'The Simpsons' finally addressed the controversy surrounding Apu, but missed the point.

In November 2017, comedian Hari Kondabolu released a documentary called "The Problem With Apu."

The TruTV feature was a pretty powerful look into the life of Kondabolu and other South Asian actors who've struggled to sidestep the stereotype of "The Simpsons"' Kwik-E-Mart proprietor, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (a character voiced by Hank Azaria).

Throughout the documentary, Kondabolu tries and fails to get Azaria to agree to an on-camera interview about the character.


Nearly five months after the film's release, "The Simpsons" finally issued a response of sorts — though it's still unclear whether they actually understand the issue.

In the April 8 episode "No Good Read Goes Unpunished," Marge is seen reading a story to Lisa, struggling to update an outdated passage for the modern age.

"Well, what am I supposed to do?" Marge asks.

Lisa responds, rolling her eyes, "Something that started decades ago and was applauded and inoffensive is now politically incorrect... What can you do?"

All GIFs from "The Simpsons."

The shot pans out, showing a photo of Apu next to Lisa's bed.

"Some things will be dealt with at a later date," says Marge.

Lisa responds, "If at all." The two look directly at the audience. The segment seems to be a clear dismissal of Kondabolu's criticism.

The entire point of "The Problem With Apu" was to use pop culture as a starting point for a larger discussion about representation, not to urge for the censorship of past works.

Anyone who's actually seen the film knows that Kondabolu's hope was to see more authentic portrayals of marginalized people so that inaccurate and stereotypical versions are no longer the primary cultural point of reference.

In other words, the stereotypical Apu wouldn't be so bad if there were other diverse South Asian voices and characters in the media. "The Simpsons" didn't create the problem, but they could help solve it by taking steps to add additional characters that better represent and humanize those who are underrepresented.

The show's response suggests that won't be happening.

"If you only have a handful of images, and that's what defines a large group of people," Kondabolu said in an interview around the time of the documentary's release, "then each time you have a negative image or you go after that particular group, that's a big thing."

"We just have to control our stories to the best of our ability," he said. "That part's on us. I think that we need to call out portrayals when they are inaccurate, when they are homophobic, when they are transphobic, when they're racist and sexist, and when there's fundamental things about them that are not true about an experience."

Kondabolu is not "offended" by Apu. That needs to be made clear.

The backlash to the backlash (which, sadly, seems to be a thing these days) over Apu seems to hinge on the argument that people are just too easily offended these days, or something about "PC culture run amok!"

"Imagine getting butthurt about a cartoon character," one person tweeted at Kondabolu.

Again, though, it's not about offense.

People are disappointed the show wouldn't so much as engage in this discussion without distorting it to be about "political correctness." Kondabolu didn't call for Apu's banishment, for him to be scrubbed from past episodes, or anything of the sort. He simply wanted to have a discussion about the role pop culture plays in our lives and how we see others.

The reason people are upset with how "The Simpsons" responded is that they sidestepped the issue altogether and tried to reframe it as being about offense. It's not.

W. Kamau Bell, host of CNN's "United Shades of America," broke down why he stands with Kondabolu in trying to have these tough conversations.

We can never stop having discussions just because they're challenging, and we can never allow issues of representation be reframed as unimportant. This discussion matters — and Kondabolu was brave for trying to start it.

Bell's entire Twitter thread is worth reading, but these three tweets sum up the argument well:

"The Simpsons" may have dropped the ball on their response, but that doesn't mean Kondabolu and others will give up in the fight for better, more accurate media representation.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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