Aside from a couple of “androgynous” characters, I haven’t drawn any pictures of men for this blog before… partly because men tend to look a lot duller than women (shorter hair, utilitarian clothing, flatter bodies, etc.) and are therefore less fun to draw, and partly because I don’t fancy them enough to bother. I believe it’s that dubious desire to “possess” the object of affection/attraction that inspires a lot of Art… also a lot of murders too, but let’s not get into that. I’m trying to explore my masculine and feminine aspects (my animus and anima, if you will), and so I’ve decided to survey some male characters/actors who I admire and/or identify with.
Kicking us off is ‘Dr Sheldon Cooper’, as played by Mr Jim Parsons. When the first season of The Big Bang Theory started airing over here, I found the premise rather repellent. It seemed to spring from the same cesspool of gender and subculture stereotyping that gave us Beauty and the Geek. Perhaps the fact that I’m kinda geeky myself factored into my resentment a little, but anytime a sitcom kicks off with a single token female, characterised as a slutty bimbo waitress, then it’s going to get my hackles up, regardless. It reminds me of the only useful thing I ever learned in Science class at school… on the very first day, our teacher simply told us to draw a “Scientist”, and then left us to our own devices. Weirdly I ended up drawing a man with receding ginger hair and glasses, who looked uncannily like a teacher who’d take us for Maths in a later year. Only one student out of a class of thirty kids (split pretty evenly between boys and girls) drew a woman… and even then, she was a sexy sci-fi scientist. The sting I felt when the teacher revealed the true lesson of the afternoon’s artistic exercise… that we were all potential scientists, and that we should beware of ingrained stereotypes… was probably my first introduction to Feminism.
But as the series continued, the initial caricatures became more nuanced, the writers stopped sneering at their characters so much, and I became quite fond of the show. The third season ended this week, and I admit I’ll miss it a little. It’s not a great show, by any stretch of the imagination… most weeks I’d rate it a solid “B”, or a patchy “C”… but the geeksploitation angle keeps drawing me back. I am a “geek” in the sense that I’m unfashionable, socially awkward and a tad obsessive at times… but sadly I’ve never been able to obsess about one thing for long enough to find the sort of solidarity that many geeks find in comic book shops and conventions. I like a lot of geeky things, but I’m also quite fickle, and have been studying Taoism/Buddhism for long enough to know that it’s not a good idea, spiritually speaking, to become too attached to such ephemeral, illusory things. So, I vicariously enjoy the characters’ solidarity and the shared certainty in their “tribal” identity. That said, for all the improvements that have been made, they really need to cure ‘Raj’ (Kunal Nayyar) of his muteness around women ASAP. It was just a ridiculous (and vaguely insulting) handicap to give a main character, and it should have been resolved somewhere around the end of season one. Mute around new, scary women maybe… but mute around ALL women!? That just sidelines the show’s only non-white character far too often.
Sheldon is, for many, the breakout character of the series. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Parsons is such a gifted comedian, and that every now and then he has a cute little scene (usually with ‘Penny’ (Kaley Cuoco)) that somehow takes the curse off his occasional snits. He’s also the only character that I can really identify with, no matter how much I’d rather be a ‘Leonard’ (Johnny Galecki). The writers and actors always dodge the issue of what exactly his “deal” is… as far as Asperger’s and Autism go… and that’s fair enough. I’m certainly not qualified to diagnose the guy, or myself, based simply on what I’ve read on the internet about such conditions… but I do have certain personality traits which are echoed and exaggerated in Sheldon’s behaviour. I may just be a pernickety dick, of course… I mean, I’m not going to sit here and type out all of weird little habits for others to judge, but take my word for it… I’m not nearly as Zen as I’d like to be. I have a terrible, creeping suspicion that I may be to Comedy, what Sheldon is to Science… with the haughtiness and arrogance and the dismissiveness of “lesser” minds, which unfortunately isn’t backed up by any actual evidence of brilliance in my case. On the True Romance commentary Quentin Tarantino notes that the Suits in Hollywood tend to respect people who have strong opinions, and will often bend in favour of whoever happens to have the strongest opinion in any given room… but I imagine you have to be able to express that opinion without implying (or explicitly stating) that everyone who doesn’t “get it” is a moron. There was a great Dilbert strip that summed this attitude up rather nicely, with Dogbert declaring (during a “Communications Seminar”, no less): “There’s really no point in listening to other people… they’re either going to be agreeing with you, or saying stupid stuff.” And sometimes, I really do feel that way. That’s really not the guy I want to be though, hence my fascination with spiritual disciplines which can quell the disdain, encourage empathy, and soothe the frustration that comes from clashes between subjective realities… but how can you be humble and conciliatory, yet still have the self-belief and ambition to succeed? I don’t know.
Where was I going with this? I guess the point is simply that I’m grateful Sheldon exists, and that I am able to laugh at some of my own flaws through him. It’s reassuring to realise that some of my more irritating quirks are part of a recognised “spectrum”… even if I am only paddling in the shallow end of that particular pool. It dovetails nicely with the Buddha Book’s encouragement to identify your negative thoughts and impulses from the perspective of a Noble Detached Observer… or Jung’s theory about ascribing certain personality traits to separate “identities” within your psyche, which can then be channelled in a more balanced and healthful manner. It’s also cheering to realise, retroactively, that I never had a shot at being The Most Popular Kid in Class anyway… it simply isn’t the way I’m wired… and that maybe being The Most Popular Kid in Class isn’t the only thing in life worth aspiring to. Maybe it’s “okay” to just be the Weird Kid Who Talks Fancy, because someday those fancy words might come in handy. [Crosses fingers]