They made Lisa say it.
Last November, comedian Hari Kondabolu released the documentary The Problem With Apu, a sharp and detailed insight into not just one of the most divisive characters on The Simpsons, but how the visibility of Apu in American pop culture impacted South Asians. It’s a great piece of work, worthy of your time, and it highlights something a lot of people have either struggled to talk about or outright refused to in the nearly three decades The Simpsons has been on the air.
Eventually, the show would have to respond to it, and last night they did. And boy, was it fucking cowardly.
The episode, titled No Good Read Goes Unpunished, took on the issue in what I assume the writers thought was a sly manner. Marge reads Lisa a bedtime story, one that’s come to be considered offensive with the passing of time. Then, turning to the camera, Lisa says, ‘Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?’ She moves to her bedside table, where a framed picture of Apu sits, with the line ‘Don’t have a cow!’ written on it. Marge’s response is, ‘Some things will be dealt with at a later date.’ Lisa ends it with, ‘If at all.’
Kondabolu responded on Twitter:
Wow. “Politically Incorrect?” That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad. https://t.co/lYFH5LguEJ— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018
In “The Problem with Apu,” I used Apu & The Simpsons as an entry point into a larger conversation about the representation of marginalized groups & why this is important. The Simpsons response tonight is not a jab at me, but at what many of us consider progress.— Hari Kondabolu (@harikondabolu) April 9, 2018
There’s a lot about this episode that sucks. First, here’s how the show’s executive producer, Al Jean, set the scene before the episode aired.
.@TheSimpsons New Simpsons in five minutes. Twitter explosion in act three.— Al Jean (@AlJean) April 8, 2018
So, there you go. They bloody wanted people to be mad. They clearly had no interest in actually addressing the issue seriously or paying penance for something that’s weighed heavily on people’s minds for decades. They just thought ‘Hey, we can piss off some people!’
I’ve been a reasonably ardent defender of latter era Simpsons - it is better than you think it is - but I cannot fathom the arrogance and callousness behind making those comments in the damn show! One of the great political satires of 20th-century entertainment, and they went full Ricky Gervais. I was half expecting Marge to smugly ask if we were offended.
But it’s the fact that they made Lisa say it that gets to me on such a primal level. Lisa, the show’s heart, its voice of reason, its proud liberal do-gooder who repeatedly corrects the errors of her family. They didn’t even have the nerve to make Homer or Grandpa say it. They legitimized it by putting it in Lisa’s mouth.
Cowards. The lot of them, cowards.