PC Culture

PC Kills an Indian Star

Apu Nahasapeemapetilon in The Simpsons (Fox)
The mob wins again.

The PC attack on Apu, the most famous immigrant on The Simpsons, came to a conclusion this week as producers finally admitted that the character was being permanently shelved.

As I wrote earlier this year in pieces for both National Review and Ricochet, this conclusion was inevitable. We have seen time and again that once political correctness is injected into such an issue, the only solution is to ban the controversial item from the social consciousness altogether. When the Left attacked Brandon Eich, former CEO of tech company Mozilla, for his anti-gay-marriage stances, did they simply want him to tone his opinions down? Or did they want him fired? When a high-schooler last year wore a Chinese-themed dress to prom, did they want a thoughtful discussion about the cultural issues involved, or did they want to shame the girl into oblivion, and to prevent any other white teenage girls from following suit and wearing such ethnically inspired clothing?

In short, compromise has never been their goal, and it wasn’t really a possibility in this case.

The irony is that The Simpsons, more than any other Hollywood outlet, had the ability to let Apu evolve with the times. The show has a three-decade history of characters who grow, change, and even die. In fact, Apu himself has changed a great deal, even getting married and having children. So it was absolutely possible, in theory, to have Apu evolve in a way that satisfied our modern sensitivities.

However, for the show-runners, the decision is a commonsense one: Why have a public, possibly ugly debate with racial overtones when they don’t have to? Apu isn’t a central character to their stories (and in fact did not appear in any episodes last year). The voice of the character, Hank Azaria, also appeared ready to leave the character behind. And for many of the show’s critics, the problem really isn’t about Apu the character, or the voice of the character being white, or any other specific facts at all. The true anger stemmed from racist bullies years ago who’d made fun of these individuals using Apu’s accent. No change in the modern iteration of Apu will satisfy such critics.

In short, purely as a business decision, it was a no-brainer. This was a no-win situation for Fox and The Simpsons. Political correctness ultimately demands that the targets of the social-media mob be destroyed and eliminated from the cultural mainstream. And thus Apu must be permanently deported.

Hari Kondabolu, whose documentary The Problem with Apu ignited this controversy, was disappointed at the result:

I take Kondabolu at his word that he wanted Apu to survive this, but the reality is that many of his supporters wanted Apu to be deleted from our historical memory, and they’ve gotten their wish. This is how these cultural battles inevitably conclude, and Kondabolu was naïve to think otherwise.

I have written extensively about why the attacks on Apu were silly to begin with. Apu was as humorous and stereotypical as all characters on the show. What made Apu unique is that, owing to the dearth of Indian-American characters in Hollywood during the late ’80s and early ’90s, he carried a larger-than-life value to many Indians, who had no other major American cultural icons to relate to. Critics argued that racists used Apu to target Indians . . . as if that targeting had been birthed by the character himself, instead of the innate hatred of those racists.

The end of Apu is in many ways as insulting as the entire controversy was to begin with. The producers of The Simpsons didn’t even have the courage to publicly come out and explain their decision. Instead, they took the path of least resistance, and a path that historically was very unlike The Simpsons; throughout their tenure, the show’s creators have had the courage to stand up for their comedic freedom. But they finally met their match, and they were unwilling or unable to stand up to the loudest critics when it mattered the most.

So Apu will silently disappear from a show where he was a critical supporting character for three decades, and will not even be given a send-off to say goodbye, the final insult in this sad ending.

As for the political-correctness police, they successfully claim another scalp in their long crusade for so-called fairness. In the process, they have probably made it less likely that an Indian-American character succeeds in modern Hollywood.

If you look at Hollywood today, the most famous Indian character is Raj from The Big Bang Theory. If you want a potential target for future PC crusaders, Raj is as good as any: a sexually repressed Indian-immigrant nerd with poor social skills and a harsh foreigner’s accent. In many ways, he is more stereotypical and insulting than Apu ever was. I personally find him more cringe-worthy than anything that ever involved Apu. The difference is, I and most others are willing to shrug it off and ignore the character, while Apu’s critics filmed a documentary on the subject and made it a nationwide issue.

How will Hollywood execs greenlight any future comedies concerning South Asians? How exactly does Hollywood ever create a comedy around any Indian character going forward, without being theoretically insulting to Indians in the same manner for which Apu was criticized? Comedies, not just animated shows, are built around stereotypes. Every single one. And so, how do you build a show around a Indian American . . . without highlighting those very stereotypes that ended Apu’s run?

Comedy great Mel Brooks once said that our “stupidly politically correct” culture would result in the death of comedy. I think he is being proven right. Even The Simpsons tried to confront this last year. In an episode that peripherally alluded to the Apu controversy, Lisa Simpson says, in response to a question from Marge, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

We now know the answer: You can give up and walk away. These thin-skinned social-media mobs continue to cause everlasting damage to the ability of individuals to say and express their feelings and display their art, and every single episode like this brings us closer to a point at which nobody can joke about anyone or anything without fear of reprisals and claims of racism. What a sad society that will be.

So, here, at the end, Apu is — somewhat ironically — being deported from Springfield, to the everlasting joy of the liberals who targeted him for expulsion. Mission accomplished. The mob wins again.

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