By Brian Dyak
As we roll out our “Ready on the SET…ACTION!” campaign to encourage youth to explore education and career paths in science, engineering and technology (SET), I keep running into science, engineering and technology professionals who either despise the hit CBS show Big Bang Theory or, alternatively, are devoted aficionados. This begs the question; does the hit television show The Big Bang Theory act as a liability for the science, engineering, and technology fields?
One might easily criticize the program perpetuating stereotypes associated with science nerds, but this may constitute an unfair generalization. In fact, while the Big Bang characters are not the most well-rounded individuals, they more than compensate for their lack of social and athletic skills with their pure, unadulterated love of science and engineering.
Granted, the screenwriters do not paint the physicists, the mechanical engineer, and the astrophysicist in the most flattering shade of “nerd”. Howard (the mechanical engineer) shares an apartment with his mother. Sheldon (one of the two physicists) seems incapable of bonding with another human being, preferring to play “Klingon Boggle” until early hours of the day or hole himself in his room studying the minutia of string theory.
So yes, the writers and producers do allow for a bit of unique character development. Many first-time viewers will realize that these characters are pretty normal or, dare one say it, kind of cool. Leonard has dated the beautiful blonde aspiring actress who lives next door, and Howard has designed a satellite that is currently orbiting one of Jupiter’s moons and taking high-resolution photos. These situations are far from “lame.”
More importantly, however, than Big Bang Theory‘s endearing characters and storyline, the show prominently places these careers on the television screen, successfully weaving the themes of math and science throughout thirty minutes of mainstream, primetime programming every week and now in successful re-runs. It is inarguably unique to see a network successfully commit airtime to characters discussing theoretical physics, or the intricacies of engineering. Howard and his peers flaunt their degrees like keys to an exclusive, members-only nightclub, and that’s part of what makes this show so special. This show glamorizes education – particularly science, engineering, technology and mathematics education – in a quirky and enjoyable manner. There is nothing wrong with reaching millions – yes, millions – of viewers, to the intricacies and beauty of science and technology.
By taking these idiosyncratic characters and portraying them in rather hilarious situations, this program keeps science and math on the radar “screen” while still engendering interest in its characters. Viewers grow to love Howard, Leonard, and Raj. Although Sheldon remains an enigma of sorts, we can’t help but feel affection for him as well. These characters demonstrate a dedication to mathematical formulas and metaphysical theorems that most reserve for their firstborn or soul mate. It’s refreshing to see so much love and respect for math and science in a program that still makes us laugh.
Let’s face it the beauty of entertainment is that quality is in the eye of the beholder. The late actor John Spencer once stated in his acceptance at the PRISM Awards, “It is wonderful when a show can also inform or educate, that is the icing on the cake!” Big Bang Theory, in its own quirky way, may be the sugar coating that subtly informs the viewer. As such, could it be that this show is an asset to the fields of science, engineering, and technology?