FRONT PAGE / POSTS
Smart is the New Sexy
by Vivian Shi| Shanghai, China
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
tags: asia, consumer culture, culture, emergence, global vectors, global/local, technology
It is not the first time that an US sitcom has won so much popularity in China but The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) received unparalleled acclamation all over the country when Jim Parsons won the outstanding lead actor in a comedy series in 62nd Emmy Awards for his break-through performances as Shelton Cooper.
Young Chinese audiences are always big fans of US TV shows. However diversified programme types have cut the audience into smaller fans groups and only very few shows share widespread popularity across these segments. TBBT did not receive high recognition in its first season. The plot was considered a bit clichéd, centering on the relationship between a fat-witted blondie (Penny) and a group of boring, geeky high-IQ physicists. The turning point was the second season when the focus shifted away from the romance story to the geeks’ day to day life and particularly to Sheldon Cooper, a physicist with remarkably high IQ and very distinctive personality. By end of the scond season, TBBT was a huge hit and Shelton Cooper became the new role model for many young Chinese males, particularly the “home geeks” (Zhai Nan) who are characterized as follows:
– Highly educated while lacking social communication skills especially with girls
– Point-to-point day to day life (home – office), disconnected to the real world
– Deeply involved in virtual communities, web surfing, online gaming, board games,
comic books and cartoon animations. A China specific- interest is following their
favorite US TV shows.
– Involved and interested in IT technologies, products, tweaks and customizations.
– Lightly obsessive-compulsive, self centric and emotionally vulnerable (due to one-
This generation was mostly born after 1980 and have lived through the era of the economic boom and one-child policy. They were ‘little emperors’ in childhood and have never faced any of the material shortages their parents did. They are smart, well-educated and ambitious. However when they get out of college they may encounter a wide gap between their expectations and reality. Harsh competition, soaring living costs and and an insubstantial welfare system mean they have to struggle for survival and this may consume their energy and passion for life. Hence many of them choose to immerse themselves in a small social circle with similar interests or values or escape to the virtual world to re-live their dreams. They live in a world of their own and feel happy to be seen as home geeks though the name implies a certain level of disapprobation.
Contrary to the traditional image of geeks as boring, serious and somewhat idiotic in terms of social skills, TBBT depicts the life of home geeks as being actually full of fun, happiness and excitement. During their spare time these geeks live a colorful personal life, e.g. playing vintage games, reading comic books or doing weird and crazy experiments. They also hit on girls though often in an awkward manner. TBBT successfully refreshes the image of home geeks with which young Chinese audiences can find self-identification, while also featuring a happy, honest and simple life that Chinese viewers can long for as this has been missing from the hassle mundane life.
The influence of this TV show has already extended to multiple areas: The science facts introduced in the show have stimulated immediate Google surges, the T shirts Shelton was wearing become hot sale items, the “Penny knocking” and theme song are used as ring tones and message alarms. TBBT is establishing a lifestyle and will lead the embedded marketing among it’s followers – various props, gadgets, mugs, puzzle boxes that make appearances in the show could all have potential in this respect..
The US NBC TV show Chuck and UK Channel 4’s The IT Crowd also have similar settings involving home geeks. Chuck is more of a fantasy show in which the heroism is developed by the character’s special skills. It emphasizes that life changing (spy life, gun fighting, beautiful girls) will only happen with a huge transition from everyday normality. This small-time-people-goes-big scenario can only take place in dreams. The IT Crowd, employs extreme-sarcasm and black humor, both rarely adopted by Chinese youth.
© Vivian Shi 2010