Bowie, Bill and Big Bangs

I apologise for the recent lack of updates, for it is because I have been working quite a lot lately. Actually, it’s not because of work in and of itself; rather, it is what I do on my lunchbreak. For, ever since I went back to work a couple of weeks ago, I have been reading the Daily Telegraph, mainly so I don’t have to talk to idiots during my break, but also because I really need to be informed of current affairs (Tiger Woods did WHAT?). But to be completely honest, not only does the Tele feature some awful, biased commentary, it also kills my writing animus. For instance, one of their many, many stories revolving around Danny Green’s win over Roy Jones (don’t fret if you don’t know what I’m talking about: it’s only boxing) started off with, to the best of my recollection, the sentence “He’s a top bloke.” Now, not only does this insult their target blue-collar audience by assuming that they understand only colloquial terms, but it’s a horribly broad statement. It doesn’t even set the tone for the rest of the article; they could follow it up with, “But cannibalism is an addiction even the best of us fall prey to”. Luckily, they didn’t do this; the article went on to claim that Danny Green was a “top bloke” and emblematic of the working-class attitude, mainly because he paid the delivery boy who brought pizzas to his party out of his own pocket. Now, of course I’m being delusionally cynical, but this is a man who just earned himself a cool few millions by punching another human being in the head for less than two minutes, has thrown a party to celebrate, and is then celebrated himself for paying for a few of Domino’s greasiest pizzas? At his own party? Should I be very worried about applying for a transfer to Media and Communications?

 Nevertheless, I have wised up to the tricks of the Tele, and learnt that the best way to deal with them is to ignore them completely. So on Friday, I bought the Herald, and you know what? I felt invigorated, refreshed; like I’d gotten hold of the crack pipe I so dearly mourned for. To rejoice in this development, I have decided that it’s time I wrote a decent blog entry- one so potentially confusing in its ideologies that your brain will explode. Or you’ll call me a pretentious dick.

 One last note before getting underway (and really, I don’t think I can still say “before getting underway” seeing as I’ve already written 450 words): from now on, I will stop using the word pretentious in a derogatory manner. For too long has it been an easy way to dismiss something you don’t fully comprehend? Even the Microsoft Word Thesaurus claims that synonyms for pretentious include “conceited, pompous, and ostentatious”, clearly showing Bill Gates’ longstanding opposition to the advancement of intellectualism- people should worship Windows, damnit!

But really, what is wrong with being pretentious, inasmuch as it is intentionally plausible (or intentionally implausible) and possibly cohesive? You could say David Bowie’s alter ego Ziggy Stardust was pretentious, and you may be right; however, through the sheer audacity of the concept, it grew to become a bigger and more significant entity than Bowie himself (even if he structured the lyrics as randomly as possible. No, that’s not a joke; according to my Dad, Bowie used to write random lines of lyrics on different sheets, gather them all up, and toss them into the air and go from there. And why would Dad lie to me?)

 Alright, the main thing I wanted to write about, before I was sidetracked by myself, was The Big Bang Theory. Now, granted I’ve only seen about 5-6 episodes of the show, but I still feel that this is enough of a slice to accurately determine whether it is Hot or Not. And guess what? It’s hot, which frankly amazes me, for one basic reason: it was created by the guys who made Two and a Half Men, the crudest, most innuendo-laden excuse for comedy I’ve ever seen at 7pm at night. Taking this into consideration, I assumed The Big Bang Theory would go along the same lines, just with an occasional arbitrary space measurement unit thrown in, to appeal to the legions of geeks hogging internet message boards. But happily, I was wrong.

 By the way, when did it become the norm to look at online message boards as a gauge of a show’s popularity? Pardon me if I’m living in 1999, but I thought these places were patrolled only by the likes of acne-riddled male teenagers, or 4chan members. If this is still so, then how is this an accurate representation of a show’s appeal? And what the hell is a message board anyways?

 Now let me get one thing straight. I’m not saying that The Big Bang Theory is on the level of something like The Office, or Flight of the Conchords. After all, it’s made primarily for the average American, a species that purveys easy to grasp and obvious humour as earnestly as they would a free donut promotion. So yeah, it’s got a level of humour that is intellectually infantile in its nature, and the characters are impossibly one-dimensional (with the exception of Leonard, the token George Costanza-like neurotic. Oh wait, I just disproved myself.), but it also has a layer of pseudo-intellectual comedy. However, this additional layer (I really need to stop eating cake when writing) isn’t as obvious as you’re probably thinking. In fact, all the explaining I’m about to do may just be so confusing that even I won’t understand it, which is not a good sign; at this point in time, I have the essences of my argument swirling around in my collective conscious, and just hope that they will coalesce into a semblance of coherency. Ah well, let’s give it a go.

 Much of the humour in The Big Bang Theory is derived from the juxtaposition of, say, Penny’s innocuous remark about water boiling with a convoluted and unnecessarily detailed explanation/condescending whinge from Sheldon. Now I don’t mean to be condescending myself, but most people do not understand what Sheldon is really talking about, yet they still (presumably) laugh at it. So really, we’re laughing at our own inability to make sense of his ideas; in essence, we are just laughing at ourselves.

 But what if you do indeed get what Sheldon is saying? Well, fear not, because often his acerbic wit is quite humorous, allowing semi-smart people to appreciate the comedy on another level. And this is the great thing about The Big Bang Theory: whether it is on purpose or purely accidental, the show displays different comedy styles simultaneously, inside the same joke.

 If you don’t think this is impressive, consider a show like Flight of the Conchords. Easily one of the funniest shows ever made by a New Zealand comedy songwriting duo, it too appeals to both well informed audiences, through Murray’s ignorance of musical canon such as Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours (“Nah, it’s all true) and to a baser, slapstick style; but even it cannot pull these off at the same time.

 So if the Big Bang Theory is both obviously and not-so-obviously funny, then why the hell does it need that insidious destroyer of our moral right to choice- the laugh track? It’s probably due, once again, to the climate of American sitcom land. It helps us, at the very least, distinguish what is intentionally funny, and what is just setup material. Perhaps more crucially, it also allows writers to get away with fewer words. Take Friends, for example. For its first few seasons, it was genuinely funny: the characters interacted like real people would, their problems were easily relatable to (though not too banal), and Chandler was the funniest character in the history of television. And then its popularity exploded. All of a sudden, the characters turned into caricatures, it became a vehicle for the stars’ careers, and Chandler went from saying the punch line to actually being the punch line. To top all of this off, the laugh track (well, it was a live audience, but the response to jokes can easily be tampered with) went into overdrive. Every second episode, Ross would scream “We were on a break!” and the audience would wilfully erupt with laughter. By the final season, the laughter had such a starring role that it seemed to occupy more time than the actual script itself. Which really pissed me off, for some reason; I guess I felt that they were not really fulfilling their writing responsibilities on the most influential sitcom of the time. It kind of draws parallels to the use of pictures in blogs, which I think mainly draw attention away from the fact that the person could only write 120 words on a certain topic. If that’s all you can write, then go to Twitter and stop wasting people’s time.

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One response to “Bowie, Bill and Big Bangs

  1. best show. i’m yet to not understand something sheldon has said. thank you doc b.

    laugh tracks make me rage when they’re discussed, but i have somehow mastered the art of ignoring them while viewing.

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