Accuracy in Media

Last year, Hari Kondabolu, a comedian from Brooklyn of Indian descent, released a documentary called “The Problem with Apu” that dealt with a character on the long-running animated show “The Simpsons.”

Earlier this week, the show offered its response, and the media was not happy with it.

Kondabolu, who said he loved the show, objected to the way the show presented Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, who operates the Kwik-E-Mart in “The Simpsons.”

He didn’t like that the character’s Indian accent was voiced by a white American, and he feared his parents’ accent, which is similar, could be used against him in middle school.

The documentary includes interviews with other comics on racial stereotypes and other politically correct matters. Whoopi Goldberg makes an appearance and compares Apu’s depiction to that of minstrels.

On Sunday, the show responded.

In the third and final scene of the episode, Marge, the mom on the show, is reading a story to Lisa, the precocious daughter, from Marge’s favorite childhood book. The book deals with a princess whose family owns slaves, but Marge changes the words to make her a character concerned about net neutrality.

As Marge realizes how racist her childhood book was and starts to change the words, Lisa observes, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

The camera then pans to a picture of Apu on Lisa’s nightstand inscribed, “Don’t have a cow, Apu.”

“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge says. “If at all,” adds Lisa.

Kondabolu was not amused.

“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,” he tweeted. “The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”

Wakanda Kamau Bell of CNN tweeted “The Simpsons, 1989-2018,” and then explained another objection liberals leveled at the exchange: “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.”

Vanity Fair took umbrage at the whole thing.

“It was a surprisingly glib response considering the conversation that the documentary started,” Vanity Fair wrote. “Apu wasn’t a contested character when the show began, but he is now – oh well? Was that really the best retort that Team Simpson could muster: meeting a frank dialogue abut South-Asian representation in media with a shrug of the shoulders and a flippant jab at Apu’s religion?”

Entertainment Weekly also was upset at the mockery of political correctness.

“There’s something about the response that came across as not only tasteless but viscerally unsatisfying,” EW wrote. “In his documentary, Kondabolu initiated the complex conversion about what it meant to have a white actor voicing an Indian character (with a heavy, caricatured accent) during a time when there was little or no Indian representation in the media.

“The Simpsons’ on-air response reveals that the minds behind the long-running animated series either entirely failed to grasp Kondabolu’s point or (perhaps, unfortunately, more likely) they were completely indifferent to it.”

“Lisa Simpson would not bemoan social justice the way, say, a wealthy middle-aged white male writer might,” the piece declared. “She would be the first to challenge the status quo, to point out wrongs that should be corrected even if it seems futile, and “The Simpsons” writers using her character as a human shield is the ultimate act of cowardice and a fundamental betrayal of her character and those who love her.”   

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