The Problem with The Simpsons

Last year, a documentary entitled The Problem with Apu explored the ramifications of the character Apu on the long-running animated comedy TV show The Simpsons. Apu is the embodiment of many shallow and negative stereotypes of Indian males, especially those who have migrated to America. And as the documentary showed, the character, which is really more of a caricature, has directly contributed to furthering those negative stereotypes.

In defense of the The Simpsons, the show does make fun of everyone. There is even a Scottish groundskeeper, Willie, who exhibits many of the negative stereotypes associated with Scots. And while I have no evidence, I am confident that many Scots in America get called Groundskeeper Willie, just as The Problem with Apu documented Indians being called Apu.

Some have argued that there is a difference, in that there are so few portrayals of Indians in American popular culture, let alone favorable portrayals. Of course, that has been countered with the claim that this is not the fault of The Simpsons, as they have no control over that.

The Response
Last Sunday night, in the show’s 633rd episode, The Simpsons finally responded to the criticism of its Apu character. During the episode, Marge Simpson read a bedtime story to her daughter Lisa, which they found problematic because the book contained a number of negative and downright offensive stereotypes. Marge confessed that she didn’t know what to make of it. And then she and Lisa turned to look at a framed portrait of Apu on the nightstand, beside the bed, before turning to look directly into the camera (keep in mind that this is a cartoon, an animated show), and Lisa said, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

First of all, I find that response more offensive than the negative caricature that is Apu. I am sure many said the same thing about slavery, noting that they didn’t create it, that it started long ago, and was long considered a useful institution (except, of course, by those who were enslaved) before being deemed “politically incorrect” in modern parlance. Such things are always considered to be “applauded and inoffensive” – even “useful” – by the perpetrators. Those who created the show simply chose to embrace the applause it received and ignore those who declared it offensive.

As for “politically incorrect,” that’s become a popular catchphrase used to dismiss the fact that you have been exposed for doing something wrong (lest we forget that the show airs on Fox, a television network that seems to be a big fan of this cop out). Promoting racial stereotypes is not bad in a political sense. It is simply bad – in all senses.

Only those seeking to dismiss the use of such stereotypes for their own gains or entertainment will pretend that this is somehow a political decision, as opposed to moral one. After all, as the Bible says, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you: do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” In other words, do to others what you want them to do to you, which is also known as the Golden Rule. And that is why it is morally incorrect, not politically incorrect. And I’m a fricken atheist.

The Solutions
As for the question of what can they do, whether that be Marge and Lisa or those who write and produce the show, the answer should be obvious. It’s an animated series, so they can do pretty much anything they want. Apu could be transformed into a less offensive character. He could move away, or be killed. After all, he is not even a core character. They could even introduce another Indian character, who is a more positive role model – and perhaps voiced by an Indian actor, as Apu is voiced by a white actor pretending to have an Indian accent.

After Lisa’s statement, Marge said, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date.” And Lisa followed that with, “If at all.”

Not only is this totally out of character, especially for Lisa, but it leaves you wondering if they do plan on taking action – real, legitimate, and constructive action – or if that brief and insensitive interlude was in fact the only action they plan on taking. And much has been made about the fact that the show used its arguably two most sympathetic characters, Marge and Lisa Simpson, to deliver this response. After all, Lisa would be the first to boycott the show for the Apu issue. Maybe it might have made more sense coming from Apu himself, but I am sure that would have gone horribly wrong.

The Dilemma
Unfortunately, the problem is also the excuse. The show is a collection of negative stereotypes. There’s the clueless father, a white male working-class imbecile. The doting mother who not only tolerates it all but enables so much of it through her spinelessness. The irrepressible brat of a son, who has done more to champion a low GPA than the election (albeit disputed) of George W. Bush. The naive, self-righteous, and anxiety-ridden liberal daughter. Not to mention the bumbling school principal, nerdy scientist, self-absorbed journalist, foolish evangelical neighbor, geeky comic bookstore owner, evil white male captain of industry, fat cop with a pig-like nose, etc.

The point is that if you tone down Apu, you would have to tone down all these other characters. Evangelicals could be just as upset with the portrayal of Ned Flanders, the overly zealous Jesus freak that lives next door. After all, it’s not like there are a lot of other portrayals of evangelicals on mainstream TV. And come to think of it, when was the last time you saw a white male father portrayed as anything but a buffoon on a sitcom? And yet there are a lot of white male fathers out there, including many who are intelligent, hardworking, thoughtful, and genuinely care about their family. But you rarely see one on TV.

The problem may be that the people who create this show – and most others on TV – live in places where they are exposed to a wide variety of people, so they may be deaf to such concerns. I grew up in a small town, like the fictional setting of this show. We did not have any Indian kids in my school. In fact, there were no Asians, let alone Indians, in the entire town. And had I been born in 1989, the year The Simpsons debuted, I would have grown up with Apu shaping my understanding of what Indians are like.

However, in fairness to those who created the show, this certainly was not their intention, nor could they have foreseen it. They were just trying to make people laugh. And not just laugh at others, but even the characters – the caricatures – who most closely resembled themselves. The people behind The Simpsons couldn’t have imagined that those caricatures would be on television for nearly 30 years. Nor that they would become so wildly popular, etching themselves not only into American culture but also being broadcast around the world.

The Responsibility
But with such success comes a degree of responsibility. And once you become woven into the fabric of our culture the way The Simpsons has, you need to recognize the impact that the show has – and can have – on that culture. I think the TV show MASH did a good job of growing up – and into a more responsible, culturally aware role – over the years. Although there were times when I felt it got a little too preachy as it evolved, MASH remained one of the funniest shows on TV.

Laughs are essential, but they do not always have to come at the expense of others. And if the writers of The Simpsons are really as good as I believe they are, I think they can do better. Rather than hide behind false pleas of what can we do and political correctness, I hope they step up and do something magnificent. Or at least funny.

Thought of the Day: Sex, Love, & Money

RULE #1: If someone offers you money for sex, they do not love you. They consider you a commodity, not a person.

RULE #2: If someone offers you money for sex, they are not worthy of your love. Again, they consider you a commodity, not a person.

The Question to Ask Trumphole on Gun Control

I am not going to weigh-in again on the gun debate, as I have already shared my opinions several times over the course of the past five years. And, yes, that’s right boys and girls, this week we celebrated the 5th anniversary of Nipple Monkey!

However, I do wish that one of these grieving parents from Florida would ask Trump the one question that might get his fat ass off the bench in the gun control debate. And, no, it’s not asking him to think about how his campaign contributors, the lobbyists and special interests who helped put him in the White House, and all the far-right Republican hypocrites who have swallowed every ounce of self-respect in order to keep him there would feel if he introduced legislation that would not only reinstate the ban on assault weapons (which, let’s be honest, are made for mass murder, not hunting) but also establish measures that would prevent people with mental health issues from owning a gun as well as prevent people who are on our nation’s terrorist watch list from owning a gun (yes, Republicans actually shot down legislation to prevent confirmed terrorists from purchasing guns).

Instead, I am hoping that someone will ask Trump how he would feel if it was one of his own children who were gunned down in a mass shooting. OK, if Ivanka was gunned down, since she seems to be the only one of his kids that he genuinely cares about – even if it is just for her looks. I’d like him to think about how he would explain his inaction on gun reform to Melania, assuming she’s still talking to him at this point, or whichever of his three wives was the actual mother of his freshly slaughtered child.

Yes, it’s a gruesome thought, but no more gruesome than what those 17 families have had to face. And given that Trumpo is clearly incapable of thinking of anyone but himself, someone needs to get his pea brain thinking about what it would be like if his family was on the receiving end of an AR-15 or some other assault weapon in a mass shooting.

But as we debate this issue, keep in mind that there are two types of gun owners in this country. There are the responsible people who may or may not fear that enacting any sort of legislation will open the door for the repeal of the Second Amendment (personally I love guns, but I would support the sort of legislation I mentioned earlier, in the second paragraph, because I don’t live in a world of fear and therefore am confident that we are strong enough as a nation to always retain our right to bear arms responsibly). And then there are the people who burst into a crowded pizzeria with an AR-15 assault rifle – the same kind used in the Parkland shooting – and start firing off rounds because they genuinely believe that Hillary Clinton, who has a net worth of $45 million, had to resort to running a child sex trafficking operation out of a secret room in some random local pizzeria (no, I’m not making this up), presumably so she could afford her private email server.

And I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the number of people who actually believe that kind of nonsense or the fact that they are walking around with loaded assault rifles. Which reminds me, as bad as the Russian trolls may be, they hardly compare to some of these alt-right ones who were responsible for propagating moronic shit like this.

The Shithole President

Most Americans are horrified that Donald Trump is president. The man embodies the worst traits of humanity. Plus, he’s impulsive, irrational, ignorant, and unstable.

Assuming we survive this, I think history will teach us that the greater horror is the realization that there are many Americans who are happy with Trump as president. They don’t seem to mind the ignorance, irrationality, instability, ineptitude, xenophobia, misogyny, and thinly-veiled racism.

So far, we have been trying to rationalize this support, pretending that they tolerate his behavior in hopes of furthering some political agenda. Though what that agenda is isn’t exactly clear.

Some would argue that they wanted to drain the proverbial swamp, removing the corrupting influence of special interest groups and their well-funded lobbyists on our government. But then why choose a wealthy one-percenter who has bragged about manipulating the system for his own personal gain? That’s like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of your life savings because you don’t trust Wall Street.

Others may have believed that Trump was genuinely all-in for Steve Bannon’s far-right agenda. But it’s equally hard to imagine that these voters would be foolish enough to entrust a man, an admitted political opportunist who has flipped more times than the griddle cook at IHOP, to become the vanguard for a political turn so far to the right that it makes Barry Goldwater look like a hippie.

Perhaps the most disturbing possibility is that these people truly appreciated Trump’s nationalistic fervor. Given the fear and uncertainty that has befallen America since 9/11 and the financial crises, those who enjoyed the relative comfort and prosperity of the 90s might be willing to sacrifice certain values, principles, and freedoms in favor of the presumed security of a more authoritarian approach to governing our nation.

Yet the ugly truth is that even when Trump is nothing more than a punchline in one of so many possible jokes, the people who thought he was a good choice – and many still do – will still be around. Though, depending on how bad it gets, it might be hard to find them after the fact, like people who are willing to admit that they supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But they will still be out there. And that may be the scariest aspect of this entire American nightmare.

Thought of the Day: Shake & Fake

Donald Trump is the Ricky Bobby of presidents. That pretty much sums the man up in a nutshell.

Not culturally, of course. That dishonor would go to George W. Bush.

But when you think of the character’s overwhelming confidence in his overwhelming ignorance, that’s 100-percent Donald Trump. We’re talking about blatant, brazen, flagrant, obstinate, pervasive, and reckless ignorance. It’s worthy of a comedy, but sadly it’s a national tragedy.

Waco and the Wackos

Being curious about how religious extremists come to be, I’ve watched a number of documentaries about the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas over the years. And last night, out of snowbound curiosity, I found myself watching a special on ABC titled Truth and Lies: Waco.

I’m not sure why this national network decided to dedicate two-hours of primetime television space to such a tragedy. Perhaps it’s because we are nearing the 25th anniversary of the event. Or maybe they were simply looking to capitalize on the apparent appeal of sensationalizing such tragedies and feeding fear-mongering conspiracy theorists desperate for such mainstream attention. After all, we’re now living in Trumpland, a sensationalized tragedy produced by fear-mongering conspiracy theorists (and the deep-pocket, deep state of wealthy one-percenters who, in a manipulative master deception that would make Keyser Soze proud, managed to dupe these rubes into thinking they were draining the swamp of corruption when in reality they just handed the keys to the swampmaster himself).

For what it’s worth, I have always harbored a degree of distrust and perhaps even a little disdain for authority. And I am not a particularly big fan of law enforcement, which I feel is an essential and important function in our society but one that attracts and recruits people with a certain viewpoint and fosters a culture that reinforces that viewpoint, all of which encourages the abuse of power and force. I would like to see more humane policing, better pay and training for law enforcement professionals, and frankly a complete overhaul of our judicial system.

That said, I do not fear the authorities, or my government. Nor do I adhere to all these conspiracy theories and “deep state” nonsense, the sort of stuff that is so appealing to those who thought The X-Files was a reality show. Perhaps if our government was a little less inept then I might share some of the rampant fear and trepidation that seems to fuel these people’s lives. But, as it stands, I don’t even own a tin-foil hat.

As for Waco, I still think that the Branch Davidians are responsible for that tragedy. Yes, the authorities made a number of mistakes, as is often the case (which, again, is one of the reasons I don’t share the fear and paranoia harbored by these conspiracy theorists, because I can’t be afraid of a force that is so frequently flawed and often inept, whereas a ruthless and efficient force like the old East German Stasi might actually inspire me to don a tin-foil cap and crawl into a bunker at the first sight of a chemtrail). But when a group of religious extremists starts talking about waging war against the government and then begins stockpiling automatic weapons, hand grenades, and other munitions that even the well-funded spinmeisters at the NRA couldn’t pass off as hunting gear, action needs to be taken.

And keep in mind that Koresh and his followers didn’t just oppose the government. They considered everyone who failed to heed his personal prophecy as their enemy, as tools of Satan. This wasn’t about government oppression or the right to bear arms. This was about a man who considered everyone who refused to recognize him as the one true voice of God to be his enemy. This was about a man who wanted a violent confrontation that would thrust him into the national spotlight. This was about a man who wanted he and his followers – including the children – to go out as martyrs in a blaze of glory.

Sadly, conspiracy theorists have used this tragedy as a springboard for the anti-government movement that helped put Trump, ironically the posterchild for everything that’s wrong with our government, in power. They see Waco, along with the tragic events at Ruby Ridge, as seminal moments in their vision of a “deep state” conspiracy within the government that’s working to turn America into Amerika, an imaginary authoritarian state where citizens are stripped of their rights and subjugated by those in power. And yet, again, the irony that these people still voted for Trump, already the most authoritarian and anti-American president we’ve ever had.

In the end, it was Koresh who ordered the death of his followers. He and his lackeys set three separate fires, killing 76 of the Branch Davidians who remained in the compound, including all of the children. Some died as a result of the fire, but many were shot or stabbed to death by fellow cult members, reminiscent of the murder-suicide finale of the People’s Temple cult in Jonestown, Guyana.

Recordings from inside the compound prove that it was Koresh and his fellow Branch Davidians who started the fires. And it appears to have been part of his final solution, his plan to martyr his followers. Weeks before they set their compound ablaze, the handful of children that Koresh did allow to leave had drawn images depicting the compound fully engulfed in flames. When asked by their appointed caretakers why the compound was burning in their drawings, weeks before it actually did, the children simply said, in what proved to be an ominous warning, “you’ll see.” Clearly the kids already knew how it would end – in an inferno.

Yet, despite such evidence, ABC opted to include the likes of Alex Jones in their two-hour special, giving voice to the irrational, to the factless fear mongers, who continue to blame the government for these deaths (and a litany of other nonsense). A shameless self-promoter, Jones used the tragedy to gain a national audience and a platform for spinning all sorts of baseless conspiracy theories to further his anti-government agenda. And now it seems ABC is looking to capture a little of that thunder – and perhaps a little slice of this sadly growing demographic – for themselves.

Could more have been done to safeguard the children in the compound? Yes, of course. And I’m not just talking about what happened during the assault, but the fact that all of the adults in that compound knowingly and willingly let Koresh physically and sexually abuse these children for months – even years. Those people – most of whom still blame the government – refuse to accept their role in these crimes.

And there’s absolutely no excuse for this. There’s no passage in the Bible in which Jesus tells a 12-year-old girl that he wants to fill her with God’s seed before raping her. These “Christians” were complicit in these crimes, in this evil, and now want to deflect that harsh reality by trying to make this about an aggressive government interfering with their rights. That’s a much easier narrative for them to swallow compared to having to admit that they were suckered by a drifter who claimed he was the voice of God and then stole their wives and raped their daughters.

For those of you who still think the government overstepped its bounds in this instance, ask yourself this: if the Branch Davidians considered Koresh a prophet of Allah instead of a prophet of God, would you still feel that way? Be honest, now. Would you want the government to stand down if there was a compound of heavily armed Muslim fanatics in the heart of Texas who considered America evil and were preparing to do battle against us? Let’s be honest, folks. Heavily armed religious fanatics who routinely sexually abuse children and have vowed to wage war against anyone who doesn’t follow their faith? In many ways, Koresh and his Branch Davidians were like a Christian version of ISIS.

Look, you may not agree with all the laws of this land. And I certainly have a few I’d like to see changed. But we still have to abide by them, even while we lobby to change them. Koresh and his cult broke the law, and preached of doing battle with anyone who challenged their freedom to do so. Yes, the authorities could have used different tactics, and more patience, but the people truly responsible for that massacre are Koresh and the adults who blindly followed him. The only conspiracy here is the one that has convinced you otherwise.

By the way, next Thursday, ABC will be airing Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story. Because, hey, why should the supermarket tabloids have all the fun, right? Like those Branch Davidians, I fear our society may be getting exactly what we deserve.

Trump Makes History…

Donny Trump is now officially the most unpopular U.S. President. He finishes his first year with the lowest approval rating in the modern era (i.e., when they were able to actually do reasonably accurate, statistically significant mass polling). Only 35 percent of the Americans polled approve of Trump’s performance while 59 percent of them disapprove. LOSER!!!