The Problem with Apu is a Problem with America

The Problem with Apu

In Updates by Punita Rice

The Simpsons is a great show. But Apu sucks. For a variety of reasons — including the fact that there’s so little representation of South Asians on tv in the first place, and that the depiction of Apu as simultaneously the perfect model minority and immigrant, and the depiction of him as a joke that encompassed all stereotypes about South Asians popular in the early 90s — I have problems with the creation of Apu. With Hari Kondabolu’s new documentary The Problem With Apu coming out, I found myself thinking about my own personal problems with Apu, and wrote a bit about some of these problems for The Establishment. Some (paraphrased) snippets from my piece for The Establishment are below, (or you can read the whole thing here) if you’re interested…

Two years before I came to this country, another South Asian had arrived: Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, the popular Simpsons characterwho runs the local Kwik-E-Mart and gleefully rips everyone off, and informed SO MANY PEOPLE’S perceptions of what Indians are (and how best to mock them).

Many have talked about the more obvious ways Apu has perpetuated dangerous ideas about South Asian Americans, but less discussed is how he has embodied and perpetuated the pervasive & damaging #ModelMinority myth.

It was groundbreaking show. And Apu isn’t the only one it mocks — The Simpsons has mocked people from all walks of life.

But most of its other mocking portrayals didn’t — don’t — hinge on a racist depiction of the character.

Apu manages to embody two pervasive stereotypes—he is at once an annoying convenience store owner, ready to be laughed at and mocked, and a nerdy geek aligned with the #modelminoritymyth, ready to be pigeonholed and overlooked.

Nearly three decades after Apu’s debut on American television, the impact of his character is still felt — and we have every right to demand more from Americans than their unquestioning embrace of what he represents. As Kondabolu says, “you can criticize something you love because you expect more from it.”

Ahead of the release of Hari Kondabolu‘s new documentary The Problem with Apu Documentary Film 2017, which comes out this weekend on truTV I got to write about why my problem with Apu is reflective of an actual issue in society for The Establishment, which I’d love to hear your thoughts on.

Thanks to the editors of Establishment for creating a platform for me to share this piece of writing. You can read the whole thing here.

(P.S. – Not everything is always offensive. And sometimes, I just want to enjoy entertainment without having to think about why it’s offensive. Here’s a post about that.)