In Brightest Day: Looking Again at Sheldon

A while ago, I looked at the character Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory fame. I argued that the writers have written Cooper to have Asperger’s Syndrome without actually saying he is Asperger’s, solely to avoid the problems that come with poking fun at a man’s disorder.

physics-tv-big-bangI’m not the only one who feels this way. There have been multiple articles, including one on Slate.com in 2009 (link), that noted that Sheldon shows characteristics similar to an Autism Spectrum case study. In the article, TBBT co-creator Bill Prady is noted as saying that Sheldon is not Asperger’s, but rather just “Sheldony.”

We’re going to play that card, Prady? Okay. Let’s play.

In one episode in April, titled “The Closure Alternative”, Sheldon shows frustration that the show Alphas was cancelled without a proper resolution. Everyone is upset when their favorite show gets cancelled without resolution, but for me and for others with Asperger’s, it can be downright painful. I cannot tell you how many times I have rewritten the unfinished “real” third season of So Weird. I have begged Disney, both in letter and by phone, to release the series on DVD. I actually have paid money for pirated DVDs of the series, which turned out to be nothing more than coasters. That’s how deep my frustration goes.

In “The Closure Alternative”, Sheldon is so upset by the loss of Alphas that he begins calling SyFy Channel to get the show back. Instead of comforting him through the loss, his girlfriend, Amy, uses the opportunity to try to break him of the need for closure by doing a bunch of things without ending them properly, to “hilarious” consequences.

Denial1First of all, if Amy does love Sheldon, she wouldn’t poke at his quirks like that, all in an attempt to fix him. Secondly, that trait is pretty Asperger’s. Combined with his “humorous” need for order, repetition, and anti-social tendencies, there is only one conclusion in the mind of the writers.

He’s simply being “Sheldony.”

For Pete’s sake, media pieces ranging from Slate to the Huffington Post believe that Sheldon is Asperger’s. You are pissing on the people on whom you based your character when you say these things. God, even the Big Bang Theory Wiki, a site made by fans of the show, argues that Sheldon “has symptoms of obsessive compulsive personality disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome.” Hell, Jim Parsons, who plays Sheldon, has said in interviews that he bases some of Sheldon’s traits on John Elder Robin’s memoir, Look Me in the Eye, which is based on his life with Asperger’s.

Who are you lying to, Prady? Are you afraid Autism Speaks is going to come after you? They’re kind of busy trying to cure the disorder you’re making fun of. I think you’re safe.

So level with me, Prady. Sheldon has Asperger’s. I know it. You know it. And you apparently think Asperger’s is just built for a laugh track. It’s obviously funny when Sheldon has to constantly knock on a door for fear he’s being ignored. It’s obviously hilarious that Sheldon is so controlling about his personal space that he made Leonard sign a huge living agreement. It’s obviously pants-splitting that Sheldon’s friends make fun of him with so much disdain sometimes that you think they’re going to punch him.

But in the real world, it’s not. In the real world, Sheldon is like a lot of people with Asperger’s. He’s suffering, trying to find a balance between what he can control and having a normal life.

Look at it this way; Sheldon is no longer autistic, but blind. Suddenly, the audience is not laughing at his OCD tendencies. Now, they are laughing at Sheldon running into furniture because his friends moved his living room around. Now, comedy is created when Amy removes his walking stick.

Not so funny now, huh?

5 thoughts on “In Brightest Day: Looking Again at Sheldon

  1. I have to agree with a lot of this, but perhaps take it one step further. I’m not sure that making fun of Aspies in general is that funny, whether or not name the condition. It just seems like a recipe for stigmatising the symptoms, creating a normalisation in which Aspies in the real world are picked on because they act similar to Sheldon. People are mimicking the behaviour of Sheldon’s friends, creating a climate of endless bullying.
    And let’s be clear, most Aspies won’t be able to hold on to friends in the way that Sheldon does, due to the level of sigma that goes around, even without the TBBT making it worse. If he were living in the real world, Sheldon would probably have to change his behaviour in order conform to society’s norms, thereby giving them the chance of making friends. That’s what most high-functioning Aspies do: they study the people around them, codify and systematise the accepted behavioural norms, and then alter their own activities in order to “fit in” and “get by”.

    • I never thought of it like this. To be honest, I don’t think that I changed much to fit into society, but I definitely did change some things. You make a good point.

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