March 26, 2015
(The humanities were hors de combat. “They”re giving you a degree for reading novels? Ha ha ha ha!”)
Race”in the common American sense of the black/nonblack divide”is now such a fraught issue that wise sitcom producers just omit it altogether. Your Dad may have laughed at George Jefferson, and your Granddad at Amos”n”Andy, but that was back when it was possible to believe that race problems might one day go away, given some straightforward legal and social adjustments. No-one believes that any more. Sure, it is possible to make humor out of despair: but that’s the bitterest, darkest kind of humor, not suitable for prime-time TV.
So there are almost no blacks in Big Bang. The university’s Human Resources Director, who shows up once or twice a season, is a black woman; I think that’s the only recurring black character.
It’s also another touch of the show’s quite daring realism. HR Director is exactly the kind of position where you would expect to find a black female in a modern university; just as, if invited to meet four of the smartest guys on campus, you would not be astonished when two Jews, a Hindu, and a Scotch-Irish showed up. (Johnny Galecki, who plays Leonard, is actually “of Polish, Irish, and Italian descent,” says IMDb.com; but he looks Jewish.)
As a substitute for race there is always ethnic and regional variation. In nations not afflicted with racial neuroses, that variation supplies much of the humor. (The accents and stereotypical behaviors of people from different provinces fuel at least half of Chinese TV comedy.) So, no, you can”t have a shuffling, toothy, dimwitted black character, but you can have a suffocating Jewish mother, a goodness-gracious-me Indian accent, and a busty corn-fed Midwestern gal.
TBBT is not of course high art; but late in the evening (I catch the reruns on FOX5NY at 11 pm), with my feet up, the day’s work behind me, and a glass of Old Crow to see me off to bed, it goes down very easily. If the producers are looking to raise their game a little, though, here’s my suggestion: more math!