Fans of The Simpsons are really not happy. The reason: the most recent episode of the Fox animation offered a reply to critics of the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. And it’s simply “Don’t have a cow”.
This is in part a response to the documentary by Indian-American standup comic Hari Kondabolu, The Problem with Apu, which highlighted how the character – voiced by white actor Hank Azaria since 1990 – led to widespread stereotyping of south Asian people.
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A scene in episode No Good Read Goes Unpunished sees the show acknowledge the controversy, with Marge trying to read Lisa a book she loved when she was a girl, before realising it is filled with racist stereotypes. Marge then revises the story to include a “cisgender girl named Clara” fighting for wild horse rescue, which Lisa says has stripped the character of her emotional journey.
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” Marge replies. Turning to the camera, Lisa then says: “It’s hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
A photo of Apu, inscribed with the words “Don’t have a cow” is then shown on Lisa’s bedside table. The phrase is a favourite of Bart’s, meaning don’t get all upset about it.
“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge promises.
“If at all,” Lisa adds.
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) April 9, 2018
Kondabolu himself soon criticised the “sad” scene, claiming it was simply a “jab” at progress.
Wow. “Politically Incorrect?” That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad. https://t.co/lYFH5LguEJ
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018
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.
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018
Others have also pointed to the problem of Lisa, considered one of the show’s most progressive characters, delivering such dialogue…
The fact that The Simpsons had Lisa (!) be the one to slap down the legitimate conversation around Apu is maybe the grossest part of this
— Dana Schwartz (@DanaSchwartzzz) April 9, 2018
That's really terrible. They have completely betrayed Lisa's beautifully defined character.
We all know she would not have made such a comment.
— Francis Skelton (@SkeltonsHead) April 9, 2018
If you needed any more convincing that the Simpsons is a rambling corpse of its former self, they had Lisa break the fourth wall so she could describe the character of Apu as “politically incorrect”.
— The Impossible Girl (@actuallyalice) April 9, 2018
I think the fact that they put this "argument" in the mouth of Lisa's character, the character who usually champions the underdogs and is supposed to be the most thoughtful and liberal, is what makes this the most ridiculous (as in worthy of ridicule) and toothless response.
— W. Kamau Bell (@wkamaubell) April 9, 2018
And while others defended the show, saying it stereotypes all characters…
The outrage over Apu from the Simpsons astounds me. He’s a stereotype, who on that show isn’t? The show is a satirical reflection on suburban American living. Either you’re against the show stereotyping literally everybody or your not. You can’t hang your hat only on Apu
— Dan gets it (@danbrickes) April 9, 2018
The funniest thing about The Simpsons Apu outrage is the self righteous "Lisa would never say that" crowd.
Lisa is a stereotype of you, she's always been a stereotype of you. The "real Lisa Simpson" wasn't betrayed you dummies. pic.twitter.com/24U0Gpwj5L
— Harshmelo (@Harshmelo) April 9, 2018
People actually think the portrayal of Apu in The Simpsons is racist? It’s an exaggerated comedic STEREOTYPE, like Homer as a fat dumb American
Racism: discrimination against a race in the belief that one's own race is superior
No character is portrayed as racially superior
— Lucinda (@ellkay_) April 9, 2018
There is no "problem with Apu" in the Simpsons. He's a multidimensional well fleshed out character.If you look at him & all you see is a convenient store owner with Indian accent that's on you.
Do you share the same "problem" for Italian mobster Fat Tony or Groundskeeper Willie?
— John (@The_Safetys_Off) April 9, 2018
The majority of fans feel the show has let them down…
— HUSE MADHAVJI (@HuseM) April 9, 2018
They should and could have done an entire episode with Apu responding to @harikondabolu's movie. They wouldn't have to agree with him but they missed a huge opportunity to add in more layers and be topical. Instead, they went the lazy route and did this. https://t.co/ciUq39A4t6
— Wajahat "Wears a Mask Because of a Pandemic" Ali (@WajahatAli) April 9, 2018