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Aspie or Not, What Sheldon Cooper Brings to TV

16 Jan

As I continue to enjoy my total immersion into the first three DVD seasons of the The Big Bang Theory, I also continue to ponder Sheldon’s status as an Aspie. By now — Season Three, Episode 15 — my observations have led me to believe Sheldon meets diagnostic criteria. My previous blog post (“Why Sheldon Cooper Matters, Aspergers or Nerd”) regaling what I believe to be the Sheldon imperative and documenting my adoration of such an amazing character prompted many responses from readers seconding my love, respect, and diagnostic impressions. One comment in particular captured my attention, as the reader affirmed Sheldon’s AS traits but contended that the shows’ creators had disavowed a diagnosis.

Sure enough, here is what I uncovered:

“We write the character as the character. A lot of people see various things in him and make the connections. Our feeling is that Sheldon’s mother never got a diagnosis, so we don’t have one,” stated TBBT co-creator Bill Prady to an interviewer. Sheldon, like many others born before the late 1990s, and his mother were possibly in want of an explanation. I could argue that a diagnosis, though rare, would likely have not equated to extremely efficacious therapies or direction at school. That being said, the self-understanding that comes with a diagnosis is priceless. Sheldon and his mother, though, articulate frustrations from his childhood, but neither are lacking in Sheldon-love and acceptance.

Prady goes on to say that Sheldon sans diagnosis brings a “freedom” from accurate representation of AS (and the likely contingent criticism of this interpretation). This justification for creative liberty makes complete sense. Watching Sheldon for Sheldon, rather than Sheldon for the manifestation of television’s understanding of AS is much more enjoyable. Sheldon isn’t the older version of Max, nor is TBBT theory the comedic counterpart to Parenthood.  To the creators of TBBT, I thank you for your honesty and integrity to comedic genius.

Others, unfortunately, have different interpretations for diagnostic hesitancy/omissions. Allison Waldman of TV Squad posits: “There are good reasons why The Big Bang Theory writers do not want to label Sheldon an Aspie. Number one on the list is that if he’s afflicted with a real disease, how can his friends mock him the way they do? Sheldon may be as annoying and fussy as Felix Unger, and it’s funny. Turn him into the ABC Movie of the Week and Leonard, Howard and Rajesh become heartless bastards. Not funny.” Ms. Waldman isn’t done: “Of course, that’s not to say that sometime in the future the writers wouldn’t use this idea for comic purposes. You know, an episode where maybe Sheldon is afraid that he has Asperger’s only to learn that he’s just annoying, not sick?”

Am I the only one who doesn’t find Sheldon annoying? I find him endearing and, oftentimes in conversations with Penny, right on target. His most tangential and pedantic self appears with his friends, who know him, love him, and accept him unconditionally. Perhaps Ms. Waldman struggles with a skill many Aspies also find trying: Understanding the difference between gentle teasing and malicious cruelty. Perhaps Ms. Waldman does not really understand Asperger’s to begin with; to call it a sickness is as ignorant as her interpretation of Sheldon’s behavior and his friends’ reception of him. Ultimately, Ms. Waldman misses the point of the possible benefits of Sheldon having an AS diagnosis.

That’s what happens when AS is a “disease”, rather than just another amazing, intelligent, hilarious representation of humanity. Hopefully, Ms. Waldman is not a representative opinion about individuality.

Bazinga!

 
10 Comments

Posted by on January 16, 2011 in The Big Bang Theory

 

10 responses to “Aspie or Not, What Sheldon Cooper Brings to TV

  1. Mouse

    January 16, 2011 at 11:49 PM

    I wish I could remember where I read this, but I agree with an article I saw that suggested Sheldon is the best depiction of an Aspie on TV, despite not being specifically written as such. It’s because that’s not the point of Sheldon that the portrayal is so successful, in my mind. And I see so much that’s positive. He has friends, loyal friends, who take him for what he is. Sure there’s teasing and exasperation, but they will always come through for him and each other.

     
  2. Katzedecimal

    January 17, 2011 at 12:09 AM

    I too find TBBT to be primarily about acceptance. The characters all accept each other’s quirks and extend themselves to work within them. Yes, they rib one another, but generally not in a cruel fashion, and they seldom try to change each other. Rather, the lengths that they go to to accomodate each other (Raj’s mutism, Howard’s relationship with his mother, Penny’s dysfunctional relationships, Sheldon’s OC rituals) demonstrates real friendship.

     
  3. jholverstott

    January 17, 2011 at 1:04 AM

    Agreed! It is the spirit of who Sheldon is that is so remarkable. The reality is, as you say Katzdecimal, friendships are about accommodating quirks.

     
  4. Tam

    January 17, 2011 at 2:30 AM

    They actually did that storyline with House… he’s got AS, oh no he doesn’t, he’s just a jerk. It worked for him because he *is* an jerk. It wouldn’t work so well for Sheldon, because he’s totally not.

    I love TBBT because they’ve managed to put so many geeks and nerds in one show, and didn’t give them all the same personality flaws and quirks.

     
  5. Casdok

    January 17, 2011 at 5:48 AM

    Love TBBT too!

     
  6. Michael V. Drejer

    January 17, 2011 at 6:47 AM

    And Jim Parsons was awarded a Golden Globe award last night. Well deserved.

    I agree that it probably would take a lot of the funny away from it, if they actually labelled Sheldon as an aspie. And him not being diagnosed as a child is very plausible, like Bill Prady says, he was born before AS was commonly known. I myself was diagnosed when I was 25 years of age, and that was more of a coincidence.

    Anyway, Sheldon Cooper is awesome and funny, Jim Parsons is a great actor and TBBT is a hilariously funny show.

     
  7. Lorna d'Entremont

    January 17, 2011 at 10:18 AM

    Thanks for this excellent post on my favorite show and characters of TBBT. I agree with your viewpoint entirely. Bravo to Jim Parsons (Sheldon)for his Golden Globe award. It was so fitting that it was presented by Kaley Cuoco(Penny). This is one of the most beautifully written shows and the whole cast carries it off so well.

     
  8. Lynne Soraya

    January 17, 2011 at 11:47 PM

    Jeanne:
    Thanks for an excellent post! I, for one, am totally convinced that Sheldon is aspie. My husband sometimes playfully calls me “Sheldon” — with good reason. There’s a lot of odd similarities between the character and me — I wrote about it sometime back: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/aspergers-diary/200904/sheldony-or-aspergery-the-big-bang-theory

    I’ve had a few people talk about how a diagnosis would affect the humor of the show…personally, I find the show funny all the more because I’ve experienced so many similar situations (and have had to learn to laugh at them to survive).

     
  9. Sara

    January 26, 2011 at 10:32 PM

    Sheldon’s sweet. Yes, I know he’s a fictional character, but I’ve come across similar people in real life…I’d like to think I’m like that too. I’m really withdrawn a lot of the time but I’d like to think I’m kind and I’m passionate about thinks just like Sheldon is about comics, his work and Star Trek. Congrats to Jim Parsons on winning the Golden Globe. Kaley Cuoco kind of revealed who it was before she read out his name with her freak out. :P

     
  10. Lucky

    January 12, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    (I’m an Aspie.) I’ll agree that Sheldon does have at least some superficial Aspie traits, but his biggest trait is that he’s a spoiled brat and nobody else on the show, except possibly Penny, has the backbone to take him down a couple of pegs.

    Zach on “Bones” was a better TV Aspie. Most Aspies aren’t as extreme as the media wants to make us out to be.

     

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