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‘The Simpsons’ creators finally respond (sort of) to controversy over Apu character

‘Some things will be dealt with at a later date...if at all.’

The latest episode of The Simpsons referenced the criticism that its Indian character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, furthers negative stereotypes about South Asians, The Hollywood Reporter said. In the episode No Good Read Goes Unpunished, which was aired on Sunday, Marge and Lisa Simpson discuss a book titled The Princess in the Garden. Marge edits the story to make it acceptable and inoffensive in 2018, but the new version is shorter and lacks emotional heft. The duo then looks at a picture of Apu, and declares, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive, is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” They later say: “Some things will be dealt with at a later date...if at all.”

The popular animated show, created by Matt Groening, satirises everyday middle-class life in the United States of America through the experiences of the titular family. When the show began in 1989, Apu, the owner of a supermarket, was the first South Asian character to appear regularly on mainstream American television.

Criticism over Apu’s portrayal grew in the wake of the 2017 documentary titled The Problem with Apu, in which comedian Hari Kondabolu and director Michael Melamedoff explored how the character’s exaggerated accent, speech and mannerisms impacted popular opinion of South Asians in America. The 2017 documentary features interviews by South Asian entertainers in the West, such as Aziz Ansari, Kal Penn, Maulik Pancholy, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Samrat Chakrabarti, Sakina Jaffrey, Aasif Mandvi and Hasan Minhaj, who speak of how the character impacted their personal and professional lives.

Kondabolu criticised The Simpsons episode in a tweet on Sunday, asserting that their response was not a jab at him, but at progress.

There was also some criticism to the response on Twitter.

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Thanks to an interesting neurological condition called synesthesia.

On certain forums on the Internet, heated discussions revolve around the colour of number 9 or the sound of strawberry cupcake. And most forum members mount a passionate defence of their points of view on these topics. These posts provide insight into a lesser known, but well-documented, sensory condition called synesthesia - simply described as the cross wiring of the senses.

Synesthetes can ‘see’ music, ‘taste’ paintings, ‘hear’ emotions...and experience other sensory combinations based on their type. If this seems confusing, just pay some attention to our everyday language. It’s riddled with synesthesia-like metaphors - ‘to go green with envy’, ‘to leave a bad taste in one’s mouth’, ‘loud colours’, ‘sweet smells’ and so on.

Synesthesia is a deeply individual experience for those who have it and differs from person to person. About 80 different types of synesthesia have been discovered so far. Some synesthetes even have multiple types, making their inner experience far richer than most can imagine.

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Pop culture has celebrated synesthetic minds for centuries. Synesthetic musicians, writers, artists and even scientists have produced a body of work that still inspires. Indeed, synesthetes often gravitate towards the arts. Eduardo is a Canadian violinist who has synesthesia. He’s, in fact, so obsessed with it that he even went on to do a doctoral thesis on the subject. Eduardo has also authored a children’s book meant to encourage latent creativity, and synesthesia, in children.

Litsa, a British violinist, sees splashes of paint when she hears music. For her, the note G is green; she can’t separate the two. She considers synesthesia to be a fundamental part of her vocation. Samara echoes the sentiment. A talented cellist from London, Samara can’t quite quantify the effect of synesthesia on her music, for she has never known a life without it. Like most synesthetes, the discovery of synesthesia for Samara was really the realisation that other people didn’t experience the world the way she did.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of NEXA and not by the Scroll editorial team.