The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth: ‘geek’ social classes and the Big Bang Theory

Editor’s Note: This article was written by our latest guest writer, Allison Novak. She can be reached for comment at
On Thursday’s episode of The Big Bang Theory, The Pulled Groin Extrapolation, Amy FarrahFowler proudly proclaims, “No date to the prom and two dates to a wedding? Oh, how has time changed.” How time has changed, indeed- geek has gone from being a four-letter word to a celebration of one’s individuality, of belonging to a click that isn’t clicky at all—it’s chic to be a geek.
On the show, there are three different so-called ‘geek social classes’ present. The first is the uber geek, which is how the general perception of nerdy or geeky people has been trending for the ages. Both Sheldon and Amy fit into this category as people who are brilliant but seem to lack basic social skills to fit in with the world at large. The second is the hipster geek, which would be Leonard. While Leonard veers towards more towards the geek rather than the hipster, he is the best socially adjusted of the group, and is the most in tune to the world around him. The third is the maladjusted geek, which would categorize Raj and Howard—each one, while incredibly smart, seems to have a major shortcoming. Raj’s is that he can’t talk to women unless drunk; Howard’s is that he still lives with his overbearing mother (and as we found out this week, plans to have his future wife, Bernadette, join him after the wedding in doing so.)

The only interaction we have with people who could be described as ‘non-geeks’ are with Penny, and whichever man she is dating (whom is short-lived, as the structure of the show dictates.) We don’t view her through a lens of distain, however; we view her as the four men—with her faults and all. The Big Bang Theory clearly takes the side of the geeky—but reminds us that no one is perfect. But these geek men, even the ill-adjusted ones, aren’t all hapless; all have good jobs, and either live on their own or have long-term relationships. These are the ‘new’ geeks—social revered and celebrated in society. The show is especially unique in that the geek got the girl, and lost the girl. And the show goes on. Penny and Leonard, in an almost improbable move for a network show, got together mid-series, and then broke up. Even so, Penny is still an ever-present character, a frequent foil to the antics of the four men (and Amy Farrah Fowler, as time goes on.)
On Thursday’s episode Amy and Leonard go the wedding of the ‘Brad and Angelina of the department,’ at Amy’s request. Leonard is moping due to his girlfriend being in India, and in a surprising and enjoyable moment of insight on Amy’s part, she proclaims, ‘I have a sort of boyfriend at home playing with a model train, but you don’t hear me bitching about it.’ Amy’s character is becoming more socially adept as time goes on, and we start to see a difference in her from the first time she was introduced as a female Sheldon. These moments of her social insight are tempered with her missed social cues, such as when Leonard and Amy return from the wedding and she proclaims to Penny that she made Leonard fall in love with her, rather than thinking he had just had an enjoyable time. It’s these insights and missed cues that bring the audience back to the forefront of the point of the show; we are all geeks.
The true crossover, lest you think the show is just empty references to pre-established comic book characters and popular facets of geekdom, is the shows packed Comic-Con panels. The simple fact is that a show like this could not survive for five seasons on network tv if there was not an applicable fan base. The fact that it has shows that more and more people not only understand the references, but enjoy them—for once, people who were marginalized on network television are watching something that references their favorite movies, cult TV, and activities. People who play Magic and Dungeons and Dragons are no longer portrayed as living in their parent’s basements, eating Fritos—the
y have apartments in Pasadena, good jobs, and maybe, just maybe, date Kaley Cuoco.

It is true that The Big Bang Theory isn’t the first show regarding geeks, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is, however, the most successful. A prime example is the show Freaks and Geeks, which barely made it through one season and is regarded as a cult classic. The biggest difference, however, is that those geeks were navigating the murky waters of high school, being ostracized and ridiculed, while Big Bang shows them being revered, successful members of society. There’s many reason for the success of Big Bang, but the clearest seems to also be the simplest; as a society, we are ready to embrace our geek side. In the age of technology, we want to be the geek. For once, geeks are po
rtrayed as they want to be— successful, (mostly) socially adept people. And we want to watch. We either root for the underdog—or we are the underdog.

The show hits on an essential truth that resounds in most people, and that is we are all geeks. Everyone has something that they geek out over; sometimes it’s something that is classified as geek, like comic books; others geek out over sports or food or cars. While The Big Bang Theory focuses on more commonly known ‘geek’ items, it captivates an audience because so many people can identify with the characters themselves.

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