Last year, director Michael Melamedoff and comedian Hari Kondabolu published The Problem with Apu, a documentary about how people in South Asia have taken care to see most of their American representation on television from the owner of yogis and stores. convenience of The Simpsons, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Kondabolu talks about his own experience with Apu, whom he describes as "the impression that a white man makes fun of my father." Interview with people like Kal Penn and Aziz Ansari, who talk about how the accent and stereotypes of Apu have been used. mock or intimidate them In an episode that aired on April 8, The Simpsons responded to the controversy directly, with a nonchalant apology for being "politically incorrect." Although the episode tries to stay on time, with references from pop culture to Alexa and Amazon's Minecraft, it is dated by making surprisingly dull assertions about modern themes of representation.
In the episode, "No Good Read Goes Unpunished," written by Jeff Westbrook, Marge reviews her favorite childhood storybook, The Princess in the Garden. But when he tries to tell Lisa, he realizes that the plot and the characters are more racist than he remembered. The story is about a girl who enjoys a colonized land, while her maids, people of color who are "naturally servile", fan her and bring her food while threatening to lash them.
Horrified, Marge changes to what she hopes is a more appropriate part of the story, and runs into an Irish stereotype. The character in the book asks with indignation: "Is this the part you consider acceptable?" That's the ironic commentary in the series about how all stereotypes are bad, but stereotypes about people of color have received more disapproval lately. The episode is also based on the rhetoric used by the noisiest advocates of the program: the idea that, given that the show shows the stereotypes of everyone, not just marginalized people of color, it is not so bad. To prove the point, the episode includes a cameo of the Scottish stereotype Groundskeeper Willie, and a secondary plot about Bart receiving ideas to deal with Homer when reading Sun Tzu's Art of War, narrated by Jimmy O. Yang of Silicon Valley in a strong accent .
There was no other counterexample for Apu on television
However, this is a point that Kondabolu already specifically addresses in his film. The line of thought of "Simpsons Estereotypes Everyone" assumes that everyone is treated equally in society and the media, that systemic systemic racism is not a problem, and that Apu was not the main source of media representation for South Asians when the show was launched in 1989. While characters like "Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel" and Groundskeeper Willie are satirical stereotypes, they are specific stereotypes of narrow subgroups, and there are many counterexamples of South or Scottish people on television . On the contrary, Kondabolu points out that Apu is a broad amalgam of all possible ethnic stereotypes about Indians, Bangladeshi and Pakistanis, which writers might think. And in an environment where there was no other counterexample for Apu on television, the character made those stereotypes more popular and prominent. In Kondabolu's experience, Apu led people to think it was funny (and potentially even socially accurate) to shout his slogan, "Thank you, come back!" To the South American-Americans or imitate their accent and false reverence when speaking with them.
The episode of The Simpsons responds to Kondabolu's well-reasoned argument and personal experience with a disdainful metaphor that buries the controversy under false equivalences. It is a pity that the writers of the show decided to go in this direction because "No Good Read Goes Unpunished" could have been a useful way to deal with the stereotype. Lisa, the target of Marge's old and racist storybook, has been well established as a progressive character who is sensitive to racism, stereotypes and the feelings of other people. It would have been natural for her to question the racist story or ask what Marge likes about the book that makes it worthwhile to keep it.
Instead, Marge tries to rewrite the story in the most consented way possible, turning the main character into an activist of net neutrality that rescues the wild horses. Lisa immediately stops her, saying that the heroine is too perfect, so she could not have "an emotional journey to complete". "What am I supposed to do?" Asks Marge. "It's hard to say," says Lisa, looking directly at the camera. "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive now is politically incorrect, what can you do?"
It is a strange betrayal that the most liberal activist character of the show is used as a spokesperson for the writers to communicate: "Our hands are completely tied, and certainly there is no way to make our modern racial caricature less offensive." Given that Kondabolu A Apu's objections go back to his early days and that only recent cultural changes have allowed people to pay attention, it is also annoying that they claim that the character never offended anyone before now. Finally, they end up with a vague and agitated contradiction by the hand that has nothing to do with the real story of the program: Marge says: "Some things will be dealt with at a later date". "If they do," Lisa adds. And both look significantly at the camera. It's as if the writers said "Maybe we're not going to do anything about it." But who knows? "That kind of lazy moral ambivalence is more like Homer Simpson than Lisa.
Even the fundamental basis of the "No Good Read Goes Unpunished" argument to keep Apu in the series unchanged is based on a weak base. Leaning on a metaphor from an old book that Marge read as a child, The Simpsons suggests that Apu is a relic of the past that, for some reason, must remain completely unchanged 30 years after its inception. When Marge tries to update her storybook, she says: "It takes a lot of work to get the spirit and character out of a book," suggesting that not only would Apu be difficult to improve, but turning it into something more than a broad stereotype would eliminate his spirit".
But as Linda Holmes points out in her analysis of NPR, Apu is not an abandoned relic of the past, it is part of an ongoing television program that is still being written today, and in modern episodes, it continues repeating the same phrases and tics of 30 years ago. He has not changed much. It is a strange notion that there is a spirit or character that can be enjoyed in a racist caricature, expressed by a white man who makes an exaggerated accent, consciously based on the role of Peter Sellers as an Indian doctor in a dark face at the 1968 festival What is so important about Apu that it has to remain unchanged? Do the Simpsons really hint that without ethnic stereotypes, there would be no show?
In The Problem with Apu, Kondabolu designed his own metaphor about the long series of cartoons: "The Simpsons is like your racist grandfather, and if he can not change, maybe it's time he dies, and you can remember the good things about him" . That caustic remark shows how rewarding Apu's presence has been on the show, and must have made some impression on the writers. But "No Good Read Goes Unpunished" says openly, "Yes, this program is your racist grandfather, but there is absolutely no way to avoid it, so why bother?"