There’s not many TV shows born in the ‘90s that haven’t, rightfully, come under fire in recent years for their offensive nature.
There’s FRIENDS with an always all-white, casually homophobic cast; Sex and The City with its reduction of women down to four people who do nothing but fail the Bechdel Test and slobber over Dior mules all day; even Will & Grace – that revolutionary gay show – has been blasted for playing into stereotypes. Shocker.
The most recent of these once family favourites to come under the harsh fire of us critical millennials is, believe it or not, The Simpsons. While it’s unlikely that a TV show that could run for 28 years, produce 29 seasons and 630 episodes wouldn’t get the odd thing wrong, folks are rightly calling out The Simpsons for far more long-running and offensive issues.
The conversation started last year on the back of Hari Kondabolu’s documentary The Problem With Apu, which took aim at uncovering how a reductive portrayal of an Indian person as a shopkeeper and constant punch-line informed so much of his treatment by other people growing up.
In the documentary, he talks about representation and how harmful it is when done wrong. He goes onto interview people of colour from Whoopi Goldberg to some of his close friends about just how hard it can be when the only visions of yourself on screen are offensive and… “voiced by a white guy!”
Hank Azaria, one of the most integral voice actors from the show, told the Television Critics Association earlier this year:
The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on ‘The Simpsons,’ the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing,”“And especially in post 9/11 America, the idea that anybody was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally.
The Simpsons has since been scrutinised over for its inclusion of jokes about sexual assault, homosexuality, religion and its portrayal of other cultures.
We must remember that a show as adored and ubiquitous as The Simpsons informs culture and cultural understandings at a huge scale. When racial, sexual, or gender based stereotypes are pedalled for the sake of a laugh, it doesn’t take long for those offensive portrayals of certain characters to cross-over into people’s real life viewpoints.
Are we saying you shouldn’t be watching The Simpsons? Yes, probably. But if you choose to carry on – make sure it’s with one eye on the subtle stereotypes it uses to represent certain characters.