“The Simpsons” showrunner Al Jean hasn’t stopped responding to fans on Twitter since Sunday’s controversial episode, and days of bad publicity don’t seem to be coming to an end. The episode, titled “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” — an ironic title, given the slang usage of “read” as a synonym for criticism in modern social media — was intended to be a commentary on political correctness. Instead, it was met with widespread criticism when it briefly referenced and seemingly shrugged off the controversy surrounding its long-standing supporting character, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.
One of the most known South Asian characters on primetime television, Apu has always been a point of contention for the award-winning show. His exaggerated accent, mannerisms, and quirks are all indicative of offensive Indian stereotypes, further exacerbated by the fact that his voice actor (Hank Azaria) isn’t even Indian. A 2017 documentary, “The Problem with Apu,” finally brought the issues to the attention of viewers who were perhaps unaware of the controversy.
In response, Jean and Azaria promised that the controversy would finally be brought up on the show, with the former even tweeting:
.@TheSimpsons New Simpsons in five minutes. Twitter explosion in act three.
— Al Jean (@AlJean) April 8, 2018
The so-called “explosion” is a shoehorned scene with Marge and Lisa. After Marge tries and failed to make a childhood book politically correct, she asks her daughter how to address the issue. Lisa, replies that “something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect. What can you do?”
She looks at a framed photo of Apu by her bed. “Don’t have a cow,” it reads.
And that’s it. That’s how “The Simpsons” addresses the long-awaited response to a racist caricature. Days later, Jean was back on Twitter again, saying:
Can't wait to see what's on my twitter account today!
— Al Jean (@AlJean) April 12, 2018
The lackadaisical response only gained more ire from fans and critics alike, kickstarting a week of Twitter wars between the showrunner and nearly every person who replied to his comments. Jean even linked an article to the conservative site “National Review” to defend the continued use of the character.
Some fans used equally incendiary language toward the showrunner. Others wondered why it was so difficult for him to admit his wrongdoing.
Do you know how easy it is to put this to bed? Really. Just saying, “Hey, we understand that this was hurtful now. It’s not what we wanted, but that’s what it is. We apologize, and are going to learn to create something less hurtful to many of our fans.” This is the wrong battle
— Ironic Moniker (@IronicMoniker1) April 13, 2018
Additionally, the episode was poorly received and viewed by critics as indicative of a larger series problem, most notably by Dennis Perkins of “The A.V. Club.” “Man, is this episode unfunny,” he writes, before going on to ask in the review: “Why are present-day Simpsons writers averse to telling a main story?”
Following the weeklong Twitter war, Jean seemed to somewhat remove himself from the issue, at least for now.
.@TheSimpsons I truly appreciate all responses pro and con. Will continue to try to find an answer that is popular & more important right
— Al Jean (@AlJean) April 13, 2018
But the aftermath of this social media war now seems to raise new questions: How can a show that’s won numerous accolades for its wit continue to rely on sloppy racial humor? And what “popular” answer will Jean come up with next?
“The Simpsons” advised its viewers to not have a cow over Apu. If Jean’s Twitter is any indication, it seems that it was unable to follow its own advice.