The Apu ‘Parody’
The Simpsons has overstayed its welcome, each successive season more flaccid than the last. It was revolutionary decades ago, priding itself on the sharpness of its satire, on being, as its writers insisted, an equal-opportunities offender. Except, as the Indian-American standup comic Hari Kondabolu pointed out in a recent documentary, for a long time Apu, the show’s lovable if ridiculously accented owner of the neighbourhood convenience store, was mainstream America’s only recognisable representation of the Indian immigrant. Apu became a playground insult, an excuse for the casual bullying of Indian American kids. The Simpsons creators responded to the social media controversy generated by Kondabolu’s documentary with a scene in an episode last week in which Lisa, the show’s most thoughtful, ‘progressive’ character, reflects on the ways in which political correctness can leach the life out of beloved books. We are then shown a picture of Apu that Lisa, oddly, keeps beside her bed emblazoned with the show’s most famous catchphrase, “Don’t have a cow”. A joke which plays, of course, off Apu’s Hindu sensibilities. Should
The Simpsons be concerned that Apu is such an outdated stereotype of a generally educated, affluent community? Kondabolu’s documentary is revealing about the children of immigrants, not immigrants themselves. It’s natural that these Americans, unlike their parents, should chafe at being defined by the minstrelsy of Apu, the broad comedy of funny accents and alien habits. Kondabolu is exorcising some boyhood resentment but Indian Americans like him have already made Apu irrelevant.