The always underrated movie, Atonement, drove home a point that had, over time, fallen into deaf ears. In the movie, a thirteen-year-old girl named Briony witnessed the lover of her older sister doing what Briony perceived to be offensive things. Because she was offended and believed she was righteous, Briony went on a mission to go overboard and ruin the lover and, in effect, the life of her older sister. They never recovered. As an idealistic 21-year-old myself once, it was common for my generation to destroy the careers and ousted anyone who said “Oriental” and “negro”; all the while we were using the words “faggot” and “retarded” chastising them. We didn’t know the offensiveness of our words until the next generation taught us. Some, like myself, were lucky enough to be calmly told it was offensive. Others less fortunate for saying the F and R-word had their careers destroyed, their families threatened, a scarlet letter forever saying they were monsters, bigots and assholes. Atonement’s message is more relevant than ever now in the age of social media. People can go overboard in presenting sensibilities. Those that do, I suspect, have never been on the receiving end.
Now, this article isn’t about whether or not the Simpson’s character Apu is an offensive stereotype. Let me acknowledge immediately that it is. It’s not even certain that the Simpsons will actually remove Apu, even though that’s been what they’re claiming to do. In that spirit, if a bunch of Christians wanted Ned Flanders removed, I’m not going to be a hypocrite and defend Ned Flanders either. But Apu is Asian and it hits closer to home for me. Jeet Heer, in his The New Republic article, says it best when he writes: “Apu is now a slur more than he is a character.” That alone should solidify why Apu must go. Also, to many people’s disappointment, in an episode last April, the writers had character Lisa Simpson quoting the following line in response, “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
The “you” in that question was originally meant for the creators themselves. The white creators. But perhaps that “you” should be us, the Asian community. What can *we* do?
Asian Diaspora is once again tested to choose the wiser reaction. We have The Simpsons by the balls. We’re in Briony’s position from Atonement. It’s easy to say Matt Groening and company are racists who’ve plotted the stereotypes of Indian-Americans. We can do that and people will believe us. We can destroy the Simpsons, but is this the direction Asian Diaspora want to go? I’m getting more disturbed about the bloodthirstiness that’s possessing our community. On one hand, the bloodthirstiness is a natural consequence from the spirit of assimilation that’s failed us. On the other hand, I know the Briony way isn’t the solution. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is not the hill Asia Diaspora wants to die on. If, and only if, The Simpsons acknowledge that Apu is an offensive stereotype, retire his character and explain that during three decades ago, they weren’t aware Apu was offensive, I think Asian Diaspora should accept that and let it go.
After all, I used to laugh at Apu. Most people did and not all of us were white. We didn’t know better. A lot of stuff we find funny now will be deemed offensive in the next generation. Every generation since the hippies have thought they were special, destined to save the world and can’t do wrong. For Apu, the correct reaction is to fight for Asian creators to create our own characters in own shows. This is the real lesson of Apu. There’ll be more “Apus” and we can spend all our time yelling at white creators to make better Asian characters OR we can roll up our sleeves and do it ourselves. We can make our own shows and call the shots. I think this is a better use of our energy. We will win with a pen, not a sword.