Matt Groening is doubling down on his previous comments that people are primed to collectively take offense to news items in popular culture, like his Simpsons character Apu, which has been accused of racism and perpetuating unflattering ethnic stereotypes.
In a new interview in The New York Times published Wednesday, Groening says that his much-quoted comment, "People love to pretend they’re offended," from a USA Today story about the Indian-American character, who is voiced by a white actor, was directed at the culture at large and not the Apu controversy.
"That wasn’t specifically about Apu. That was about our culture in general. And that’s something I’ve noticed for the last 25 years. There is the outrage of the week and it comes and goes," he said. "I think particularly right now, people feel so aggrieved and crazed and powerless that they’re picking the wrong battles."
Mainstream debate around the Apu character initially took off in November, when Hari Kondabolu's documentary The Problem With Apu, which elaborates on ethnic stereotypes that the character has perpetuated, was released. In April, the white voice actor for the Indian-American neighbor character, Hank Azaria, said he would be happy to "step aside" given the outcry over the character.
Later that month, The Simpsons seemingly made an attempt to address the controversy when Lisa and Marge Simpson have a brief conversation about things that were once "applauded" and are now "politically incorrect." Marge tells Lisa, “Some things will be dealt with at a later date,” to which Lisa replies, “If at all.” The moment was widely discussed, as well as criticized, in social and news media.
When asked what he thought about reaction to the episode, "No Good Read Goes Unpunished," Groening said, "Well, I love Apu. I love the character, and it makes me feel bad that it makes other people feel bad. But on the other hand, it’s tainted now — the conversation, there’s no nuance to the conversation now. It seems very, very clunky."
Going forward, the Simpsons creator said, he's not sure how Apu will be handled. "If we come up with a good story we’ll do it, but some of the stuff the show got taken to task for, we covered in an episode a couple of years ago [in 2016’s "Much Apu About Something” episode]. Oh well," Groening said.
He also addressed Kondabolu's documentary and complaints. On Twitter last month, Kondabolu extended an invitation to Groening to grab coffee at the upcoming San Diego Comic-Con.
"Sure, and my guess is I agree, politically, with 99 percent of the things that Hari Kondabolu believes. We just disagree on Apu," the Simpsons creator said.
Groening then challenged his interviewer to come up with a better Indian animated character than Apu in the last 30 years: "I am sorry that The Simpsons would be criticized for having an Indian character that, because of our extraordinary popularity — I expected other people to do it. I go, maybe he’s a problem, but who’s better? Who’s a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years?"
Groening has a new Netflix series premiering next month, Disenchantment, a parody of animated fairy tales that will feature voice acting from Abbi Jacobson, Nat Faxon and Eric Andre. The Times interview was an excerpt from a conversation about the new show, which will be featured in another story for the publication.