It was only a matter of time before the fun police came for The Simpsons. The latest victim of the anti-joy squad is Apu Nahasapeemapetilon; Springfield’s friendly Indian migrant and owner of the Kwik-E-Mart. In a November 2017 documentary, The Problem with Apu, comedian Hari Kondabolu highlighted the fact the character can be perceived as representing a harmful stereotype of people of South Asian heritage. And to be honest, he’s got a point.
The minute Apu, voiced by the brilliant and very, very white Hank Azaria opens his mouth; the thick, grating imitation of an Indian accent has you hear the caricature before you see it. The documentary roused much criticism of The Simpsons, too much for the show’s producers to simply ignore. However, in true, irreverent, Simpson-esque style, the latest episode responded to all the tut-tutting with a great big, “We don’t give a toss.”
The episode, entitled ‘No Good Read Goes Unpunished’, sneaks in a cheeky segment in which Marge is reading Lisa a version of her favourite (made-up) book as a child, The Princess in the Garden. Having realised it is full of racial stereotypes; Marge has sanitised it to make it palatable for 2018. Eventually, Lisa turns to the viewer and states pensively, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
She then looks at a picture of Apu on the dresser with, “Don’t have a cow!”, Bart Simpson’s infamous catchphrase, scrawled across it.
“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge responds.
“If at all,” Lisa replies, looking blankly at the audience. And just like that, The Simpsons gave the politically correct outrage mobs, salivating at the prospect of conquering another symbolic hurdle in their war against humour, the proverbial, yellow middle finger (the four-fingered-hand equivalent, anyway).
Such is the arrogance of moral ‘progressives’, it was clear Hari Kondabolu expected the show’s producers to kowtow and deracialise Apu. Kondabolu, like the rest of the morality SWAT team, genuinely believed this hugely popular juggernaut of a series; a show that has become so steeped in popular culture you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who can’t sing along to Monty Burns’ rendition of ‘See My Vest’, would change its modus operandi because a few people said, “I’m offended.”
“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad,” Kondabolu Tweeted.
“In ‘The Problem with Apu,’ I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalised groups & why this is important,” he continued in a further Tweet. “The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”
But here’s the thing so-called progressives have missed about dear Apu; he’s actually a pretty darn good representative of migrant America. He’s a stoic devotee of the USA with a killer work ethic. He spends days at a time in the Kwik-E-Mart, without sleep, to support his wife and eight children. He is highly intelligent and over-qualified for his position, but never complains of his plight. Instead, he displays nothing but joy that he is living in the Land of the Free, with all the opportunities that go with it.
Apu is a small business owner and an entrepreneur, and is an example of one who has come to the West with nothing but has worked himself to the bone to make a successful life in a foreign land. He’s also a family man and a good person. Sure, he cheated on his wife, but he owned his mistake and did everything in his power to make amends by completing a number of ludicrous tasks commissioned by his wife Manjula. Including presenting an all-octuplet cast rendition of the hit musical My Fair Lady.
However, as heart-warming as all of this is, it is beside the point. Here’s the thing; if Apu is such an allegedly objectionable character, then how do the politically correct rage-groups feel about Bumblebee Man? An illegal immigrant from Mexico and star of a Spanish-language television sitcom, in which he dresses in a bumblebee costume, and speaks only in simple, over-enunciated, not to mention inaccurate Spanish sentences is surely worth some hand-flapping.
What about Luigi Risotto, the owner of Springfield’s token Italian restaurant? He’s a fairly flagrant racial parody, doesn’t he warrant some sympathy? Especially as it is revealed later in the series that he does not actually speak Italian, only Italian-accented English? Let alone the fact the animators copied Luigi’s appearance from a chef depicted on a pizza box.
Perhaps progressives should spare a thought for Fat Tony; another Italian, mobster-style racial stereotype? Or Groundskeeper Willie; the typical angry, violent Scot with the thick Edinburgh brogue who spends just a little too much time around ten-year-olds? What about Carl, Homer’s sole black friend, who happens to have a stereotypically black prowess in basketball? Are Bleeding Gums Murphy and Doctor Hibbert worthy of outrage, as depictions of African Americans who only speak in highly Anglicised Ebonics?
Have progressives ever frothed over Uter Zorker; the stereotypical, grossly overweight German exchange student at Springfield Elementary who speaks pidgin, German-accented English and never stops eating? Have they considered Cookie Kwan, the hard-nosed, gold-digging Chinese realtor, voiced by the wholly Caucasian Tress MacNeill, whose thick Chinese accent is almost as pronounced as Apu’s?
What about the entire episode dedicated to parodying Rio de Janeiro, which included a (fictional) Brazilian children’s show featuring semi-naked women, and portrayed the city as a place you could navigate not by public transport, but via conga lines? Or even, courtesy of The Simpsons Movie, the Native American Medicine Woman, known to Homer as “Boob Lady”, also voiced by the thoroughly white Tress MacNeill?
The Simpsons brilliantly treads the border of political correctness by poking fun at absolutely everyone. No stereotype is left unparodied, and no identity group is singled out for ridicule over another. As such, if Apu’s status as a racial stereotype warrants all this fuss, so does every other ethnicity the writers have ever parodied. Some people, whose lives are extraordinarily joyless, will genuinely agree with this assertion.
The rest of us, on the other hand, should think back to that famous 2006 episode of South Park, in which Kyle, speaking on the subject of parodying racial and religious identities, fervently states, “Either it’s all okay, or none of it is.”
Illustration: Gracie Films/Fox Television Animation.
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