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The Problem with Apu

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In this documentary, Hari explains why he’s so vexxed with the Simpsons character Apu. It has to do with how he’s voiced by a white character and he’s a South East Asian stereotype that borders on minstelsy. While I understand his perspective, I’m not sure what you can do about it outside of more representation.

His main issue is that Apu plays up southeast asian stereotypes. Thing is, all the characters in The Simpsons play up stereotypes. Fat homer, deadbeat cop, fat cat tycoon and so on. The issue with Apu is that while those other groups have other forms of representation, where southeast asian reputation was scare (at the time anyway). Also, there’s the question of power in whether something is funny or not. As the progressive theory of comedy goes, comedy should be about punching up rather than down1. Making this worse is that the white actor didn’t have an issue voicing him and the very white writing room didn’t have any problems with it either.

In all, a decent documentary which underscores the need for more representation in media. Hopefully with more stories we can have less stereotypical views of others. On the other hand, I’m not sure many comics want to work towards it given how you can make transphobic jokes and earn millions for doing so. As the one person in the show said, to them Apu is just another character who’s just meant to be funny regardless of means. Though there are improvements to southwast asian representation, there’s still a long way to go.


  1. Not so sure about this. Clearly people find offensive and even “punching down” comics given that people go to their shows. Then again, upper classes were the main target of comedy throuhout history evidenced by the Aristocrats joke↩︎