(The Problem With (The Problem With (The Problem With Apu)))
April 9, 2018 12:24 PM   Subscribe

'The Simpsons' To 'The Problem With Apu': Drop Dead — NPR's (and MeFi's Own) Linda Holmes on the show's ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ at Hari Kondabolu's criticism.
"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," Marge announces. Marge has changed everything in the book so that nothing in it can bother anyone, which involves making the central character so perfect that, as Lisa instantly announces, "there's no point to the book." Marge asks what she's supposed to do.

This comparison is utterly dishonest, of course, for a multitude of reasons. Apu is not the central character of The Simpsons, and it's absurd to suggest that the fabric of the show will be unwound if he doesn't continue to be the same caricature he is. His existence at the periphery — his very flatness, and his definition as a bag of signifiers meant to scream "INDIAN!" is integral to what it means to write a racist stereotype. It's galling that writers will force a character to exist as funny scenery and then complain that they cannot change him without upsetting the emotional arc of the series.
I know: It's a cartoon. That is the easiest, silliest response to this debate. It's just a cartoon. It's just a comedy. Or, as the photo of Apu pointedly says, don't have a cow. But the show doesn't have this defense to call on, because it has accepted accolades for decades as a thoughtful, intelligent, satirical work that deserves to be taken seriously. It has accepted a Peabody Award, and a GLAAD Media Award. It has been praised and slobbered over and quoted and praised again, and to plead insignificance at this point is unavailing.

"Dealt with at a later date. If at all." In other words: We have heard how we have hurt people, and we honestly don't care.
Kondabolu's reaction on Twitter:
Wow. “Politically Incorrect?” That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.

In “The Problem with Apu,” I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.
posted by tonycpsu (115 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
 
And here I thought Family Guy was the nihilist "lol we offend everyone equally" show that's gone on far too many years for its own good.
posted by Nelson at 12:30 PM on April 9, 2018 [40 favorites]


I appreciate the Simpsons addressing this issue. I mean, I haven't watched the show in ages, and sure as fuck won't start now, but I will watch 'The Problem with Apu' which has been in my queue for awhile.

As a 'defense' Al Jean tweeted this 'Respectfully Hank won an emmy for voicing the character in 1998. Only 20 years ago.' Yeah, I remember that, it was about 20 years ago the Simpsons started sucking full time.

If I wanted to watch a show that offended everybody, I'd watch re-runs of 'drawn together'. Pro-tip: just because you piss everyone off doesn't mean you are doing something right.
posted by el io at 12:33 PM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


Ironic you should say that, Nelson, because personally I think the only reason The Simpsons hasn't gotten more heat sooner about its many problematic issues is that Family Guy is still around to act as a lightning rod.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:34 PM on April 9, 2018 [18 favorites]


That is the easiest, silliest response to this debate. It's just a cartoon. It's just a comedy.

If you are not part of a marginalized group, you don't get to define what people in that group should consider "just a joke". Why is this so incredibly, incredibly hard for people?

Also, making this come from Lisa makes it extra worse; Lisa would 100% be on Apu's side. She is smart and thoughtful and considerate and stands up for others. No way Lisa would justify this. She would be so disappointed.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:35 PM on April 9, 2018 [157 favorites]


Ironic you should say that, Nelson, because personally I think the only reason The Simpsons hasn't gotten more heat sooner about its many problematic issues is that Family Guy is still around to act as a lightning rod.

I think a big part of it is that for a long time we (i.e. white people, of which I am one) didn't listen to people who were talking about these issues. Individual criticisms could be dismissed pretty easily like "he's diligent! He runs a small business and is smarter than most of the other characters! How could you object to that?" and it was really hard to reach the critical volume necessary to let people who are at worst malicious and at best ignorant (if well-meaning) to pay attention and recognize that yes, this actually is a problem.

If the media available weren't interested in sharing these voices, and they often weren't, it was MUCH more difficult for people to learn and improve. There are lots of extremely bad things about platforms like Twitter (e.g. all the Nazis) but they do give a voice to groups of people who have been underrepresented in American discourse, giving members of those groups both direct access to people and enough of a platform to get larger, more established media outlets to take them seriously.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:44 PM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


Drive-by snark aside, I want to highlight how great The Problem with Apu is. Really worth the hour to watch. It's thoughtful, and nuanced, and anything but some simple PC attack that the Simpsons is racist because of Apu. Kondabolu clearly loves the Simpsons and just wants to get people to think about this problematic aspect of it. Lots of terrific interviews, too.

For The Simpsons writers to see that movie, that work of critique that only comes from true fan love, and then dismiss it this way is really offensive. And stupid.
posted by Nelson at 12:47 PM on April 9, 2018 [73 favorites]


So The Simpsons is going to just keep doing what they're doing long past when anyone would still consider it a good idea, you say?
posted by ckape at 12:49 PM on April 9, 2018 [24 favorites]


Buzzfeed had a nice collation of reactions, too. As always, do not read the comments.
posted by rewil at 12:49 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


For The Simpsons writers to see that movie, that work of critique that only comes from true fan love, and then dismiss it this way is really offensive. And stupid.

Do we know they have seen it? Or are they just addressing what they've heard about it second hand?
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:52 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


This is infuriating. How hard can it be to simply say: "We made mistakes. We'll try and do better", and then TRY and do better.
posted by SonInLawOfSam at 12:52 PM on April 9, 2018 [18 favorites]


If they hadn't lost me 20 years ago by forgetting the basic structure of a joke, they would've lost me at this point for sure. It's part and parcel with other aging comics, who can't seem to imagine themselves as anything other than outsider truth tellers, when in reality they've long since become the establishment. Then, when one points out their shitty behavior, they don't have any other reaction than to claim some adolescent idea of free speech.
posted by codacorolla at 12:55 PM on April 9, 2018 [17 favorites]


I'm so tired of having to explain why Apu is problematic to people who are of that ethnicity and/or other visible minorities. I'm not accusing anyone here of that, but just more as a general response/criticism of this ongoing conversation. I'm tired friends. Ugh.

I've posted about my concerns in a previous thread, so feel free to read my comment here. I'm just fucking done.
posted by Fizz at 12:56 PM on April 9, 2018 [13 favorites]


And here I thought Family Guy was the nihilist "lol we offend everyone equally" show that's gone on far too many years for its own good.


I thought that was South Park.
posted by JohnFromGR at 12:56 PM on April 9, 2018 [7 favorites]


Ironic you should say that, Nelson, because personally I think the only reason The Simpsons hasn't gotten more heat sooner about its many problematic issues is that Family Guy is still around to act as a lightning rod.

Also for a lot of people who spend time analyzing TV shows, contemporary Simpsons might as well not even exist, while older Simpsons gets a pass because it's old and already beloved.
posted by atoxyl at 12:57 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


If you'd asked me "is the Simpsons still on television," yesterday, it would have been a coin flip. Score one for going for that anti-marketing dollar. But from now on, I'll be not watching The Simpsons on purpose. Jerks.

Also, I hadn't heard about The Problem With Apu. Looking forward to it.
posted by eotvos at 1:00 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, making this come from Lisa makes it extra worse

So much worse. I haven't watched The Simpsons in years, and had sort of been following this obliquely through various tweets this morning before I actually watched the clip. And having Lisa be the one to deliver that "if at all" at the end is just an extra punch to the gut.

That's a deliberate choice there to have the show's conscience be the voice of "we don't care we're hurting people." It's not Homer turning it into a punchline or Bart telling us nothing matters or Maggie throwing up a shrug (all of which would also be awful ways of dealing with this, a situation that is hurtful to actual people); it's the beloved Lisa who makes it clear that they just don't care. She's the character so commonly associated with political correctness that Ted Cruz complains about how out of touch she is with the entire rest of the family and the country. And who is Lisa but the writers' closest analog? (That actually looks like a fascinating blog post about Lisa and anti-intellectualism in the show and the fact that late stage Simpsons is obsessed with punishing Lisa for being gifted and healing everyone's pain except for hers, which isn't really the point here, except there's a broader question about the fact that the talented ambitious young woman must be constantly made to suffer for the same, because it's seemingly treated as a given why nobody would ever befriend someone like that.)
As originally conceived, Lisa was the character who would transcend the mediocrity of Springfield and become something great. Chris Turner, in his book Planet Simpson, quotes Matt Groening on his favourite Simpsons character: “At the end of the day, I have to admit that if I have a favourite it would be Lisa. She’s the only one who will escape Springfield.” And Al Jean, the current showrunner (and the man who has presided over the post-Golden Age shift in emphasis from jokes to characters), has said of the writing staff that “The character we’re closest to is Lisa Simpson, a character who reads a lot and hopes for a better life.” According to Chris Turner, Lisa proves “that TV is fully capable of providing a loving home for a character who’s not just quick-witted but genuinely learned.”
Having Lisa put that button on it is absolutely the writers looking directly to camera and saying they've heard the criticism and they'll do nothing.
posted by zachlipton at 1:05 PM on April 9, 2018 [50 favorites]


This is infuriating. How hard can it be to simply say: "We made mistakes. We'll try and do better", and then TRY and do better.

Or if they really don't care, just don't address it at all and continue doing what they were doing. The route they chose is probably the worst possible way to deal with this and guaranteed to blow up in their faces. What were they thinking? If they truly think this is just PC BS, then why not keep their heads down until the heat inevitably lowers and people move on?
posted by Sangermaine at 1:12 PM on April 9, 2018 [7 favorites]


So I casually mentioned this discussion/article to my manager who sits right next to me and a new hire/co-worker who was passing by only heard the tail end of our conversation and that we were talking about The Simpsons and Apu and this asshole decided that it was the right time to imitate and quote: “Thank you, come again.” towards me and my manager. He's been pulled aside.

*sighs*
posted by Fizz at 1:17 PM on April 9, 2018 [40 favorites]




The show is nearly 30 years old. It premiered in 1989.

30 years before that was 1959.

Amos 'n' Andy broadcast their last radio show in November 1960.

Society changes. There's no shame in changing with it.
posted by PlusDistance at 1:36 PM on April 9, 2018 [74 favorites]


> eotvos:
"If you'd asked me "is the Simpsons still on television," yesterday, it would have been a coin flip. Score one for going for that anti-marketing dollar. But from now on, I'll be not watching The Simpsons on purpose. Jerks.

Also, I hadn't heard about The Problem With Apu. Looking forward to it."


Started watching it streaming on TruTV. It really is quite well done. I will have to finish it later as I have to leave for work.
posted by Samizdata at 1:37 PM on April 9, 2018


The other day on my author blog & Facebook page, I made a short post reflecting on some fails from my first novel. I fell into a couple of harmful trope/stereotype portrayals of minor characters there because I wasn't thinking hard enough about that stuff in my writing yet. Nobody has ever called me out on it, and it's probably pretty minor in the scheme of things. Mostly I just wanted to say, "Yes, I see this stuff too, and I own it and want to do better."

Most of the responses have been from white dudes telling me not to worry about being politically correct. I've gotten a few more positive things, but it's that larger response that kills me.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:38 PM on April 9, 2018 [29 favorites]


I would just like to point out that the same producers who say they can't go back and change Apu after the fact because of the fabric of the show are the same ones who made Homer a BTO/Frampton lovin' 70s dude who embarrassed his alt-rock loving kids in "Homerpalooza" then retconned him into a grunge singer in "That 90s Show."

It's a fucking cartoon in which no one ever ages and characters get revisions to their bios on a semi-regular basis. They can get away with going back and doing right by Apu.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2018 [62 favorites]


Oh for pity's sake. Twenty years before the Simpson's even aired (okay not quite twenty--I wasn't born literate), I had access to old books, some of which were beloved to my mother, which had super problematic stuff in them.

I recall getting my hands on Little Black Sambo (even if you have not heard of it, the title probably gives you a hint about where the issues with that begin). My mother sat me down and we had a talk about what was offensive in it, why people say/believe bad things that are racist/hurtful/untrue and the history behind some of the specific tropes in the story and art. I would have been younger than Lisa's stated age during that conversation.

Ten years ago my brother had the same conversation with his son about a collection of the Adventures of TinTin.

A Little Princess remains one of my favorite books, and if I had a daughter, I'd give it to her, but we'd also talk about Ram Dass as a stereotype and the classism baked in about Becky, about what the book highlights as racist or cruel, and what it doesn't, among other things.

This isn't some unanswerable question nobody ever thought of before. If my mother could figure it out in the 1970's, then there's no excuse for a helpless shrug in 2018.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:42 PM on April 9, 2018 [24 favorites]


Here's another thought: if they really didn't want to change Apu, why don't they instead write in a new Indian-American family? One that is second or third generation American and much more representative. Then have those characters recoil and be appalled by what a walking stereotype Apu is.

Just go straight meta on that mess.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:43 PM on April 9, 2018 [43 favorites]


Just echoing that "The Problem with Apu" is really wonderful and worthwhile, even if you're solidly in the choir. I was lucky to see a screening hosted by Kondabolu at the Smithsonian last year and was surprised by how much I enjoyed and got out of it.

The Simpsons meant a lot to me growing up, but sadly this is the final nail in the coffin for me identifying as a fan.
posted by veery at 1:45 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


So the people writing The Simpsons really haven't noticed that nobody who complains about "political correctness" is ever NOT an asshole? I'd stop watching it for this if I hadn't stopped watching it 25 years ago.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 1:49 PM on April 9, 2018 [23 favorites]


An even shorter counterargument to the idea that it's too late to change Apu: Armin Tamzarian.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:51 PM on April 9, 2018 [19 favorites]


Fuck them for being assholes, and fuck them for using Lisa to do it. Dirty Old Town is right; there are approximately a million ways to stop being actively shitty, and they just don’t want to do any of them. Even though many of them would mean doing interesting things with the show.

For anyone watching the documentary, he interviews Aziz Ansari a couple of times, so be forewarned if that’s not something you want to deal with today.
posted by schadenfrau at 1:56 PM on April 9, 2018 [19 favorites]


Standard remind: Always do a mental 'Find and Replace" of "politically correct" with "a decent human being who considers the feelings of others."
posted by dry white toast at 1:57 PM on April 9, 2018 [35 favorites]


Then have those characters recoil and be appalled by what a walking stereotype Apu is.

They did that. And then they had the Italian chef come out and mock the entire idea a la "ha ha, we stereotype everyone, stop being oversensitive".

The Simpsons doesn't want to change.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:59 PM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


It's a fucking cartoon in which no one ever ages and characters get revisions to their bios on a semi-regular basis. They can get away with going back and doing right by Apu.

why don't they instead write in a new Indian-American family? One that is second or third generation American and much more representative.

Heck, why not a little of column A, a little of column B? Retcon Apu so that he's the second/third generation son of traditional Indian parents. Maybe he still works at the Quik-E-Mart because he's helping out his folks with the old family business, but he's got a ton of other stuff on his mind and he's working on his own side hustle to branch out on his own. Naturally, this would come with a change in VA, or at the very least Azaria retiring his old voice for something more appropriate.

There's literally no reason post-Master of None, (tabling discussion of Aziz Ansari for the moment) The Big Sick, or WTH even Harold & Kumar for the Simpsons to not develop Apu's character into something better resembling the current reality of South Asian Americans.
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:02 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


It's a interesting story because while Apu is a stereotype he is also indicative of the great immigrant success stories we have in the USA. Like all immigrant groups, Indians found success in certain sectors of our economy. When I last read the statistics said that they accounted for 1/2 of all motels owned in the country and a substantial amount of 7-11 franchises. They also account for 10-20% of silicon valley engineers and tech startups.

I would like to see them expand the story line to show the great success and contributions Indians have made in this country and show them as the prosperous business people not just as service industry employees. With the debate about immigration happening now I have to think this could be a nice social commentary narrative.
posted by ShakeyJake at 2:08 PM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


The route they chose is probably the worst possible way to deal with this and guaranteed to blow up in their faces. What were they thinking? If they truly think this is just PC BS, then why not keep their heads down until the heat inevitably lowers and people move on?

The really cynical part of me (which seems to keep growing bigger all the time) wonders if this isn't their bid to join the new Roseanne as appointment viewing for the Trumpian white backlash audience.
posted by non canadian guy at 2:11 PM on April 9, 2018 [13 favorites]


If Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons could (eventually, mostly) drop the racist caricatures and still feature their beloved characters, surely the Simpsons could.
posted by nickmark at 2:11 PM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


Fuck them for being assholes, and fuck them for using Lisa to do it. Dirty Old Town is right; there are approximately a million ways to stop being actively shitty, and they just don’t want to do any of them. Even though many of them would mean doing interesting things with the show.

Changing is hard. They opted for the easier on the ego "Decline into irrelevance" option. That's what most folks opt for.

See also apparently every guy over the age of 50 who works in comedy (Seinfeld, Dave Chapelle, Chris Rock, Mel Brooks, John Cleese, Gilbert Gottfried, etc.)
posted by leotrotsky at 2:12 PM on April 9, 2018 [16 favorites]


I'm shocked at how awful that "response" was. I haven't followed The Simpsons for many years, so maybe I shouldn't be shocked - but wow that was awful.
posted by Golem XIV at 2:21 PM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


The writers and producers are really stuck between a rock and a hard place with Apu except but I’m not sure how well that metaphor works considering it implies one is at least contemplating the difficulty of the situation rather than yelling MORE WEIGHT out of, what, spite?

It’s telling that basically every Simpsons article makes reference to strictly the first dozen seasons or so because no one really gives an equivalent shit about the rest. No one is out there quoting season 26 to their friends, at least not the same way they do with season 6. It’s a refined, shiny corporate product with the last of the beloved rough edges sanded off a decade ago, running on thirty years of inertia. They could do anything with the show at virtually zero risk to their enormous baked-in viewership (I’m not calling it a fanbase - the show that had a fanbase is long gone) and yet the one time people want them to do something decent and not in any way contrary to the ethos of the show, they choose instead to do nothing and loudly.
posted by griphus at 2:22 PM on April 9, 2018 [15 favorites]


I (white British, and a teenager at the time) remember being shocked by Apu when I first saw the Simpsons and thinking that I couldn’t imagine a British show having that character — and I thought maybe it was because the Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi community was more visible in the UK, and that racism specifically targeted at south Asian people was much more of a live issue here. Not that British TV was any less racist, but that the specific sensitivities were different (although it didn’t stop the Simpsons running in the UK and being very popular, so the difference wasn’t that profound).

It didn’t stop me watching the show, and at the time I made my peace with it on the basis that it didn’t feel particularly mean-spirited, but I can’t understand why they think it’s a good idea to double down on it all these years later. Apu is not the worst racial caricature in the history of popular culture, but is that really the hill you want to die on?
posted by Bloxworth Snout at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2018 [6 favorites]


"It takes a lot of work to take the spirit and character out of a book"

ok simpsons writers i think i see what you're driving at

you're telling me that eschewing stereotypes and and writing fully realized characters is actually robbing a work of its spirit and, um, character

and lazy ethnic stereotypes really add some zest and flavor

gotcha
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 2:32 PM on April 9, 2018 [28 favorites]


Am I out of touch?

No! It's the children who are wrong!
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:32 PM on April 9, 2018 [82 favorites]


How hard can it be to simply say: "We made mistakes. We'll try and do better", and then TRY and do better.

Easy: they don't wanna.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:37 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


Apu is...also indicative of the great immigrant success stories we have in the USA

And that could be their way out. Have Apu go from Kwik-E-Mart clerk to franchise owner -- opening more stores in Springfield and the surrounding towns. He'd get rich -- rich enough to be a rival for Mr. Burns. Have someone else run the store. Have his octuplets become the Kardashians. Suddenly, his story is completely different.

But, you know, saying "fuck you, SJW" is good too I guess.
posted by PlusDistance at 2:38 PM on April 9, 2018 [39 favorites]


When I checked out of the Simpsons Barney's sobriety had become an ongoing thing. Is he back to just being a 50s style "rummy" stereotype? Or did that change to make a character less two dimensional stick because, you know, white guy character with a problem that white guys find empathetic?
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 2:49 PM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


I'm in the middle of my work shift but I'll jump in at the end of the night with my thoughts about this discussion and the way that The Simpsons responded to Hari's documentary. It'll likely be very similar to what I wrote in the previous thread about Hari's documentary, but I still feel the need to say something, b/c my blood has been boiling for the majority of the day.
posted by Fizz at 2:57 PM on April 9, 2018


Steamed poori is a Hyderabad expression.
posted by rhizome at 3:03 PM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


A Little Princess remains one of my favorite books, and if I had a daughter, I'd give it to her, but we'd also talk about Ram Dass as a stereotype and the classism baked in about Becky, about what the book highlights as racist or cruel, and what it doesn't, among other things.

I always wanted to rewrite that book to make Becky pretend to be stupid to get close to the pitifully naive Sarah and swipe stuff to sell/eat. Later, after Sarah's idiot dad dies and leaves her destitute because he had no idea how things like guardians or leaving inheritances for your child work, Becky connives with Ram Dass to convince the opiate-addled old millionaire next door that Sarah was his friend's daughter and get him to adopt her. Then Becky never has to lift another coal scuttle ever again and eventually she and Ram Dass run off with all the money they've saved/embezzled from their idiot employers and live happily ever after.
posted by emjaybee at 3:03 PM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


They've become the people they used to make fun of.

"No, it's the children who are wrong!"
posted by kyrademon at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2018 [8 favorites]


I think it's more that they're trying to Seth MacFarlane their way out of it.
posted by rhizome at 3:13 PM on April 9, 2018


I really liked the Twitter thread from Gene Demby, host of NPR's wonderful Code Switch podcast:
“The Simpsons” and fanboy response to #TheProblemWithApu is like the call-center script for these convos.

The logic goes: “Racists are monsters and I am not a monster. And since I produce/consume this cultural object, that object therefore can’t be racist.”
--
The other hoary response here is that “there are bigger fish to fry.”

(I challenge you to find someone from Unseasoned Fried Fish Twitter who ever volunteers or identifies what those other, bigger fish might look like.)
--
But the transitive magic works the other way: “If I consume Cultural Object X and if people are saying Cultural Object X is racist then that means they think *I* am racist.”

it’s helpful to understand these convos as less abt Apu or Chief Wahoo but abt defending one’s innocence.
--
And so now, the very thoughtful and nuanced thoughts of desi folks who grew up with complicated relationships to Apu/The Simpsons becomes a tired, dumb argument about “political correctness run amok” + defending the honor of the denizens of that show’s alabaster writers room.
--
Last thing: if you ever want to understand why the so-called “bigger fish” of American racism remain such unfried, intractable problems, look at just how deeply, personally invested folks are in DEFENDING A CARTOON CHARACTER FROM RECONSIDERATION.
--
Happy Monday.
posted by purpleclover at 3:24 PM on April 9, 2018 [50 favorites]


Damn, what a wasted opportunity. Shame when writers and creators are apparently ready to do some self-reflection or make a change from their past mistakes or legacy... and then fail to deliver, or worse, in this case, outright dismiss any hint of growth or awareness.
posted by GoblinHoney at 3:38 PM on April 9, 2018


But what really reveals the blind spot at issue here is the idea that Apu was once "applauded and inoffensive."

This line spoke to me. I remember listening to John August and Craig Mazin's podcast Scriptnotes consistently. Then, in the press, a studio head made a comment like: "I call on all other studio heads: when you're reading through a screenplay and come across a homophobic joke, please cross it out before going to production."

Mazin brought up the article and basically said, "Fuck that. That's not the studio head's job. Further, you won't see a lot of homophobic jokes in scripts any more because they're no longer funny!"

Knowing John August is gay, I could not wait for his response: "Um, they were never funny, asshole," but the response never came. August never said shit.

I've always thought the two of them were pretty shitty writers with great insights into Hollywood from a writer's perspective, but at that moment I thought they were both shitty people and I never listened again.
posted by dobbs at 3:39 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


it’s helpful to understand these convos as less abt Apu or Chief Wahoo but abt defending one’s innocence.

I agree. When I was a teenager, I couldn't understand why people got upset about the word "squaw". No one really used it any more, what was the big deal? However, a few years ago I picked up "A Reader's Digest Treasury of Great Western Stories", because Western stories were something I had never been exposed to. Well, I understand now. I totally understand. Sometimes you *are* innocent.

I can't imagine, though, how these writers haven't had some sort of learning curve over the last 30 years.
posted by acrasis at 3:43 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see Russel Peters in the documentary - I have found his stand up hard to get through because of the way it plays up stereotypes and othering, perhaps in the way that the documentary maker, Hari Kondabolu described his own early work. Guess I'm not alone.

I've always hated the Apu character, I don't see what has changed in the world since its introduction that it is only now thought to be racist, except a general increase in the number of thinking people.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 3:58 PM on April 9, 2018


it’s helpful to understand these convos as less abt Apu or Chief Wahoo but abt defending one’s innocence.

And you can appreciate or consume something offensive if you're aware of and acknowledge the offensiveness, rather than proclaiming your innocence of it. In the documentary, Hari Kondabolu even says that he's a fan of the show (Kal Penn, however, is not), but he is aware of how offensive Apu is because he has personal experience and knowledge. He's not innocent, nor has he ever proclaimed to be. As for the proclaimed innocence of The Simpsons itself, I refuse to believe that not a single person working on the Simpsons took issue with Apu when he was introduced, or when he had an arranged marriage, or any of the other stereotypical stories they've written for him -- someone either didn't speak up or they DID and were silenced.

This also goes along with the conversation about problematic favorites and trying to appreciate the art, even though the artist was horrible, or vice versa, appreciating the artist, even though the product is now/was offensive (see re: Sixteen Candles).

I buy mustard with Chief Wahoo on the bottle and I've written to the company asking them to retire the practice, especially now that the team has done so. But the mustard is so good, so I just scribble over Chief Wahoo with a Sharpie.
posted by elsietheeel at 4:03 PM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


Mort Walker came around to recognizing that General Halftrack in Beetle Bailey was sexist and sent him to sensitivity training. He stopped writing the jokes related to Halftrack's sexist behavior toward Miss Buxley after that.

Beetle Bailey. Also not funny, but better at responding to valid social critiques than The Simpsons.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:31 PM on April 9, 2018 [55 favorites]


I thought I had the energy to write out my thoughts about Apu and how tired I am of this stereotype, but I don't have it within me. So many of you have raised some amazing points and criticism, so this is just me reading along and nodding my head.

I'm thanking you all for your intelligent and thoughtful insight into a complicated issue. Keep it going.
posted by Fizz at 4:36 PM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


Also, just maybe, this is why representation of an actual variety of backgrounds in a writer’s room is basically required to create good and smart comedy
posted by Kemma80 at 4:52 PM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


I've always hated the Apu character, I don't see what has changed in the world since its introduction that it is only now thought to be racist, except a general increase in the number of thinking people.

Or maybe it's an increase in the size of the internet and the availability of fine websites like Metafilter to expose millions of people to things the media twenty years ago completely ignored (indeed was largely ignorant itself).

Rather than a magical increase in thinking people, it was millions of collective hours of work among tens or hundreds of thousands of activists, writers (such as the writer of the article, Linda Holmes), filmmakers (such as Hari Kondabolu's documentary), and many other various and sundry creators and allies to spread awareness of the fact that, hey, this and many other things like this are an enormous problem if you believe yourself to be a fundamentally good person, and the people (who were perfectly capable of thinking before, but had simply not even been exposed before the internet) are steadily being exposed to articles such as this one, and (maybe gradually, but eventually) are getting convinced that this is true.

And also lots of people did think it was racist back then, they just didn't have the ability to get themselves' heard about it.
posted by Caduceus at 5:15 PM on April 9, 2018 [29 favorites]


You know what would have been a gutsy and hilarious way to do it? They should have had Apu suffer a head injury and then have to recover himself Regarding Henry-style... then have Kondabalu provide the voice and character notes for post-coma Apu.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:18 PM on April 9, 2018 [9 favorites]


Lisa would 100% be on Apu's side. She is smart and thoughtful and considerate and stands up for others. No way Lisa would justify this.

Next season, Lisa reads the collected works of Ayn-Rand. Then we get a very special episode where she discovers that Hollywood executives get charged way too high a tax rate.
posted by happyroach at 5:24 PM on April 9, 2018 [40 favorites]


In my earliest and most stupidly naive internet years I (a Brit perhaps high on Hispanic-this and African-American-that in the '90s film and TV I'd consumed) asked an American Hindu online acquaintance of Indian extraction about Hindus in American culture generally. Y'know, beyond Apu. Because in my mind I had this stupid idea of America being so big and having all these various different-yet-broadly-aligned immigrant cultures and I assumed that there was lots which I as an outsider wasn't seeing, e.g. Utah naturally has its so-so Utah State-telly Mormon-American rom-coms and State-X have their plodding local Hindu-American police dramas or whatever.

He was probably incredibly more gracious in his (paraphrased) "Yeah, that's not really a thing" response than I deserved.
posted by I'm always feeling, Blue at 5:42 PM on April 9, 2018 [5 favorites]


I am Indian American, born in the mid 1980s in an affluent East Coast suburban town. The Simpsons was THE show when I was in elementary school. I watched one episode at a friends' house once and was horrified at Apu and the whole Kwik-E-Mart thing. Keep in mind that this was a time when there was literally no other depiction of Indians on screen, at least not anywhere near the level of cultural significance that the Simpsons had. A better, more self-aware show would have made him a satire on which to layer humor about how native-born Americans view immigrants -- but the Simpsons was not that show.

Apu looked and acted nothing like my parents or their friends, who were largely engineers, bankers, teachers. (This dissonance must have been what affluent African-American children felt in 1939 when they went to see Gone with the Wind and were confronted with Butterfly McQueen.) So the options were: reject my parents, or reject this ludicrous morsel of faux-Indianness. Which is to say, I have never watched another episode of the Simpsons.

And anyway, Rugrats was funnier.
posted by basalganglia at 5:59 PM on April 9, 2018 [30 favorites]


Wow. If Beetle Fucking Bailey can change with the times, nobody else has a single excuse whatsoever.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:18 PM on April 9, 2018 [13 favorites]


I'd like to stamp the "immigrant success story" portion of this thread right out, please and thank you. My community and I are not anyone's tool to wedge a divide between people of color in this country, no matter how hard Ajit Uncle and Nikki Auntie try.

Also, Hari's been getting some really stellar hate mail today. Nice one, Simpsons writers!
posted by Ragini at 6:50 PM on April 9, 2018 [27 favorites]


The whole episode was trash. The Orientalism of Bart's "fight" with Homer; Lisa reading Goldwater's bio sympathetically, and esp. the BS about Apu.

It's been a while since I watched a whole Simpson's episode, and if I never see another that just might be too soon.
posted by allthinky at 6:57 PM on April 9, 2018 [1 favorite]


I suppose I'm grateful this discussion convinced me to watch an excellent film. (It's good enough to overcome even my deep hatred for standup. Do see it.)

Though, if you enjoy the Simpsons and you aren't a raging asshole, the footage of Hank Azaria in a doctor's tam addressing a graduation ceremony auditorium in the voice of Apu is likely to ruin your day.
posted by eotvos at 7:08 PM on April 9, 2018 [2 favorites]


They also have Sanjay, right? But they hardly ever used Sanjay. That seems emblematic of something. Like, they didn't know how to give two Indian Quickiemart guys distinct characters because they failed to see anything to the character beyond "Indian Quickiemart guy." So Sanjay was redundant.
posted by RobotHero at 7:11 PM on April 9, 2018 [12 favorites]


I saw Azaria on some sport show doing promo work for Brockmire. They had him going through some baseball screed (I don't remember if it was a manager or ump or what but it was a screed from a press conference) but doing it as different Simpsons characters. They'd call out Wiggum or Moe or Comic Book Guy and he'd gamely read the script. But as soon as they said "Apu" he balked and moved on to Frink on something instead.

I think Azaria is aware of how painfully stereotypical Apu is. And how to see him, a rich white dude, doing that voice is rough. Doesn't mean he's going to stop cashing those checks, but he's starting to clue in. Maybe.
posted by thecjm at 9:22 PM on April 9, 2018 [10 favorites]


Just in case another desi voice was needed to make the point (it's SO not, but I feel like it anyway) this is bullshit. To be honest, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was the ludicrous representation of India that made my adolescent isolated-brown-kid life a misery. That was so obviously racist though. Apu was a betrayal. Here is this smart-seeming, cutting edge show that all the cool kids AND all the smart kids (my supposed tribe) are quoting, and you can either laugh along at Apu and make everyone else feel good about liking the show, or be the uncool killjoy.

I would love to know how southeast Asians feel/felt about Kahn (Laotian) on King of the Hill. Because for me, his role on that show was a revelation about how one could include race in humor without being a punching down racist. (Though Hank does not intend to be racist, he asks Kahn if he's Chinese or Japanese. But Hank's war-veteran father, who spews racist stuff all the time, pins Kahn as Laotian immediately. That twist stuck with me.)
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:44 PM on April 9, 2018 [47 favorites]


I've tried to contribute usefully, but I keep erasing my comment before I write it, because what have I really to add? I don't think I can. I'll just say that I think this is a terrific thread.
posted by JHarris at 10:51 PM on April 9, 2018 [4 favorites]


Here's another thought: if they really didn't want to change Apu, why don't they instead write in a new Indian-American family? One that is second or third generation American and much more representative. Then have those characters recoil and be appalled by what a walking stereotype Apu is

God that would be amaaaazing.... then when they challenge him Apu drops character and says it's all an act to keep customers otherwise they shop at Amazon
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:00 PM on April 9, 2018 [19 favorites]


I was going to say a few things but I decided to watch the documentary first based on all the recommendations in this thread. It's a great little film.

The Simpsons' team response makes sense, in that it's easily explained: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on not understanding it." (Although I'm sure vanity as much as salary.)

Has anyone linked to this earlier response by Azaria? It's not as bad but Kondabolu had issues with it then too:

Kondabolu offered a response of his own on Twitter yesterday after TMZ’s video with Azaria was posted, pointing out that describing him as “hurt” or “offended” by Apu is not exactly accurate:
Apu doesn’t “offend” me, he “insults” me…and my community. I’m an adult with bigger things to deal with. My film was meant to tell you to go fuck yourself & discuss why I want you to go fuck yourself & how we can prevent future incidents of people wishing others “self-fuckery.”


(Full disclosure: I laughed at Apu's bits a lot back in the day. I'd probably laugh if I rewatched them, though that's somewhat less likely after watching Kondabolu's take.)
posted by mark k at 11:13 PM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


in my mind I had this stupid idea of America being so big and having all these various different-yet-broadly-aligned immigrant cultures and I assumed that there was lots which I as an outsider wasn't seeing, e.g. Utah naturally has its so-so Utah State-telly Mormon-American rom-coms and State-X have their plodding local Hindu-American police dramas or whatever.

Man, I would love to live in that country. Tune in to watch Devon Avenue, a police procedural set in Chicago's Desi corridor near where I used to live.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:28 PM on April 9, 2018 [13 favorites]


Kondabolu has genuine affection and love for the show, which makes Apu so much harder to cope with. While I won't deny the racism of the character, I quit watching the show probably twenty years ago (and came to the show when it was on the Tracy Ulman show - before Apu).

In the wonderful docu (which I saw tonight, and was more nuanced and kind than I would have imagined - watch it!) it came out that the original script for Apu had him explicitly not Indian. Azaria read his line with an 'Indian accent' anyway, all the white folks in the room laughed, and they changed their mind and made him Indian. This conflicts with the story he told about Apu's origins in which he claimed it was written that way. Which shows he's not proud of it (and someone is lying/has a distorted memory of the event).

This was mentioned in an earlier Simpsons post, but The Fall of The Simpsons: How it Happened is a brilliant analysis of why the show was so good, and why it sucks now. It's well worth the half hour to watch it, I can't recommend it enough.

The thing is, when the Simpsons came out, it's audience was for people that wanted to be challenged, people that wanted the status quo of television and animated entertainment as they knew it to be upended. It was daring. Now, the opposite of all of these things is true. Which is why most of the original fans left them a very long time ago. Their new fans (assuming they actually have fans) are in a world where the Simpsons have nearly always existed, and if they are watching it still (?!) it certainly isn't to be challenged (the analysis in the link above is better and different than this glib paragraph).

If this was all happening 22 years ago or so, I'd be heartbroken about it - if my favorite show was doing something awful and shitty. As it stands and awful and shitty show decided to do a shitty thing, and fuck them for that choice, but I expect it from an awful and shitty show at this point.
posted by el io at 12:27 AM on April 10, 2018 [10 favorites]


If you are not part of a marginalized group, you don't get to define what people in that group should consider "just a joke".

This serves as a mechanism to reinforce hierarchies of privilege and entitlement and to keep the lower orders in their place. An unequal pyramid-shaped society doesn't need to be a top-down authoritarian dictatorship or rigidly feudal structure; it can be a sort of “weighted democracy”, with democratic power being weighted by the number of in-group points one has (or divided by the number of black marks against one's identity). And part of the rules of such a democracy is the giving of “good-natured grief” to those who are below one in the hierarchy to remind them of their place, often through pervasive casual humour at the expense of various minorities.
posted by acb at 3:36 AM on April 10, 2018 [6 favorites]


Is the term "politically correct" ever used by anyone who is not deplorable?
posted by Construction Concern at 6:16 AM on April 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


I think Azaria is aware of how painfully stereotypical Apu is. And how to see him, a rich white dude, doing that voice is rough. Doesn't mean he's going to stop cashing those checks, but he's starting to clue in. Maybe.

In the documentary there is footage of Azaria, live and in person, addressing the 2016 graduating class of Tufts in Apu's accent. I don't think he's clueing in at all.
posted by elsietheeel at 6:23 AM on April 10, 2018 [6 favorites]


Crossing the streams: this article was mentioned in the FanFare post on The Simpsons s29 e15: No Good Read Goes Unpunished
posted by filthy light thief at 7:29 AM on April 10, 2018


Kondabolu last night posted on FB just one bit of invective he'd received from one of his critics -- and Hari didn't shield any of it, not the content, not the guy's name, and -- wow. Hari's inbox must be a caldera of hot, racist hatred.

That man did NOT want to be made to think that there might be a problem with his favourite cartoon.
posted by Capt. Renault at 7:56 AM on April 10, 2018 [5 favorites]


mark k, quoting Kondabolu: Apu doesn’t “offend” me, he “insults” me…and my community.

I've thought for years that I should write an article about how "That's offensive" is wildly inaccurate and lets dominant-majority people stay insulated in their "that group is just too sensitive" mindset.

"Contemptuous" is accurate. Dominant-majority people who prioritize defending their innocence and goodness over listening to us* are demonstrating lack of respect for us, whether they're conscious of disrespecting us or not. Many white people would argue about the difference of degree between disrespect and contempt. To that I say, some damage this shit does to us is immediately obvious to half-woke outsiders, and some is *cough* merely *cough* invisible to you. Fuckkkkkk that.

* Using "Us" broadly here. I'm not Indian. I am a person of colour who speaks up about this shit when I have the energy. Been doing it here at Metafilter since 2005. You think 2010 was bad? Before that was even worse.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:26 AM on April 10, 2018 [21 favorites]


"I call on all other studio heads: when you're reading through a screenplay and come across a homophobic joke, please cross it out before going to production."

Matt Groening actually was that guy in the early years. He even signed his notes "PC Matt". As noted above, there was even a specific instruction in the Apu's debut script that the character not be Indian because that was considered too stereotypical, but unfortunately Azaria's decision to an Indian accent won over.
posted by Sangermaine at 9:03 AM on April 10, 2018 [13 favorites]


There's something I'm confused about. Maybe someone who's been keeping up with the Simpsons can help me.

Why is the writing of this scene so... awkward? "Dealt with at a later date"? It sounds like someone trying to sound lawyer-ey in an email to their landlord. Is that just how Simpsons talk now, or is it a part of the joke I'm not quite understanding?
posted by roll truck roll at 9:07 AM on April 10, 2018


I thought Lisa's tome of voice implied not that she was endorsing the "if at all" comment, but rather that she was sadly acknowledging that's often the way the world is. That reading seems much truer to her character, I'd say.
posted by Paul Slade at 9:08 AM on April 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


God that would be amaaaazing.... then when they challenge him Apu drops character and says it's all an act to keep customers otherwise they shop at Amazon

I don't know if it's true, but there have been persistent rumors that Martin Yan, of Yan Can Cook! plays up his accent on TV as part of his character; I almost wish that the Simpsons had decided to go that route, because it could provide a much more interesting interrogation of stereotypes.

I have my doubts that it would work--and the episode in question cements those doubts. This is not something that I have faith majority-white writing staff would understand, or even treat well and be able to mine for humor.

That response, though, with the "if at all" sort of "fuck you, i don't wanna"? It's...

Well, if I didn't have a generally negative impression of white dudes who tell jokes before, I certainly do now, because the stereotypical representation of "funny" white dudes seems to be a weirdly racist assholes who lean right except when it's convenient/affects them, and that's all one tends to see.
posted by anem0ne at 9:20 AM on April 10, 2018 [7 favorites]


Aw man, now I'm crying. I love a good dad/family story. This is the kind of opinion piece I want to read.

"Everybody has an opinion about Apu, but did they ever talk to someone who owned a convenience store or gas station or work in one or grow up in one? You know, like my dad and I? #simpsons #apu" (Link to twitter thread.)
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 9:49 AM on April 10, 2018 [18 favorites]


The incredulity about Lisa is understandable. But Lisabot 2.0 has been veering in that direction for a long time now. The rebel and outcast and underdog-stand-upper-for has been inching, gradually but noticeably, toward a whiny, boy-obsessed, happy-to-be-materialistic, wanna-be-with-the-in-crowd conformist (to the extent that any of the various bizarre character morphs in the show over the past five years or so have made any actual sense at all).
posted by blucevalo at 11:14 AM on April 10, 2018 [6 favorites]


(Actually it's Tina and Louise on Bob's Burgers who are more like Lisa than Lisabot 2.0 has been for a long time now.)
posted by blucevalo at 11:18 AM on April 10, 2018 [7 favorites]


Man, I would love to live in that country. Tune in to watch Devon Avenue, a police procedural set in Chicago's Desi corridor near where I used to live.

HOLY SHIT WOULD WATCH
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:19 AM on April 10, 2018 [7 favorites]


Not that it's terribly relevant, but it's possibly worth pointing out that Lisa herself (and the show writers) are referencing something that's pretty integral to Lisa's character - The "Don't Have a Cow, Man" is referring to a shirt Apu gave her when she decided to become vegetarian and helped her realize she wasn't alone in that. Not that it makes it better, just an interesting observation.
posted by hoborg at 12:46 PM on April 10, 2018 [2 favorites]


If we say this is contempt and insulting, what will happen is they will say we "perceive" or "feel" it's that. Even my own therapist has said, it's not that I was invalidated but that I felt invalidated: "Lean in, right?" was one of the suggestions offered. So I've been trying to sort this out for myself.
posted by polymodus at 12:47 PM on April 10, 2018


(Actually it's Tina and Louise on Bob's Burgers who are more like Lisa than Lisabot 2.0 has been for a long time now.)

Neither of them are particularly intellectual in the way that Original Flavour Lisa was, though, which is a genuine shame.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:29 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


> Capt. Renault:
"Kondabolu last night posted on FB just one bit of invective he'd received from one of his critics -- and Hari didn't shield any of it, not the content, not the guy's name, and -- wow. Hari's inbox must be a caldera of hot, racist hatred.

That man did NOT want to be made to think that there might be a problem with his favourite cartoon."


Not entirely. After watching the whole thing, I followed him on Twitter and told him it was interesting, thought provoking AND introduced me to several people in the industry I had never identified as Southasian-Americans as well as being well-made.
posted by Samizdata at 1:42 PM on April 10, 2018


Neither of them are particularly intellectual in the way that Original Flavour Lisa was, though, which is a genuine shame.

For me personally, I think I'm fine with that. Lisa being The Only Smart Person in Springfield (even in good episodes) never felt like much of a good thing - it was just an alienating aspect that the writers switched on or off whenever they wanted to make a point.

A good example is the sisters' shared storyline with Boyz 4 Now, where Tina has the maturity and perspective to guide Louise through the weird experience of having a crush, and Louise has the street-smarts and guile to navigate the practical aspects of each episode (sneaking onto the tour bus, and the vote for Booboo politics). Also worth noting that in both episodes, although Tina and Louise suffer some embarrassments and set-backs, the show actually lets them win. Neither girl is shamed for their interests, and they both come away a little stronger for the experience. I think that's the case for the entire show, really, outside of a few episodes where things go completely haywire, the plot allows the Belchers to win, or to lose in a way where they actually learn something.

Now that I'm writing that out, that might be the biggest difference between the shows. The Simpsons, even in its schmaltzier early seasons with very clear TGIF style morality lessons, was always pretty cynical. Springfield is corrupt, Homer's laziness is usually rewarded, Lisa's values and talent usually punished, and in general you could be sure that bad things would happen. Isn't that a natural set-up to the idea that your goal, as a comedy, is to 'offend everyone equally'?

Bob's Burger's, by contrast, usually rewards moral actions (e.g. Jimmy Pesto does something scummy, and Bob eventually comes out on top by refusing to sink to his level), the town is corrupt but those corrupt impulses tend to have consequences (e.g. the Fischoeder boys alienating everyone with the water balloon fight), Bob and Linda aren't lazy or mean and always try to impart good values to their kids, Linda isn't a nag, difference isn't the punchline of a joke (and if anything the more socially out-there characters become incorporated as regulars)... In general the idea of 'offend everyone equally' doesn't even seem to be on the table at the Bob's Burgers writer's room.
posted by codacorolla at 4:06 PM on April 10, 2018 [13 favorites]


I think the big difference of why older Simpsons seasons were successful and current Bob's Burgers episodes are critically acclaimed is maturity of the consumers. Simpsons writers created these one dimensional characters with no room to grow. Their shtick was great in a fairly parse field of adult animation, or even Sunday night primetime itself. And the one dimensional caricatures provided just the right amount of family-friendly laughs. The complex and brilliant stuff, what the writers are really capable of, are wedged in between the established stereotypes in such a way that if you were paying attention and appreciated it, made you really love the show. But all of those clever ideas eventually run out, especially if you don't evolve the characters. Each family member, no matter how much they seem to grow, eventually circles back to their base character traits. And now as they run out of ideas they push the characters to do things that are literally "out of character", and the consumers are wondering where this change is coming from, and the show suffers. And they know this, so they're not willing to change Apu.

Bob's Burgers haven't been on long enough for their well of great plot ideas to run low yet. But you can see the nuances of the characters, and how writers have given them room to grow.
posted by numaner at 6:05 PM on April 10, 2018 [4 favorites]


(and if anything the more socially out-there characters become incorporated as regulars)

Bob: Oh, hey, Marshmallow.
Linda: *gasps* Tall, dark and handsome!
Gene: That settles it: Mom's psychic!
Bob: No she isn't! Marshmallow isn't handsome. She's beautiful.
Marshmallow: Blush!
posted by elsietheeel at 6:48 PM on April 10, 2018


I just finished the documentary and it was honestly the best hour that has elapsed in my week.

I’m a white guy and I married a South Indian. My kids will probably, unfortunately, have to come to terms with Apu, a character they have no idea even exists at this moment.

What’s a bit ironic is that the list of acceptable South Indian boy names that are pronounceable in English is incredibly short and my wife and I love The Trilogy of Apu (which is seriously amazing and everyone should watch it, it will break your heart and fill you with compassion). One of my kids just barely missed being named Apu and it probably saved their life.

The Simpsons sucks ass and I don’t mean to offend any ass-suckers. They started with a general good will towards Apu, who’s funny in a minstrel way, that sensitive white people now realize is problematic. He’s also one of the few secondary characters who was given a bit of depth and sympathy (through his marriage, his children) unlike say Dr. Hibbard or Barney. It would be not at all jarring to the general tone of the Simpsons to write an episode that comes to grips with Springfield’s acceptance of a successful immigrant. The writers have chosen not to do this in order to preserve his value as a cheap racist laugh generator.

There’s racism that is borne from ignorance and lack of familiarity with the people who are being parodied which is ...still bad, but at least I can wrap my head around why this happens... then there’s racism where everyone knows it’s parody and harmful and they still decide other people’s suffering doesn’t outweigh the money the racism brings in.

It is absolutely unforgivable.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:07 PM on April 10, 2018 [14 favorites]


Neither of them are particularly intellectual in the way that Original Flavour Lisa was, though, which is a genuine shame.

For me personally, I think I'm fine with that. Lisa being The Only Smart Person in Springfield (even in good episodes) never felt like much of a good thing - it was just an alienating aspect that the writers switched on or off whenever they wanted to make a point.

Also, it’s not the worst thing IMO to be reminded that being socially progressive, or even just decently humane and empathetic, need not be contingent on being possessed of an exceptional intellect.
posted by non canadian guy at 7:37 PM on April 10, 2018 [3 favorites]


(I love the Bob/Marshmallow dynamic on Bob's Burgers, but it really bums me out that her voice actor is a white cis dude.)
posted by tobascodagama at 7:59 PM on April 10, 2018 [1 favorite]


A thing I've noticed from a lot of Americans (even the children of immigrants) is that the first generation is often forever the Other. Related, it's a common rhetorical device in the US to say someone is "just as American" as a way to say they're just as human. I think it would be valuable to keep the character's first-gen backstory and accent (not the exact same accent, but a more nuanced one) in a rewrite.
posted by airmail at 8:26 PM on April 10, 2018


polymodus: If we say this is contempt and insulting, what will happen is they will say we "perceive" or "feel" it's that. Even my own therapist has said, it's not that I was invalidated but that I felt invalidated

Ugh. True. (Uh, isn't that false equivalence that the therapist is doing? Can't it be true both that they DID actually invalidate you, and that you felt invalidated?) Thanks for pointing that out. I can prepare for it now.

Still, for me personally, it's sometimes worthwhile to change the terms of the debate to make the fuckers work harder at their contorted rationalizations, and then after a couple of go-rounds, to point out that they refuse to admit they might have anything to learn about a topic that I have a lifetime's experience of, that's just abstract for them. (And sometimes I say to myself, "Fuck 'em all" and cuddle the cats instead.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:50 AM on April 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's also notable that Apu himself appearing frozen in a picture frame with "Don't Have a Cow" written on it is the most screen time that he (or his family) has gotten on that show in, like, years. So perfectly apposite as to how much that show's writers "value" that character.
posted by blucevalo at 7:49 AM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


In a baffling turn of events, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean is now retweeting National Review articles defending the show.

So, I guess it's official: Simpsons are MAGA now ☹
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:19 AM on April 13, 2018 [7 favorites]


yeah i'm good with never going back to the simpsons again.
posted by anem0ne at 1:46 PM on April 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


And that could be their way out. Have Apu go from Kwik-E-Mart clerk to franchise owner -- opening more stores in Springfield and the surrounding towns. He'd get rich -- rich enough to be a rival for Mr. Burns. Have someone else run the store. Have his octuplets become the Kardashians. Suddenly, his story is completely different.

As far as I'm concerned, this is now canon.
posted by thedward at 6:28 PM on April 13, 2018


I little late for this thread, but Hank Azaria had a thoughtful response recently on The Late Show.
posted by gwint at 7:23 AM on April 25, 2018 [5 favorites]


Buzzfeed article on Azaria's Late Show appearance.

“I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it,” Azaria said.“I’m perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me.”

Azaria also said that the controversy around his character had "come to my attention more and more over the past couple years."

“I’ve given this a lot of thought, and as I say my eyes have been opened," he said.

posted by elsietheeel at 7:37 AM on April 25, 2018 [6 favorites]


Hari Kondabolu liked what Azaria said. So did Metafilter's own Anil Dash.
posted by Nelson at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2018 [3 favorites]


As a white guy whose only connection with this issue is talking to South Asian friends who grew up watching the Simpsons, I was delighted by Azaria's response. He actually sounds like a thoughtful person who cares. That's astonishing, especially after the embarrassing graduation ceremony video above. (Not that I haven't done many offensive and stupid things in my life. But, I also hadn't been famous for decades and I wasn't in front of an audience of thousands.) Huzzah!

It's a shame Al Jean and the writer's room are such fucktards. But, at least there's hope.
posted by eotvos at 1:05 PM on April 25, 2018


Sadly, Groening instead chooses to Milkshake Duck:
The creator of The Simpsons has finally responded to the racism row surrounding fan favourite Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Matt Groening, who came up with America's beloved cartoon family in the late 1980s, appeared to dodge criticisms in a recent interview with USA Today. The show's portrayal of a Indian convenience store clerk came under intense scrutiny after comedian Hari Kondabolu released the documentary 'The Problem with Apu' last year.

Asked if he had any thoughts on the criticisms of Apu as a stereotype, Mr Groening said: "Not really. I'm proud of what we do on the show.

"And I think it's a time in our culture where people love to pretend they're offended...We'll let the show speak for itself."
To paraphrase one of his creations, his position is bad and he should feel bad.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:58 AM on May 1, 2018 [8 favorites]


Say it again with me: “No, it’s the children who are wrong.”
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:25 PM on May 1, 2018 [3 favorites]


Sigh. I'm trying not to be surprised with the dawning notion that there was no reason to think that mainstream comedy could ever be woke or unproblematic, because its mass societal appeal is a direct constraint on that.
posted by polymodus at 12:52 AM on May 2, 2018 [1 favorite]


because its mass societal appeal is a direct constraint on that.

But that's the thing. The Simpsons isn't popular. Last Sunday, twice as many people watched America's Funniest Home Videos as watched The Simpsons.

If The Simpsons actually did an episode that addressed this in a smart way, it would be the watercooler conversation for weeks to come. I don't think we can blame this stuff on popularity as much as just stubbornness.
posted by roll truck roll at 7:47 AM on May 3, 2018 [7 favorites]


It's not stubbornness, but a mentality within the comedy world that soft bigotry is somehow okay, and that conversely criticizing soft bigotry is an attack on free speech.

Needless to say, this is a mentality that needs to be staked through the heart.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:47 AM on May 3, 2018 [5 favorites]


Also, Bob "MovieBob" Chipman has finished his "Apu Trilogy" over the whole controversy:

Part 1, in which he talks about the longevity of the series and how it can make discussing it harder because of its uniqueness. Worth watching because he avoids the "it sucks now" trap a lot of discussion of the show falls into, instead looking at it more along the lines of a soap opera in terms of development.

Part 2, which gets into why Apu became Apu, from the cultural shifts that inspired the character, to the ways the show has grappled with him, both for good and for ill.

Part 3, in which he talks about where to go moving forward. Apparently, Azaria's interview threw a wrench into his script, forcing a rewrite to discuss what was said.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:25 PM on May 3, 2018 [4 favorites]


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