The Simpsons show-runner and Harvard graduate Al Jean is going almost full Roseanne on Twitter right now. After a week of criticism of his show’s pathetic shrug of a response to Hari Kondabolu’s The Problem with Apu, Jean is running his own interference by tweeting conservative media and retweeting people shitting on Kondabolu. It’s a sight to be hold, if a sadly, increasingly common sight: the creator of something shitty defending that shitty thing by saying “Look, all these other assholes agree with me.”
Last Sunday’s episode, as many others have eloquently written, was an embarrassment. It addressed Kondabolu’s good-hearted criticism of Apu—that both the character and its portrayal by Hank Azaria, a white actor, are steeped in racism—by turning Lisa into a conservative mouthpiece. She looks straight at the audience and says, in a clear reference to Apu: “Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?” Marge responds, bafflingly,“Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” and Lisa concludes, “If at all.”
I think BoJack Horseman creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg summed it up best when he tweeted, “Imagine choosing to describe yourself and your work as ‘applauded and inoffensive.’”
Jean, one of The Simpsons’ original writers and its show-runner since 2001 (with several stints before), has spent the last 18 hours or so summoning conservative responses to the controversy in his defense. It may surprise you to hear that the conservative responses are extremely dumb. Most follow the logic: Apu is not racist, and if you think Apu is racist, and even if you have experienced racial aggression somehow stemming from Apu, then you are overreacting. That’s roughly the trajectory of The National Review piece Jean brought to his defense last night, Pradeep Shanker’s “Why the Apu Simpsons Controversy Bothers Me as an Indian American.”
As the comedian and New York Times writer Sopan Deb noted in a Twitter thread, Shanker’s argument falls flat. He writes that Apu’s portrayal is not racist because he is a “traditional Indian immigrant” who has a heavy accent and owns a convenience store. What “buffoonery” he exhibits—for instance, his cost-cutting and sales of shoddy merchandise, as Deb points out—apparently does not amount “in any significant way to racial animus.” He says it’s unfair to The Simpsons of providing fodder for racial animus: without Apu, the people who shouted “Thank you, come again” at Kondabolu simply would have found some other epithet. (Great—so you agree it’s an epithet!) “I can just picture my African-American friends, who grew up being called the N-word on a regular basis, guffawing at the supposed outrage that Indians feel at having quotes from an American cartoon show shouted at them,” he writes, which achieves the neat trick of being both not an argument and a horrendously insulting one. Both are bad! Finally, he concludes that Apu is a character based on stereotype in a show filled with characters based on stereotypes, and more!, that Apu is in fact multi-dimensional, and anyone who asks more of The Simpsons is wrong. In this he misses two key points: that Apu is the only major South Asian character on the show, and that he is voiced by a white actor who based his accent off another white actor’s caricature of an Indian accent. “What more can you ask for,” indeed.
As if it weren’t enough for Jean simply to wield The National Review in his defense, he has repeatedly replied to followers criticizing the article by asking them, well, what’s wrong with it?
I don’t know if Jean is unaware that The National Review was founded to support Jim Crow laws by a guy who argued that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would lead to “chaos” and “mobocratic rule,” or if he simply doesn’t care. Either way he has proven himself a total dumbass. Despite his occasional, belief-straining gestures of agreement with the representation critique, he has pulled one of the oldest cards in the conservative playbook: acting the victim while gleefully lobbing bad-faith criticism at good-faith criticism of his work. Here he is retweeting people telling Kondabolu to shut up:
Here he is pointing out The Problem with Apu’s low IMDb score, then feigning like he doesn’t mean it as an insult:
Here he is telling someone that “80 plus per cent of the public” is on his side, citing, uh, YouTube commenters:
And here he is suggesting that college students are coming for his free speech:
Honestly, I’m not surprised to learn that a rich middle-aged white dude who’s been writing satire for as long as I’ve been alive would turn out to be a whiny conservative little boy. But there’s still something so strange about seeing these people show their asses in real time, and something even stranger about how smugly they do it. He’s just so proud to have stuck it to those damned millennials who want the show they love to do better. What a sad, predictable thing.
Kondabolu’s documentary will receive an encore presentation on truTV this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. For now, I’ll leave you with this tweet by Katie Goldin:
Seth Simons is Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Follow him on Twitter.