Writer: 'Simpsons' Portrayal of Apu Is Racist

In this day and age of Political Correctness it can almost be expected that someone will object to the portrayal of Apu in the upcoming "The Simpsons" movie as racist. Sure enough, writer Manish Vij, made just that accusation in the July 17 issue of the British newspaper The Guardian with an article titled, The Apu travesty:

...The Simpsons has long irritated some Indian-Americans because of the thickly stereotypical character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the effete cornershop owner with fractured English, excess fertility, bizarre religious practices, illegal immigration status and a penchant for cheating customers.

Apu is quite a unique character on The Simpsons. Unlike the show's parodies of policemen and Irish-Americans, he's the only character to mock a small American minority relatively unknown in the mainstream, and he's by far the most visible immigrant. For desis (South Asians) growing up in America, just one eighth as concentrated and visible as in the UK, Apu shadowed us at every turn.

Sorry, Manish, but Apu is not a unique character on "The Simpsons" in terms of parodies of ethnic types. Is he not familiar with the character of Willie the Groundskeeper who is portrayed as an over-the-top mad Scotsman with a thick, almost indeciperable, Highland burr? The 1991 episode of that show, Like Father, Like Clown, shows the father of Krusty the Klown, Rabbi Krustofski (Jackie Mason) with a Yiddish type accent and Bart Simpson dressed in a dark cassock and sidelocks like a Yeshiva student. So far no objections on record from Scottish or Jewish groups to these ethnic portrayals. Vij admits that Apu is portrayed in a mostly admirable manner but, rather than relaxing and enjoying his comedic character, he finds a dark side:

To be sure, Apu has many redeeming qualities: a loving wife, passive-aggressive cunning, and a Ph.D. Culture-vulture Simpsons fans have felled entire forests in arguing that he's a parody of a stereotype, rather than the stereotype itself. But the plain fact is that most viewers are laughing at Apu, not with him. They're enjoying the simple pleasures of a funny, singsong brown man with a slippery grasp of English.

Just as we are enjoying the simple pleasures of a funny, crazed red-headed Scotsman, with a bizarre accent. Apparently Vij is so far gone in the outrage department that he even objects to the use of a simple polite greeting:

Even worse, any benevolent subtleties in the Apu character have been obliterated by 7-Eleven's bizarre promotion, which moves a crude ethnic stereotype into the real world. Desi franchise employees, among others, are being asked to don Kwik-E-Mart costumes with Apu nametags, come to work under banners mocking their ethnicity, and bid customers goodbye with the phrase, "Thank you, come again!"

Perhaps Mr. Vij should just relax and treat "The Simpsons" for what it is---a comedy. If one is looking to be offended he probably will be. Vij could take a cue from Indian-American 7-Eleven franchisee Kumar Assandas who is not at all disturbed by the Apu character:

'I know it's a stereotype, but it doesn't bother me. Everybody knows it's a joke,' Assandas told CNN. 'I'm a big Simpsons fan myself, and maybe subconsciously it even inspired me to become a 7-Eleven owner.'

On The Guardian site, most of the comments from readers about Manish Vij's article demonstrates that they think he has taken Political Correctness way too far:

Oh don't be ridiculous - Apu is a *positive* character in the Simpsons. He's shamed Homer on many occasions, in his industriousness and committment to his family for instance. So the character has an accent - is that IT? Is that enough to bring on the dogs of racism?

Apu has brougt joy and laughter to countless millions and I seriously doubt it has worsened race relations at all anywhere. Why can't you humourless self righteous zealots tackle racism where it is doing real harm and stop inventing it where it doesn't exist.

I am asian and I love this character, Its great, that asian one has been created. shows US acknowledges its diversity. this article is crap!

Hopefully the silliness of this Manish Vij article will be the end of PC objections to Apu. However, in this era of perpetual outrage, who knows?

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P.J. Gladnick's picture