A few weeks ago, The Simpsons accidentally became relevant again, but not in the way the show intended. An episode titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” responded to the recent documentary The Problem with Apu, which points out that Apu, while not a malevolent figure, is an Indian stereotype that has been used to mock people of Indian and East Asian descent, so perhaps the show should rethink the character. The show responded with a shrug and a “It used to be accepted, so what are you gonna do?” It was a lazy, cold-hearted comment that showed a writer’s room more concerned with preserving the show’s legacy than questioning it and growing as a result.
Thankfully, Hank Azaria, who voices Apu as well as a slew of other Simpsons characters, had a more mature response when he stopped by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:
“I think the most important thing is to listen to Indian people and their experience with it. Listening to voices means inclusion in the writers room. I really want to see Indian, south Asian writers in the writers room, genuinely informing whichever direction this character takes. I’m perfectly willing to step aside. It just feels like the right thing to do to me.”
For his part, The Problem with Apu filmmaker Hari Kondabolu responded:
— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 25, 2018
Meanwhile, Simpsons executive producer Al Jean tweeted a couple weeks ago:
.@TheSimpsons I truly appreciate all responses pro and con. Will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right
— Al Jean (@AlJean) April 13, 2018
The problem is there is no solution that’s both popular and right, so you may as well do what’s right. Making any change whatsoever will invariably call down forces who whine about “political correctness” when the real issue is just about showing humanity and grace to a minority that suffered unintentional blowback from a character created almost 30 years ago. The Simpsons may want to turn back the clock to 1989, but it remains frozen in time at its own peril.