Monday, December 19, 2011

Asperger's and Unintended Consequences of Unplugging the DISH

image from CBS
We tired of the ever-increasing charges levied by DISH network, which for a mid-level, non-premium package was approaching $100 a month, and so we dropped the service.

I've missed ESPN, I'll admit that. And the Sirius music channels. About ESPN I can do nothing. For music, I'm expanding my iTunes library -- Janis Joplin's "Cry Baby," Patti Loveless' "Don't Toss Us Away," and Dwight Yoakum's "Suspicious Minds" are recent downloads.

But that's not television. We're down to CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS, one independent, and one local-low-power (religious) channel. The local Fox affiliate was taken over by an out-of-town company, and the current signal does not reach us 30-miles away.

There are educational shows on PBS -- how can you not like "Antiques Roadshow?" -- but since police dramas and situation comedies are the staple of broadcast television, I'm mostly watching comedies and the news. And that's what I want to talk about -- the character Sheldon Cooper on CBS' "The Big Bang Theory."

I know the show has been on air long enough to have the early efforts sold into syndication, but I've only been watching it recently.  If you're sophisticated enough about the world, you might (like me) jump to the conclusion Sheldon has an Asperger Syndrome personality. I don't remember any controversy about Cooper's personality when it first aired, but Cooper's character (his personality, his remarks) provides most of the laughs.

To be blunt, it appears a person with Asperger Syndrome is being played as a comic catalyst. I wondered if there'd been any talk about it in disability circles. I found one supportive take online in Psychology Today in a column by Lynne Soraya: "Sheldony or Aspergy?"

The writer, a person with Asperger Syndome, thinks Sheldon might be a member of the tribe. There are others who agree, like "A Little Sheldony" -- a Live Science discussion of those with Asperger's having "an allegiance to the truth," which is part of the character's comic schtick.

Disability can be a comic catalyst, I suppose. Many crips like Timmy on "South Park." I cannot comment about that since I don't watch animated shows meant for adults. There was a contretemps when Tropic Thunder, Ben Stiller's comedy, over the use of the words "full retard" in the dialog when one actor was describing the possible profit (an award) for playing certain characters. Think I Am Sam or Rain Man.

I can only speak from a personal point of view. I can make jokes about my wheelchair. You can try, but you might not be funny. That makes me think that somewhere in the writer's stable creating the character Sheldon Cooper there may be a person with some degree of Asperger's Syndrome.

Or maybe not. 

All I know is this: the Cooper character can defend himself, which may make his use as a comic foil acceptable; people who hear the ugly term "full retard" cast their way might not be able to defend themselves, which makes the term dangerous if not impossible to use; actors like Sean Penn (I Am Sam) and Dustin Hoffman (Rain Man) get a pass in the name of art, the reasons for which ironically (Tropic Thunder) can probably and carefully only be discussed in private; and Timmy from South Park is a cartoon, which is a cheap method of presenting an idea that might possibly be offensive.


Millie Lill said...

Interesting idea. I love Big Bang Theory, watch the reruns as well as the latest episodes. Sheldon's character is somewhat sweet, somewhat goofy and I think he has become a well rounded character.

Deb Shinder said...

The character of Jerry on Boston Legal had Asperger; it was mentioned in the scripts and his character was definitely played to be comedic.

Lynne Soraya said...

And the portrayal of Jerry Espenson was terribly offensive.