Big Bang: A Mom’s and A Child’s Differing Views on Sheldon Cooper
Posted on April 27, 2019 by Ann
While researching for the article “Is Sheldon Autistic? Amy’s Answer May Bring Tears to Your Eyes“, I came across two interesting articles.
The first article is The Problem with Sheldon Cooper and the Cute Autism by Lydia Netzer, a mother with a child with autism. In her article, she wrote about how she felt about the show’s portrayal of autism.
The second article is “I Am Not Sheldon Cooper” by Lydia Netzer’s child, Benny Netzer. In his article, he wrote about his perspective in response to Lydia’s article.
This is such a wonderful dialogue and it is so cool to see both mother and child exchanging their views about pop culture on the same platform!
Here is a summary of their perspectives.
The Mother’s Perspective
Lydia’s article focused on what she called “cute autism”. She wrote:
Sheldon Cooper is in fact not an autistic person. He suffers from a different condition, one that appears mostly on TV and movie screens, but also on Facebook posts, in Christmas letters to family, and in glossily remembered versions of real events: the cute autism.
She pointed out that The Big Bang Theory lacks realism. For example:
[…] A person with cute autism might commit a faux pas, but he will not be shamed and kicked out of school for it. He might utter a gaffe, but he will not permanently alienate a friend group because of it. He won’t destroy relationships. He won’t have an ugly emotional meltdown in public, or freak out and hit someone. While Sheldon Cooper’s friends on The Big Bang Theory are often exasperated and annoyed, they never shun him, because Sheldon never crosses the line into causing true offense and hurt. The writers carefully keep Sheldon just on this side of being awful. That is a high bar to set for autistic people in the real world.
Lydia went on to say that while one might be willing to overlook cute autism in adult Sheldon, she draws the line with the show Young Sheldon. She stressed that what was shown in Young Sheldon will not happen in real life because real life is a lot harsher. It is not how children with autism may behave.
You can feel her pain and sadness when she wrote:
There will never be a very special episode of Young Sheldon where Sheldon beats his own face black and bloody, or cries himself to sleep because his last friend has decided he’s too weird and turned his back on him. The writers won’t allow that.
On the surface, her article is a warning against cute autism because it can worsen stereotypes, create unrealistic expectations, sanitised reality and make people think that tolerance is easy when it is anything but that.
But I think her article is really a cry for understanding. She is angry because she does not appreciate her experience being swept under the carpet and trivialised into a two-dimensional TV sitcom.
It is, most of all, an expression of a parent’s constant lifelong anxiety for her child. Every line speaks of an indefatigable mother who had fought every inch and championed her child for years.
The Son’s Perspective
Benny started by acknowledging that Sheldon Cooper’s high-functioning form of autism may be seen as fictitious and often offensive:
To many mothers of autistic children, such as Lydia Netzer, this kind of “cute autism” doesn’t delve deep enough into the way autism works. Autistic children may offend people regularly, cause physical harm, and in general cause people to feel extremely hurt. My mother believes that the show is setting an unrealistic example of how autistic people may behave, stating that parents should not use Dr. Cooper as an example of all autistic children. But I believe that Dr. Cooper’s diminutive autism and personal growth is a good starting point for discussion of this condition.
He reminded that autism symptoms exist on a spectrum, and that in his own case, he is able to relate to Sheldon, given that his own friends probably made fun of him in the same way and that he also has specific quirks. For example, Sheldon knocks three times. Benny walks across the floor in an L-shape.
Probably because he found Sheldon so relatable, he pointed out that his mother was wrong when she claimed that Sheldon does not destroy relations. In fact, Sheldon does so regularly with his obnoxious annoying behaviour. Benny pointed out that the crux of the issue is:
The difference is that Dr. Cooper’s relationships are always replenished by his friends, rather than himself. His roommate helps him restore his relationships with most of his friends, while his mother helps him get his job back after he disrespected the university president, makes him apologize to his neighbor, and help him cope with a breakup.
Benny pointed out that:
Dr. Cooper has never once solved a problem by himself, which is why it works. Most autistic children work the same way, with their mothers at their sides, mending every awry social interaction by stepping in and helping the child make the right decisions. […]
Without her and my friends to help me, I wouldn’t have as strong a relationship to all of them, and I would’ve most certainly hurt their feelings.
He ended beautifully, by acknowledging his mother’s importance to his life, but at the same time, expressing that it is time for him to stand up for his beliefs, make his own decisions and outgrow his condition.
The title of this article is “I am not Sheldon Cooper” but in fact most of the article is about how similar they are, except in two ways:
1. Benny wrote “Sometimes I am jealous of how easily Dr. Cooper is forgiven for his actions.” This is the first difference. We know that reality is not like this. Benny is not Sheldon Cooper because he doesn’t get forgiven as easily. He does not have the luxury of the ideal world Sheldon lives in.
2. The second difference is that Sheldon Cooper, being a fictional character, has no free will to solve or try to solve a real life problem by himself. But Benny, in his final paragraph, showed that he is his own person. He can and will make that decision to take control of his own life.
After reading the second article, I tried to put myself in Lydia Netzer’s shoes.
I think, if I were her, I would be so tremendously proud of him. I would feel that finally, I can relax, take off my armour and put down my sword for a bit. He may be on the spectrum but he has come to his own and he will be okay.