The first of my case studies is the TV sitcom ‘The Big Bang Theory’ which airs on CBS. The sitcom centers on four intellectual and socially awkward science ‘geeks’ who are friends and their neighbor, who is an attractive White woman and their opposite in every way. The main focus of this sitcom for me (with respect to this study) is Priya, the sister of one of the characters Raj, both of whom are Indian. Keeping in mind the criteria I set down in my first post, I am going to attempt to analyze her character in keeping with the theme of the show.
Since the premise of the sitcom is humor, the character has been developed accordingly. Priya’s character is definitely the secondary female role on the show and is subject to some of the stereotypes associated with her racial group. She has been portrayed as a successful working professional. Her choice of partner is not determined by her race, although it does influence the reaction of other characters around her.
Priya has been shown as being a successful lawyer on the show. She graduated from Cambridge and is employed as a lawyer with a car company in India. Despite her being educated in the US, her Indian heritage is often alluded to, as she comes to visit her brother in the US, from India. She is shown to be rebellious and open-minded, which is a direct contrast to her brother’s character. She dates one of the White characters on the show and it is made clear that both her parents and her sibling oppose this relationship, purely on the basis of her partner being Caucasian. She is shown to be sexually forward (in many of the encounters between her and Leonard, it is usually Priya who initiates the act of getting physical) and promiscuous, which does not fall into the general stereotype of Indian women, who are generally perceived as being virgins till they marry. She is subject to the stereotype of her Indian parents not approving of her choosing her own partner and being even more outraged that her partner is not Indian. She does occasionally feel threatened by the white female lead (Penny) because Priya and Penny share the same romantic interest-Leonard- but the insecurity is not based on her race.
In reverse, Priya’s sexuality has been portrayed as a threat to the other female character on the show-Penny- who shares an on again/off again romantic relationship with Leonard. I choose the word ‘promiscuous’ as opposed to a term such as ‘sexually active’ because even though she has physical relations with Leonard, she makes it very clear at the beginning of their relationship that they cannot have a future together, because of his being White. Also, she references having slept with her ex-boyfriend after breaking up with Leonard. In my opinion, the word ‘promiscuous’ was the more apt term to use for Priya’s character because she enters into a physical relationship with Leonard expecting nothing more than physical gratification. Had I used the words ‘sexually active’, I feel there would have been an implication or a connotation that Priya’s character was emotionally connected to Leonard’s, when that is not the case.
The question I would be interested to find the answer to would be how an Indian audience would perceive Priya’s character in terms of being sexually promiscuous, because this is a very delicate topic in the Indian culture and one that is not discussed openly. Women in India are expected to be virgins till the day they marry and promiscuity is not widely talked about in social circles. For such a character to be shown on prime time television would have definitely raised eyebrows, especially when contrasted with an accurate portrayal of her conservative, orthodox and over-protective brother and parents.