Jim Dey | 'The Problem with Apu' is those who have problem

Jim Dey | 'The Problem with Apu' is those who have problem

Those highly sensitive people who are appalled by Apu still have a problem.

Fox network officials recently announced that they have no plans to intervene in the ongoing controversy between supporters and opponents of Apu, the genial entrepreneur who runs the Kwik-E-Mart on "The Simpsons."

That's the wildly popular animated series that has been delivering belly laughs to a wide audience for 30 years.

Instead of intervening, Fox executives said they'll let the creators of "The Simpsons" deal with it.

"Basically, we've left it up to them," said Fox Television Group Chairman Dana Walden.

For those who are not familiar with the controversy, critics of Apu assert that his Indian-American character is an unflattering stereotype.

In that way, critics would have people believe that the character of Apu is somehow unfairly different from the show's other comic characters.

They include the stereotypical patriarch, oafish, beer-swilling Homer Simpson, stereotypical greedy businessman and nuclear power plant owner C. Montgomery Burns, stereotypical resentful Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie, stereotypical egghead professor Dr. Frink, stereotypical comic-bookstore owner Comic Book Guy and ... well, you get the idea.

Fundamental to comedy is stretching basic truths into unrecognizable, but funny, words and images.

So is Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Indian immigrant, devoted husband/father and salesman of stale hot dogs, a stereotype?

Sure, just like every other character on this enduring program.

If all the characters were what people think of as traditionally normal, the show wouldn't be entertaining enough to last a year, let alone three decades with the start of this upcoming season.

This reality, however, is fundamentally rejected by the grievance-mongers who will not be happy until every bit of fun has been purged from American life and everyone else is as grim, serious and humorless as they are. (Actually, they won't be happy then, either.)

The war against Apu was declared by Los Angeles comedian Hari Kondabolu (his act must be hilarious) who decided that marginalized groups are unfairly characterized in pop culture. The product of his thinking is a documentary — "The Problem with Apu" — that argued Apu is the product of the racist/sexist/homophobic entertainment establishment, whose goal is to make people laugh, no matter how monstrous a crime they must commit to do so.

The documentary developed a strong following from those who didn't realize they were offended by Apu but, once they did, charged the ramparts of social injustice to seek redress of their multiple grievances.

So far, they've gained a little ground.

Hank Azaria, the actor who does the voice of stereotypical Police Chief Wiggum and stereotypical bar owner Moe Szyslak, has indicated he regrets doing the voice of Apu. Then again, he's making a fortune doing voices on "The Simpsons," so he has sufficient financial balm to sooth his guilty conscience.

But the show's creators, not having lost their sense of humor or been intimidated into surrender, haven't come around to the critics' point of view.

Indeed, in one of last season's episodes, Homer's daughter, Lisa, lamented that "something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?"

Apu critics were especially outraged because Lisa is considered the show's stereotypical social-justice warrior. For Lisa to defend the depiction of Apu was considered especially outrageous, no doubt the result of Lisa's animated-character privilege.

 

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.