Recently, there has been a big controversy surrounding the existence of the Asian Indian character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, on “The Simpsons.” After more than 30 years of Apu being on the show, some people are starting to say that it is politically incorrect to have such a character. They are saying that having a stereotypical “Indian” character enforces negative stereotypes and provides a context where people can have an easier time making fun of Indians. Another complaint is that South Asian people are not represented enough in the media, and that having a white guy—Hank Azaria—do Apu’s voice is insulting.
A recent documentary entitled “The Problem With Apu,” spearheaded by Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu, tackled the issues of South Asian representation in the media and the effects of Apu on the Indian American community. He claimed that the Apu character resulted in suffering from taunts and stereotypes. Hank Azaria even spoke in the documentary. Last month, “The Simpsons” subtly responded to this documentary. In an episode, Lisa brought up the fact that some things that were accepted decades ago are not considered to be politically correct. She asked what could be done. Her mother, Marge, said that such issues would be fixed at a “later date.” When Kondabolu saw this episode that responded to his documentary, he was disappointed.
There is an idea out there that the show should get rid of Apu for political correctness. It’s pretty ridiculous, considering the fact that the entire show is full of stereotypes that could be considered offensive. There are plenty ethnic and racial stereotypes scattered throughout the show, as well as stereotypes based on various interests, subcultures and personality types. The reason for this is because the show is satire—it’s not supposed to be taken seriously.
Why is it okay to cherry pick certain backgrounds of people and say that it is more offensive to satirically portray them than others? Why is it so wrong to satirically portray an Indian American, but not wrong to satirically portray an immigrant Hispanic person? In the show, Dr. Nick Riviera is a crooked, under-qualified, immigrant doctor from some Latin American country who speaks with an accent. People like Hari Kondabolu are so up in arms about political correctness, so why don’t they think that it is a crime to portray Latino immigrants like this? Ned Flanders is a devoted Christian who is stereotyped and made fun of for his faith. Why is this not an issue? Cletus Spuckler is a poor white American who is stereotyped as an incestuous, cruel, racist hillbilly. How is that not offensive? All of these characters are voiced by people who do not have those backgrounds.