Many 90s kids have known the struggle of picking the best episode of The Simpsons, the longest-running scripted series in TV history. Over a decade later, the fans are wiser. They stand evolved and have mixed feelings about some of the problematic depictions.
The stealthy stereotypes and racist depictions of the character, Apu - the Indian owner and manager of the Springfield Kwik-E-Mart, prompted Hari Kondabalu an Indian-American fan of the classic comedy series to release a documentary titled The Problem with Apu. Hank Azaria, a non-Indian actor lent his voice replete with an Indian accent to the animated series. Azaria’s performance as Apu was based on a guy who worked at the 7-11 in Los Angeles back in the late 1980s - the result was a caricature.
In one of the interviews, Kondabalu asserted that Apu is predominantly “a white person’s perception of an Indian immigrant.” He’s not the only fan who is grappling with this conflict. Kondabalu argued that the stereotyping provoked bullying of and racism towards people of colour.
The latest episode of the series, titled No Good Read Goes Unpunished finally addressed the criticisms around the character but not without being defensive. In the episode Marge decides to update a book she loved as a girl, The Princess in the Garden before introducing it to Lisa to make it more relevant to the times, to strip it off any traces of misogyny and racism and to make it ‘politically correct’.
The new version fails to fascinate Lisa. “Well, what am I supposed to do?” Marge inquires exasperated. Lisa then breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience:
“It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”Lisa in the latest episode of The Simpsons
She then glances at her nightstand, on which a framed photo of Apu is perched, emblazoned with the caption, “Don’t have a cow!” Marge also indicates that there’s no point to the book after the revision.
The response was perceived as flippant, at best by Twitterati, who agree that The Simpsons jumped the shark long ago. The aforesaid documentary released last year had ignited a conversation on how Apu’s depiction as a character fails to stand the test of time.
The facile jab didn’t go unnoticed by Kondabalu who jumped into the discussion online.
Back then, the depiction of Apu in the series surreptitiously made Indian Americans vulnerable to ridicule and bigotry. The episode assumed that the show was ‘inoffensive’ all along. It discounted the little or no representation of Indian Americans in the media.
“We just were underrepresented. We didn’t have any other representation in this country. That creates a problem when the most popular show on television is showing mainstream America what an Indian is.”Actor Utkarsh Ambudkar in The Problem with Apu.
Fans are disappointed that the show loved by them for decades has shirked culpability and dismissed the discourse that Kondabalu began with his documentary.
Some others thought that the outrage was misplaced and defended the show.
But Twiterrati strongly perceives The Simpsons’ response as a smug cop-out.
Hank Azaria — the voice of Apu, recently appeared on Stephen Colbert’s late night talk show to address the criticism and said that he would be willing to give up the role and be replaced by an Indian or south Asian actor.