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Thursday, September 20, 2018

CP470A: The Problem With Apu and Animating Race


The 2017 documentary by Hari Kondaboli titled, The Problem With Apu, forced a lot of people to confront their conflicted relationships with the long-running animated series, The Simpsons. In the film, Kondaboli tackles the characterization of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon by interviewing several South Asian people and seeing how his characterization affected them. As one may have thought, many people have grown tired of Apu and would like to see his character retired, along with the rest of the show altogether. 

This is because they feel that the show has not only gone on far too long but also because Apu's characterization is based on a racially charged stereotype. The chapter on"Animating Race" that we were assigned discusses the ways in which these stereotypes are created and how they affect the individuals they are supposed to represent. "Cartoons frequently portrayed explicit forms of racism, utilizing stock motifs and images such as the lazy Latino, the cannibalistic native, the rotund and dutiful Mammy, and the wily 'Oriental,' " writes the author. "From the silent era to the early years of animation’s golden age, cartoons produced for either adults or children both reaffirmed and taught American audiences how to think and speak about race." Therefore, when audiences see these images, they will then begin to associate these characteristics with the real-life individuals and the culture they represent. And moreover, the depictions in these animations are more-so depictions of minstrelsy than anything else and Kondaboli makes this clear by comparing Apu's character to scenes featuring blackface, which defines each character not by their personality, but by their voice and face, which also serves as the punchline.

In the case of the Simpsons overall, the punchline surrounds the fact Apu is that he is Indian. Kondaboli takes note of this and criticizes the Simpson's comedy in the documentary. Though ethnic stereotypes have become a staple part of comedy, the issues with Apu is that he is eternal. Therefore, the stereotypes affiliated with him are as well. Unfortunately, the Simpsons are not making any strives to improve this issue, as they've unofficially released a statement that essentially attempts to justify Apu's character.

When asked about a book of hers that has not become problematic, Lisa's character in the show responds like this: "It's hard to say," she starts. "Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" She then looks to a photo of Apu and the scene ends. A lot of this has stirred up controversy and many people want the Simpsons to end because of it. Whether or not The Simpsons can be saved is one question. Whether or not they're correct about Apu is another. There's discourse on both ends about what to do about the situation, but there's only so much that can be done since so much damage as already been caused. 

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