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The Problem with ‘the Problem with Apu’
Putting minorities’ feelings first kills creativity.
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Few television programs have had the cultural impact of The Simpsons. Reporters now use the show as an inspiration for headlines. “’Free Market’” Conservatives Welcome Their New Protectionist Overlord, wrote Reason, citing a classic segment. In 2012 and 2016, reporters cited Homer Simpson’s proud declaration of “don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos!”—a joke suggesting that Americans wouldn’t vote third party even if the two main candidates were from another planet. White advocates also exploit Simpsons segments for meme potential. A joke about Russia coming back as the Soviet Union inspired a meme about the dispossession of the British. Even Ted Cruz awkwardly tried to evoke The Simpsons, saying that on gun control the Democrats were “the party of Lisa Simpson.”

During its early years, The Simpsons was seen as shockingly subversive, with schools banning Bart Simpson shirts. President George H.W. Bush famously said American families need to be “more like the Waltons and a little bit less like the Simpsons.” Homer Simpson is the exemplar of what is now a cultural cliché, the bumbling but well-meaning white paterfamilias kept aloft by more quick-witted (and liberal) female family members. He is beloved but somewhat pathetic, the iconic example of white men who are no longer portrayed as authoritative fathers but as confused weaklings.

(Credit Image: © Entertainment Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/
(Credit Image: © Entertainment Pictures/Entertainment Pictures/

Yet today, episodes from the show’s peak (generally seen as seasons 3 to 8, from 1991 to 1997) seem positively reactionary, centered as they are on a churchgoing nuclear family in what appears to be a largely white community with a lot of civic engagement. Even actors and millionaires show up to debate issues at town hall; no Coming Apart for Springfield. The race of black characters such as Carl, Officer Lou, or Dr. Hibbert (an obvious stand-in for Bill Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable) is largely incidental. At the same time, the show delights in ethnic caricatures of other groups, such as the Scottish Groundskeeper Willie; Italian gangsters like Fat Tony; or “Bumblebee Man,” the comic character from Spanish television. These over-the-top portrayals were almost impossible to take seriously, and thus escaped charges of racism, at least until now.

Bumblebee Man could probably not be on television today. In the 1990s, Spanish-language television was a fringe market and an exaggerated Hispanic parody on a mainstream show was permissible, perhaps even a form of tribute. Today, Spanish-language channels like Univision can beat the networks in ratings, and to suggest that all Americans should speak English is “racist.” More broadly, America is nearing majority-minority status and acting “colorblind” is also “racist.” The Springfield of The Simpsons no longer resembles contemporary society. If all America before “the current year” was plagued by white racism, then The Simpsons certainly was, too.

Thus, we get The Problem With Apu, a film by Indian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu, who suggests that the Simpsons character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, voiced by white actor Hank Azaria, is as bad as a black-face minstrel character. Apu is an Indian convenience-store clerk, a not atypical type. As Joe Biden stated in 2006: “You cannot go to a 7-11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” Of course, Apu has a thickaccent. The film includes several clips of Mr. Azaria imitating Apu in real life, which strikes contemporary audiences as a painful reminder of Al Jolson.

Hari Kondabolu (Credit Image: © Robin Platzer/Twin Images/UPPA via ZUMA Press)
Hari Kondabolu (Credit Image: © Robin Platzer/Twin Images/UPPA via ZUMA Press)

Mr. Kondabolu suggests the real problem is not the character of Apu as such, but how that character came to represent Indian-Americans. Because Apu was the only important Indian-American character in such a culturally dominant American show, he argues, the image harmed all Indian-American, who were all expected to be versions of Apu. “Apu” reportedly even became a kind of racial slur.

The film has received an astonishing amount of media and promotion on social networks. Mainstream outlets, always eager for clickbait about white racism, are now giving the film a second wave of enthusiastic support because The Simpsons responded to the initial criticism. In a recent episode, Lisa Simpson says, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect; what can you do?” The camera zooms out to show an autographed picture of Apu on her nightstand.

This created new reasons for outrage. Stephen Colbert, another commissar masquerading as a comedian, invited Apu’s voice Hank Azaria onto The Late Show, and Mr. Azaria turned against his employer, saying he opposed the show’s response. He also said, “I really want to see Indian, South Asian writers in the room, not in a token way but genuinely informing whatever new direction this character may take, including how it is voiced or not voiced,” adding that he would be willing to “step aside.” Perhaps Mr. Azaria can afford to appear noble; he plays other non-white characters, such as Carl, who is black.

Indians with media access piled on. Jeet Heer wrote in The New Republic that he used to think the character wasn’t offensive, but now he does. Indian actress Priyanka Chopra’s tweeting that Apu was “the bane of my life growing up” was highlighted on Twitter’s Moments—not the first time the social networking giant championed the campaign.

Interestingly, Simpsons creator Matt Groening has shown the most backbone. “I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended,” he said.

Matt Groening can hardly be called a conservative. His first comic strip, Life In Hell, was about a gay, fez-wearing, and possibly incestuous couple, among other characters who made cynical remarks about American life. He’s a graduate of Evergreen State College, the now notorious school that made headlines after a professor defied a supposed white-free day on campus. Mr. Groening also spoke of the possibility of Donald Trump’s election as a “horror.” However, he clearly sees his job as being funny and, to some extent, offending people. This puts him out of step with the new breed of comedians, such as Mr. Kondabolu, who think their job is not telling jokes, but lecturing us on what we aren’t not allowed to laugh at.

Mr. Groening can see that this is a bogus controversy. Mr. Kondabolu largely gave the game away in an interview with Trevor Noah on The Daily Show, when he admitted he didn’t even care about Apu. He said the real issue was adequate representation for Indians on television, adding that Apu would have been fine if there had been other Indians. Basically, he is asking for quotas and set asides.

At one point in the interview, Mr. Kondabolu noted “there’s a billion of us,” naturally referring to Indians, not Americans. Mr. Noah jokingly replied, “In America?” Mr. Kondabolu replied if that were true, he’d have his own show by now. That seems to be all he really cares about—besides taking pokes at “white racists.”

In fact, Apu probably overrepresented the Indian population in the country when he was created. In 1989, when The Simpsons first aired, the US Census estimated the country was 84.1 percent white (including some unknown number of Hispanics), 12.4 percent black, and 3.5 percent other. The dramatic lack of Hispanic characters in Springfield (aside from Bumblebee Man) reflected their low profile. No doubt that will be the next complaint.

The point is not, as Mr. Groening puts it, that people “pretend” to be offended, it’s that they are rewarded for it. Hari Kondabolu is now famous because of this controversy, and has mainstream media promoting him. Whether his feelings were really hurt is irrelevant. Just like the two black loiterers who refused to leave a Starbucks, his claim of victimization is the best possible way to increase status and exposure. It’s easier than trying to come up with jokes.

It is clear how Mr. Kondabolu profits from this; what suffers is art. One of the main criticisms of a monoracial society is that it would be stultifying and uncreative. The reverse is true. In a multiracial and multicultural society, minority groups ostracize members who refuse to join in lock step to promote their group interests. Self-appointed spokesmen for black America were furious when Kanye West split ranks because disunity makes it harder for them to extract concessions from whites.

Today’s multiracial America hasn’t created a vibrant culture, but a malevolent orthodoxy that throttles people. Artists are not encouraged to create and be independent, but to make sure certain kinds of people remain beyond criticism or satire, and to snuff out dissent. Look what happened to Sam Hyde, a real comedian.

Putting minorities’ feelings first kills creativity. To “avoid stereotypes,” Apu would have to be less realistic, less interesting, and less complex. If the purpose of portraying non-whites is to make them feel better about themselves, every character must be admirable, and therefore disposable and uninteresting.

The character of Apu is actually complex and even fascinating. He had an “inherently funny voice,” as one Simpsons producer said. He wasn’t noble: He price gouged his customers, changed the dates on expired products, and cheated on his wife. But he was an incredibly hard worker (refusing to take days off even after repeatedly being shot during robberies) and would usually do the right thing in the end. He was part of Homer’s various adventures, even living with the Simpson family for a while. Since he is vegan, he could give Lisa Simpson advice when she became a vegetarian. Needless to say, at no point do the Simpsons show him the slightest prejudice on account of his race.

Apu was the focal point of one of the few openly political episodes from the show’s peak years, “Much Apu About Nothing,” which mocked California’s Proposition 187 that would have denied state benefits for illegals. Homer completely changed his mind about opposing illegal immigration when he found out Apu was illegal and even helped Apu get citizenship.

The episode raises the question of civic nationalism; Apu is torn between remaining true to his heritage and becoming a citizen just so he can stay in the country. He ultimately becomes a citizen but remains loyal to his heritage. Still, he’s proud to get his first jury duty notice because that means he is an American. (He then balls up the notice and throws it away, just like other Americans who don’t want to do jury duty.) This episode explores identity more honestly, and is funnier than anything Mr. Kondabolu has done.

The Simpsons did occasionally joke about Indian culture. Apu’s graduating class consisted of “seven million people.” Apu and his brother Sanjay are once portrayed dancing absurdly to bizarre Indian music. Watching a ridiculous Bollywood film, Homer laughs, saying, “It’s funny! Their clothes are different from my clothes!” When Apu finally get married, it is in an arranged marriage that he initially opposes. Homer tries to save him and stop the wedding by rushing in, wearing a costume of the god Ganesh, and saying, “This wedding angers me.” He is chased up a tree, the wedding proceeds, and Apu and his wife come to love each other. Needless to say, such scenes are usually more at Homer’s expense than Apu’s. They are funny, while they point out the culture clash that comes with immigration.

Mr. Kondabolu, the son of Indian immigrants and born in Queens, has fully absorbed contemporary victim culture. His comedy/political activism is focused entirely on the alleged injustices of the host society. His first comedy album was called Waiting for 2042, a reference to the year when whites are predicted to become a minority. He joined the campaign to rename the Washington Redskins (I did too, but for different reasons). His material wins plaudits from the likes of Buzzfeed and Vice, but it’s about as funny or original as an SPLC press release.

The character of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is more genuine than Mr. Kondabolu. There’s nothing to Mr. Kondabolu’s work except resentment against the people who built the country. There’s no creativity or insight, nothing you haven’t already heard over and over. Even Apu hasn’t cost him anything; he has built a profitable career out of complaining, and Apu is just one more pretext. The character of Apu is actually far more complex and interesting than Mr. Kondabolu’s affirmative-action comedy. In the end, it is Mr. Kondabolu who is the caricature, not Apu.

(Republished from American Renaissance by permission of author or representative)
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  1. On this topic, the far left and the far right are equally idiotic. The lefties cry racism, sexism, or whatever in cases like this and similar. The far right cry ‘white genocide’ or whatever if a show has the audacity to portray a multi-racial family. Here is the thing about it though. Who friggin cares? Its stupid TV & movies. Get a life, read a book and go outside. Stop holding so much stock and faith in entertainment. Of course the entertainment industry is guilty of racism, sexism and every other ism available except one. Anti-semitism. And we all should know why that is. All the arts in today’s world are nothing than visual/audio satanism. If it truly bothers you, whatever side you are on, EVERYBODY has the same exact recourse. Turn it off. When they lose viewers, and in turn ad revenue, then things may change. The Synagogue only cares about money and moral perversion.

    • Replies: @RadicalCenter
    , @Threestars
  2. In Washington Post, an 2nd gen Indian guy wrote about Apu and his dad, who actually was a convenience store owner.

    Apu is more than an offensive accent or a stereotype. I can’t hate him, because Apu in so many ways is my dad. Amid the controversy, I asked my father what he thought about Apu. “Who?” he said. “I don’t know who that is. I have an inspection to worry about.”

    Is Apu politically incorrect? Maybe. Is he incomplete? Yes. Does he offend me? No, because some part of him is real.

    • Replies: @Anon
  3. Anon[198] • Disclaimer says:

    As a second-gen Ceylonese-American, can confirm that no subcontinentals I ever knew growing up paid much attention at all to The Simpsons, let alone being offended by it.

    • Replies: @RadicalCenter
  4. Michelle says:

    My local liquor store owner, a Sikh lady, who works 14-16 hours a day, 7 days per week, once hired a man to do yard work for her at her house. She came home to find the yard work not done, her mother frantic with worry and that her very elderly father was bleeding badly from a wound in his hand. When questioned about what happened, her parents admitted that they had sent home the landscaper, upon his arrival, in order to save her money, and then had attempted to do the yard work themselves, resulting in the gashed hand.

  5. Why is anybody still watching that show, or tv in general, or wasting life talking about the show and it’s critics? Who. Cares.

    Dump the tv already. Dump the celebrity culture.

    Stop caring about these pointless disputes about meaningless drivel.

  6. @Joel Walbert





    Invest time, effort, and money into perpetuating your family, your people, and your nation, not one side or the other of a debate about nonsense.

  7. @Anon

    My half-Indian childhood friend, a Democrat, finds apu hilarious.

    My exGF, from India, found the show and the character simply stupid, not offensive.

    Someone should smack this whiny ungrateful Indian piece of shit until he shuts up or gets out.

  8. Thirdeye says:

    There needs to be a Simpsons episode where Apu tries his hand at a comedy club, does variations of Kondabolu’s whiny PC material, and bombs.

    • LOL: RadicalCenter
  9. The fact that Kondabolu has built a successful career out of fulminating against whites is proof that the US isn’t really a white supremacist society. I can’t imagine Uighur comedians in China, Arabs in Israel, or Muslims in India thriving as outspoken critics of the majority. Let’s just say that stuff like “white tears” would be the least of their worries.

    • Replies: @Singh
    , @TheJester
  10. Singh says:
    @Bay Area Guy

    Muslim are so oppressed in India that the 3 most populated Muslim countries are within greater India..

    • Replies: @Bay Area Guy
    , @HogHappenin
  11. @Joel Walbert

    I disagree. TV still plays a great role in shaping public opinion. For example, shows like Will & Grace went a long way into normalizing homosexuality by presenting a false image of a stable, well adjusted gay man to the public. To imagine that your average 100 IQ Joe doesn’t take his ques for what society looks like from what he sees on television is incredibly naïve. To give another example, the American public generally believes that homosexuals make over 10% of the populations and blacks around 20% simply due to their prevalence in the audiovisual media.

    Thinkers as diverse as Hegel and George Orwell concluded that a “reality” or need can be wantonly created using the right tools and just because you yourself choose to turn off your TV or not read certain sites doesn’t mean most of the society you live among will do the same. It will only make you more ignorant at what the hoi poloi are pushed to believe.

    • Replies: @Joel Walbert
  12. @Singh

    Okay, your point being?

    • Replies: @Singh
  13. @Singh

    So as far as you’re concerned, pointing out that minorities in India – and most of the world – can’t run their mouths with impunity = endorsing genocide of Hindus during Medieval times? What!?

    I get it: when you’re an Internet Hindu with a hammer, everything looks like a nail; but relax, my Hindutvadi friend! I brought up Muslims in India merely to illustrate how much Western minorities are indulged compared to minorities elsewhere – not to bash Hindus.

    No need to start a pointless conflict here.

    • Replies: @Singh
  14. TheJester says:
    @Bay Area Guy

    A sign of self-assured confidence is the ability to laugh at oneself … which includes laughing at the stereotypes drawn from the collective traits within the milieu that make up one’s social identity. Stereotypes are generalizations based on real-life experiences. And as generalizations, it is a given that they are generally true but not applicable to every person who claims that social identity.

    Whites still have the ability to laugh at themselves. It’s a few minorities that have a problem. They abhor the stereotypes about them that, although generally true, embarrass them. From their point of view, these stereotypes are no laughing matters.

    But, there is also something more subtle going on in the world of the massive wealth transfers associated with affirmative action and the resolution of disparate gaps in economic, academic, and social performance. Stereotypes directed at minorities have the potential to pull the rug out from under their claims of oppression and abuse that justify the wealth transfers. If the stereotypes are true, then the minorities might deserve their fate.

    Therefore, for some minorities, it pays to recast negative stereotypes about them (the ones that would draw the laughs in comedy clubs) as evidence of oppression and discrimination on the part of the majority white culture. To certain minorities, if they are as stereotypically described, it is the whites who are at fault … and oppression and discrimination are no laughing matters, especially if the stereotypes negatively impact their “rice bowls”.

    This is sad if the quickest way for minorities to get ahead is a confident and focused view of life (i.e. the East Asian communities) rather than, by comparison, being perpetually whiny and needy and throwing continual tantrums about the injustices visited on them by the majority community.

    • Replies: @Bay Area Guy
  15. Randal says:

    The point is not, as Mr. Groening puts it, that people “pretend” to be offended, it’s that they are rewarded for it. Hari Kondabolu is now famous because of this controversy, and has mainstream media promoting him. Whether his feelings were really hurt is irrelevant. Just like the two black loiterers who refused to leave a Starbucks, his claim of victimization is the best possible way to increase status and exposure. It’s easier than trying to come up with jokes.

    This is pretty much spot on.

    And society pays the price, while the individual benefits.

    Putting minorities’ feelings first kills creativity. To “avoid stereotypes,” Apu would have to be less realistic, less interesting, and less complex. If the purpose of portraying non-whites is to make them feel better about themselves, every character must be admirable, and therefore disposable and uninteresting.

    This is true, and it’s also true that putting entertainment in the service of reinforcing received dogmas renders it fundamentally unentertaining, though the orthodox majority is either lacking in discernment or slow to respond.

    Homer Simpson is the exemplar of what is now a cultural cliché, the bumbling but well-meaning white paterfamilias kept aloft by more quick-witted (and liberal) female family members. He is beloved but somewhat pathetic, the iconic example of white men who are no longer portrayed as authoritative fathers but as confused weaklings.

    Sadly the only way to fight back effectively might be ourselves to pretend to be offended by this kind of thing. Certainly it is and has been profoundly damaging to our societies.

    The bad coin drives out the good.

  16. @TheJester

    Whites still have the ability to laugh at themselves. It’s a few minorities that have a problem.

    It’s not just a few minorities; it’s majority groups in every other part of the world. As a general rule, minorities in non-Western countries who poke and prod at the majority have bad things happen to them.

    Whites are the only group of people in the world who tolerate – or even embrace – minority vitriol. I’m not even talking about comedians. There are countless academics, activists, and other minority agitators who frequently attack whites as a group.

    Take Jose Antonio Vargas – an illegal Filipino immigrant who’s a very outspoken critic of whites. Now, do you think that visible racial minorities and illegal immigrants could get away with openly badgering the majority in non-Western countries?

    (again, as a general rule)

    Perhaps whites’ willingness to accept criticism is a sign of maturity. However, since most non-whites come from tribal cultures where majoritarianism is the norm, whites’ refusal to push back against non-white tribalism comes across as weakness, in my opinion.

  17. @Threestars


    Anybody who would let a sitcom influence their life is hopelessly lost, and utterly useless. As for Will & Grace, I cannot comment since I have never watched it. And its entertainment. I saw dinosaurs in modern times on an island in a movie once. Does not make it real. Again, anybody who had their minds made up for them about anything by tv or movies is either hopelessly lost or would have felt that way regardless. As for your stats about blacks & homos, who cares what people assume the percentages to be? How does it effect anything if people are incorrect about the numbers in those two groups? The useless eaters are just that, useless eaters. And they will always be that way regardless of propaganda on a sitcom. As for your last sentence, I do not care one iota what another human being wastes his or her life on. I most certainly am not ignorant to it, I just don’t care. It don’t harm me or effect my life in any way.

    Oh, and for the record, I truly feel the homo population in much, much higher than stats state or people believe. Much higher.

    • Replies: @Threestars
  18. @Joel Walbert

    That’s all fine and dandy that you believe that, but my post was about how things work in general, not about your cares and wants. Sadly, the media has a very pernicious way of influencing mediocre minds. Many an Alt-righter has encountered the mesmerizingly stupid phrase of “haven’t you seen X movie?” when arguing with a liberal. (It was Hidden Figures in my case.)

  19. @Singh

    An 8 year old Moslem girl was drugged, gang raped by 5 men including a police officer and there were protests _for_ the rapists in India. I wonder what would have happened if that would have happened in reverse? A bunch of Moslem men raping a hindu girl inside a mosque? The infamous India style rape and slaughter fest termed locally a ‘riot’ would have definitely ensued. The media fanning the flames and doing it’s ‘dharma’! you people are downright tribal to a tee

    Now compare that with white countries where rape of white girls by any ‘person of color’ is always mentioned in hush hush tones and swept under the carpet so that ‘cultural enrichment’ of our towns and cities by your kind continues unabated. Does anything like that happen in _any_ non-white country?? May be Japan where ZUS imperial army men occasionally whet their lust on unsuspecting Japanese girls but other than that show me a non white country where such a thing is tolerated if not openly condoned

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