When The Problem With Apu, the TruTV documentary spearheaded by Hari Kondabolu, came out last fall, the comedian did the usual press rounds for the film—including an interview with me for my Slate podcast Represent—calling attention to the racist legacy of The Simpsons’ famed Indian-American character. The show’s team remained mostly silent (Kondabolu was unable to get Hank Azaria, the voice behind Apu, to agree to an on-camera conversation, though a former Simpsons writer, Dana Gould, appears in the film), and The Simpsons continued to exist as it has for years.
Then earlier this month, The Simpsons finally addressed The Problem With Apu directly with the episode “No Good Read Goes Unpunished,” in which Apu is compared to a fictional author whose old books contain views that would be widely considered appalling in the present day. “What can you do?” Lisa and Marge conclude, resignedly.
Kondabolu recently returned to Represent along with his brother and frequent collaborator Ashok for an upcoming episode, and spoke with me about his reaction to “No Good Read.” (This conversation took place the day before Azaria appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to advocate for listening to the criticisms of the South Asian community and suggest that he’d be willing to “step aside” from voicing the character.) Kondabolu took issue with the idea that a show like The Simpsons is just a product of its time, saying, “When something is still a living, breathing thing like [this], it’s still something that gets shaped actively, it’s not just a matter of ‘It was in the past.’ It actually has the possibility of rewriting history a little bit and still being interesting.”
Kondabolu also criticized the very notion of “political correctness,” telling me that it “doesn’t mean anything” and is a “placeholder term” used to dismiss another person’s argument without getting into the specifics of the debate. He added:
Honestly, I wasn’t trying to troll, but if I was, I won. You’re not supposed to respond to me, you’re The Simpsons! You’re supposed to just keep going, pretend nothing happened. The fact that they buckled like that, to me, is also an indication of, like, white fragility.
Oh my god, so somebody on a cable network said something about your show that’s been on for 30 years, and everyone obviously loves you and they don’t really know what my critique completely is, but still, because it damaged you in some small way, all the white writers freaked out and destroyed [the character of] Lisa. What is that?
That’s white fragility.