Never a stranger to taking controversial stances, The Guardian is stirring up some heated debate by accusing the Simpsons character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon of being a "crude racist stereotype." Writer Manish Vij says "Culture-vulture Simpsons fans have felled entire forests in arguing that he's a parody of a stereotype, rather than the stereotype itself. But the plain fact is that most viewers are laughing at Apu, not with him. They're enjoying the simple pleasures of a funny, singsong brown man with a slippery grasp of English." Vij takes major issue with 7-Eleven's recent Kwik-E-Mart makeover promotion (which Erik told you about here), as well. 7-Eleven employees at the converted convenience stores are, as Vij puts it, "being asked to don Kwik-E-Mart costumes with Apu nametags, come to work under banners mocking their ethnicity, and bid customers goodbye with the phrase, 'Thank you, come again!'" He closes the article by saying, "Today, we expect American companies to promote racial tolerance. Yet like an outbreak of a long-dormant virus, 7-Eleven is spending millions of dollars to push a crude ethnic stereotype well past its sell-by date. It's tin-eared and unconscionable. The company should cancel Apu and issue an apology."
Now, I could definitely argue that The Simpsons is, and always has been, satire. It makes fun of anything and everything, and though it's certainly poked fun at race relations over the years, I've never seen anything on the show I'd consider racist. The Apu character talks with an exaggerated accent, but it's an animated comedy show -- everybody does. And it's certainly an equal opportunity offender. Everyone on the program is a stereotype, and those stereotypes are frequently addressed, exposed, disproved, and mocked. Stereotypes exist on The Simpsons to provoke the viewer, as all good comedy should. Fat Tony could offend sensitive Italians, Groundskeeper Willie could offend sensitive Scotsmen, Bumblebee Man could offend sensitive Hispanics, and so on. But I hardly think the intent of The Simpsons' writing staff is to spew hate.
I have to disagree with Vij about Apu being crude and racist. If anything, he's one of the more intelligent and positive presences in Springfield, and I find the author's comparisons of Apu to "minstrel shows" and "Jim Crow America" to be really pushing it. But the 7-Eleven thing is sort of a grey area for me. I haven't visited one of the revamped stores, so I don't know how the "Apu" issue is being handled, but it certainly sounds like potentially dangerous turf. What do you think? Is Mr. Nahasapeemapetilon an offensive racist caricature? Is this a serious issue or much Apu about nothing?