Oh! The Humanities!

by sherrinak

I love the Big Bang Theory. And it’s because of Sheldon.

Sheldon is one of the biggest nutters on the planet who knows he is sane, because”[his] mother had [him] tested”.  His friends (Penny, Raj, Howard and Leonard) provide a perfect foil for his outlandish condescension of all things beyond his immediate interests and work (comics, experimental physics, advanced psychology to name a few). The group of science geeks travelling through Sheldon’s dysfunctional shenanigans have generated widespread acceptance for the previously derided and stereotypically lacklustre nerd-herd. On the contrary, nothing about Sheldon is dull. His flaws become his super-powers and his strengths do double-duty as his weaknesses. He embodies all that is both right and wrong in the world.

Sheldon’s main flaw is his arrogance toward “less worthy” intellectual schools. Begrudgingly, Howard Wolowitz narrowly qualifies to be in his presence – as he only holds a Masters degree (albeit from MIT) but is the best friend of Dr. Raj Kuthrapali. All others require doctorate level qualification or some elite qualification (like Stan Lee) to be taken somewhat seriously by Sheldon, although intellectual snobbery is far more pervasive than this fictional character on a highly rated sitcom.

A particularly poignant episode appeared in season four, where Sheldon’s refusal to attend a fundraiser for CalTech faculties, has left fundraising in the hands of his “less qualified, less brilliant” colleagues. Sheldon’s girlfriend (Amy) is a neuroscientist who adroitly manipulates Sheldon, using reward based theories and exploitation of his prejudices and vanities, to get him to attend.

Amy: Well then, prepare to be terrified. If your friends are unconvincing, this year’s donations might go to, say, the Geology department.

Sheldon: Oh no! Not the dirt people!

Amy: Or, worse still, it could go to the liberal arts.

Sheldon: No!

Amy: Millions of dollars being showered on poets, literary theorists and students of gender studies.

Sheldon: Oh, the Humanities!


So, what initially appears to be a clever play on words exposes a common discriminatory academic attitude – that the humanities are worthless degrees, without merit in a capitalist, profit driven world. Jeremy Bentham and John Locke would be ecstatic to observe how their postulations are solidifying into reality, while others – like Philip K. Dick, Jules Verne and Charles Dickens would recoil in horror at the ways of contemporary “civilisation”.

I don’t know what response will be offered to those who think it’s funny to ask me “would you like fries with that?” or “may I upsize that for an extra fifty cents?”, because they think my degree has no worth in this world.

The “offending” scene in all its comedic glory!

(The Benefactor Factor: The Big Bang Theory (Season 4, Episode 15), February 10, 2011.)