'The Simpsons' finally responds to critics who argue Apu is a racist stereotype
Part of growing up, whether it's as an individual or as a society, is realizing your mistakes and making the necessary changes to improve. So when it comes to subjects such as the 'politically correct', it's worth keeping in mind that while what is socially acceptable may have been one way when you were younger, that doesn't mean that it is still admissible.
The Simpsons is a hugely influential show, but it is far past its prime. The series is still slugging along, with 29 seasons and 633 episodes to its name, but most agree that the golden era ended at least 15 years ago. While there have been big changes over the course of the show, a lot has remained the same, and not always for the better.
The character of Apu has been a sore subject for many people, especially Indian-Americans, since his first appearance in 1990. Those who have been critical of the stereotypical depiction of Indian people have received a boost more recently, with the release of Hari Kondabolu's documentary, The Problem With Apu.
In the documentary, Apu is used a springboard to talk about issues of representation in art and entertainment, speaking about how, as an Indian-American, he found that many people's idea of South Asians came entirely from a clichéd character.
While he is clear that his feelings about Apu are not positive, Kondabolu is pretty balanced in his argument and is even a big fan of the show in general, and is more interested in Indian representation in general than one singular character.
Apu does have some complimentary traits, but they are drowned out by more stereotypical aspects that don't sit well today. One element that can't be avoided is that he is voiced by Hank Azaria, a white actor.
A caucasian actor using a wildly inaccurate impersonation of an Indian accent as a basis for a character is not something that flies in 2018, but given how big the show is, they've managed to get away with it for years.
When he was asked about the documentary last year, Azaria told TMZ:
"I think the documentary made some really interesting points and gave us a lot to think about and we really are thinking about it. Definitely anybody that was hurt or offended by it, or by any character or vocal performance, it's really upsetting that it was offensive or hurtful to anybody.
"I think it's an important conversation worth having. We're still thinking about it. It's a lot to digest."
However, the show's response was far less measured. The topic was touched upon on a recent episode, where they simultaneously avoid blame and side-step the issue entirely, which many of its critics are calling "completely toothless". In 'No Good Read Goes Unpunished', Marge attempts to introduce Lisa to one of her favorite childhood books, but realizes that it is filled with racist and out-dated offensive content, with the book referring to South Americans as "naturally servile".
Feeling embarrassed and guilty, she rewrites the story. When she's done, she claims "It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book, but now it's as inoffensive as a Sunday in Cincinnati!"
Talking about the book, Lisa tells her mother, "Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" Looking to a framed photo of Apu, Marge says, "Some things will be dealt with at a later date," to which Lisa replies, "If at all", before they stare blankly into the camera.
It's odd that the show finally confronting these issues sees them avoid blame while refusing to actually deal with it properly either. And it isn't really fair to compare a very old book to a show that is still on air and capable of change. If they so chose, they could easily re-cast the role of Apu quite easily, as there are plenty of Indian and Indian-American actors who can take up the task.
There has been a lot of changes for the characters in the past: Ned's wife Maude died, Patty came out as gay, Milhouse's parents divorced, Barney got sober, and Apu got married and had children. So it wouldn't be a big deal if, after 633 episodes, Apu were to sound slightly different and maybe get another job.
When he heard the news, Kondabolu wrote:
The response from the show has seemingly only angered viewers more, though there are still many who don't believe there's any issue with the character. But times are changing, and it's about time that the show, which used to be on the forefront of progressive attitudes, caught up.