The Big Bang Theory, a popular sitcom about the lives, loves and excruciating embarrassments of a quartet of science nerds, has come to center increasingly upon the comic foibles of one Sheldon, arguably the brightest of the group and inarguably its most socially challenged. As Sheldon has more and more come to dominate the series with his eccentricities, those eccentricities have been ever more closely contoured to the symptomatic profile of a high functioning autistic or aspergers subject. Sheldon is positively maniacal about his routines, including the coonsumption of certain meals on certain days, the occupation of a particular chair in his apartment, the pursuit of certain entertainments at certain times etc. Sheldon is averse to physical contact. Sheldon seems to lack what researchers call a "Theory of Mind" whereby genuine empathy for or identification with other people may be engendered. Accordingly, Sheldon is socially indifferent at some points and at others socially instrumentalist, reading relationship strictly in terms of his own compulsive requirements. Sheldon's conversational style is similarly intransitive, substituting, in classic aspergers' fashion, the professorial transmission of detailed information for verbal and emotional interchange. Sheldon possess a narrow range of interests, about which he is ferociously, which is to say obsessively passionate. Sheldon harbors ambitions, but like the famous autistic poet Tito, of a purely intellectual sort.
With each new episode, it seems, a new tendency associated with ASD, is introduced into his profile. Last week, for example, found Sheldon displaying an ethical sense of the most technical, rule-governed variety. For all of this, however, Sheldon is not only funny but lovable, maddening in his way, but personable too, as charismatic as he is "difficult." I have thought for some time that The Big Bang Theory deserves credit for giving us an autistic protagonist who, while a fugure of fun, as sitcom characters inevitably are, is decidedly humanized as well, especially for a sitcom character, an autistic protagonist whose intelligence is not just a humorous prop but an informing spirit.
For this reason, I was disappointed to see the new advertisements for the show. It plays off those Dos Equis commercials that feature the ridiculous "most interesting man in the world" admonishing us "to stay thirsty my friends." Advising us instead to "stay nerdy my friends," it casts Sheldon as the "most annoying man in the world." Leonard, Raj, Wolfowitz, Sheldon's colleagues, are all thoroughly nerdy, no less so and maybe more, than Sheldon himself. So despite the commercial's motto, it is not by dint of his nerdiness that Sheldon is said to distinguish himself as superlatively, if humorously, "annoying." It is something else, the thing which separates Sheldon from his peers, the thing that makes him so much more interesting than them but is reduced, in these adverts, to an uproariously portrayed capacity to irritate. Following the great Billy Wilder's dictum, when you tell the audience 2+2 you don't have to tell them 4, I won't tell you what that thing is at this point or why this marketing decision undercuts some of the good work done in theis pop-cultural vehicle. Suffice it to say that going prime time is not quite the same thing as going mainstream.