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Updated on February 24, 2015

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The Big Bang Theory


“The Big Bang Theory” is a half-hour comedy series. There are five main characters consisting of four young adult men and one young adult woman. One character is Sheldon Cooper who seems to struggle with conforming to societal ways of living with others, but considers his intelligence to be superior to everyone else. Leonard Hofstadter has little more understanding of interacting with people with less awkwardness. Howard Wolowitz is a scientist with great relational ambition to succeed with women. Rajesh Koothrappali is an accomplished scientist, but struggles with socializing with women. Penny is the female character that seems to have knowledge about popular culture, but has extremely limited knowledge about the scientific world and it creates problems with all four men. These men are scientists specializing in different research fields and the woman has no college degree and is working in a restaurant. Different episodes demonstrate how highly educated characters function and interact with an uneducated young woman with a low paying job. The purpose of this discussion is to evaluate character like Sheldon Cooper in light of societal written and unwritten rules (norms) pertaining to his interaction with others and how he can be perceived as a deviant in different ways.

Sheldon in “The Big Bang Theory” has an eccentric extrovert personality that seems to be unaffected by others’ opinions of him. It is understood that the family is the first encounter people experience in learning about what it means to be human beings. Cooley (1961) a sociologist, introduces the concept of looking-glass self to explain every day interactions with others. He describes the looking-glass self as “the way in which a sense of self develops: specifically, people act as mirrors for one another” (p.93). Ferrante (2014) shares more light by stating that “we see ourselves reflected in other’s real or imagined reactions to our appearance and behaviors. We acquire a sense of self by being sensitive to the appraisals that we perceive others to have of us” (p.93). In one way or the other, everyone ponders about how other people view him or her in the interaction with others in different contexts. According to this concept, children learn the significance and value of their identity by identifying and adhering to what people perceive of them. This sort of valuing the opinions of others continues throughout life’s journey. In other words, human beings are socialized to derive self-worth, self-concept, and self-esteem from the perceptions of family members, friends, and environmental factors. While the other four characters demonstrate the concept of a looking glass self, Sheldon does not care about what other people think of him. The following examples show how Sheldon is indifferent about others’ perception of him.

The character of Sheldon represents the opposite of looking-glass self. Most of Sheldon’s immediate circle or peer group is careful about what they say in relation to him and other people. They understand that words and expressions have the potential of hurting other’s feeling sand self-esteem; they try to behave in ways so that other people would perceive them in a positive light. In the first season, episode seven, the peer group is having a Halo night, game night, in which the game requires four people to play, but one of the four men has been distracted by one of the Penny’s friends. Penny volunteers to fill in and play with the boys. However, Sheldon has a problem with Penny because he informs her that she is not intelligent enough to handle a sophisticated and advanced game like “Halo.” Leonard agrees that it is a wonderful idea for Penny to substitute for the missing fourth person, but Sheldon follows with this statement: “The wheel was a great idea. Relativity was a great idea. This is a notion and a rather sucky one at that. This is a complex battle simulation with a steep learning curve. There are myriad weapons, vehicles and strategies to master, not to mention an extremely intricate back-story.” These are arrogant comments that most people would not make in front of a particular person. According to Cooley’s (1961) concept of looking-glass self, people would tend to refrain from undermining and belittling people by making these types of comments because they want people to perceive them favorably. Even some people, in their minds, may want to express such disrespectful thoughts, but they would not do so because other people may judge them in some negative ways. Sheldon does not care about how other people think of him and this makes him different from many people.

It seems to be that “The Big Bang Theory” comedy portrays the behaviors of Sheldon as deviant in all episodes. Ferrante (2014) defines deviance as “any behavior or physical appearance that is socially challenged and/or condemned because it departs from the norms and expectations of some group” (p.181). Almost of the characters appearing in the comedy oppose Sheldon’s attitudes and behaviors. They struggle to cope and get frustrated in dealing with Sheldon. In the immediate context of the show, the main group consists of the five friends who share significant time together. Therefore, Ferrante (2014) describes this type of relationship among them as peer group and defines it as “people who are approximately the same age, participate in the same day-to-day activities, and share a similar overall social status in society” (p.105). An interesting thing about this peer group is that Sheldon’s three male friends hate his unique ways of living, but they understand and tolerate his personality. Penny, on the other hand, learns to live with him and understands how Sheldon behaves in all contextual situations. Norm is defined by Ferrante (2014) as “rules and expectations for the way people are supposed to behave, feel, and appear in a particular social situation” (p.181). The following examples explain another deviant behavior of Sheldon.

In the first season of “The Big Bang Theory,” fourth episode, Sheldon seeks advice from Penny regarding how to deal with his roommate Leonard. Every time he approaches Penny’s apartment door, he knocks three times to let her know it is him. The issue in question is Leonard has a woman in his bedroom and has placed a tie on the knob on the door because he is having sex. Penny explains the meaning of the placement of the tie on the knob. Again, it is important to notice that Sheldon has his doctorate degree in science and thinks of himself to have superior intelligence, but he lacks social skills to know what to do in the situation. The thing that makes Sheldon’s behavior deviant is how he responds to the situation after Penny leaves the scene. Sheldon is so uncomfortable and he does not know whether to stay or leave the house because his roommate is having heterosexual intercourse. Sheldon comes up with a plan; he sits down on the couch in the living room. He dials his cell phone and informs Leonard that he notices the tie on his doorknob. Sheldon wants him to know that he understands the context and the meaning of the tie. Based on the definition of deviance, Sheldon’s thinking and behavior are contrary to what most people would do in the situation. The majority of people have common understanding about not interrupting two adults who are having sex by putting a tie on the door knob as a sign for others. This is just one example of deviance.

Sheldon, again, goes contrary to the norm. Penny, the neighbor, asks Leonard to stay with him and Sheldon for a night. But Sheldon has a problem with this proposal and explains his position regarding Penny’s sleep over. He is concerned about the earthquake supplies and makes the following statement: “we have a two-man, two-day kit. So if there is an earthquake and the three of us are trapped here, we could be out of food by tomorrow afternoon.” Leonard is wondering whether Sheldon is referring to cannibalism. Sheldon responds by saying, “no one ever thinks it will happen until it does.” The behavior and attitudes of Sheldon is totally go against social convention. He knows Penny is not a stranger and has spent quality time with her, and demonstrates some type of friendship love toward her. But Sheldon explicitly has an issue because he is thinking about the potential earthquake that may not occur. Many people do not give the type of explanation when someone asks them to stay in their houses. Normally, people who are unable to grant Penny’s request would provide reasonable excuses. The idea that Sheldon deviate from conventional norms does not mean that he is an evil person. Ferrante (2014) gives additional understanding about deviance by stating that “the definition of deviance given earlier suggests that what makes something deviant is the presence of a social audience that regards a behavior or appearances as deviant and takes some kind of action to discourage it. Deviance is not inherent to a specific behavior” (p.182). People perceive the behavior and attitudes of Sheldon as deviant, but the character is not deviant in nature because his social circle perceives him to be whimsical.

In brief, the concept of the looking-glass self is ingrained in all human beings from birth to the time of death. Human beings cannot escape the inevitability of considering how other people perceive them. In regards to Sheldon, he represents an extreme personality and his peers attempt to help him to socialize with people in appropriate ways in the world. An individual may be very strong in specific field, but this does not make him or her balanced person. Life is a process of learning


Ferrante, J. (2014). Seeing Sociology: An Introduction. Belmont: Wadsworth.

Sheldon is talented

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Sheldon Cooper

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