Yvaughn01 (evelynvaughn01) wrote,

The Sheldon-Spock Expansion - Part 1 of 2

We are what we worship. At least, we try to be.

Christians ask themselves What Would Jesus Do? Goddess worship appeals especially to empowered women. Satanists (the stereotype) appear powerful and evil. Xena, who worshipped a delicious Ares-God-of-War, added Warrior to the title Princess.

 And Dr. Sheldon Cooper, on TBBT, pretty much worships Leonard Nimoy's Spock from Star Trek.

 Even the casual viewer must've caught on. Sure, all the guys tend to choose "Spock" when playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock," resulting in multiple ties ("The Lizard-Spock Expansion"). But Sheldon's the one who always chooses Spock when playing 20 Questions, enabling Raj to win in one turn ("The Vegas Renormalization"). Sheldon finds wearing a Spock costume to a Renaissance Faire--pretending it's a pseudo-Renaissance planet--less anachronistic than the Faire itself ("The Codpiece Topology"). Sheldon's favorite gift ever is a napkin with Leonard Nimoy's autograph--and DNA ("The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis").

 Maybe this reflects only the obvious. Sheldon has a higher intelligence than the others and doesn't wholly "get" emotions--just like Spock. Actor Jim Parsons is tall, dark-haired, and slim. Actor Leonard Nimoy (and now Zachary Quinto), aka Spock, is tall, dark-haired, and slim. Hey, suggests a writer early on, let's say Sheldon's really into Spock, 'kay? /Rationalization.

 If so--short essay.

 Or maybe, like everyone else, Sheldon's choice of role model goes deeper. It may give us greater insight about Sheldon....

 Perhaps moreso than even Sheldon, who believes "the social sciences are largely hokum," realizes ("The Friendship Algorhythm").


The Basics: Spock Represents Science

 The character of Spock was first introduced in 1965's failed pilot of Star Trek, "The Cage." The retooled series changed captains, but not Vulcans, and made Spock both the First Officer and the Science Officer of the Star Ship Enterprise.

 Spock wears the blue jersey of the Sciences (as opposed to the gold jersey of Command). He gets to explain the show's continual run-ins with time travel, computers, and other alients. Spock gets lines like "I am basically a scientist. Clarity of formulation is essential in my profession" ("The Mark of Gideon") and "Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four" ("The Conscience of the King").  

 The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper, a leader in his field of theoretical physics, also identifies himself mostly as a scientist. "When you understand the laws of physics, Penny, anything is possible. And may I add, mwah-ha-hah!" ("The Panty Pinata Polarization"). Oh sure, he may be "one lab accident away from being a super villain" (also "TPPP"). But that's sciency, nonetheless.

 Sheldon treasures other scientific role models of course, hanging a bust of Sir Isaac Newton on their Christmas tree and defending his inability to drive by comparing himself to Albert Einstein in "The Euclid Alternative." But his most common hero remains the Star Trek's Vulcan: "You're Kirk, I'm Spock, Wolowitz is Scotty, Koothrappali is the guy who always gets killed, and now [with Leonard dating a doctor] we've got McCoy" ("The White Asparagus Triangulation").

 Part of this, of course, may simply fit Sheldon's love of all things Star Trek. But surely some of it arises from his connection with famous scientists, real and fictional.

Sheldon: I'm a physicist. I have a working knowledge of the entire universe and everything it contains.
Penny: Who's Radiohead?
Sheldon: I have a working knowledge of the important things ("The Work Song Nanocluster").

 And what fictional scientist has a better reputation than Spock?


Also? Spock's Not Big on Emotions


More than once, during the run of Star Trek: The Original Series as well as in the movies and the cartoon series, Spock has spoken critically of emotions. "I have not enjoyed serving under Humans. I find their illogic and foolish emotions a constant irritant" ("Day of the Dove"). He insists he has not been insulted, in "Who Mourns for Adonais," by noting that "Insults are effective only where emotion is present." He thanks McCoy for calling him "the most cold-blooded man I've ever known" ("The Court Martial") and Kirk for saying he'd make "a splendid computer" ("The Return of the Archons").

 Similarly, Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory has difficulty reading--or properly showing--emotions. In the Pilot, he claims he would not love his own child if the toddler "doesn't know if he should use an integral or a differential to solve the area under a curve." The others have noticed this, as in "The Griffin Equivalency":

Sheldon: I often forget other people have limitations. It’s so sad.
Howard: He can feel sadness?
Leonard: Not really, it’s what you and I would call condescension.

 Spock has an "excuse," should such things need excusing, in that he is half-Vulcan and, raised on the planet Vulcan where "We disposed of emotion" ("Dagger of the Mind"). As he explains in "The Enemy Within," "If I seem insensitive to what you're going through, Captain, understand it's the way I am."

 Sheldon may also have an excuse. Viewers who know about Asperger's Syndrome, on the high functioning end of the Autism spectrum, firmly believe him to be an Aspie.

In fact, co-creator Bill Prady loosely based Sheldon on a computer tech he knew before such a disorder had been labeled, so Sheldon's condition remains deliberately ambiguous: "We don't think his mom ever took him in for a diagnosis." 

 Point being, when Sheldon asks whether hurting Penny's feelings with the truth would be "a relevant factor," we have no reason to think he's just being mean -- he's honestly asking ("The Loobenfeld Decay").

 It surprises me how many viewers don't seem to get this--even TVTropes.org has labeled Sheldon as a "jerk-ass." And yet, in the series, we've gotten multiple clues of his helplessness in the face of emotions, as in "The Pirate Solution:"

 Sheldon: Pardon me, I'm not good at reading facial cues, but judging from your face, you are either sad or nauseated.
Raj:  I'm sad.
Sheldon: Darn! I had sad! Why did I hedge?

 Not only viewers, but Sheldon's friends have difficulty understanding his limitations, as in "The Vegas Renormalization:"

 Sheldon: Is this conversation making you uncomfortable?
Penny: Of course it’s making me uncomfortable, can’t you tell?
Sheldon: I really have no idea. I don’t particularly excel at reading facial expressions, body language…
Penny: I’m uncomfortable, Sheldon!
Sheldon: Thank you. That’s very helpful.

 Significantly, Sheldon may not be able to read or easily show emotions, but he does feel them, as we've seen in numerous episodes including "The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation," "The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis," and "The Large Hadron Collision." He's not blind to outright hostility: "If you’re going to mock me, at least get your facts straight" ("The Einstein Approximation"). A far harsher example comes in "The Electric Can Opener Fluctuation," when his so-called friends defend faking three months of scientific results in the Arctic by claiming that they had to, because he was being a dick -- "when he wasn't happy, we wanted to kill him."

 How comforting might it have been for Sheldon, having suffered this kind of alienation his entire life without a diagnosis to explain it, to find a fictional character who suffered the same alienation? And Spock did suffer, as revealed by his human mother:" "When you were five years old and came home stiff-lipped, anguished, because the other boys tormented you saying that you weren't really Vulcan. I watched you knowing that inside, that the human part of you was crying and I cried, too" ("Journey to Babel").

 Yes. I said "alienation" on purpose.

(More in Part 2)
Tags: sheldon, spock, tbbt, the big bang theory

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