The Simpsons: The Problem with Apu and the Evolving American Culture

The year is 1999. We were often reminded on the radio how the New Kids on the Block had a bunch of hits, no one thought George W. Bush would be elected president, and everyone watched the Simpsons. Like most 8 year olds, my mom frowned upon me watching such a crude and provocative show (simplier times, am I right?) But like most parents, she had no idea how a v-chip worked and I wasn’t going to tell her. I watched it anyway and eventually she stopped caring.

America eventually stopped caring about what was on the Simpsons as well, until 2016. An up and coming Indian-American comedian made a documentary simply titled “The Problem with Apu”. Hari Kondabolu made a lot of interesting points in the film with appearances from many other Indian-American actors, comedians and successful people many of whom were bullied with everyone’s favorite catch phrase “thank you, come again”.

One of the main points of the film is not simply the fact that Apu is offensive because, even according to the writers of the show, Apu was meant to be offensive and stereotypical. Taking a step back and looking at it, The Simpsons hits on every cliche and stereotype in our society. We have the deadbeat dad, the philandering politician, the alcoholic actor, the Italian mob boss, and everyone’s favorite, the rebellious and angsty pre-teen. The show basically made these characters so that we could reflect on our own stereotypes, how it affects others and our own way of thinking. In doing so, the show became a staple of satirical cartoon comedy that paved the way for shows like family Guy, American Dad, the Cleveland show (ok basically just Seth McFarlane) but you get the point.

This show broke barriers, but I never thought that the intention of Apu’s character was to be truly racist. At the time the show was created, the only thing that was really considered racist was saying the N word or putting on black face. Was it stereotypical? Yes, but racism was not the intent. What the show’s creators failed to understand, to no fault of their own, was that India was very foreign to us and therefore had no real representation in American Media at that time.

Apu, the beloved and greedy brown shopkeeper, became the first thing anyone thought of when we saw someone of Indian or Southeast Asian descent. As Americans of non Indian descent, we need to own that.

This comedian, or PC culture in general, did not ruin Apu. We did. I did. You did. We took a store clerk who was industrious, brave and highly intelligent and we ruined it for everyone by constantly harassing our fellow citizens with his catchy albeit stereotyped catch phrases.

Now, the creator of the show “The Problem with Apu” has created a new dilemma. If Apu is considered offensive, what else is left for them to keep without offending anyone? The Italian mafia might decide to take a “whack” at joining the PC movement and ask for The Don to be “taken out”. AA advocates want Barney to be sober from now on because there’s nothing funny about alcoholics! (The string of my family members with addiction to drugs and alcohol would beg to differ.) I haven’t seen much of bumble bee man and that’s for the best because he was kinda racist.

The point is, we can use offensive characters and stereotypes to be funny without actually being stereotypical or racist. Apu embodies that comical idea. Unfortunately, he came out at a time when we both didn’t have any idea of what racism was outside of whatever the KKK stood for and a real lack of diversity in American pop culture. Now our only choice is to either let everyone who finds something offensive to censor it ,or have that one guy on Facebook post about how “We didn’t let those snowflake cucks win by takin’ away our token Hindu guy! #MAGA”. So now we are trapped. Do we take down this offens characetur and open the flood gates of PC culture prevail? If so then what happens to all of the episodes of yesteryear with Apu and any other stereotype characters? Or do we go against current culture and let unfettered (albeit offensive) free speech stand? Truly a rock and a hard place if Homer was ever between one. And that is why this whole Apu thing is just, well, a poo thing.

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