Semiotics• Semiotics is the science of signs.• Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure founded semiotics, or the interpretation of signs. Saussure claimed that signs are made up of sounds and images, what he called signifiers, and the concepts that these sounds and images bring to mind, what he called the signified.• American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce is the founder of semiotics. This is broken into a trichotomy of icons, indexes, and symbols. Icons are signified by resemblance, indexes signify by cause and effect. And symbols signify on the basis of convention.
What’s the Point?While it’s easy to enjoy the humor and appeal of shows such as the BigBang Theory, but to really appreciate the different aspects they must beexamined.Television often draws from real life situations and social codes, and thisshow is no different. It is interesting to look at how a combination ofsimulating real people and situations and manipulating the expectations ofthat formed reality creates humor and entertainment.The characters on this show are meant to portray real people andrepresent an entire lifestyle through the use of semiotics.The Question: How do television shows like the Big Bang Theory use signsto simulate real life people and lifestyles?
How it was done• To figure out the semiotics of this show, I watched episodes of Big Bang Theory in consecutive order and recorded patterns of signs and how they helped aid the story line and character development.• Since I watched the show outside of my research, I was more aware of the character developments and the point of their actions. I recorded instances of different semiotic aspects and analyzed them and their meaning.• Most of the examples are from Season 2, which I used for the majority of the research.• I used this method because the best way to determine the relevance of the codes is to not only observe the symbols, but to see how they are used in the story line of the show. I found the best way to do this was to mainly focus on a sample of episodes, such as a season, and see how the symbols are used throughout them.
Expectations• From my readings and studying semiotics, I expected to find that the characters in the show used well known symbols to aid in the understanding of the plot and people.• My hypothesis: viewers rely on semiotics in television to relate to story lines and characters. Furthermore, the humor in the show would come from both the use and diversion of these recognizable signs.• I expect this show to use several aspects of semiotics, such as codes, intertextuality, similes, and metaphors to aid in this hypothesis.
Rajesh KoothrappaliJob: ParticalAstrophysicistAbout:• Known as “Raj.”• Originally from New Delhi.“Nerd Quality”• Suffers from selective mutism, which doesn’t allow him to talk to women without alcohol
Howard WolowitzJob: Aerospace EngineerAbout:• The only member of the group without a PhD, which he defends by saying that most engineers have no use for.“Nerd Quality”:• Lives with his overbearing mother.• Unwarranted confidence• Arsenal of cheesy pick up lines. For example: “I’m the small package good things come in.”
Leonard HofstaderJob: Experimental PhysicistAbout:• The most “normal” of the four men.• Lactose-intolerant• Roommate of Sheldon Cooper• Incredibly patient.“Nerd Quality”:• Short stature• Glasses• Video game, comic book, and science fiction obsessions.
PennyJob: Waitress at theCheesecake FactoryAbout:• Originally from Nebraska• Aspiring actress• Has a shoe addiction“Nerd Quality”:• Penny is not a nerd, but she is used to highlight the qualities of the people that she hangs out with and their abnormal qualities.
Sheldon CooperJob: Theoretical PhysicistAbout:• Originally from Texas• Has intense OCD• Has strict rules that his friends must follow“Nerd Quality”:• Avid online video gamer• Collects mint-condition comic books• Socially awkward
Wardrobe• Penny: modern, normally form fitting clothing, age appropriate with her 22- year old character. Bright colors. Meant to be used as a symbol for youth and her place as the attractive female figure.• Howard: low v-necks paired with turtlenecks. Bright, neon colors and tight pants. Used as a symbol of his outgoing personality and to illuminate his awkwardness. He looks abnormal, but he wears it with pride.
Wardrobe cont.Raj: brown pants, lumpy sweaters and sneakers. This is a symbol of hisreserved attitude. He is not usually the center of the attention, and especiallypaired with his selective mutism is makes sense for him to dress in a way thatdoesn’t attract much attention to him.Leonard: Glasses, a t-shirt layered with a hoodie and jacket. Glasses are oftenused as symbols of intelligence, which is necessary to establish him as hisbehavior is not as odd as the others. Otherwise, his look is casual andconsistent, which is also symbolic of his behavior.Sheldon: graphic t-shirts over long sleeve shirts and pants. The graphic t-shirtsthat often feature some kind of cartoon or superhero. This is a symbol of hisinterests and makes it obvious that he is different, since men his age wouldn’tnormally wear their abnormal interests so blatantly.
Not crazy, but…Sheldon exhibits some behaviors that indicate he might have Aspergers, aform of Autism that is commonly associated with people who have very highlevels of intelligence but lack social skills.Some symptoms include:• Always thinking literally• Oblivious to facial expressions, gestures, or tone of voice• Find other people difficult to read, or rather cannot pick up on social codes.• Failure to behave in socially acceptable ways• Often having one-sided conversations• Exhibiting symptoms of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder)While it is never expressed, Sheldon does display all of these symptoms inhis everyday behavior. Most obvious are his obsessive compulsions.
Sheldon’s ScheduleMonday: Oatmeal for breakfastTuesday: Cheeseburger nightWednesday: New Comic Book/ Halo NightThursday: Pizza NightFriday: Vintage game night and Chinese foodSaturday: Laundry night
Sheldon’s Friendship AlgorithmIn one episode, Sheldon develops a “friendship algorithm” whenattempting to make a new friend. This is evidence for Aspergers becausehe is approaching a social situation logically, and has difficulty makingfriends naturally.
Sheldon’s “spot”Sheldon’s “spot” on the couch is one of the most compulsiveaspects of his personality. Alongside his schedule, Sheldon reliesheavily on this couch seat as a point of consistency and reactsvery negatively to anyone intruding on this space.
Social Codes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZkzNiqXWFzI Codes: these refer to ways of itnerpreting messages that are not eaily understood otherwise. Much of human behavior canbe seen as having “hidden” structures.Sheldon is also largely the model of social codes as well. Not only is he notable to pick up on social codes, he does not know how to naturally adhere tothem.This is apparent in one episode of season 2 when Sheldon tried to get Penny adate so she will break her online gaming addiction.Because he is unaware of the social codes behind what he is saying, Sheldonends up sending the wrong message to the man he is talking to.
Penny Who?• The character of Penny can also be seen as a symbol. She is the only character whose last name has never been revealed. By doing so, she becomes more of a symbol.• Penny is a blonde-haired, thin, aspiring actress from Nebraska who now lives in California. In short, she is a symbol of the All-American girl.• Penny is also a symbol of “normalcy” in comparison to the other characters. She creates an interesting dynamic by being a part of a social group of geniuses, but also stands for the general population. She’s sarcastic, hopelessly ambitious, and just a little naïve.
Similes andMetaphors• Metaphors: communicating by analogy• Similes: a subcategory of metaphors that uses “like” or “as” in the analogy.
Simile and Metaphors(and Leonard and Penny’s relationship) Simile: When Penny is trying to get Sheldon to help her lie to Leonard about graduating from community college, Sheldon replies with, “When I try to deceive, I myself have more nervous ticks than a lime disease research facility.” Metaphor: When discussing the pros and cons of Leonard and Penny’s relationship, Sheldon uses Schrodinger’s Cat as a way of explaining it to her: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCOE__N6v4o
What dothese do?• Similes and Metaphors are used largely in this show to outline the intelligence of the characters in witty ways.• Like in the examples, the similes and metaphors are usually used as the highly intelligent characters are trying to explain a situation.• To them, the comparisons they make are valid and clear, but it’s humorous when we see that Penny, (and probably most of the viewers) can barely follow the train of though. Luckily, Sheldon is normally more than happy to explain himself.
IntertextualityIntertextuality: deals with the relationship between texts and is used toshow how texts borrow from each other, both consciously andunconsciously.• There are large amounts of intertextuality used in the Big Bang Theory. References to well known popular culture and media are frequent.• For example, in this picture the cast is dressed as the Justice League for a costume competition. These figures, especially Batman and Superman, are very recognizable and the fake muscles are used to contrast them with the physicality of the characters they are dressed as.
• These recognizable references are used most importantly to make the Intertextuality characters real people.• While they are following a story line, Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, and Howard represent a real lifestyles, real interests, and real behaviors.• Naturally, this is best emphasized by the use of recognizable things from comic books, video games, and movies that express the interests of these characters.• The intertextuality therefore not only makes them more believable, but also more relatable.
In Conclusion…• The Big Bang Theory uses semiotics to create a false reality, and to add believability to the characters and their lifestyles.• Metaphors, similes, codes, and intertextuality are the maine aspects of the symbols used in this show.• Symbols can be seen in everything from clothing to personality types.• The characters themselves, such as Sheldon and Penny, can be seen as symbols.• Television shows can use symbols to help viewers identify with the characters, both in similarities and diversions.• Sometimes, breaking the social codes can be used to create comedy.
Sources"Aspergers Syndrome Symptoms in Children, Teens, Adults."WebMD. WebMD, 03 Jan. 2000. Web. 10 Dec. 2012."Understanding and Embracing Diversity." Big Bang Theory’sSheldon Cooper: Asperger’s Syndrome’s Poster boy? N.p., 12Feb. 2012. Web. 10 Dec. 2012."The Big Bang Theory - The Bad Fish Paradigm Quotes."Updates. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec. 2012."The Big Bang Theory." TV Fanatic RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Dec.2012.