The Apu Nahasapeemapetilon controversy shows that Generation Z is paying more and more attention to everything we consume, down to a Simpsons character.
Deliberately stereotypical characters like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon from The Simpsons have sparked controversy recently, stirring up debate about appropriation versus appreciation. Apu Nahasapeemapetilon: “I can recite pi to 40,000 places. The last digit is 1.”
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon is an Indian immigrant to America, who despite his multiple doctoral degrees in engineering and computer science, works at a convenience store. He’s also one of the lead recurring characters in The Simpsons, which has come under scrutiny in recent weeks regarding his stereotypical portrayal. A new documentary by Indian-American standup comedian Hari Kondabolu highlights the social-media fueled firestorms about Abu. He criticized the character’s racist nature, pointing to it as an example of Asian portrayal on television as a servile comic relief. This reignited online fury regarding Apu, causing the Simpsons to respond. The Simpsons premiered an episode on April 8th, 2018 responding to these criticisms. Lisa, a typically progressive character, turns to face the camera and says “something that was started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” She then points to a picture of Apu, the words ‘Don’t have a cow’ written over it, a subtle dig at the stereotype of Indians viewing cows as a sacred animal.
At the root of this conversation isn’t just a question of what we consume in media, or even whether characters like Apu are offensive. The debate over offensive comedy is far from new. But, perhaps, the concept of cultural appropriation is. A term encompassing everything from Vanessa Hudgens’ usage of bindi for festivals, to Hillary Duff’s Native American Halloween costume (a debate that even took over my campus for a while, resulting in multiple campus-wide protests and faculty resignations)—cultural appropriation seems like a term in everyone’s vernacular nowadays. Cultural appropriation is only one tenet of a newly emerging political narrative: correctness. The politically correct are delicate, too willing to please, censoring. They’re viewed as militant liberals, social justice warriors—and there’s an intense pushback against “PC culture”. President Trump has even incorporated that rhetoric in his own proclamations, intent on always being politically incorrect in lieu of being censored, of lying to the public.
The narrative centers around a certain demographic, Generation Z. Young people are most commonly demonized as “special snowflakes” (an actual term used to describe us Yalies so often that we’ve adopted it ourselves satirically), too clean, afraid of conflict.
The concept of correctness is a mechanism to increase the generation gap: by painting millennials and Gen-Z-ers, as politically, socially, idealistically different, both parties are hurt by increased separation.
College campuses particularly fall victim to this new narrative— opinions of highly-educated youth are dismissed as fringe thoughts, childish behavior.
The controversy regarding Parkland leader David Hogg’s rejection from UC schools being characterized as the “left’s propaganda” by Fox News commentator Laura Ingraham depicts this conflict well: David’s opinions are a part of a larger story that Generation Z is entitled, spoiled, militant, weak, and alongside that, politically correct. Further, the rhetoric highlights an increasing interaction between politics and social justice culture: to stand up for the social left means you must align with the political left, and vice versa. The shift in political tides has turned from economic theories like Keynesian economics and Reaganomics to social issue voting, whether that be same-sex marriage, and more.
Is deeming Generation Z too politically correct out of anger? Fear? Or is it the fair characterization of an increasingly censored, political culture?
It’s probably a combination of all, and many more reasons we may never know. What we can definitively say is this: my generation is paying more and more attention to everything we consume, down to a Simpsons character. And if the fiery, politically correct spirit is what’s invigorating youth political engagement, then these controversies can only do good.