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Why is 'Big Bang' Funny While Tim Hunt Isn't?

06/19/2015 05:30 EDT | Updated 06/19/2016 05:59 EDT
CBS Photo Archive via Getty Images
LOS ANGELES - MARCH 25: 'The Relationship Diremption' -- Sheldon (Jim Parsons) faces a personal crisis after deciding he's wasting his time with string theory, on THE BIG BANG THEORY, Thursday, April 10 (8:00-8:31 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)

Am I the only person who watches theThe Big Bang Theory? Am I the only person who, when learning about Tim Hunt's comments regarding female scientists and co-ed labs, thought of Sheldon Cooper? I honestly don't know how anyone could bother to be upset with Hunt's assertions. At best, his comments were laughable and Sheldon Cooper-esque. At worst, they were stupid. In either scenario, they were something Cooper would have said.

For those of you who don't watch the show, Cooper -- wonderfully played by Jim Parsons -- is an Aspergers-y scientist who routinely says whatever pops into his mind and is often mystified at others' reactions.

I believe there has even been a Big Bang Theoryepisode where Cooper lectures a female co-worker about her hormones and her urges and her eggs. Surprised to be facing an accusation of harassment as a result, he proceeds to similarly offend the university human resources administrator in charge of the situation (an African-American woman he has previously offended by buying her a DVD set of "Roots").

I realize that Hunt is not a character on a sitcom. But when, oh when, did everyone become so brittle and humorless? And where is our sense of proportion? Hunt didn't harass a colleague or assault someone or fire a woman who wouldn't have sex with him or say that women shouldn't be scientists or that female scientists weren't as good as male scientists. He merely stated something that is true in every workplace -- people fall in love with each other and it can turn into quite a problem. It can also end happily, too, of course, but that generally is not how workplace (or most other) romance unravels, and since it is not something that can really be policed -- try though we might -- drama often ensues.

As for women crying when criticized, he may or may not have experienced having to deal with a weeping female after one of his clunky comments. I imagine some men cry at criticism, too. I imagine Hunt has no filter in that huge brain of his, or else he truly thought he was being funny. But either way, is it really something over which he should have lost his teaching position at University College London? Is it really something over which he should have been let go from the science committee of the European Research Council? The man is a Nobel laureate -- and not in some iffy category like "peace". (Remember that Yasser Arafat was given a Nobel Peace Prize, as was President Barack Obama, the latter merely for being alive). Surely a co-worker's geeky social ineptitude is one of life's tolerable woes.

Many female scientists have come forward to defend him, touting his fairness and his encouragement and mentoring of young colleagues of both genders. Actions should speak louder than words, especially when the words were really just, by Hunt's own admission, an attempt, however failed, to be "jocular."

Compare and contrast Hunt with Jian Ghomeshi, a slick fellow who always said the right things and was adored by every politically correct person in public life, and yet now finds himself charged with sexual assault. Do we not know by now that the surface is just that, a surface? It isn't that offensive comments should be overlooked; it is that we need to look beyond the apparent. I know of so many perfect-on-paper, care-about-women's-issues men, who are sexist in truly harmful ways. I also know of men who may say the "wrong" things but wouldn't hurt a fly. I think of my late brother here: a brilliant, glorious nerd who had a Ph.D. in pure math and an absolutely sound moral compass, yet people often couldn't "read" or decipher him.

What has happened to Hunt is absurd. And it goes hand and hand with what appears to be growing fragility in the western world. Are we so reluctant to look at the things that truly challenge us, that we instead fixate on nerds with limited social skills who make goofy comments about girls, or on what pronoun to use for Caitlyn Jenner, or on literature professors who have the nerve to want to teach us Ovid, causing triggers and feelings of being micro-aggressed?

#FirstWorldProblems is a popular hash-tag on Twitter, a medium where Hunt took a beating in the days after his comments. I can't help but think that his comments were just that, a first world problem, a source of outrage for relatively lucky people.

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