“The Simpsons” Fourth Wall-Breaking Apu Apology Is A Big Mistake

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Fox)

Apu is causing “The Simpsons” creators a lot of problems at the moment.

Well, no, that’s not fair. Apu isn’t causing the problems. The show’s writers, going back decades, have created a problem for themselves, are they’re now having to deal with growing accusations of racism that come as a natural result of spending three decades making fun of Indian stereotypes.

Last year, Hari Kondabolu’s documentary “The Problem With Apu” used the longrunning “Simpsons” character as a key example as the comedian explored the challenges of representation that exist within modern Hollywood, particularly as it relates to those of South Asian descent.

In the documentary, many key celebrities who’ve been on the receiving end of stigma share their experiences of running up against persecution, noting just how damaging the character of Apu has been to the South Asian community as a whole in the West.

Faced with backlash, “The Simpsons” creators have now responded with a pointed, fourth wall-breaking episode of the show that clearly sets out their own confusion and challenge in trying to unpick decades of racism.

This was probably intended as a way to humorously explore a complicated issue that the show still hasn’t found a solution for. In practice, though, it feels as if the writers are trying to justify their actions.

The episode features Marge reading a childhood favorite book, and discovering that, in recent years, many of its themes and racial stereotypes have become horribly outdated. She sets about trying to rewrite the book so that it will be appropriate for a modern audience, only to produce a version of the story that’s lost the magic of the original story.

As Lisa and Marge stare directly at the audience, flanked by a picture of Apu, they drop the pretense and deliver the point of the episode:

“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect… What can you do?”

What indeed? The takeaway here seems to be that righting social wrongs and representation is hard, and that’s all there is to say on the matter.

Personally, I have a lot of big, complex thoughts about everything that “The Simpsons” has done wrong with this public statement on the subject.

I find it lazy that the writers are simply throwing up their hands and announcing that fair representation is hard, you guys.

I also consider it distasteful that the show is more focused on offering an explanation for decades of refusing to challenge an offensive character, rather than simply admitting fault.

Whatever I think of this, though, is of secondary importance here. The problem here is that real Indian voices, and indeed, voices from people of color in general, are not being heard.

As such, I’m gonna step to one side, here. Here’s Hari Kondabolu’s own response to “The Simpsons” attempting to sweep this issue under the rug:

I also recommend this entire thread, from W Kamau Bell, who appears in “The Problem With Apu”.