‘Simpsons’ Creator Says of Apu Criticism, ‘People Love to Pretend They’re Offended’
Posted May 1, 2018 4:03 p.m. EDT
Matt Groening, the creator of “The Simpsons,” has weighed in at last on the Apu controversy, and Indian-American critics are not happy about it.
Groening and others have been called on in recent months to defend the character, Apu, a thickly accented Kwik-E-Mart owner who has been criticized as racist.
While speaking last week to USA Today, Groening was asked if he had “any thoughts on the criticism of Apu as a stereotype.”
“Not really,” Groening responded. “I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.”
Groening declined through a Fox spokeswoman to comment further.
Hari Kondabolu, a comedian and the creator of “The Problem With Apu,” a documentary released in November that described the way Apu had shaped widespread perceptions of South Asians, said on Twitter that Groening sounded “like every other troll on the internet who didn’t see the documentary.”
Groening’s comments aligned with the way the show coyly addressed the uproar, in an episode last month that attracted renewed criticism.
“Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Lisa said to her mother, Marge, before looking at a bedside photo of Apu.
Marge responded: “Some things will be dealt with at a later date.”
Lisa added, “If at all.”
Groening — whose name rhymes with “raining” — was one of the writers on the episode. After it aired, Al Jean, the showrunner since 1998, retweeted posts decrying political correctness.
But Hank Azaria, the Emmy-winning actor who voices “Apu,” told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” last week that he would be “perfectly willing and happy to step aside, or help transition it into something new.”
“The idea that anyone, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased based on the character of Apu, it just really makes me sad,” he said. “It was certainly not my intention. I wanted to spread laughter and joy.”
Hoping to find a new storyline for Apu, Adi Shankar, a producer and showrunner, announced a screenwriting contest on Monday. Shankar, who does not work for “The Simpsons,” asked for a script that takes Apu “and in a clever way subverts him, pivots him, intelligently writes him out, or evolves him in a way that takes a mean-spirited mockery and transforms him into a kernel of truth wrapped in funny insight, aka actual satire.”
He pledged to deliver the winning script to the writers of “The Simpsons.” If they’re not interested, he would produce the script as “an unofficial fan film,” he said.
In an interview, Shankar said Apu was a “fabricated archetype, and it’s been carved into the American, and really the global, consciousness with blunt force.” The contest is intended to give “Simpsons” writers access to new perspectives in a way that would be a win-win, he said.
He said he was inspired to create the contest — which Kanye West promoted on Twitter — partly by Groening’s comments.
“What he’s missing is, it’s not like people are mad,” he said. “They’re hurt. They’re hurting.”
While “The Simpsons” has been criticized in the past for leaning too much on stereotypes, major controversies over diversity and representation have been rare for the show, a cultural powerhouse now in its 29th year.
The rest of the television world has pushed more boundaries and grown far raunchier, leaving the cartoon a remnant of an era in which its unsentimental view of the American family, along with language like “Eat my shorts,” sparked a rebuke from President George Bush in 1992.
Groening came to prominence with a weekly comic strip, “Life in Hell,” that was popular among alternative newspapers and ran from 1978 to 2012. The characters on “The Simpsons” are named after his real-life family: His father, Homer; his mother, Margaret; and his sisters, Maggie and Lisa.
He was unsympathetic to early complaints that the show could have a negative effect on children. “If you don’t want your kids to be like Bart Simpson, don’t act like Homer Simpson,” he said in 1998.