Hank Azaria, who has performed the voice of the Indian convenience store owner Apu since 1990, now says the series will capitulate to The Woke and Widiculous, and eliminate the character, who represents a stereotype. You know, unlike all the other characters on “The Simpsons.” “All we know there is I won’t be doing the voice anymore,” Azaria told the website SlashFilm. “We all made the decision together… We all agreed on it. We all feel like it’s the right thing and good about it.”
OK, what’s right and good about it? Hank is a Hollywood actor, so I don’t expect much nuanced ethical analysis from him, or any kind of analysis, really, but if an animated satire show can’t defend using stereotypes in a cartoon, then it might as well just give up.
I’m embarrassed to say this is the fourth post on this silly story, but like so many others, it is canary dying in the mine stuff. Yes, it’s just one canary. Still, the mine is looking awfully toxic.
A recap: The controversy was launched when a new documentary debuted Nov. 19, 2017 called “The Problem with Apu.” It reveals that Indian-Americans….well, at least some, viewed Apu as a charged stereotype, and were especially upset that a non-Indian actor (Azaria), did the voice. I responded,
Move through the muck and emerge in the bright sunlight of reality, and one sees that there is no problem with Apu. There are problems with lacking a mature reaction to humor and satire, being deliberately hyper-sensitive, power-grabbing using group-identification politics, and cynically looking for offense to justify claiming victim status, but there is no problem with Apu.
I would love to know why Indian-Americans feel all the other characters in the show can be outrageous stereotypes and extreme caricatures, but Apu is unacceptably offensive and insensitive. This is contrived victimization. One cannot reasonable compare the Indians feasting on bugs and chilled monkey brains in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” to Apu because 1) Apu is entirely benign: he is one of the smartest, sanest and nicest characters in “The Simpsons,” and 2) he’s a cartoon.
“The Simpsons”writers initially took the responsible approach to this contrived controversy: they ridiculed it, taking my route and noting that it was a cartoon, meaing to sane people that the accusation that the show was marginalizing human beings was not worth arguing about, being box of rocks dumb. Here was the woke rebuttal to that, from a white female critic offended on behalf of cartoon Indians everywhere:
“I know: It’s a cartoon. That is the easiest, silliest response to this debate. It’s just a cartoon. It’s just a comedy. Or, as the photo of Apu pointedly says, don’t have a cow. But the show doesn’t have this defense to call on, because it has accepted accolades for decades as a thoughtful, intelligent, satirical work that deserves to be taken seriously. It has accepted a Peabody Award, and a GLAAD Media Award. It has been praised and slobbered over and quoted and praised again, and to plead insignificance at this point is unavailing.”
I responded to that—I’m always having arguments with people who never see what I write and couldn’t care less, have you noticed that?—by writing,
I hate to be harsh, but this is idiotic beyond excusing. To say “It’s a cartoon” is not to say that it is insignificant, and to say “It’s just a comedy” is not to argue that its content doesn’t matter. It’s a cartoon means that cartoons as an art form, exaggerate, stereotype and mock individuals and groups using funny faces, voices, words and actions, and anyone who takes personal offense—or who works hard to find offense– at a cartoon that was not intended to offend is best dealt with by saying to him or her, “Avoid animated entertainment. You don’t understand it.” And maybe a pat on the head will help.
I should have added that I was unaware of the rule that if a show gets a GLAAD Award, it is too weighty to have comic characters who hail from Bombay. I ended the post,
Why are Indian-Americans anointed with special privileges that they should be immune from the gentle self-mockery that was once a strength of this culture? They’re not. I think “The Simpsons” should kill off Apu, and announce the cause of death as excessive political correctness.
Then the social media mobs and others kept flogging this—I refuse to believe Indians are any more offended by Apu than I am by fat, bald, stupid Homer, a white middle-aged man, which is to say, not at all; the complaints are coming from non-Indians who want to flex their censorship muscles. Here’s me as a Simpson’s character, by the way—
until the news came in 2018 that Apu was doomed. From my Ethics Alarms note:
It is being reported that “The Simpsons” will eliminate Indian-American and Quik-E-Mart owner Apu from its cast of thousands because the political correctness assault on the character as a “stereotype” is more trouble than Mr. Nahasapeemapetilon is worth. So now “The Simpsons” will have no Indian-American characters at all, like most sitcoms. The comedian/activist who initially attacked Apu, Hari Kondabolu tweeted that the rumor of Apu’s apparent demise actually isn’t good news to him: “There are so many ways to make Apu work without getting rid of him. If true, this sucks.”
Good job Hari! Apu in fact DID “work,” you just didn’t like him, and now because you didn’t like him, there will be no Indian-American character on “The Simpsons” at all. A better example of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good would be hard to find.
Now it’s done. No more Apu. Though from a personal viewpoint I wouldn’t care if I never saw Apu again, my mind has again raced to the Jacques Brel quote that increasingly appears to be the looming epitaph for what was once a vibrant American culture:
“If you leave it up to them, they’ll crochet the world the color of goose shit.”
The Twitter link, so can post this on Facebook without being accused of being a Nazi: https://twitter.com/CaptCompliance/status/1219050898338414592