Today’s idle browsing of the intarwebz led me to the “Wild Mass Guessing” page of a certain tropes-related archive, this one related to ‘The Big Bang Theory.’  My initial response to the show was lukewarm at best, mostly because I have, in my time, known more than a few people whose behaviors were roughly similar to Sheldon’s, and found them to be less than pleasant.  Moreover, part of me wasn’t sure that I appreciated the fact that much of the show’s humor is driven by what seems to be a pretty severe personality disorder on Sheldon’s part.  Though they’ve won me over with clever repartee and accurate comic book and Star Trek references, I’m still a little bit troubled by Sheldon’s behavior and its seeming resemblance to (among other things) Asperger’s Syndrome…

The MS-QOTD (pronounced, as always, “misquoted”) lived with a librarian once, and now knows the difference between and “mass noun” and a “count noun”, heaven help us, asking:  Is it okay to laugh at fictional characters who seem to have real-world emotional or psychological issues?


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Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture! And a nice red uniform.


  1. Sheldon Cooper, whatever issues his character faces psychologically, is a high functioning, contributing member of society. His friends deal with him in his way, and generally know how to do so, and they know to what degree he can handle their ribbing.

    His employers also seem to understand that he is not a typical employee, but that he does have great value as an employee (otherwise he might have been fired for some of his shenanigans). His friends also do their best to help him adapt to the world or help the world adapt to him where possible. Whatever his issues, I’d prefer the treatment he gets as just another eccentric friend, as opposed to, ‘in this Very Special Episode’ we will address Sheldon’s Asperger’s diagnosis. It seems better to treat him as another character is this strange life, than as an the character with the ‘AFFLICTION’. We all have our little hangups, irritations, and eccentricities and his friends seem to know how to best deal with him.

    All of the TBBT characters have some serious issues, Raj is physically incapable of speaking in the presence of a woman without the aid of alcohol. Wolowitz and Leonard both have SERIOUS mother issues. Penny has Daddy issues, commitment issues and is historically promiscuous in dealing with those issues. They are all ‘damaged’ people making their way through life as each others’ support group. Without each other, they might be even more dysfunctional on an individual basis.

    Plus, we don’t KNOW FOR CERTAIN that Sheldon HAS anything, but we DO know he’s not insane, his mother had him tested.

  2. My brother in-law is very much like Sheldon…to much so. The only quirk he doesn’t have is the “my seat” thing, but he doesn’t let anyone in his room, you can look through the door, but DO NOT ENTER. He however does not have a job, or contribute to any society not on the internet in anyway. I get uncomfortable with the jokes about Sheldon, and my wife doesn’t watch TBBT at all, but she says it is the show as a whole, not the one thing that bothers her. I don’t completely believe her, but it isn’t worth arguing about.

    I think Sheldon is borderline. If he were any more “Asperger”-ish the show would have been canceled due to public outrage, or maybe the public doesn’t see Asperger’s as a real thing yet. If Sheldon had Downs or was autistic would the show be funny? I don’t think it would be on the air.

    I do watch TBBT from time to time, I may be a hipocrite, I laugh at Sheldon’s antics. But when i step back and think about it, like this MSQOTD has made me do, I think it is wrong to laugh at characters like that, but I know I still will from time to time.

  3. I think it depends on various things, too many to even start listing without writing a whole report. In the case of Sheldon, I think they get close to the line without actually crossing it in any truly offensive manner.

    I think there is also the whole “eye of the beholder” thing to consider, too. Among other things, I’m technically deaf and I find some jokes about deaf people hilarious, some offensive, and half the time most of them aren’t all that different from each other except for differences in how they are executed. The exact same portrayal of a deaf person in two different ways could make me laugh or make me angry. It just depends on various factors.

  4. To get directly to the point yes, if the context is appropriate. There have been multiple TV shows and movies that deal with this topic. Family Guy has done several episodes about people who have had strokes, mental handicaps, hearing loss, etc. South Park has also done these types of jokes before, The movie The Ringer deals exclusively with this topic. They all seem to have a “laugh with” and not a “laugh at” approach which is what seems to be the deal breaker for a lot of people.

  5. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Big Bang theory and I found it mildly amusing. It reminded me of The Guild only with a bigger budget.

    Is it okay to laugh at fictional characters who have real-world personality disorders? Normal Lear made an awful lot of money out of Archie Bunker, but when I watched the show back in the day, and when I catch it every now and then, a lot of that show made me feel uncomfortable.

    “When does poking fun at somebody’s foibles cross the line” is the real question you’re asking here.

    I’d say the line was half way in the middle of Archie Bunker, with things like “Good Times” “The Jeffersons” and anything with Roseanne Barr in it far over on the wrong side of the line. Some of those shows were lauded back in the day for being minority based but when you look at them rationally they really weren’t. They were just as disrespectful to the minorities portrayed as old Black Face minstrel shows.

    On the other hand, you have things like Galaxy Quest, which poked an enormous amount of fun at geeks in general and Trekkies in particular, but it also treated them with a basic level of respect that was lacking in nearly all of the seventies sit-coms.

    As Stephen is fond of saying, “Your mileage may vary.” It’s really a personal decision. If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it. As soon as you start legislating what is acceptable and what is not, you’ve given all the power over to the Politically Correct Thought Police, and yanked us all the way back to the era of the Hayes committee. Keep one foot on the floor at all times!

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