Artwork

What Went Wrong With… Apu Nahasapeemapetilon?

A parody of the opening titles for The Simpsons with the text The Paki Shop

Following any kind of criticism these days, the criticism in turn receives criticism, the second set of criticisers criticising the first set of people for criticising what they think should never be criticised. This cycle of shite then leads to the second set of people labelling the first bunch “haters”, “snowflakes”, or other disparaging terms. It seems that today we as a society like to quash any differing point of view with this type of dismissive name-calling because nobody seems to want a sane, fair discussion. And that brings me neatly to the character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the Indian character in The Simpsons, apparently the people who found him offensive can’t air their opinion because, yes you guessed it, they’re “snowflakes” who are “easily offended”. But no, that’s too easy, very easy in fact for the white establishment and minority sell-outs to disregard any point of view contrary to their own beliefs. Before delving further into the issue of Apu however, let’s widen the scope of this topic.

Just recently, presenter Megyn Kelly questioned why white people wearing blackface for Halloween was offensive. According to people of her ilk, everything should remain the same and nothing should ever progress, and everything should automatically be in favour of and benefit only the straight, white people in society. It’s almost as though the white majority want zero change whatsoever, they love to kick-up a fuss about any issue minorities bring up in regards to representation and misrepresentation. “Wasn’t it great when we white folk could just black-up, shout nigger, poof, pansy, tranny, chick, mong, and camel jockey at the top of our lungs? You can’t say or do anything these days, it’s political correctness gone mad!” Basically, anything done, said, or written about minorities is seen as inoffensive by straight white people. They don’t want to admit that this is because they’re never the brunt of a bigoted joke. Society ticks on a hierarchical structure which favours Caucasians, heterosexual men, and the upper-classes and nowhere in this chugging machine of misery is their demographic the punchline.

It had to be pointed out to people like Megyn Kelly that nothing exists in a vacuum, everything created including music, film, television, comedy, and even makeup and costume exists within the culture and society in which it was originally incepted and in which it continues to thrive. Therefore blackface even if not worn with the intention of causing offence is offensive given the years of oppression of black people by white people followed by decades of caricaturing black people within exclusionary entertainment.

So in case you live in a bubble or are a complete moron, let me elucidate you on the facts. If you were an immigrant to the UK, Europe, or the US in the fifties, sixties, or seventies, you went through a period of contrived racism… “I can’t pronounce your name, I’ll call you [insert nearest-sounding white name here]”… “they’re taking our jobs”… “they’re all coming here, it’s no longer [insert country here]”… “they’re not the same as us, look how they dress, look what they eat”… “first it’s one, but then they bring their whole family here”… “they breed more than us, soon our country will be filled with them”…  “they ruin every area they move into, they’re dirty, they stink”… etc. etc. etc. In this period of open bigotry, the so-called “liberal”, so-called “non-racist” white people don’t go to the extreme lengths of taunting and bullying the immigrants, they stay well away, but what they do is they create characters like Apu in The Simpsons, which either intentionally or unintentionally mirror all the horrid opinions about minorities that exist during that particular time.

Even in 1989 when the character of Apu was first created, Asian immigrants were mocked for their “strange”, long, unpronounceable names. A school friend of mine called Kamaljit was routinely called “Camel-Shit” by racist white kids for example, and amidst this type of name-calling, the name Apu sounds a lot like “A Poo”. Now the creators of Apu say that his name alludes to the films of Satyajit Ray but surely in the minds of comedians this little convenient double entendre wasn’t lost on them?

So aside from the name what else? Well, Apu runs a corner shop (I guess he could have been a taxi driver or a GP but the runner of a convenience store was the most obvious I guess). Apu is also out-of-fashion, wearing an open Disco-esque shirt, and an out-of-style hairstyle (a comment about a “backward” culture perhaps?). And oh yes, Apu holds a Ph.D. in computer science (a more recent stereotype in regards to south Asians). But all that’s hardly offensive I hear you say, is “A Poo” all you have? Well, no. Let’s go through the list of racist contrivances white racists hold of Asian immigrants bearing in mind the little prejudiced quips I listed above:

Apu graduated first in his class of… wait for it… seven million (what a great overpopulation gag). Apu studied at “Caltech” and no, that’s not the “California Institute of Technology”, it’s “Calcutta Technical Institute” (a dig at sub-par, non-western education). Apu then went on to earn his doctorate at the “Springfield Heights Institute Of Technology” (that’s S.H.I.T. which strengthens the idea that his education is sub-par as well as the fact that his name also sounds like feculence). Apu has an arranged-marriage (a stereotype but not necessarily offensive) but following an overdose of fertility drugs, his wife Manjula gives birth to octuplets (another overpopulation and over-breeding joke). So to recap; a shit-named, shit-degree-studying, over-breeding, corner store-owning, illegal immigrant with a caricatured accent is all a bit of harmless fun and is in no way offensive (cough, cough).

Speaking of being offensive, according to Hank Azaria (the voice behind Apu), the writers of The Simpsons asked him to create a “stereotypical Indian accent” and Azaria has said that he based the voice on Indian convenience store workers but also loosely based it on Peter Sellers’ character Hrundi V. Bakshi from the film The Party (which itself was a white-portrayed caricature of an Indian). Hank also recalled a conversation with the writers of the show during the time they created Apu; “Right away they were like ‘Can you do an Indian accent and how offensive can you make it?’”. So there you have it, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon was intended to be offensive, so there’s not much point in the public now dismissing those who have taken offence. Surely that was the point?

In April 2018, in the episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”, The Simpsons reacted to the controversy surrounding Apu. In this episode, Lisa says “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”. She then points to a picture of Apu with “Don’t have a cow, man” written on it. This scene and overall reaction to the issue of Apu was rather nonsensical. Yes, he was created in 1989, a period that could be argued to have an acceptable level of prejudice (I recall films like Short Circuit and Who’s Harry Crumb? during the same time which also featured caricatured Indians). But unlike these aforementioned films, the stereotyped and caricatured character of Apu remained constant for almost three decades. I don’t agree with retrospective censorship as something should be preserved to show the thoughts and opinions of the time in which it’s created but to carry on with Apu in the noughties and tens is absurd. What’s strange is that between all the creators, writers, and voice actors involved in The Simpsons throughout the last 29 years, nobody said “you know, this 1980s Indian stereotype thing really needs to be changed”.

Following the recent controversy, the mainstream media has been suggesting what to do with the character and like typical mainstream journalists, their ideas and opinions are moronic and blinkered. The Guardian’s Stuart Heritage offered the closed-minded choices of; “drop him quietly”, “kill him off”, “recast him”, “hire a more diverse cast of writers”, or “end The Simpsons”. What wasn’t considered by this tit, this being a cartoon, is that Apu could simply reveal in a future show that he was putting that accent on to appeal to his white (or yellow) neighbours’ expected stereotype of him. He could even wipe off his brownface and reveal himself to be a white guy. My point is, The Simpsons is a goddamn cartoon, anything could be done to make a point about race and stereotypes in 2018 (or 2019).

The Daily Mail’s Christopher Stevens gave the most idiotic summation of events. He wrote… “Azaria… stands accused of that heinous un-PC crime known as ‘brown-face’ or playing a character of another race. The four Emmy awards that he has won for his voices count for nothing, apparently” …no it fucking doesn’t you tosspot because any number of shiny awards doesn’t stop a certain character being a caricatured stereotype. Stevens adds… “Bumbling, dim-witted dad Homer sounds like a reel-to-reel tape machine running at half speed and has ping-pong eyes and yellow skin — are we meant to be outraged now at the insensitive portrayal of jaundice and those unfortunate thyroid conditions that cause the eyes to bulge?” …no you cunting wank-stain because a. being yellow isn’t a depiction of Jaundice in The Simpsons, it’s a replacement for a shade of white skin and b. every Matt Groening character has bulging eyes, it’s not indicative of a medical condition. In stark contrast however, being Asian isn’t a disease, playing someone Indian with the intention of causing offence (confirmed by Azaria himself) is the complete opposite of Stevens’ list of sham similarities. Hey, when the Daily Mail comes to your defence you know you’ve fucked-up. This right-wing “how dare you minorities be offended!” shite is really becoming tiring.

Aside from these shit-rag responses, I’ve also read the cliched comment “I have Indian friends who don’t find [Apu] offensive”. Not that it matters, but I know quite a few Asians too; of different ages, different genders, and different sexual orientations and I can say that a high percentage of them found the character of Apu offensive. I’ll also admit that the other few Asians I know didn’t find him offensive because Asians like any other minority aren’t a monolith (shoutout to Key & Peele). Minorities don’t think alike and they don’t possess a hive mind. So anybody telling you that their Asian friends think Apu is inoffensive proves fuck-all.

To conclude, people have to acknowledge that bigotry and offence is a spectrum and something one person finds harmless another will find hurtful. When Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons simply dismissed the criticism against Apu and said “I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended” this reaction was so aggravating. Has Groening not lived long enough to see the ever-changing morals and standards within our society? People used to openly say “wog” and they even gave their children Golliwog toys but we as a society have evolved beyond racial epithets and “good-intentioned” racism and at some point he has to move on from stereotyping too.

Whether it’s the topic of Apu or some other contemporary case of racism, I always hear the same contrived excuses; whether it’s Groening-esque dismissiveness or people saying words and images can never be racist. People also argue that not everything which on the face of it seems racist is actually “racist”; a person for example can say “I’m going down to the paki shop” or “I’m going out for a chinky” and they may say these sentences without any malice. But, these people must realise that there will always be inherent malice attached to these words because words, images, and actions don’t exist outside of their historical and societal context. By extension, anything created which conforms to known stereotypes whether it’s done affectionately or for any other “harmless” endevour (such as cartoons or comedy) will always be offensive to some degree. People these days seem to think that anything less than hanging a black man from a tree isn’t racist but racism is a scale with something as trivial as a dodgy look on one end and something like the Holocaust on the other. And although the character of Apu isn’t the same as the most extreme examples of racism, it’s definitely on the pissing scale. Matt Groening should know that; the old, fat, agnostic, liberal honky is 60 frigging years old for fuck’s sake (just a bit of harmless gibing… people love to pretend they’re offended these days).

Matt Groaning About People Moaning.

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9 replies »

  1. What about Groundskeeper Willie ? The uneducated , illiterate , ugly , gruff , impoverished , unkempt , poor hygiene , ignorant , mud-soaked , underpaid and oftentimes homeless Scottish unskilled manual labourer ???

    Surely his character isn’t perpetuating any negative stereotype(s) .

    It’s not like the your fellow Englishmen have historically oppressed the Scots ( or The Irish or The Welsh for that matter ) and took over their country and their culture either . Or hung , drawn
    and quartered their national heroes . 😉

    • Being ugly, illiterate, and underpaid aren’t stereotypes of Scottish people. Make him a fried-food eating, heroin-addicted, alcoholic tramp and maybe we could talk. Also Scottish people aren’t exactly downtrodden in the U.S., they’re not the underclass in the U.S.A. so how is that the same as Apu? If that character was created by upperclass British cartoonists, I’d be the first to write about it, it’s not like I don’t stick up for working-class white people, remember my article on Al Murray?

      Regardless, your whataboutism really holds no weight. Writing about one topic doesn’t mean I don’t care about other shit. A one-topic article is just that; read it, agree or disagree with it but don’t move away from the issue at hand. This is “What Went Wrong With… Apu” not “What Went Wrong With… The Simpsons”.

  2. I don’t watch the Simpsons so cannot make a comment on the apu character. What I would like to comment on is anjelah johnson’s well known trip to the Vietnamese hair salon. She does the Vietnamese accent extremely well and that is part of the comedy. She came to Australia and made fun of the Australian accent which I loved and I am Australian. Do you consider her comedy to be racist? If you don’t what is the difference between her comedy and apu. I don’t think it is as simple as accents and stereotyping being racist because I think you can do both without being racist and you can do both and be very racist.

    • Anjelah Johnson’s heritage is Mexican and Native American and neither of those races had power over or had historical supremacy over Vietnamese or Australian people and therefore it isn’t the same. Yes you can do accents and be racist or non-racist but Apu really is beyond a “silly voice”.

      (By the way, I haven’t watched Anjelah Johnson’s comedy so for all I know it could be racist. Being a particular minority and mocking another happens all the time, look at Carlos Mencia).

  3. I’m not saying Apu is or is not racist as I don’t watch the Simpsons. I think racism is better defined by looking at intent.
    If the person’s intent is to mock in a superior and unpleasant way, that is racism.
    To pick up someone’s intent is often done by subconscious signals that you may not even be aware of. It’s not always easily explained as to why you think someone is being racist or not.
    And I’m not sure accents are a good indicator, because let’s face it, there are some very, very thick accents out there even of the native speakers of the language. I really don’t think you could over exaggerate accents because some people have accents so thick it would be impossible to actually exaggerate them.
    I think you have to look at other things and even beyond using stereotypes. Stereotypes can genuinely make funny comedy and not be malicious with their intent.
    Are there things beyond stereotypes and accents which Apu does which suggest racism?

  4. To add further, the joke about the fertility drugs could be called racist, but to me it is a joke that isn’t funny, it’s illogical because fertility drugs are a product of the first world countries. If I were Indian I don’t know if I would be offended by it because it’s too stupid to be offensive. I think Anjelah Johnson is funny because although her comedy incorporates both accents and stereotypes, it is based on actual true events. And I don’t believe the truth can be called racist, because the truth is the truth. Of course, the truth must include all relevant facts and not leave out important information to present a slanted point of view.

    • I agree, completely unbiased truth isn’t prejudiced but most of the time a single demographic is singled out by comedians to be ridiculed which raises questions regarding their motives. We have to accept however that since I’ve never watched/heard Anjelah’s comedy and you’ve never watched The Simpsons (particularly the character of Apu) we’re both unable to really critique the other’s examples.

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