HuffPost TV asks a question: “Is it time to retire Apu?” and in doing so, they bring attention and, dare I suggest, attempt to validate a frustrated rant given by Hari Kondabolu over a year ago on the FX(X) show, Totally Biased in which he riled the crowd with his desire to “kick the shit” out of Hank Azaria (at 1 minute 30 seconds) for doing the voice of Apu.
At a time when there were no Indians on American television–no Kelly Kapoor, Mindy Lahiri, or Raj Koothrappali–The Simpsons presented Apu, a PhD working at a convenience store. Darn that Fox (the network that, when it wasn’t showing Cops marathons, was presenting the antics of the lovable, delightful Bundy family) for not having its cartoon show of yellow people who don’t age or change their clothing be more socially responsible* in its depiction of its sole Indian character.
Hari Kondabolu’s problem with Apu/Hank shows a complete and utter lack of understanding of the humor of The Simpsons (rather ironic for a comedian). The Simpsons is a satire. Thus, when the show depicts a stereotype, simplification, or mischaracterization, it is calling on the viewer to question the stereotype or whathaveyou and to analyze the overarching culture and systems that allow such ideas to exist. The show isn’t perpetuating an Indian stereotype through Apu any more than they are perpetuating the attention-starved middle child stereotype through Lisa or the disaffected, alcoholic elementary teacher through Mrs. K. and Miss Hoover.
*As far as socially responsible goes, is the depiction of Apu actually so bad? He’s educated, hardworking, kind, ethical, religious, and respectful. And to prevent him from being two one-dimensional, the writers even made him more complicated: human, flawed, and weak.