Challenging the Idea that 2018 is ‘Too Politically Correct’
Apu has been taken out of The Simpsons, Yorkies aren’t labelled ‘NOT FOR GIRLS’, we’re told to respect the pronouns of others and some effort has been made to scrutinize advertisement and its sexist stereotypes of women, men or the family. If those things anger you, then I would argue you’ve become so accustomed to the institutionally racist, sexist and classist constraints that are reinforced in media that they seem normal. Some people think in 2018 that we’ve gone soft, and I bet you’ve seen the memes. From ‘Manchester will be called Personchester soon’, to ‘Humour family- the new show coming to TV in 2019. Suitable for all 45,878 genders and operating systems’ people love to make issues surrounding gender and race seem ridiculous or irrelevant. But I don’t think we’ve gone too soft as time has moved forward, and the past isn’t somewhere I want to go. Instead of complaining about the world being too politically correct, we should be asking ourselves why mass media relies on the continuation of mass inequality when we are the ones who consume it.
The Simpsons is known for its sharp satire which challenges the general ignorance of people in America and beyond, with most episodes giving us a positive moral message of perseverance, love and understanding. It’s been a family favourite globally, I’d love it when my tea was ready at 6PM so I could eat it in front of The Simpsons and then I’d turn off channel 4 as soon as Hollyoaks started. Is that why we find it so hard to come to terms with the fact that there’s a problem with Apu? I have questioned whether his characterisation was racist in the past and then wrongly shrugged it off. There has been recent conversation about the controversies surrounding Apu and I am in agreement that the standard and broad South Asian accent of Apu, combined with his marriage being arranged, his abundance of children and him working in a shop is racist and stereotypes South Asians under a one-dimensional characterisation, making a joke about and at the expense of South Asians. What makes this all that more uncomfortable is the voice actor of Hank Azaria, who has a history of playing the stereotypical South Asian character, despite being white.
From Groundskeeper Willie, to Smithers, to Bumblebee man and more, the Simpsons presents uncountable stereotypes. That is the main counter argument in response to the problems with Apu: there’s so many stereotypes in The Simpsons, which is a comment on society. But Apu is a main character in the show, and is remembered as one of the only people on my television as a child that had such a main role and was South Asian. His characterisation therefore followed South Asians in their lives in the UK, more so in the USA. Ambudkar, an American actor, said that being South Asian was made more difficult in school because of Apu’s characterisation- with peers calling him ‘slushie boy’ and other names associated with Apu. If something has affected someone’s life negatively, why would you want it to stay? I’d argue that the other stereotypes in The Simpsons haven’t affected people in the same way, with only brief interjections into the show and some, such as Mr Burns, challenging the upper classes. South Asians have been stereotyped and racially abused a lot in different forms within society and it’s sad that people don’t see how this can make the characterisation of Apu more significant and damaging than other stereotypes in The Simpsons. To brush it off as ‘just a joke’ is really simplifying something that contributes the subordination and simplification of South Asians in society.
Hari Kondabolu, the creator of the documentary ‘The problem with Apu’ which recently reopened the debate, said that if you love something, it’s important to criticise it because it forces it to do better. What I take from that is, as consumers of media and products, our gaze should be a critical one - because we are what makes products, television and media we consume so powerful. If we don’t want something popularised, it won’t be. With Apu and other issues being sensationalised on Facebook and other platforms (Kleenex’s big tissues being called ‘Mansize’ is a good example), I think that some are quick to dismiss these arguments as minor in comparison to major world issues. I’m not suggesting that Apu is the height of racial inequality, but I do think it’s a step in the right direction to examine these stereotypes. Apu’s characterisation is often dismissed lazily as a joke, when in fact it is a part of the media that is consumed by the masses and processed through our brains to give us a certain perspective on the world. As an audience we need to realise that criticising media, television and advertisement is not moaning or being offended at absolutely everything, but using our consumer power to make changes.