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.

Lessons Learned from the Fox News Republican Presidential Debate

FoxDebateesI thought the Fox moderators did an admirable job of asking some tough, pointed questions of each candidate last Thursday. Yes, you heard me correctly. I think Fox News actually did something right. #BlondesHaveMoreFun

Of course, conservatives are apoplectic because the Fox moderators did in fact do a decent job of questioning the candidates. I think they are a little miffed that the normally conservative cocoon of Fox may have exposed their entire field of candidates for the hypocritical buffoons they really are. #Irony

FoxRepThat said, few of the candidates actually answered the questions asked of them. Instead, they spun it around to recite the same canned message points each time they were called upon. And rarely did any of the moderators press them to answer the actual questions. #Weak

However, I thought the seven candidates in the first debate, those who hadn’t polled high enough to make it to the prime-time debate, did a slightly better job of answering the questions asked of them. #CandorDoesNotPollWell

All of the Republican candidates said they want to reduce the size and scope of government. And in particular, they said they want to reduce the amount of money our government spends. #AntiGovernmentPoliticianIsNotAnOxymoron?

Despite this aforementioned claim, all of them also said that they want to increase the size and scope of government – and particularly increase government spending – to do things like fight more wars, build and protect our borders, and enforce expansive immigration laws. #SpendThenBlameTheDems

In other words, all of the Republican presidential candidates are talking out of their asses. #Hypocrisy

And while all of the candidates professed outrage over our nation’s current debt, they failed to acknowledge the indisputable fact that much of this debt was created the last time a Republican was in the White House. When George W. Bush became president, our nation had a budget surplus, thanks to the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton (who, incidentally, had inherited a budget deficit from Republican George H.W. Bush). But thanks to eight years of a Republican in the White House, Democrat Barack Obama inherited yet another massive budget deficit. #NoAccountability #Hypocrisy&Denial #SpendThenBlameTheDemsAgain

I think the debate spelled the beginning of the end for Donald Trump. He came off even more dickish than usual, and that’s saying a lot. His spotty record as a businessman was exposed, including the fact that he has had to rely on government entitlement programs like bankruptcy as many as 4 times in past 25 years to make up for his management failures. And it didn’t help when the moderators reminded everyone that each time Donny shirked his debts he left a lot of loyal employees – hard-working Americans – unemployed as a result of his repeated incompetence as a leader. #DonaldRump #BankruptAmerica

FoxTrumpPlus, Trump made it clear that he’s more interested in Donald Trump than the Republican Party. In fact, he flat-out admitted that if the party chooses another candidate, he would continue to campaign as an independent. Which, of course, makes you wonder if he’d put the needs of the nation ahead of his own, should darkness sweep over this land and actually put him in the White House. #AllAboutMe

Though I think Trump’s popularity may serve as an important lesson for all candidates, but particularly Republicans. Republicans have falsely assumed that Trump’s appeal is based on their conservative ideals, when what people are really responding to is his unorthodox candidacy – the fact that he mocks the other politicians. Trump is walking proof that it’s really all about anger and rage against the system, rather than intellectual support for specific ideals or policies (especially since he has yet to articulate any of these). #WeHateBothParties

Ben Carson seemed to be largely ignored by the Fox moderators. Was this because he’s black, or because he’s smart? #SmartLivesMatter

And Lindsey Graham? All that guy cares about is starting a war. Look, we get it, you have invested heavily in the defense sector and want to make a killing – both in the market and on some battlefield. But try not to make it so obvious. Even Republicans have grown weary of wasting American lives. #WarMonger

For me, the brightest spot was Ohio Governor John Kasich. He’s what they call a compassionate conservative, and – despite his professions of faith – he sounded like a fairly reasonable, trustworthy guy. In other words, he seems to be the least bat-shit-crazy out of all the Republican candidates. I consider myself fairly liberal, but if the Republicans nominate that guy (which they surely won’t), I just might vote for him over Hillary Clinton. #VoteKasich

And speaking of Hillary Clinton, apparently she is far more qualified to be president than I realized. In fact, it seems she’s far more qualified to be president than any candidate on either side. You see, having listened to the Fox moderators and every single candidate in both debates, it’s clear that Hillary Clinton already is the President of the United States, a role she has apparently been sharing with Barack Obama for the past two terms. #FoxMisleads #PresidentHillary

Pope Lightens Up, Fox Tightens Up

PFBDuring a visit to Brazil, Pope Francis said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” It’s not quite an open-armed embrace of the gay community, but it’s a big improvement from his predecessor, who equated homosexuality with pedophilia. And it’s a message that I hope will resonate with people of all faiths, not just Catholics.

But just as one door to enlightenment, tolerance, and general human decency opens, it appears that another closes, as is evidenced by this disgusting interview on Fox News. Academic and author Reza Aslan shows incredible restraint while being subjected to a shameful line of questioning that surely left even Fox News’ most ardent supporters grovelling about its unquestionable bias.

If I were Aslan, I would have stooped to respond with a few misguided questions of my own, like asking Fox’s female news anchor Lauren Green why she, as a woman, feels qualified to interview a man? After all, that’s tantamount to the argument she attempted to make about a Muslim writing a scholarly examination of history’s most famous Jew (and, for the record, Islam considers Jesus to be a great prophet).

At the end of the day, who do you think Jesus would embrace, the Muslim who has dedicated his life to fostering a better understanding of all religions or the Fox News anchor who can’t see past her own petty prejudice? Hey, like the Pope said, who am I to judge!