September 29, 2022

Gabbing Geek

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Simpsons Did It!: “No Good Read Goes Unpunished”

In which the show screws up big time.

So, this is the most infamous episode of the last year.

Yeah, it’s as bad as people say.

There are two plots going on here.  After Marge forces the family to go to a bookstore, Bart gets his hands on Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and uses the book to get tips to get Homer to take Bart to a “Tunnelcraft” convention.  In an amusing joke, and there aren’t many for this one, Homer meets guest star Danile Radcliffe there cosplaying because it’s the only way Radcliffe can go to any convention, and when Homer removes the mask, screaming fans mob the guy who knows Rupert Grint.  Then Homer finds the book and gets back at Bart.  Sun Tzu’s narration is provided by Silicon Valley‘s Jimmy O. Yang.

But then there’s the Marge and Lisa plot.

See, Marge opts to get a book from her childhood, some hundred+ year old book about a girl living in colonial India, and as she tries to read one of her childhood favorites to progressive conscience of the show Lisa, she realizes the book is, well, horrible in many ways by modern standards.  There’s racism and slavery and all the sorts of things Lisa hates, and when Marge tries to edit that stuff out, Lisa asks where the character conflict is that provides a satisfying narrative.  So far, so good.  But then Lisa and Marge talk about how times change, and it is Lisa of all people, the progressive conscience of the show, who says that sometimes things that were seen as innocent before and are less so now and sometimes those things will never be addressed…while sitting next to a framed photo of Apu.

Look, there isn’t much I can say about how The Simpsons treats Apu as a character or this particular incident that hasn’t been said before and much better than I could by other people.  This here is an admittance that when The Simpsons started, Apu and his accent were considered acceptable.  It wasn’t that Indian people weren’t offended by Apu.  It was more like they didn’t have a loud enough voice for people to hear those complaints.  Well, they have that voice now.  And what did The Simpsons do to acknowledge very recent complaints and charges by Indians who, though fans of the show, were still not happy with Apu?  Have Lisa–LISA–say essentially that chances are good nothing will ever change and maybe we shouldn’t get bent out of shape.

There’s a difference between racial and cultural issues in works of art that over a century old.  We should probably even expect such things there.  But there is a real problem when something made in the here and now can’t step back and admit fault and try to change for the better.

Maybe when Hank Azaria said he would think it’s time to recast Apu with an Indian actor, that’s a sign, but he doesn’t make those decisions unless he decides to refuse to voice Apu going forward.

Then again, we’re looking at season thirty in the fall.  Maybe we shouldn’t be planning that far ahead one way or the other.  It’s probably only a matter of time before members of the voice cast start dying of old age.

Now that’s a depressing thought.  Let’s move on.

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