Question of the Week: Is Kwik-E-Mart’s Apu promoting a stereotype?

Like every other blogger and their cousin, I headed to the Kwik-E-Mart recently – the one in Burbank specifically – and had maybe just a little less fun than everyone else. After all, with the gazillion photos already posted from the madeover 7-11, there was little I hadn’t seen.

But as I watched some of the Indian staffers smile for the cameras, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might be more humiliating than fun. After all, they weren’t having their photos taken because of their Kwik-E-Mart uniforms – but for the color of their skin.

Manish at Racialicious writes this is all racist “in the extreme”:

There’s no other character in the Simpsons where a small, relatively new minority is the butt of a crude ethnic joke… Apu is such the icon of racist taunts against Indians in America, when Kal Penn takes back the phrase ‘Thank you, come again’ in Harold and Kumar, it’s a key applause point.

I think it would be disingenuous to pretend that on any average day, one wouldn’t expect to find a man or woman of Indian descent behind the counter of a Los Angeles area 7-11. But I’ve never personally encountered anyone who sees a man or woman of Indian decent walking down the street and assuming they work at a convenience store.

Anyway, I find myself in one of those moral quandries, wondering if I should be offended, or if I just think I should be offended.

What do you think? Is 20th Century Fox’s “Simpsons Movie” promotion creating a stereotype of Indian Americans?

…photo by ax2groin, used under Creative Commons… much more blog coverage and discussion on the subject at Buzzfeed

Sidebar: According to the Movieweb blog, Fox even went so far as to replace the usual employees of the 7-11s with non-Indian actors with makeup:

They have makeup on to make them look East Indian. Yes – you read that right. So, they displaced the ACTUAL minority employees for FAKE minority employees. There are only 12 Kwik E Marts in the entire United States, so I’m sure this was to prevent theft of the collectable [sic] stuff.

Since this claim lacks any legitimate sourcing, I’m calling bullshit on it. It sounds like an urban legend that is being spread in the long lines outside the convenience stores… lets see how long before it hits Snopes.

12 Replies to “Question of the Week: Is Kwik-E-Mart’s Apu promoting a stereotype?”

  1. Is 20th Century Fox’s “Simpsons Movie” promotion creating a stereotype of Indian Americans?

    Hasn’t Apu been a slightly racist stereotype for almost twenty years now?

  2. Um…everything about The Simpsons is stereotype…that is why it is funny! That is the whole freakin’ point! DOH!

    And man oh man…we really need to laugh at ourselves.

    Taking some things a bit too seriously and then some things, not seriously enough.

    Moral quandary should be reserved for things like violations of constitutional rights and illegal wars started by fascist governments.

    What? I am just saying!

  3. I agree with Sonia completly.
    And a sidenote….I would totally go to 7-11 more if they had some nappy headed ho’s working there instead of all the indians. Being the completly drunk Irish lesbian that I am!

  4. While Apu may be a stereotype and the subject of jokes lets not forget about who receives the brunt of the lampooning on “The Simpsons” Homer – a typical white American male who is fat, balding and dumb – and Ned – a convservative Christian – are the but end of the best jokes on the shows going on 20 years.

    In fact most of the white (yellow) people on the show are portrayed as idiots while Apu has a degree from Calcutta Tech. Another stereotype to be sure, but not necessarily a bad one…

  5. After all, they weren’t having their photos taken because of their Kwik-E-Mart uniforms – but for the color of their skin.

    I doubt people would be taking pictures of them were they not in the Kwik-E-Mart uniforms. I personally would take a picture of an Irishman were he working at a 7-11 in a Kwik-E-Mart uniform. That said, Apu certainly began as a simple stereotype but he has been fleshed out into a complex character over the show’s life. In the present show, Homer is a more one-dimensional, stereotypical character than Apu.

  6. I got an email about this a few weeks ago. It didn’t surprise me that the Simpsons would promote ethnic stereotypes, but I visited the Kwik-E-Mart in Burbank with friends anyway. It was weird.

    The woman ringing us up was wearing a Kwik-E-Mart uniform teacher over traditional Indian garb. She was also wearing a lot of makeup. She didn’t speak with any sort of strong Indian accent, but she did look rather annoyed when a man asked her to pose for a photo.

    More comments on the issue: http://www.ultrabrown.com/posts/step-n-dispense-it

  7. I think it should be read as “satire”.

    I’ve never thought that the Simpsons was saying, “He’s so funny and strange and an object of ridicule because he’s an Indian”.

  8. I think most people here are missing the point – I’m less concerned about Apu the character than people running into these real life Kwik-E-Marts and laughing that “Apu really works there!”

  9. I think it has a lot to do with the employees who are involved. If they were in any way pressured into participating then it is clearly wrong. If, however, they are happily participating in the satire then the only issue can be with how people treat them. I haven’t heard any reports of anyone disrespecting a kwik-e-mart employee yet, though that’s not to say they haven’t.

    But I do think it’s WAY off-base to accuse the Simpsons of singly-targeting Apu as an ethnic stereotype. EVERY character on the show is an iconic stereotype. Aside from previously mentioned Homer and Ned you have Wiggum the bumbling chief of police, Quimby the bribe-taking/womanizing politician, Burns the greedy/soulless corporation…. the Italian mafia, the bullies from the broken homes, the math-smart/friendless/vegan daughter, the skateboarding/barely literate son, the nagging stay-at-home mom…

    The whole concept of the show is that every character in Springfield is an iconic personification of the worst qualities of their stereotypical real-life counterpart.

    For this reason I do think it was gutsy of 7-11 to do this ad campaign. But I really don’t think it’s slowing our evolution as a society. If anything, spurring these conversations is helping move it forward.

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