Raj's Timeline Is Always 12% Darker: Why NBC's Community Is Better than CBS's The Big Bang Theory

What Happens When An Angry Blerd Steps Out of the Dreamatorium!


Today, Amanda Mac, in TBBT and the Culture of Geek responded to a link I posted on facebook: The Problem With The Big Bang Theory-Shouting Into the Void.

I agree with some of the push back that Amanda Mac wrote about, but I just have to question why she did not address the author’s comparison of NBC Community and why its worlds better than CBS The Big Bang Theory! I’m guessing that AMM needs to be introduced to the greatness that is Community, and so, I shall do so. Community’s basic premise is that there is a group of friends who form a study group at a community college called Greendale, and every week, they go on wacky adventures, which usually ends with Peirce (played by Chevy Chase) making bigoted comments and former lawyer Jeff Winger making “inspirational” speeches. I am at a loss for words when it comes to Community’s awesomeness, but I will just go through a few of the episodes. “Digital Estate Planning” was a Community ep that took place where all of the characters were changed into 8-bit video game avatars ala old school Nintendo! “Virtual Systems Analysis” was another episode where Community’s version of Doctor Who, Inspector Spacetime, was played by Abed, and Annie was his Companion, whoops I mean Constable.

Community not only has a racially diverse cast, it also speaks to a plurality of nerdoms. For the political nerds, there is Britta, who the audience understands as the worst person in the world, or shall I say, the Britta of the universe? Shirley is tokenized as the uber-religious Black Christian woman as Racialicious linked here argues, but she also challenges that stereotype through working now with Peirce, the ever reforming elderly bigot of the group. Abed is not really coded as the wild, outrageous Oriental, defined by the color of his skin like TBBT’s Raj is, but by his nerdom, his vast knowledge of pop culture.

Raj, as well as the Jewish Howard, as the non-whites on TBBT are branded as less than masculine Others. Howard is defined his being a douche-baggy creeper who can’t get laid [sexual prowess defines normativity ala Penny], his pseudo-homoerotic relationship with Raj, and the stereotypical burdensome Jewish mother trope (of course, a part of model minority lore!). Raj remains the Oriental still, completely incapable of overcoming his Otherness, his lack of grasp of the English language (AFTER FIVE GORRAM SEASONS!), the overbearing parents (model minority trope), and his sexual failures add up to one formula for The Big Bang Theory: the geeks we see on TBBT do not fit the mold of society’s definition of masculinity, and therefore are to be laughed at, not with. TBBT defines Wherdom (white nerdom) in terms of lack and insufficiency. That is why in episodes such as “The Porkchop Indeterminancy” (where Sheldon’s sister comes to visit), Sheldon and the others continue to be demasculinized, and Raj, racially Othered still. Raj’s sister serves the same purpose, and the concerns of Raj’s parents over Priya intermarrying with Leonard are highlighted, but no where is Leonard’s parents brought into the convo. That’s because Leonard’s mother is portrayed as white, progressive psychiatrist who we are to assume, because she is white and progressive, would not have a problem with interracial marriage, as if all Indian parents are traditionalist committed to some notion of purity.

What Community teaches is that life is informed by story and tropes, and through its pop culture references and storylines, it invites geeks, Wherds, and Blerds, of all stripes and tastes to begin to view life as a narrative.

“Boo ya! Good person!”

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6 thoughts on “Raj's Timeline Is Always 12% Darker: Why NBC's Community Is Better than CBS's The Big Bang Theory

  1. Charles

    “Raj, as well as the Jewish Howard, as the non-whites on TBBT are branded as less than masculine Others”

    And Leornard and Sheldon are manly towers of testosterone?

    You seem awfully selective in your irritation, Rod. Why do you not get upset that there are three recurring Texans: the hyperreligious nut, the beautiful-but-dumb-as-soup young woman, and Sheldon? All three White, I might add. With Penny we get Nebraska hick jokes, a dumb blonde, her dumb jock boyfriends… I think I’ll stop here and just post a link to the tvtropes page for the vast number of tropes found in the show: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/TheBigBangTheory?from=Main.TheBigBangTheory

    Personally, I’m okay with having the ability to laugh at myself, and my reactions to a lot of the jokes are “yeah, that’s me… yeah, I do that… yup… been there, Leonard; I feel your pain…” If I were to complain about the nerd herd and how they aren’t representative of sufficient diversity, it would be the lack of chubby ugly nerds. I mean, here I am, a comic-book-loving, Firefly-quoting, socially-awkward PhD-holding scientist* with a Klingon bat’leth mounted on the wall over my desk, and the only BBT character who kinda looks like me is Captain Sweatpants?

    As for Community… I tried. I really tried to watch season one. I just couldn’t make myself care about the characters. I felt no connection to them at all. I connect to the BBT characters. Their shyness. Their obsessiveness and enthusiasm. Their feelings of inadequacy and insufficient masculinity. Their Other-ness (the Halloween party where they just sat and quietly watched the “normals” as if they were a different species? That’s me).

    *A psychologist, even a psychological researcher, calling himself a scientist would of course be just asking to face the wrath of Sheldon.

    1. RodtRDH Post author

      But see,

      You identify with Leonard, who of the 4 nerds in that group, is considered to be the closest thing to normal.

      As for the complaint that I was selective in my outrage, no I don’t think I was trying to make a long list of grievances about TBBt. If I wanted to do that, I could. I want to show what separates TBBT from Community in terms of race.

      And yes, give Community a second chance.

  2. J L

    Well, i’ll just say i actually enjoyed watching Community, whereas TBBT annoyed me enough that I stopped watching it.


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