted fundamentalist Christian. While one is used to this type of character being skewered in Hollywood, I find the character to be portrayed with admirable sympathy. While Sheldon has little natural human empathy at all, his mother has taught him skills of dealing with the things of which he has small understanding. She has also gently chided Penny for allowing too many men a “free ride on the roller coaster” while admitting that at an earlier age she herself could be had for “a bottle of wine and a ride in a car.”
Without saying whether this is the best way to interact in such situations or not, it is drawn from a reality I am familiar with rather than being the one-dimensional parody of the fundamentalist we are usually shown.
This show is not everyone’s cup of tea. And I do find myself concerned that it’s on so frequently. I’ve begun to try to temper my obsession. Maybe that is a skill I can learn.
Bobby Winters, a native of Harden City, Oklahoma, is Assistant Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Professor of Mathematics at Pittsburg State University. He blogs at redneckmath.blogspot.com and okieinexile.blogspot.com. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.