The Big Bang Theory is one of the smartest and funniest shows on television. It has taught so much about string theory, particle physics and astrophysics that I feel like I could BS my way through a first round interview at NASA – or at least space camp. The show makes being smart cool.
So it baffles me how thoughtless the show gets on the topics of consent and rape. Over The Big Bang Theory’s nine seasons, the idea of undermining, limiting or violating a person’s right to consent has been a recurring joke– making me cringe every time. I’m hoping they can do better in season 10.
Here’s what I mean:
- In the very first season (s1, e8), Penny spikes Sheldon’s drink as an “experiment” to see how he’d react. Spoiler alert: not well.
- In the following season (s2, e1), Howard secretly doses Sheldon’s milk with valium because he wouldn’t go to sleep.
- Howard also admits to secretly drugging his mother with sleeping pills in the very next season (s3, e21). Raj: “She won’t notice [the sleeping pills are] missing?” Howard: “She doesn’t know she takes them.”
- The show dedicates an entire episode (s2, e7) to Howard and Raj using government satellite equipment to pinpoint and virtually stalk a house full of models and then gain entry into their home under false pretense to harass them.
- In a later season (s6,e11), Amy actually jokes that in college she “passed out at a frat party and woke up with more clothes on.” The implication? Were Amy more attractive, she’d have been raped.
- And in the most recent season (s9, e5), Stuart admits to setting up a camera in his store to watch women while they’re breastfeeding their babies.
Here’s the thing, Big Bang Theory is a really smart show and one that has proven skilled at handling difficult topics – bullying, childhood abandonment, and loss of a parent – in a responsible manner. And we need to be able to laugh at things that make us uncomfortable. That’s part of how comedy works.
But using laughter to tackle difficult topics doesn’t mean we should be reckless or dismissive of them.
According to the Center for Disease Control 1 in 20 women and men surveyed reported experiencing sexual violence in their lifetime and 1 in 5 women and 1 out of 76 men reported experiencing rape. According to the Department of Justice, 80 percent victims knew their attacker. Startlingly, those numbers can climb even higher on college campuses.
In a June 2016 story on college campus sexual assaults, The Washington Post cited a 1990’s study which indicated “between 25 and 35 percent of men lack knowledge about what constitutes rape.” That same story went on to highlight that “some young men think that, if they’re as intoxicated as a female partner, whatever happens can be blamed on the alcohol. And others think young women secretly want to be pushed into a sexual encounter.”
The Big Bang Theory isn’t responsible for this misinformation, but it can and should take an active role combating it. Since the show brought it up, it’s on them to lead the conversation with compassion and sensitivity.
If they get stuck, they could talk to Mayim Bialik, who plays Amy – she’ll remember when Blossom tackled this issue in its final season.
For a show that does so much to humanize its characters and celebrate intelligence, it would be great if The Big Bang Theory could be a bit smarter when it comes to issues of consent.
Compared to quantum physics, this should be a no-brainer.