“Thank you, come again” is a phrase that will haunt Indians forever, serving as a reminder of the racist caricatures and stereotypes that have plagued many South Asians in the Western world for decades. All thanks to the cartoonish figure of “Apu”.
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the infamous Indian owner of a convenience store on the world’s longest running scripted TV series, The Simpsons, needs no introduction. Most Indian and South Asian people, especially in America, know him very well – either because they have watched The Simpsons, or because most of them have been likened to him at some point in their lives.
He was introduced as a character on The Simpsons in 1990, which means people have spent a large part of three decades complaining about this offensive depiction. Unfortunately, it looks like the problem isn’t going away anytime soon.
After a 2017 documentary (trailer below) by South Asian-American comedian Hari Kondabolu tackled The Problem with Apu, the show’s makers gave a token response on the show which was nearly as problematic as Apu himself. You can watch it in the video above.
The clip is from the show’s 633rd episode No Good Read Goes Unpunished, which features Marge Simpson rediscovering one of her favourite books from her childhood. Unfortunately, as she’s about to introduce it to Lisa, she realises that it is filled with racist and regressive language. She edits the book to make it completely inoffensive which also makes it less good. “Well, what am I supposed to do?” Marge asks Lisa, who responds saying, “Something that started decades ago, and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” The video then pans to a bedside photo of Apu which says “Don’t have a cow” to underline the point they’re making.
Marge cryptically states, “Some things will be dealt with at a later stage.” “If at all,” responds Lisa, and the duo stare blankly into the camera.
The response has predictably led to a fair share of backlash.
Apu may finally just be a silly cartoon in a silly show that pokes fun at everything. But as Kondabolu said on Totally Biased, Apu is like “a white guy doing an impression of a white guy making fun of my father.”
For more perspective on Apu, watch the trailer for Kondabolu’s documentary below, and an interview of the comedian on The Daily Show and with The Washington Post right below that.