Political correctness is a hot button topic, not only in society but also in media. From whitewashing controversies in Hollywood blockbusters to poor adaptations of source material, transplanting Eastern and minority characters and locations to Western focused ones (Netflix's Death Note anyone?). The latest victim of this, and the one that has drawn the most social media traffic today, is The Simpsons and it's all about Apu.
In November of 2017, comic and filmmaker Hari Kondabolu produced a film entitled The Problem with Apu. The film explores, with a star studded South Asian heritage cast, the issue with Apu and how his character exists on the back of 'negative stereotypes'. The character is voiced by Hank Azaria, who is Caucasian and of Sephardic Jewish descent. The character's voice was originally based on a 7-Eleven store attendant local to Azaria and first appeared in the eighth episode of season one, 'The Telltale Head', in February 1990. It's not just the voice of the character, and the fact he is voiced by a white voice actor, that has drawn scorn. The fact he is in an arranged marriage, has eight children and his character can be distilled down to a store clerk, have all drawn attention, both in the documentary and in response to it.
The latest episode of The Simpsons escalated the discussion by responding to the conversation. Marge is reading Lisa a bed time story and changes some parts to make it more 'correct'. Lisa stops her mother and asks for the original which seems to fluster Marge who doesn't know how to continue. Speaking directly to the camera Lisa says, “It’s hard to say. Something that started decades and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” The camera moves to a portrait of Apu on Lisa's bedside table which has “Don’t have a cow, man!” written on it. Marge replies, “Some things will be addressed at a later date,” and Lisa adds, “if at all.”
In response Hari Kondabolu took to Twitter with the following and the presiding discussion ensured the issue was trending most of the day:
It's fair to say that although focused on here, Apu isn't an isolated case. Arguments can be made that Bumble Bee Man is a stereotype of telenovella Latin culture and groundskeeper Willy is pushing the impression that all Scots speak like they are from the Highlands and wear kilts. As a generic white Caucasian I am by no means in a position to say whether Kondabolu is right OR wrong in his views as he's of course entitled to them and it directly affects his heritage and culture. However it brings up an interesting discussion of what is and is not acceptable to modern audiences and whether these types of two dimensional characters are necessary in today's age. Should they be kept for ironic social commentary on the world we live in or be let go? In the same vain, Tricia Takanawa from Family guy could be seen as a stereotype of a Japanese female. Is this a blatant issue entrenched in media or just light hearted humour?
The Simpsons' current minefield is not an isolated incident. Recently FRIENDS went through a similar issue when it moved to Netflix and was introduced to a whole new audience. For several days articles claimed that the characters and plot lines pushed 'sexist and homophobic humour'...although many of the articles blamed millennials, so think about that what you will.
What do you think about this latest controversy around The Simpsons? Were they right to comment on the documentary or have they provoked the community needlessly? Do the stereotypes in The Simpsons go too far or has the culture around political correctness? We'd love to hear from readers of the cultures affected in the article above to hear your views on this. Comment below or tweet us @ghoulishent.