- - Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“The Simpsons” isn’t going to apologize for offending anyone — even its most liberal fans, and conservative critics and comics say that’s a good thing.

“The No. 1 thing to do is do whatever is the funniest thing,” comedian Boris Khaykin said, adding that context matters. “If it’s so offensive it’s distracting … people can’t even focus on what’s funny.”

The prime-time Fox cartoon has been weathering a cultural backlash since it finally addressed on Sunday the longstanding criticism of its Indian-American convenience store owner, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, voiced with a thick accent by white comedian Hank Azaria.

Entertainment Weekly called the episode “heartbreaking.” Vox accused the animators of responding to controversy “with a shrug.” The Guardian suggested the show finally had “run its course.”

And all noted Hari Kondabolu’s critique in his 2017 documentary “The Problem with Apu,” in which the filmmaker argues that the character’s stereotypical portrayal distorts Americans views of South Asians and contributes to microaggressions and discrimination against Indians.



“Wow. ‘Politically Incorrect?’ That’s the takeaway from my movie & the discussion it sparked? Man, I really loved this show. This is sad,” Mr. Kondabolu said on Twitter.

Sunday’s episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” found Marge Simpson sitting on brainy daughter Lisa’s bed reading a book titled “The Princess in the Garden.” As Marge tries and fails to make the 50-year-old book’s story inoffensive to modern sensibilities, Lisa complains that the story has become pointless.

“What should I do?” Marge asks.

“It’s hard to say,” the 7-year-old says. “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”

Lisa ends her pronouncement by looking at a framed photo of Apu on her nightstand.

“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” Marge says reassuringly.

“If at all,” Lisa says, as both she and Marge turn to stare blankly at the audience.

It was only 16 seconds long, but it was enough to reignite the culture war over minority representation on television and strike a blow against political correctness.

“Et tu, Lisa?” Mr. Kondabolu tweeted.

Robby Soave, an associate editor at the libertarian website Reason said he believes “The Simpsons” successfully handled the “nuance” of the debate.

“It struck me as, ‘Look, we are acknowledging this is controversial. Maybe it was wrong … it’s not going to do good to say, ‘We’re sorry,’ ” he said.

Mr. Soave added that the moment “might have legs,” similar to standup comic Jerry Seinfeld’s 2015 attack on politically correct students.

Known for his “clean” comedy musings, Mr. Seinfeld confessed three years ago that he no longer tours the college circuit because of students’ collective sensitivities. His comments became a rallying cry for those fighting against speech restrictions in comedy.

Mr. Soave also cited Tina Fey’s reaction in 2016 to those who said her “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” sitcom on Netflix was racist. Critics slammed Miss Fey’s show for featuring a white character discovering her Native American heritage.

“She totally shrugged it off,” Mr. Soave said.

That show was only on its second season. “The Simpsons” is on its 29th — and has been a cultural touchstone for much of its run.

” ‘The Simpsons’ is this really iconic cultural phenomena. It’s been with us so long. There’s a weightiness to it,” Mr. Soave said, adding that younger viewers weaned on terminology like “woke” might not see that big picture. “They’re glossing over a history of racism? How dare they!”

Conservative comic/writer Gavin McInnes of CRTV’s “Get Off My Lawn” said “The Simpsons” barely lifted a finger to fight off the PC mob.

“It was a totally irreverent gesture way after the fact,” Mr. McInnes said, noting that the show’s other broad stereotypes rarely get name-checked.

For instance, Groundskeeper Willie, voiced by Dan Castellaneta, is a hard-drinking, rough-and-ready Scot who is always up for fight. And Ned Flanders, voiced by Harry Shearer, is a God-fearing, Bible-thumping do-gooder who irks and bores his less Christian neighbors.

“That’s what cartoons are — exaggerations,” Mr. McInnes said.

He noted that when blacks point out racism and bigotry, there’s a long history to support their concerns. But Indian-Americans today are among the most successful minorities in America, he said.

What Mr. McInnes said he finds ironic is that “The Simpsons” has a left-of-center spirit, portraying white males like patriarch Homer Simpson as almost too dumb to function while attacking President Trump.

Conservatives hoping to strike a blow against political correctness will “have to do a lot better than a Lisa Simpson glance to win the culture war,” he said.

Mr. Khaykin, a writer/director for the political YouTube channel We the Internet, said “The Simpsons” had “no choice but to dig their heels in” over the debate.

“There’s not a line you can draw … it’s a subjective, gray area,” he said. “In the end, there’s a fine line between expressing your point of view and expecting everyone to share it.”

Even Mr. Kondabolu’s parents, as shown in the “Apu” documentary, are indifferent to their son’s cause celebre.

That reflects Mr. Khaykin’s experience on the subject. He grew up in a town with a large Indian population, and he traveled to the subcontinent recently with an Indian friend.

When the subject of the documentary came up, the friend shrugged.

“I don’t know. I think Apu’s funny,” Mr. Khaykin recalled the friend saying.

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