Oh, Big Bang Theory, you struck the wrong chord in me when you put hoarding in your show.
*spoiler warning – hoarding: Big Bang Theory*
Those who watch the very popular TV show know the struggles of the “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested” pseudo-diagnosable principle character Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons). Audiences have asked is Sheldon on the autism spectrum or not? The actress who plays Sheldon’s girlfriend Amy, Mayim Bialik, gave a tactful defense of the show’s representation of Sheldon’s atypical and undefined nature. Did she answer the question? Well…no.
I like Big Bang, although as fictional role models for awkward, geeky and/or atypical youth, I don’t think the characters represent the true nature of hostility that occurs against people who are atypical, different, nerdy or socially isolated. But hey, it’s a half hour comedy program, not a lecture series on social politics, right?
The most recent episode, however, stirred my ire.
As if Sheldon didn’t have enough challenges to face, he brings his girlfriend to his “Fortress of Shame” and it’s not so cute a place as you might think.
The writers revealed that Sheldon has never thrown away anything, including old toothbrushes, and pine cones thrown at him by his brother. He is a hoarder (although I doubt, much like his mental wellness, they will give him a label).
Hoarding: Big Bang Theory Drops a Bomb
Given Sheldon’s neat-freak and OCD-like qualities, everything he’s ever owned is neatly stored away in a 20×20 storage locker. However, even germ-a-phobes become stuck in squalor when the amount of stuff they keep overwhelm them, so why is his storage locker so neat? Is that to make him seem less pathological than the people suffering with hoarding syndromes in the reality TV series? Because when I looked at the room and heard his explanation, I cringed.
On an academic note, I also think the storage room set poorly represents the reality of a lifetime of keeping stuff. He’d need more room because if he kept old toothbrushes (ha ha?), it should be in his nature to retain all the used containers for the creams and ointments he uses for his myriad of dermatological treatments, etc., And let’s not forget the heaps of scientific magazines and equipment he would have, and years of fanboy collectables comics, a hint of which we already see stuffing the cubbies of his apartment.
For the next several minutes, Big Bang Theory discretely pokes fun at the characteristics of hoarders, people who have unhealthy emotional attachments to physical objects even though it might cause them to lose their job or tear apart their family. Hoarding is not funny. Believe me, I did not laugh when this particular lived experience landed in my life, nor did anyone involved in trying to figure out the mess/problem.
Hoarding is a destructive situation.
The golf ball which Sheldon’s brother hit him is stored in its own little box. Sheldon refers to it as all the “sporting gear” he’s ever owned. *Insert laughter from audience because being bullied and hit in the head with a golf ball is funny, so we are meant to think.* Very sadly, he lies to his girlfriend about agreeing to throw out the golf ball. He sneaks it back into the room, a violation of the trust he’s just given his girlfriend (who once left him because, as would happen in reality, he wasn’t letting the relationship progress because of his various quirks). The slippery slope begins – and that sh*t ain’t funny either.
Hoarding Big Bang Theory style becomes as a tool to enhance Sheldon’s character arc – to give him a new challenge overcome, since he’s overcome his aversion to physical intimacy and other “typical” aspects of life. However, given how superficially the show handles other sensitive topics, I have a huge fear that it will simply evolve into a series of hoarder shaming jokes (like the fat shaming jokes slandered against Wolowitz’s mother).
Sadly, I doubt the show will adequately demonstrate how damning hoarding is to a person and their family, given how lightly they treat bullying, alcoholism, and social isolation. The producer of the show didn’t address the severity of this condition in his post-show memo. Instead, he tackled the topic of world peace.
Sheldon, as defined within the context of this episode, is more than a pack rat. Hoarding is not something to be taken lightly, nor to be made fun of, and I’m very disappointed that its being used as a plot/character device.