The Big Bang Theory and its Portrayal of Indians

One topic that we briefly mentioned in the beginning of the class was how Indians and South Asians are represented in American television. One of the most well-known shows with an Indian character is The Big Bang Theory. The character, Rajesh Koothrappali, played by Kunal Nayyar, fills the role of the “funny foreigner.” This common trope in American television can be seen in various other comedies such as The Simpsons and Family Guy. TV Tropes describes and criticizes this trope by saying, “Foreigners are funny! Or so say a good number of comedy shows. The jokes practically write themselves; foreigners mangle the language(especially idioms) in funny ways, they are ignorant of customs in the show’s home country, and they have their own bizarre little customs that make no sense. They will either be unsure of themselves, or (more frequently) totally oblivious to how odd everybody finds them.”


Closely related to this trope, Raj’s character plays into many of the stereotypes surrounding Indian immigrants: he is portrayed as socially awkward, nerdy, and effeminate. He is unable to talk to women without being drunk, hangs out with a group of other “nerdy” scientists, and as the article “The Raj Prototype” points out, he “likes fru-fru drinks and The Blue Man Group.” While the show started off being written for an American audience, it is now attempting to cater to a more global audience. Despite this, the show fails to give Raj the opportunity for significant character growth, generally focusing on immigrant Indian stereotypes, Raj’s failed relationships with women, and his ignorance of American customs for humor’s sake.

What do you guys think? Is this portrayal of Indians acceptable just because a “Western” audience finds humor in it? What other shows come to mind when considering American television’s portrayal of Indians and South Asians?




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