What this Indian-American thinks about Apu

While on the topic of race and media, someone asks me, “What do you think about Apu?”

I didn’t want to get into a serious discussion that time. So, my response about that stereotypical character was, “I think Apu is a fucking genius.”

Think about it. While the rest of us spent our resources on college degrees only to have a dead-end job and student loans, Apu was building assets. He understood the concept of assets and finance better than most young adults. Many immigrants understand the dream of owning your own business and how to run it. I heard of immigrant families who own several corner shops, gifting a store to their child when he or she grows up. They work very hard to be able to send their kids to college and have better opportunities. Their kids probably learned job skills and responsibility by helping their parents.

I’m no way against a college education. I only wish more people of my generation or younger gained valuable skills with their degrees. Now, we have many millenials who have degrees but no real life skills. And, let’s not get into financial illiteracy among young people. I wasn’t a spendthrift. I was sensible and saved. Yet, I would have done better at a younger age with the basic knowledge that I have now. Parents don’t talk to their kids about sex and money.

Apu with his heavy accent and quirks, unlike the typical millenial has more assets. So yes, he is a genius. Genius isn’t just limited to degrees alone. How many college educated idiots have we encountered?

We both had a good laugh.

I don’t see a reason to be offended either, even though some kids in junior high teased me with the accent.

Apu is a comic figure. But then again, The Simpsons is comedy that makes fun of everyone with stereotypes, including Homer, the stupid American white man who’s obese, couch potato, and a buffoon. And, then the religious and well-meaning but terribly naive Flanders. If there are stereotypes, it has to be equal opportunity. I’d have a problem if all white characters had heroic traits but characters of other races were portrayed negatively.

This idea of a stupid man like Homer not new and not because of feminists. The archetype of a normal, intelligent, or sly wife married to a buffoon husband appeared in English theatre as early as the 17th century. Back then, people would be laughing. Male audience members would laugh at that fool, because the idiot man of the house does everything wrong. These plays were primarily written for a male audience. But somewhere down the line, it seems some people forgot irony and the fool archetype. It’s figurative.

As for the stereotype, I admit it was annoying when kids in junior high would tease me making references  to Apu and mimicking the accent. I used to hate it and quietly cried in the bathroom. Later, one older high school Indian girl suggested making fun of them back and explained to me how self-depreciating humor worked. The next time when it happened, I mustered my strength and laughed out loud instead of being embarrassed. The kid looked confused. I started mimicking a valley girl voice and saying, “You ain’t  saying it right, white boy. Let me show you how it’s done.” Things changed around. I was only 11 years old that time with all the self-conscious, worry about fitting in, fluctuating self-esteem, and everything else that came with puberty and early adolescence. I have yet to meet an adult who’d like to relive the awkward junior high stage of life.

Self-depreciating humor is an art form. That’s why we got Russell Peters and Louis C.K. And, then there’s Aziz Ansari and Tina Fey who validate me for the awkward but edgy 30-something phase. It’s validating to know that I don’t have to have all together at this magic number 3-0. I’m wiser, stable, and know what I want, yet still searching and seeking. That’d continue till my death. Intellectual curiosity is what makes you alive, otherwise you are “dead” inside.

Self-depreciation is a light, underhanded way of saying “fuck you” or “in your face” to prejudice or any other wrongs. The joke’s on them–either the idea or person. Some don’t get it. But, hey I’d hate to be around people who I have to explain every single thing.

It works even on those annoying Indian aunties who comment on your weight everytime they see me. My answer to, “Mone, you look like you lost weight” was,

“I know. Isn’t it great? That means there’s more of me to love.”

Meanwhile, I’ve watched every episode of Simpsons. I’m excited about Aziz Ansari being the first South Asian to host SNL.

I refer to the gas station/corner shop across my house as the Qwik-E-Mart across, because it is run by an Indian family. A few days ago, I discovered that this place carries European chocolates like Flake and Bounty. Thanks to these geniuses, I don’t need to wait to drive across town to the import store or Wegmans.

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