I hate it when people try to take the piss. I hate it when they try to hide it under a veneer of “hey, I’m just like you!” bullshit. I have difficulties taking it, and therefore here goes this article/rant.
For the last few years we have seen, and quite a few of people applauded, comedy series that feature geek people. Big-Bang Theory, Community, The IT Crowd, The Guild, A Town Called Eureka…
Suddenly people are claiming that we geeks are “taking our place and being more accepted” because we’re getting more exposure on TV and the internet.
Bullshit. We are being laughed at!
Most of those series put geeks into stereotypes and then compare those stereotypes to “non-geek normal” people to exploit what make them “funny”.
With the exception possibly of Community (the series I am less familiar with), the rest blatantly and openly ridicule the role of the geek.
Let’s take a look at the average geek characters of the series. Let’s start with the young ones. They are all mega smart but socially awkward. Most of them have problems interacting with women, they are clumsy, have a poor sense of etiquette, have even poorer social skills. Geek women are portrayed as awkward and emotionally incompetent or dethatched and every single one of them has an “unique” approach to fashion.
The adults are more responsible, less socially awkward, they dress more like the average Joe does and they behave normally. Like you and me, that is. But they’re not in geeky jobs. If they are they’ll still have some awkward traits like poor social skills, a “unique” sense of fashion, or something in those lines.
Of course not every series is the same and not every character within each series is the same, but there are common points here and there. Let’s take a more detailed look to some of them. This are just the ones I am a bit more familiar with. It is not a comprehensive list, but just a list to illustrate my point.
The Big-Bang Theory
This is one of the biggest culprits. i don’t know if I should feel sorry or angry at this comedy/parody/mockery. The geeks are not just geeks, they are hyper-geeks. They have very obvious and impossible to avoid OCDs, PHDs and incredible jobs as scientists. And they don’t know how to behave in front of the attractive neighbour. They either have such low self esteem they don’t think they’re worthy so no bother interacting, see the woman as a trophy to hunt, become so awkward that they always mess it up or, simply, can’t even talk to her.
Exactly how pathetic is that view, comedic or not, of what geeks are like?
Yes, it’s comedy and yes, I can laugh at many things, but there is no balance and the series plays a lot with the “Aww… you poor thing who can’t get a girlfriend” attitude. What I don’t like is that series is allowing people who are not geeks to laugh AT me, not WITH me. And make no mistake, there are plenty of people out there who laughs at you.
Where to start? Another comedy that takes the piss, blatantly, of an exaggerated view of what a guild of MMO players is like. But it’s not just that it mocks the players because they play, it mocks the players because they are geeks. They have dysfunctional lives and even have difficulties relating when not playing the game.
I am sure there are plenty of MMO players like that, but the majority of MMO players I know are seriously normal people who don’t behave anywhere near what you see in that series.
What annoys me the most about this series is that is produced by someone who openly and loudly claims to be part of the geek-society. And this is how you want the rest of the world to see the geeks you so much claim to love?
Seriously. If being a geek is such a cool thing, why not showing it? Why not writing the scripts so we are not nut-cases who need counselling or leave toddlers to fend for themselves near the microwave? Why not showing them just are you are in real life? Funny, clever, lovely, charming and a bit annoying. What is wrong with that? Because I really like it!
Oh, wait! because that probably won’t create the sense of ridicule that people need in order to laugh at us so they can feel better about themselves at our expense.
A Town Called Eureka
This one has a balance. Young geek, awkward geek. Older geek, responsible and mature geek.
Seriously. Did Fargo have to be THAT stupid? Did the chef have to be the fat bloke? Did the guy who run the place (don’t ask me for many names… not good with names) have to be the evil-up-his-own-arse genius? Did the sheriff with less-than-average-intelligence have to be the hero? Did the strong woman who can make a meal of said sheriff have to be the sidekick?
For a series with some very good plots and storylines, it sure has some of the shittiest character clichés ever.
And the funny bit?
We love it!
The geekosphere has taken on those series and we (and I use the term “we” VERY loosely here) wear t-shirts, use the series slogans, take on nicknames, buy the DVDs and idolatrize the actors and actresses.
Can’t we see we are being used and abused by a bunch of people who are there to make money?
They have found a niche that can be exploited for laughs and they don’t give a shit about us. They give a shit about getting the next production contract for the next series. And if they have to laugh at us for that, then so be it.
Of course not everything is bad and horrible and even I have to admit that some good has come out of it. We have gained more exposure in some circles and some people have felt empowered to “come out”, so to speak, and be themselves in the face of adversity. Plenty of people have identified traits with those of the characters and realised they’re not alone. The community has become more self-aware. And that is good.
In fact is very good.
But it’s time to stop now. It is time to start giving the world a more positive spin on geekdom. For starters expand outside science and gaming. There are sports geeks, make-up geeks, biology geeks, cookery geeks, car geeks…
Secondly, please be balanced in the portrayal of our idiosyncratic personalities. We are all like that, geeks and non-geeks. Why does the world have to be able to laugh at us more than at anyone else? Why laugh at anyone at all?
Hi, I enjoyed your article, thank you. You have made one glaring error though which I’m afraid I must point out. You have misclassified ‘The Guild’ as a comedy, it isn’t of course, you only have to sit through a torpid episode or two to realise that. It is in fact an online diary of Felicia Day and her Alcoholics Anonymous group doing some amateur dramatics to help externalise their addiction and self-destructive behaviour. It’s quite tragic really.
Well.. I just have to go with the label that series is sold as… 😀
Justo comentar mi amigo. Aunque nunca se debe confiar en las palabras de la llama de un pelo.
While I agree with the majority of your points, I just remind myself that you are talking about entertainment media. If a TV series were to take a look at the majority of “geeks” it would make for exceptionally boring TV. Therefore they go with the extreme.
And yes, they are laughing at us.
To some degree I can agree with that, but then I take a look at Community and The IT Crowd and can’t help thinking that there is a better way to write and make good television with geeks on the spotlight…
There is a difference between laughing at and laughing with…
Interesting articles….not a viewpoint I share, and based on this and your earlier article about the trouble you have with acceptance in Spain as a gay man and a geek, I get the impression your own environment is a tough place to be both. In the US at least there is no sense that any of the aforementioned shows are allowing non-geek culture to laugh at us, and our acceptance of these shows frankly reflects a tacit acceptance that one does not become a geek without, by definition, being out of touch with “normal society” and also probably with more than a few social dysfunctions. I’m a geek.
I know exactly how this works, I am surrounded by other friends who are geeks and I am also surrounded (through work) by some incredibly mundane and ordinary folk who simply would not “get” who I am otherwise. These people by the way do not watch the shows you mention, but all my geek counterculture friends do. They can laugh at themselves in this show. It’s not a bad thing. If you are distressed by the portrayals in the show, then maybe, just maybe, you need to reconsider just how much you want to be a geek.
The Guild is a really good example. I know these people. Not the actors, or the characters….but I know many, many people in real life that The Guild models extremely well, even if you account for slight exaggeration. For better or worse, the Guild wouldn’t have been so popular if it had been entirely based on fictitious events and depictions with no basis in reality.
Anyway…we have what, three or four shows that definitively identify as satires, parodies or comedies centered on geek culture or the mainstream perception of it, right? How many other shows are out there doing the same to mainstream culture itself? I would suggest that for every Big Bang Theory we have a dozen or more current shows that are all about the amusingly straight-laced and normal people out there.
TL;DR: Sure, they’re laughing at us in these shows, and we’re also laughing at ourselves through these shows as mirrors. That’s not a bad thing, and in my region of the world it’s not mean-spirited, its an embrace of humor, and that’s a good thing.
My issue (or one of them at least) is that they don’t portray us in a balanced way. Everything is laughable and laughed at.
Also, I can’t see that the portrayal of geeks has changed that much in the years since we became the target of TV producers and the like. In those series, we barely ever see the functional geek, or the geek that is interested in anything else.
To be honest, it is too easy to “pick” on us for comedy and they do with gusto.
I’d feel comfortable about it if they used all characters, geeks and non-geeks in the same way, but they don’t.
I’m going to be a bit self referential here, so please forgive me. The entire reason that myself and co-host Rich decided to start our podcast was because we are both massive geeks – and yes, I stand by that statement in every way – but have bugger all of the problems you list above that are highlighted for comedic effect on TV shows. It sounds big headed I know, but we’re both pretty awesome!
So we go on at length about a variety of subjects that are geeky in nature, but we never do it in a way that pens us up for mockery, unless it is in openly self deprecating manner. laugh with us, not at us…
I think you’re massively missing the point.
The best comedy is always one that allows you to laugh at yourself. That moment of recognition, when something funny happens and you find yourself thinking “oh that’s just like so-and-so” or “oh that’s just like me, I’ve done that” cannot be beaten.
I’m a geek. I can clearly recognize elements of myself and my friend group in all of the characters you’ve mentioned. Not to the same extremes obviously, in order to get enough comedy out of your main characters you have to play up their character quirks to the maximum, but they’re out there. I know the guys who can’t speak to women. I know the women with eclectic dress sense. I know the people who’ve fallen in love with MMORPG avatars. All this stuff happens, and it is so refreshing to see it actually acknowledged in a mainstream show.
I am glad they are laughing at us. We’re funny.
I don’t think I’m missing the point. I do laugh at myself when I relate to what I see on the screen, and when I relate those situations to someone else I know.
The point is not that they use our idiosyncrasies to make comedy. The point is that they use “only” ours whilst portraying anyone else’s as “normal”. They keep reinforcing the stereotype time and time again, ignoring that not all geeks are the same.
They might do it in a funny way, but they’re doing nonetheless.
It’s interesting to see that your point of view closely mirrors another commentary I read several weeks ago in a completely different venue (an RPG-related Facebook post, I believe). Clearly you aren’t alone in your view!
Like the ones you made, the points about Big Bang Theory seemed to be largely based on the first season. As with any good show, the characters have all developed as time has gone on. I don’t care if people are laughing at the geeks or with them, just as I don’t care if people laugh at me or with me. I find the show infinitely relatable and funny – something I can’t say for the slew of shows featuring pretty, mean women married to obnoxious, overweight men or those showcasing other mean-spirited humor.
I know people in real life who share one or more characteristics with one or more characters on Big Bang Theory. I relate to two out of three of the female leads (Penny, the non-geek, and Bernadette, the geek woman who isn’t socially awkward and doesn’t she dress oddly) and have male friends who the male leads remind me of. That’s why I find it so funny: because I can envision some of the antics and conversations happening in my life with my friends and colleagues.
And if people laugh at it (or any of the other shows you mentioned, many of which I’ve also watched) for the “wrong” reason? So be it. At least for once I feel like laughing, too!
Argh…no edit button!
That should have been “and doesn’t dress oddly.”
I know people like that too. Heck, I do a lot of the stuff the BBT guys do and I can laugh at it.
That’s not the criticism.
It’s the unbalance and the horrifically biased view of geeks compared with any other member of society they display I have an issue with.
For once I wish they were able to come up with cleverer stereotypes that don’t mock people so blatantly.
I can understand that, but at least with BBT, I feel they are equal opportunity mockers, if indeed they are mocking folks.
The sole non-geek lead, Penny, is made out to be shallow because she loves to buy, buy, buy and unrealistic because she is trying to get work as an actress while employed as a server.
Most episodes show only the leads, but when they don’t, others don’t get out looking as if they have no foibles. The geeks’ family members are used for punchlines to the joke of normalcy: the meddling parents from India; the overweight, bossy, Jewish mom; the holy rolling Christian mom; the tough talking, blue collar dad; the overly analytic mom (I think the twin sister might have escaped the formula). And then there are the non-family characters that appear every so often who are used the same way: the many “jock” boyfriends; occasional university administrators and faculty members, who are not indicated to be geeks; and the periodic show of high school and college students, most of whom look as if they would rather be anywhere, but where they are.
Perhaps it’s not as obvious that those folks are set up to be laughed at, too, because we don’t pay as much attention to them, especially since, excepting Penny, they aren’t shown nearly as often as the geek lead characters.
All-in-all, I’m not sure how much more balance between geeks and non-geeks being made fun of you can put in a series where the vast majority of time is spent on the geeks either in their apartments or at their office.
For a series that makes great comedy and laughs with geeks and not at them, The IT Crowd.
I’ll check it out again. I saw a part of one episode and it didn’t grab me. My husband gets a kick out of it and he’s certainly as geeky as I am.