The Simpsons first graced television screens nearly 30 years ago and has since been a staple in the comedy diets of many ever since. The writers of the show are famous for their wit and cleverly crafted subtle comedy, which shouldn’t come as a shock considering many of them attended prestigious universities. One thing that won’t escape avid fans is the show’s tendency to have its ‘finger on the pulse’ and predict real life future events. From the breakout of Ebola to Donald Trump becoming President and everything in between, they’ve always showcased an uncanny ability to predict future world events.
However, one future event they failed to predict was the social media backlash as rumours continue to circulate about the fate one of the show’s most beloved characters, Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. After years of service and becoming synonymous with The Simpsons brand, rumours continue about Apu being axed completely. The controversy centres around those who claim his character portrayal is racially insensitive and those who maintain he is a harmless caricature. All of which stems from the question first posed by stand-up comedian Hari Kondabolu in his documentary titled The Problem with Apu.
The Indian-American comedian stated that Apu was one of the only representations of India that he was exposed to on television growing up and his negative portrayal ‘was a tool for kids to go after you’. Although his character and the way he plays up to stereotypes may well need to be addressed, the manner in which it is done will reveal a lot about the writers and their approach to the issue of race. If they were to axe his character without exploring other options, it would be dangerous.
Criticism will inevitably come their way at some stage or another with a cartoon that has spanned nearly three decades, but would axing Apu be an appropriate response? I don’t think so.
Opinion is divided on whether these criticisms are valid, but from my point of view, they do have some weight. Perhaps Apu is an outdated stereotype that has no place being promoted on such a popular television show. And if that is the case, it necessitates that the situation is handled properly and not with a knee-jerk reaction that does little to properly answer the questions raised.
The actor who voices the character of Apu, Hank Azaria, has previously stated his ambivalence towards the role and that he would happily step aside if pressure mounted. He suggested that rather than simply getting rid of the character altogether, he would employ an actor from an Indian background or a more diverse group of writers to navigate any potential negative stereotypes. This for me is a far more calculated and constructive response than axing Apu entirely to silence the voices of criticism.
If Homer, an alcoholic abusive father can remain on the show, then why can’t a revised version of Apu stay too?