“Let’s Talk About Apu”

Oh dear me.

Oh deary, deary me.

So this morning, a New York Times article from last week came to my attention. In this article, well, it’s about what you’d expect really. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is a problem, because he’s such a stereotypical South Asian immigrant.

not-gonna

Sorry, wrong reference. I think this one’s still okay.

Now, obviously, this is another of those things that I probably don’t get much of a say in. If this is offensive to (some / many) South Asians, then that’s what it is and I won’t argue with that. I’m sorry you’re offended and I get it, I do. It’s hard to deny that the chirpy heavily-accented convenience store clerk thing has gone stale at best, never mind that it’s been around since the ’80s.

Yes, they could have done more with it. I haven’t actually watched the show in 15 years, just for context, although I do plan on watching them all on DVD when they finally appear one day. I’m just assuming they haven’t done anything to make Apu different or interesting or trope-busting since then. About the last Apu-centred episode I remember was the one about immigration, where he got his citizenship to avoid being deported because USians were blaming immigrants for bear attacks (that hadn’t in fact happened). It had absolutely no relevance to today’s USA, totally stale.

Anyway.

Yeah, they could do something with Apu[1]. But then, he’s always been one of the more decent characters on the show, in terms of actual personality and values. He works hard and is a nice guy. Okay, I also seem to recall he and his arranged-marriage wife had octuplets and then he had an affair with the squishee lady … that’s all a bit on the nose. But arranged marriage is still a thing and I feel they handled it reasonably delicately. And his infidelity was sort of forgiven?

[1] I was mildly interested to see that apparently last year, there was an episode where this issue got lampshaded: Utkarsh Ambudkar (“Pitch Perfect”), who, as Apu’s Indian-American nephew on a 2016 episode of the series, blasted Apu to his animated face as a sellout and a stereotype. (from the article linked above) Now, maybe that’s not enough, and the creators of the show considered the matter settled when it really wasn’t. Maybe try harder?

But let’s keep it real. There’s hardly a non-stereotype in the entire show. I don’t hear the Scots whining about Groundskeeper Willie, the Germans whining about Üter, and the less said about the cops, the mayor, and all the rest … come on.

australians

They only had Australians in it for one episode but I was deeply, deeply offended!

Maybe a lot of these are punching up rather than down? I don’t know. It’s getting really hard to tell when a joke or stereotype is punching up as opposed to just punching a group that doesn’t much care if it gets made fun of.

All I know is Kal Penn can piss off. After capitalising on his ancestry to play Kumar in that awful piece of schlock (okay, awful series of pieces of schlock), he doesn’t get to complain about Apu[2]. The fact that he now seems to be blaming Apu for the whole underlying racism of the casting process and the enduring nature of South Asian stereotype characters … meh. Whatever. Who the Hell are you even.

[2] Well, alright, he does, because otherwise it would be hypocritical of me … but don’t expect me to care.

I’ve never been terribly amused by the Indian accent thing or the assorted Indian-stereotype stuff that went into the character. Most of Apu’s humour for me came from the lovely little scenes he had as purveyor of bad convenience store food, sugary treats, and occasional wisdom. Same as the Comic Book Guy, who ever since my teenage years I have felt personally attacked by. I know, I don’t get to say what other people are offended by. But at the same time, they don’t get to say what I should consider a problem. Still, it is yet another valuable reminder that times are changing, and that’s okay.

Simpsons creators, feel free to fix Apu and upset fewer people. But don’t do it on my account.

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6 Responses to “Let’s Talk About Apu”

  1. stchucky says:

    Pictured: More terrible offensive stereotypes. If you want to be offended.

  2. aaronthepatriot says:

    Yeah sometimes I just can’t even. I fully agree with your main points…including that I don’t get a say. I can see it, and always could, sure. But at the same time, hypocrisy is maddening and so is the ridiculous blaming it for everything. It’s been like this on the show for decades, and now it’s a problem? But on the other hand, I think we can all agree that “making Chinese eyes” isn’t funny.

    So I just don’t know anymore.

    What I will say is that this hurts because I cut my impressionist (I’m actually pretty good) teeth on Apu’s Indian accent. And where I live now, we have a lot of (very successful, by the way) Indian and Pakistani families. They tend towards the medical field, not convenience stores like Apu or gas stations in New Jersey. Yes, another stereotype that, well, I guess “true” isn’t the right word but come on, people.

    A solid Indian-American accent a la Apu was one of my first impressions, and still one of my best. So this makes me sad. Actually, given the number of families I mentioned above and hence my daughters’ exposure to them, you should have seen their expressions of shock, horror, and then laughter when I pulled out my Apu accent one day, for the first time in front of them.

    LOL

    Then I apologized and said I wasn’t making fun, just showing I could do the impression.

    Are impressions going to be next to die? Sucks to have a natural talent go to waste….

    • stchucky says:

      Dude, so true. When I was a kid, our family doctor was an Indian guy. It was hilarious because not only did he have the accent, he also spoke extremely fast and in a slurred, muffled way, it may have been a speech defect so I won’t make too much fun but basically … well, you know the joketruth about doctors not being able to write legibly? This guy talked exactly like he wrote.

      Come on folks. If that’s not funny, nothing’s funny.

      One thing I will say in support of Accents Aren’t Funny Anymore, it’s annoying as fuck when someone does it wrong. And I’m sure that while our Hank Azaria Indian Tech Support accents sound perfect to us, they’re wrong to South Asians. I know this because every fake Australian accent ever. And I’m in a position where I can just go “yeah, that’s shit” and move on, I’m not applying for jobs where people are like “no no no, do an Australian accent.”

      So I can see how that would be upsetting.

      Some accents are easier than others, of course. When I lived in New Zealand I adopted an accent at school, that was just self-preservation. I was good enough that when one of my teachers said goodbye to me at the end of my year and said I’d probably run into trouble back in Australia for the accent I’d picked up, I switched back to Australian and told him it was fake, and he was gobsmacked.

      But sure, this is all another symptom of shifting values and ideas about what is funny and what is acceptable. Blackface and yellowface and Chinese eyes, no. Fake accents and stereotypes, increasingly no. And we should all be ready for the day that is rapidly approaching where we find our line and just go “nope, I’m still laughing at this and doing it, fuck you.”

      And that day is the day we become the grumpy, old-fashioned old grandpas who are tolerated at family gatherings. And that’s okay.

      In the meantime, yeah I’m a little put out by this, but I would be happier to see them do something new with Apu rather than just keep on running the accent and profession thing into the ground. I think it’s fascinating that stuff like this is happening. I’m not as “Hell no” offended as my initial post may have made it seem, but your first paragraph above – that’s pretty much where I stand, on the hypocrisy of it.

      Hmm.

      • stchucky says:

        I’m not kidding, one time I was there with my mum and he gave us a diagnosis and suggested treatment, and my mum was like “I didn’t catch a word of that, can you write it down?” and he gave her this paper with scribbles on it, it was fucking hysterical.

      • aaronthepatriot says:

        Fair enough and I agree again mostly, so let me just pose this to you in response:

        So the ones we’re imitating don’t think we’re doing a good job of imitating their accents? Hmm, so…whose opinion actually matters there, though? I think it’s the opinion of those of us who do NOT have the accent. It’s like an in-joke of “this is how they sound amirite?” But not as cruel as it looks, reading that. I don’t joke to my Indian-American acquaintances by imitating their accent. That would be fucked up.

        LOL about the doctors thing. So true. Great cartoon!

      • stchucky says:

        That is a good and interesting point (not to set it aside from your other points). When people mimic the Australian accent I just assume they know it’s shit, and don’t care. So maybe it’s as you say – they’re making the sounds that say “Australian accent” to them, for humour rather than accuracy.

        Adds to the offensiveness, or softens it? Depends on the offended or softened party, I suppose.

        – A softie

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