The Simpsons finally addressed the controversy about the stereotypical nature of Apu. Briefly.
On Sunday night’s episode of the animated comedy, titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” the show slipped in a response to the controversy surrounding Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Kwik-E-Mart manager whom comedian Hari Kondabolu asserted in a recent truTV documentary, The Problem with Apu, is a hurtful stereotype of South Asian people. The scene in question involved an exhausted Marge reading The Princess in the Garden — or at least a version of the book that she has edited to make acceptable for 2018 — to Lisa.
“This new Clara sounds like she starts out pretty perfect,” Lisa says to her mom. “But since she’s already evolved, she doesn’t really have an emotional journey to complete… Kinda means there’s no point to the book.”
“Well, what am I supposed to do?” asks Marge.
“It’s hard to say,” answers Lisa, turning to the camera. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” As she says that last line, she looks at a nearby picture of Apu featuring Bart’s catchphrase, “Don’t have a cow!”
“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” says Marge. “If it all,” adds Lisa.
The scene, which shrugged its shoulders at the issue, has riled up social media, with people calling it “callous” and dismissive. On top of that, there was objection to the idea that such a sentiment would come from Lisa, the most progressive character in the Simpson family.
“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked?” wrote Kondabolu. “Man, I really loved this show. This is sad.” In another tweet, he said, “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. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.”
In a statement on Monday morning, Simpsons showrunner Al Jean simply said, “The episode speaks for itself.” He seemed ready for the response, tweeting right before the episode, “New Simpsons in five minutes. Twitter explosion in act three.”
Earlier this year, Hank Azaria, who voices Apu, hinted that the issue will be addressed on the show. “The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on The Simpsons, or the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing, especially in post-9/11 America,” he also said. “The idea that anybody was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally. It’s a character I’ve done for 29 years now, and I’ve done it with a lot of love, and joy, and pride. That certainly wasn’t the intent. The intent was to make people laugh and bring joy. For it to cause suffering or pain in any way, it’s disturbing, actually.”