Apu. (Gezundheit.)

Look who’s visiting from Hamilton and preventing any work from getting done:

No Sneezing At My Money

I’m a very lucky man. I’ve always known that. Well, more precisely, improbable things tend to happen to me. I play all those expensive hospital lotteries every year, because I figure that at least the money goes to a very deserving cause that will likely benefit me or my loved ones one day soon.

So you won’t be shocked to learn that every year I usually win something, even a small thing.  That’s right. I’m a lottery winner.

Hey, $50 is nothing to sneeze at.

Old Man Logan Airport

Greetings from Boston’s Logan airport, where I arrived three hours early for my flight back to Canada, fully expecting to lounge my time away in the glories of a magical, modern international airport. But no. The Air Canada terminal is a single small room that hasn’t been vacuumed in 25 years. Really not what I was hoping for.

On the plus side, this is the only trip I’ve ever taken –especially to the USA– during which, not only was I *NOT* selected for additional “random” security screening, but all the security dudes were extremely cool, working-class nice to me. You know what I’m about, “Yo, dude, I gotta tell you to take your shoes off, but we both know that’s bullshit.”

Feeling a little nostalgic these days, probably because I binge-watched Stranger Things season 2 last night. I got a little misty-eyed at the end, during the Snowball dance scene. I’m not spoiling any important plot points when I tell you that, in the end, Dustin Henderson‘s dork self thinks he’s a sexy mofo, but requires his friend’s older sister, Nancy Wheeler, to give him a pity dance. It was a sweet scene, which really encapsulates why I love this show so much: it just brings me back to my own dorky youth, which is probably everybody’s dorky youth, especially when it involves the early 80s, Dungeons & Dragons, and alternate realms.

Struggling to kill time here in the airport, I just watched two nerdy shows: The Gifted (which is 27 flavours of AWESOME) and Supergirl (which…. isn’t.) The latter is noteworthy to this blog for one reason and one reason alone… the episode namechecked my favourite character from the atrocious Superman TV show Smallville, Chloe, who was played by the divine Allison Mack,  whose current sex scandal I mentioned here just two days ago.

And while we’re on the topic of callbacks to old Superman shows, a character in the episode used the name Noel Neill, who just happened to have been TV’s first Lois Lane.  I’m old enough to remember when she was the only Lois Lane, and when George Reeves was the one and only Superman. (Kirk Alyn didn’t count.)

On hearing Neill’s name mentioned, I looked her up, and was saddened to learn that she had passed away only last year, at the age of 95. Mind you, she died in the same year as Bowie, Prince, and George Michael, among others, so it’s not surprising that her death was not on my radar. But still… I bid farewell to yet another figure from my extreme youth.

What I want to talk about today, though, is something I think I only I –and about 970 million other people– am uniquely qualified to expound upon.  See, in the new intolerant outrage culture, the threshold for something being “-ist”, whether it be racist, sexist, humanist, Epidemiologist, whatever, is remarkably low.

For example, you know my regular series of “Separated at Birth” faces, in which I point out which famous people resemble each other? Well, just this week, someone wrote this week to complain that I am apparently “transphobic” because I find that Chaz Bono resembles George Zimmerman.

(And that. my friends, is yet one more reason I am avoiding social media these days. The world now has a pickle shortage, since they’re all shoved up righteous asses. And I like pickles.)

Speaking of Sneezing…. Apu!

So apparently the outrage of the week is that Apu from The Simpsons is a racist caricature.

Comedian Hari Kondabolu has made a documentary about his problems with the way Apu is portrayed, about how he is a poor representative of South Asian people. Hari is getting some serious press, including a write-up in the freakin’ New York Times.

Hari and I are both brown guys.  (Which is why I cal him by his first name. We’ve never met, but all brown guys are interchangeable, right?) We are both entitled to an opinion on this, and neither of our opinions is the definitive opinion. So, you white people, don’t go announcing to people that “this is the right way to think about this because a brown guy said so”, choosing whichever brown guy has offered the position that best supports your own. There are billion brown people, half of whom are guys. And so no particular brown guy has a universal or right opinion on this.

And really that’s Hari’s argument, no? There is no one true representation of Indian peeps, and Apu, as sadly the most prominent Indian figure in mainstream American lives, is a stick figure of stereotypes who does not represent any particular Indian person, but merely the worst, most shallow aspects of others’ assumptions of Indian people.

Here’s the thing. I think Hari is right. He’s totally right. The joke with Apu is usually that he’s Indian. Being his race is the joke. That’s problematic on its face.

It can be argued that Homer’s joke is that he’s fat and stupid. Bart’s joke is that he’s bad. Lisa’s joke is that she’s smart and nerdy. Barney’s joke is that he’s a drunk. Mr Burns’s joke is that he’s rich and evil.  And so on. The Simpsons is all about simple representations.

Fair play, you might say. But there’s something problematic when that one note summary is about race, and doubly so when that targeted race is one perceived as preternaturally peaceful, i.e. will not fight back.

It is interesting that the show’s one regular Black character, Carl, is not all about being Black. I suspect, on some level, the writers are aware that that would not be acceptable.

It is further interesting that there isn’t a female character whose single note is that she is female. Can you imagine the shitstorm if every joke about Marge was a stereotype of womanhood? But they do skirt that line, by showing Marge as a stereotypical housewife. So maybe there’s a bit of that, as well.

Apu is voiced by a white man, using an Indian accent that, to my somewhat learned ear, is from no place in India. He is, from the ground up, constructed to be a racialized joke.

Having said all that, I have some affection for Apu. When the show first began, two decades ago (!!), I was actually energized to see a brown face regularly portrayed as part of the neighbourhood, part of this magical community that I adored so much.

And over the years, much like most of the other characters, Apu grew in both complexity and depth. Some of the stereotypes that defined him actually served to elevate him: his corner store job shows that he’s a hardworking everyman; his computer science degree shows that he’s a smart man; and of course he knows Paul McCartney, because all vegetarians know each other.

Frankly, I have come to accept Apu as one of the most adult and honourable characters on the show, which is a far cry from the simplistic foreign funny-voiced guy he’s often described as.

So, if you ask me (and no one has), Apu gets a pass. I get it. Hari is right about Apu being, for lack of a better word, problematic. But I feel his contribution is more positive than negative. And, truth be told, I always look forward to Apu-centric episodes.

That’s my personal take. Others will disagree, and they are not wrong to do so, Much like Apu himself, this is not as simple a thing as it might first appear.

 

 

 

  • Chantal Schuelke Bon

    ohmyGod…..I did NOT make the Chaz/Zimmerman connection, but YOU. ARE. ON. POINT! Did you watch American Horror Story:Cult? TOTALY on point!!! I literally kept thinking he reminded me of someone, but I think I buried ol’ George like a bad child abuse memory or something.

    • deonandan

      seeing things that look like other things is my super power