Color Coded: The Simpsons

After Homer catches Bart rooting for Springfield’s football rival, the Boston Americans, he plans a family “hate-cation” trip to Boston in an attempt to show Bart that Boston is a terrible city on the episode “The Town”

Photo credit: Fox

Recently, I saw a Twitter user respond to Hari Kondabolu’s continued irritation at The Simpsons’ blatant disregard for his message in his documentary The Problem with Apu, which rightly critiqued the intent behind the character Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. The Twitter user stated that Kondabolu couldn’t be mad about Apu because the Simpsons themselves are yellow.

How naive.

The Simpsons might be yellow. Most of the town might be yellow. But how is the color yellow being used? It certainly isn’t used in a conscious way to take race out of the equation, something that calls Doug to mind. But even with Doug’s efforts, race still wasn’t taken out of the equation, and if The Simpsons were legitimately trying to do that (a generous assumption), then they failed, and they should know exactly how they failed.

Once you racialize certain characters, as they do, then race is a thing the show has to cope with. Viewers of The Simpsons can’t say there’s no racial issues within the show if characters like Apu and Dr. Hibbert are colored exactly like their real life counterparts. In other words, if Indian and African-American people exist in The Simpsons, then race is a factor within The Simpsons.

So what does that make the Simpsons and other yellow characters? Well, given how they’re drawn and how they’re characterized, they’re clearly white. Even though they’re yellow, their skintone is still seen as the default. Why else would the show have to point out Apu and Dr. Hibbert as different races through their character designs? Also, why are white stars like the late Stephen Hawking colored as yellow? Clearly in Springfield, yellow equates to white.

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Anyways, saying the Simpsons and the yellow denizens of Springfield aren’t color coded means you’re just trying to start a straw man argument. And just as a sidebar: I wrote earlier that The Simpsons showrunner Al Jean thought the only blowback he’d get from “No Good Read Goes Unpunished” would be from what he might consider “social justice warriors”; he didn’t anticipate the sheer amount of Twitter and critical blowback he’d get, since The Simpsons has been a critical darling for decades. Turns out I was right: recently Jean announced on Twitter that he, in so many words, got the message.

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“I truly appreciate all the responses pro and con.,” he wrote. “Will continue to try to find an answer that is so popular & more important right.”

We’ll see what his next response will be. Hopefully it’s better than having Lisa be the mouthpiece for hurtful words.

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