This is a key scene in The Big Bang Theory. Sheldon is taking acting lessons from Penny. She needs the money and he thinks this might help his students find his lectures preferable to killing themselves, or at least tweeting to the world during his lectures that he is the suckiest lecturer who ever sucked.
This scene confirms me in my conviction that The Big Bang Theory should be compulsive viewing for all adults with aspergers, those who are paid to help them/us, and for society generally. Face facts dudes: Sheldon Cooper exhibits textbook symptoms. The writers are fooling no one when they pretend they’re not milking humour to be found from the condition. It is funny what they/we do and it’s no bad thing for the aspergers community to be brought in from the cold: we do indeed have a sense of humour, including about ourselves.
The things that make Sheldon laugh out loud are virtually never funny. Nevertheless, he is consciously witty. Hilariously so. More often than any other character on the show. Why would the aspergers community want to dissociate themselves from such a person? Because of his other traits? Okay. But let’s examine them and what harm they do to the aspergers community as such.
As I explained in my last blog entry, Sheldon Cooper has no peers. He is an individual. It would be wrong for the entire aspergers community to be held responsible for his faux pas, insensitivities, ego-centrism, eccentricities. But much of what is deemed frightening about those with aspergers is dealt with in a sensitive way. Take human contact. Sheldon hates that, or thinks he does. But does he? Really?
Even romantic attachment is not beyond Sheldon. When his relationship with Amy Farah Fowler broke down in one episode, he goes into an emotional nose dive. He takes up cat herding. And while he doesn’t know why, his mother and Leonard do. When he thinks Leonard is falling for Amy, he hits him and reminds him: “She’s not for you. NOT FOR YOU!”
“Penny, please don’t hurt my friend.” Jim Parsons delivers that line with a great deal of emotion, and it is actually very moving.
Sheldon is haunted by nightmares when he realises his incompetent naivety cost a friend, Howard, a job. His conscience also haunts his dreams when he steals Leonard’s Star Trek toy after breaking his own.
Sheldon loves his gran, and deliberately loses a competition to one of the 61 mortal enemies on his mortal enemies list (Will Wheaton) when he invents a sob story about his gran, whom he loved so very, very much.
What I like most about the scene where Sheldon and Penny act out a revised one act play Sheldon wrote as a kid is that the act falls apart and we uncover the real Sheldon underneath the robotic demeanor. On first reading, we’re presented with Sheldon’s conscious representation of his relationship with his mother and the rest of humanity, who are a few centuries underdone from Sheldon’s perspective.
It takes Penny’s suggestion that maybe his mother might be a little choked up to have to say goodbye forever to her son, taken away to a better place: the 23rd century. Then we’re given a glimpse of the real Sheldon. Having opened up to the possibility that his mother might actually miss him, he gets caught up in the moment and improvises, suffering a complete mental breakdown in the process. Sheldon, we discover, remains a big baby who needs the love of his mother.
What viewers are presented with week after week, season after season, is a facade meticulously built up by Sheldon to protect himself from a hostile, bewildering social environment. Sheldon is screwed up not because he has aspergers as such. He is screwed up because of his entire history of which his eidetic memory plays a part, a natural immature response to a lack of intellectually challenging peers, provoking him into a type of childishness that alienated all around him, exacerbating the bullying he was going to suffer anyway. Sheldon was not given the proper intervention early enough, and he, and the rest of us, are paying the price for that.
Sheldon Cooper is someone who has plenty to give back to society, just like two of his role models: Sir Isaac Newton and Paul Dirac. Nobel Prize winning scientific breakthroughs are within his grasp: time machines? He is beyond a shadow of a doubt a comic genius. I doubt he is the only funny guy with aspergers, a fact that the aspergers community might want to advertise using The Big Bang Theory as a medium to get that message across. Sheldon is genuinely warm and generous, despite this aspect of his character hardly ever focused on.
Sheldon can bend. He doesn’t like to, but it happens. He has even granted permission, on occasion, to a friend ir twi to make the process of making him bend easier: Amy Farah Fowler’s use of a Lieutenant Urura costume, for example.
Sheldon Cooper is also a wake up call. That is the other side of the equation as to why Big Bang Theory should be publicly embraced by the aspergers community. Sheldon can teach society how it can all go wrong when a diagnosis is not given at an early enough age. Is it possible that Sheldon only wants to be a robot because of all the bullying he suffered from his school ‘chums’, teachers, two screwed up parents and a fundamentalist church community? Wasn’t it this ignorance that forced him to withdraw from human contact into superhero comics, getting trapped there, leaving behind world literature, poetry etc to gather dust? It doesn’t have to be this way. Big Bang Theory can help us all put an end to that kind of abuse.