Friday, September 16, 2011

Why do they tolerate Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory?

This is why you use spray-paint to scrawl your death threats - fewer drips

With the fifth season of The Big Bang Theory starting up next week, I felt it would be a good idea to tackle one of the biggest burning questions of the series. If you watch the show regularly, then congratulations, you're a big nerd. You also may wonder why Sheldon Cooper's friends tolerate him. Particularly Leonard, Howard, Raj, and Penny. Sheldon forces them to abide by strict rules, assigns them strikes if they break said rules, and otherwise makes their lives miserable on a daily basis.

You'd think that five minutes with that lunatic would have them either heading for the hills or getting their stories straight when Sheldon goes on "vacation." (You have two scientists and an engineer - disposing of a body wouldn't be that difficult.) But instead, Sheldon is an integral part of the group. So much so that the three of them regularly give in to Sheldon's often insane demands, adhere to his dictatorial roommate agreement, and tolerate his outright abusive behavior. Sheldon is a tyrant who rules with an iron fist inside a toy Incredible Hulk hand.
Mussolini used to wear Batman underoos.

While some may see this as one of the worlds biggest plot-holes (right up there with why they couldn't just fly The One Ring to Mordor?) I believe that it makes sense. Below are eight good reasons why they tolerate Sheldon, and one very bad reason.

First, let's see the good reasons:

1.He saved their lives.
In a flashback episode, we learn that when Leonard moved in, he tried to create rocket fuel, but unfortunately he got the mixture wrong. When Leonard got onto the elevator to dispose of the smoking container, Sheldon instead yanked Leonard off the elevator right before the mixture exploded, destroying the elevator in the process. Had Sheldon not realized just how badly Leonard had screwed up, there would be one fewer scientist in the world.

You agree to give me a ride, not sit in my spot, and try not to blow up the apartment

2. He's kept them out of jail.
For nerds, these guys live exciting lives. Even though he destroyed the elevator, Leonard never faced charges (or eviction) because Sheldon didn't rat him out. He even helped Howard cover up the fact that he got the Mars Rover stuck while trying to impress a girl he brought to a restricted area. Neither time did Sheldon call the authorities.

Perhaps Sheldon simply didn't see the need, perhaps he does feel something akin to loyalty, or perhaps he realized that having his friends in jail would be too much of a change. This is a person who goes apoplectic if you sit in his spot on the couch. His need for order trumps any sense of civic duty.

Pictured: two people who would not do well in prison

3. He's easy to borrow money from.
While Sheldon isn't easy to live with, or talk to, or be near in any way, he's the one person you can borrow money from. He doesn't really care about money they way the rest of us do. As long as his basic needs are met, his surplus cash is just sitting there. In one episode, he freely lent money to Penny. He thought nothing of it, while she drove herself crazy feeling like she owed a great debt. He never brought it up, preferring to use his intellect to either solve the great mysteries of the universe or learn Klingon.

Go on, take it. If I need more I'll think it into existence.

4. He's a peer.
These three geeks often need a fourth who will dress up in Justice League costumes, play Halo, bounce lasers off the moon, and do all the other stuff normal people won't to. (And people like me who are jealous that they get to and I can't.) Sheldon gets this life and is happy to be a part of it. Sure, he'll bore you to death with every ounce of mundane trivia, but at least he's doing it. He also can appreciate a Battlestar Galactica reference, a Star Trek reference, but not a Bablyon 5 reference. (Oh, he knows what you're talking about, he just won't appreciate it.)

This is totally worth all those years of emotional abuse

5. Better the devil you know.
What may scare Sheldon's friends is that there are worse people they could spend time with. At least with Sheldon, they've learned how to keep from killing him. Anyone new might be worse, or different, and the trade-off just isn't worth it. Sheldon is a force they can factor into their lives, and after many years, it's gotten to be a pretty good skill.

No one expects the Sheldon Inquisition!

6. Relationship inertia.
Added to point 5, whenever you invest years into something, it's hard to give it up. To do otherwise feels like a waste. This might not be the best of ideas or rationale, but it's the same reason people will continue to throw good money after bad, because they've already invested so much they feel they need to keep going so it will pay off. Same thing with a relationship with Sheldon: after putting so many years into getting to know him and learning how to get along, it's hard to just throw it away.

Unless the One Ring is involved, then screw you guys!

7. He's a foil.
Part of those years of experience are having Sheldon as an adversary. He's not their enemy (not really) but there's an energy that comes from conflict. While it's unlikely a rift will develop on a Professor-X/Magneto scale (they'll have to rock-paper-scissors-lizard-Spock over who gets to be Magneto), there is always that tension between Sheldon and the gang. After all these years, they've not only gotten used to it, but it's a part of their routine. They need him to work against, and it's not as charged without him. As a bonus, they do know what buttons to push and do take pleasure in annoying him.

Annoying Sheldon is more fun with plasma grenades

8. He makes them feel normal.
Compared to him, they feel like regular human beings. It's got to be nice for them knowing that, for once, they're not the weird ones. These are people who are used to being belittled, bullied, and written off as the strange, nerdy set. Instead, compared to Sheldon, someone who doesn't get standard rules of human interaction and who takes social awkwardness to whole new levels, their lives are almost normal. Why would they give that up?

Plus, sometimes this happens.
Of course, those reasons are when I look at the situation as a glass half-full. There's one more reason why they might tolderate Sheldon, but it isn't a nice reason. It's actually pretty scary.

9. Stockholm Syndrome.

Let me explain. Stockholm Syndrome involves several phases, all of which have occurred on the show. First, you believe there is no escape from your captor (in this case Sheldon.) Secondly, you adapt your behavior to avoid your captor's triggers, and keeping your captor happy becomes a means for survival. Third, you latch onto any act of kindness on your captor's part, thus no longer seeing him as your adversary, but possibly as someone who cares about you. Finally, this progresses until you identify with the captor and see him as your friend, your savior, and someone who you can't live without. At this point you are under severe self-delusion, but you need it to survive.

Just imagine what he and Patty Hearst would do.

This is what may have happened to the characters in Big Bang Theory. Sheldon has not only managed to hold them captive, but actually convinced them to go along with it. I don't think any of them, even Sheldon, is aware of what's going on, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

Oh, dear. I've accidentally succeeded in my evil plan!

We have all the factors. Sheldon's roommate agreement is his way of holding them captive, particularly Leonard. Since Sheldon's apartment is where they all hang out, there's no escape, and Sheldon is in charge. They have all adapted their behavior to keep Sheldon from going off, from not sitting in his spot to modifying their eating habits. Every once in a while Sheldon does them a great kindness, from saving their lives, lending them money, or keeping them from jail. Thus, they have identified with their captor and see him as their friend.

This would be the next, logical step.

That's why they put up with him. Pretty soon they'll be knocking over banks to fund his evil plans to take over the world. And if their world conquest results in more episodes of Firefly, then I, for one, welcome our new geek overlords.

First item on the agenda: this is now considered Business Casual
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  1. While all those reasons are true why Leonard and Sheldon are friends!!! The main reason to me is because Leonard's mother and Sheldon are so so much alike. It's easy for Leonard to put up with Sheldon's weird tendency's because his mother is so much like Sheldon. He tolerated his mothers coldness all his life with how she treats him and Sheldon for him is comfortable. The same reason Sheldon can put up with Leonard's feelings and such. Because of how he grew up with a mother that is warm and loving.

  2. If I were Leonard I would have kicked his ass years ago for comments like "I have trained him for years to do what I want"

  3. All these reasons are nonsense. Sheldon is rude, dictatorial nobody with a Hitler complex combined with the personality of a shrew. Me being an impatient, belligerent, vindictive type would have strangled Sheldon in his sleep, or pushed him down the elevator shaft. He, Sheldon, is the reason roommates turn on one the other and kill them.