I am titling this “Part I” in anticipation that this will become a series. The Big Bang Theory is loaded with material that could be useful for this blog, so this will probably be a recurring theme. For this post, I’m going to analyze a short clip from the episode The Jiminy Conjecture (season 3, episode 2):
Earlier in this episode, Leonard had told Sheldon that he and Penny had a disappointing sexual experience, which he described as “just fine” because it wasn’t that great. Later, while the whole group are together in the living room, Howard makes a comment using the phrase “just fine,” intended to be an inside joke between the guys that Penny wouldn’t understand.
Penny then questions them about what is so funny, and Sheldon, in his usual direct, matter-of-fact manner of speaking, provides an answer: “You and Leonard had a disappointing sexual encounter which Leonard characterized as ‘just fine,’ so what you’re seeing here is a continuation of the mocking that followed.”
Under neurotypical social convention, there is an unwritten rule that this is an inappropriate thing to say, as it can be embarrassing for people to have their sex lives discussed in public. Making such a comment would probably be seen as rude, if not intentionally hostile.
But for an Aspie like Sheldon, it doesn’t occur that he might be saying something offensive. From an Aspie perspective, the situation is as simple as: Penny asked a question. Sheldon knew the answer to the question, and therefore had to reveal it. He is merely stating facts like he always does. And I would say that a tendency of Asperger’s thinking is to treat all pieces of information equally. All information has an equal level of importance, sensitivity and confidentiality unless one is specifically told otherwise. Leonard never specifically mentioned to Sheldon that the information he told him was meant to be private, so he had no way of knowing.
After Penny and Leonard leave the room, Sheldon tries to figure out what he did wrong. Raj is about to explain, but Howard stops him and says, rather condescendingly in the third-person, “Let’s see if he can figure it out.” In this scene, it is clearly implied that it is Sheldon’s behavior that is wrong and that the reasons are obvious. This is because, whether intentionally or unintentionally, it is the neurotypical narrative that is being promoted in the show. Under an Aspie narrative, this situation could be blamed on ambiguous social norms, or a misunderstanding between Sheldon and Leonard. But under the NT narrative, it is solely Sheldon’s behavior to blame.
Later on in the episode (not shown in this clip), Sheldon finally comes up with a theory about what went wrong. “Is this it? It was wrong for me to discuss Leonard and Penny’s sex life in front of Leonard and Penny?” Howard and Raj confirm that he is right. It is portrayed as a moment of character development when Sheldon comes to this revelation. It is an “improvement” every time Sheldon has a realization about the proper neurotypical way to behave.
I have noticed that in the later seasons of the show, Sheldon’s Asperger’s qualities slowly become less pronounced, especially as his relationship with Amy progresses. He becomes slightly less anal, and a bit more sociable and sensitive to others’ feelings. This is intended to be seen as positive character development. While even I agree that many of the changes seem positive, what concerns me is how much he is being stripped of his Aspie identity in order to go through these “improvements.” They are improvements only to the extent the NT narrative says that they are.
I think this is a good place to stop. To be continued next time…