The Simpsons, Season Seven, Episode Twenty-Two, “Much Apu About Nothing”

The thing that bothered me most about the Apu controversy (which, for those who don’t know, was when comedian Hari Kondabolu released a documentary called The Problem With Apu that highlighted both Apu’s effect on the Indian-American community as racists used him as a taunt, and the racist reasoning that went into Apu’s creation in the first place) was that it felt like a betrayal of the show’s empathetic ethos; apparently the show’s creators have an easier time empathising with a fictional old white evil plutocrat than the real people affected by their show. It actually makes this episode harder to watch, being that it’s about Homer coming to realise his political action against immigrants is coming back on a specific immigrant he cares about, personalising what is otherwise an abstract issue to him. It’s a potent story; I know how much my attitude towards transgender people has shifted over the past decade simply from getting to know a lot of them in one form or another over, and I know how many older people talked about how their attitudes towards queer people shifted because their children came out, and that ultimately their sense of family won out over their homophobia (I am, of course, aware of when this has not happened and people chose bigotry over family). It’s fun to watch this kind of story play out in twenty-two minutes, and it’s even enhanced by slyly subverting it at first; Homer has to earn his empathy for Apu. It’s interesting how the first act delves into the same angry mob logic the show has explored, but it’s contextualised by Homer’s growth.

Although this is also the deepest look into angry mob logic the show has done so far. It’s hard to talk about it without regurgitating what the show itself explains perfectly well, so I’m just going to do that: Homer overreacts to a single bear attack and insists on a massive solution that’s completely unnecessary, only to react poorly to how much the solution costs (which Quimby then, of course, blames on immigrants). It’s almost blatantly obvious to me now, watching people decide this thing right here in the present moment is the worst thing anyone has ever experienced, demanding it all be fixed forever, and considering neither the past nor the future in Fixing The Worst Problem Ever Right Now Forever. At the same time, it’s something that’s obvious because I watched this exact episode at a formative age and it was in the back of my head whenever I saw things like internet mobs caught up in rage at the latest Problem. There are things that are so obvious that they don’t need to be said, and there are things that are obvious to the point they shouldn’t be ignored, and “Much Apu About Nothing” shows the destructive power of a mob; in my experience, there’s not much you can do to stop the mob (or steer it in wise directions), but you can at least choose not to be a part of it, and I find I can live with myself easier when I don’t get caught up in mob justice.

This all leads up to the show’s discussion on immigrants and the way they fit into American culture. I feel like the show is stacking the deck slightly by making Apu as noble as possible; he stayed in America past his visa because he was working hard and running a business, as if to pre-empt the idea of immigrants as ‘lazy’ and of them taking advantage of America. I mean, I don’t doubt that people like Apu exist – here in Australia in 2019, immigrants are slandered with a reputation of being lazy despite being more willing to do the crappy grunt work, just as they were in America in 1996 and are now – but I think there are certain things you do and don’t do to other human beings regardless of how much you like them or what they’ve done. That said, if you roll with Apu’s nobility, it does reveal certain truths about the American people; Homer is an all-American white guy, entitled to everything an American can have, and he knows almost nothing about his own country’s history or political process, which, again, matches my experiences here in Australia with people who loudly proclaim the qualities of Australia while having at best a superficial knowledge of it. Oddly enough, I think the thing that best sells Apu’s ability to claim himself an American is that he’s a regular character on the show. We like Apu, or at least we know Apu, and he knows us, and he’s made himself a part of our lives.

Chalkboard Gag: N/A
Couch Gag: A hunter walks in, with the family’s heads on walls and a rug Homer.

This episode was written by David S Cohen and directed by Susie Dietter. Oddly enough, this does feel more like a Futurama episode than a Simpsons one in terms of the feel of the comedy; it feels blunter and wackier than the show normally is. Say what you will about a white guy playing an Indian man with a stereotypical accent, I love Hank Azaria’s take on Apu trying to fake an American accent. I love the goofy image of the bear wandering through suburbia, underlined by a tuba. I don’t think any of the staff will say that bears aren’t dangerous, but this is such a great joke about how animals are more afraid of us than we are of them.

“Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday.” / “Later that day…” is the hardest I’ve ever seen my best friend laugh at The Simpsons. Manjula pops up! Lisa has a classic moment of suddenly being a little kid (“Can I have this licorice?”). I love the little touch of Moe being hypocritical and actually being an illegal immigrant. There’s a joke where Apu is asked about the cause of the Civil War and starts to talk about economic reasons on top of abolitionism, only to be just down with “Just say slavery.” Needless to say, this is not the fashionable perspective on the American Civil War here in 2019.

Iconic Moments: “Think of the children!” | Lisa and Homer’s discussion on the rock that keeps tigers away must have been so many children’s introduction to correlation not implying causation. | “Are these morons getting dumber or just louder?” | “Immygants! I knew it was dem!” | The Springfield Heights Institute of Technology is a classic ‘joke people didn’t get as a kid’. | “I predict that in one hundred years, computers will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest kings of Europe will own them.” | “Democracy doesn’t work!” is a reheat of an older line, but it’s still funny.
Biggest Laugh