Some of you may know that I’ve done posts on the Big Bang Theory before, one where I used Sheldon and Amy as examples of asexual characters and another where I point out how poorly the writers dealt with Lucy’s social anxiety. This time, I’m discussing how the reoccurring punch line “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested” fails as a joke and actually has a detrimental effect on some viewers.
The joke started as a result of the other characters judging Sheldons’ quirks and coming to the conclusion that Sheldon must have some form of autism (although they never call it that on the show). I’m guessing that this came from a lot of fan theorizing at the time and a lot of fans seeing these traits and diagnosing Sheldon as being on the autistic spectrum. The writers were quick to deny this, using the line “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested” to establish that Sheldon has no such condition.
What bothers me so much about this is that I know young kids with mild autism who identify with Sheldon and love the character because of these traits. These people are desperate for representation and an autistic character who leads a happy, successful life would be a godsend.
The line “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested” absolutely destroys this perfect representation. Sheldon is not only flat out denying that he has this condition but he also refers as those who do as being “crazy” (or “insane” depending on the episode) which is horrendously offensive.
Sheldon had such great potential to be a well-rounded, representational character. At its creation, the show was designed to take what was a neglected subsection of people and portray them as successful academics. The character of Sheldon embodied this the most. His repulsion of any sexual contact but still being in a happy relationship would have been fantastic representation for asexuals, but as I’ve mentioned previously this was ruined by the sudden switch of Amy’s personality and the constant hints that the couple might one day have sex. Similarly, Sheldon could have been a fantastic role model for children; a child prodigy who became a respected scientist whilst being on the autistic spectrum. But the writers go out of the way to stress that Sheldon isn’t like them. Sheldon is normal, whilst the members of their audience who also display these traits as “crazy.”