The Simpsons creator Matt Groening has spoken out about the controversy surrounding the show's long-running Indian immigrant character Apu.
A documentary called The Problem with Apu, made by comedian Hari Kondabolu, has crystallized concerns -- aired for years in the Indian community -- that the convenience store-running character is a racial stereotype. That's caused actor Hank Azaria, who has voiced Apu since the character's 1990 debut during the show's first season, to recently admit he'd be willing to "step aside" and let a South Asian actor take over.
The issue was addressed recently by the show itself, during an episode in which Marge tried to rewrite one of Lisa's favorite childhood books to erase any possibly offensive content, only for Lisa to now find the book boring.
Asked by her mother what she should do, Lisa remarked, "It's hard to say. Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?" The camera then panned to a photo of Apu, with Marge saying that the issue would be dealt with "later," while Lisa added, "If at all." The seemingly dismissive tone was not received well.
In a new interview with USA Today, Groening was asked if he had any thoughts on the fresh criticism of Apu. "Not really. I’m proud of what we do on the show. And I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended," he replied.
When pressed further about whether the Marge/Lisa exchange was an indication that little action would be taken regarding Apu, Groening simply responded, "We’ll let the show speak for itself," before elaborating on the idea that The Simpsons has always been considered offensive in one way or another:
"When we first started, we were part of the downfall of civilization. Bart said he was 'an underachiever and proud of it, man.' Simpsons T-shirts were banned in grade schools. I felt that the controversy at the beginning of the show was, again, people pretending to be offended by Bart’s very mild sassiness. I knew it would blow over. At the heart of our show is a churchgoing family who eats dinner together every night and is very traditional. They drive each other crazy but they do love each other."
It's likely that some will find Groening's response will also be too dismissive, especially since Simpsons producer Al Jean has pledged online to find the "right" solution to the issue. And Groening can hardly claim that people are "pretending" to be offended, since there has been debate over the Apu character for at least a decade or more.
We just live now at a time when offensive caricatures are no longer being tolerated. While the show's affection for Apu -- and all its characters -- is sincere, and he doesn't seem to be portrayed in a deliberately cruel manner, it's also clear that changing times may demand that even long-running shows like The Simpsons need to adjust and evolve.
What are your thoughts on the Apu situation? Is it time for the character to change, and should an ethnically appropriate actor take over as his voice?