Culture Feature

Meet John Swartzwelder: The Reclusive Weirdo Who Made The Simpsons Great

John Swartzwelder has broken his silence in a first ever interview with The New Yorker.

John Swartzwelder is a curious figure.

Though he has worked as a writer on a number of failed sitcoms and one of the worst seasons of Saturday Night Live, few images of him can be found in the wild. The only well-known recording of his voice is of an awkward, ambush of a phone call.

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Culture Feature

All the Best "Simpsons" Memes, Ranked

Because it's the only way to know how you're really feeling.

The Simpsons has been running literally since the beginning of time, and it even managed to produce about five good (read: perfect) seasons of television in that time. As a result, any emotion or experience you have can easily be expressed in terms of Simpsons memes. These 30 just happen to be the best of the best:

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Culture Feature

Remembering 10 of Fred Willard's Most Iconic Roles

A master of improvisation, Fred Willard leaves a legacy of memorable performances

Modern Family

On Friday comedic actor Fred Willard died at the age of 86.

With a career in television and movies that spanned six decades—from the 1960s comedy scene where he developed a close friendship with Jerry Stiller to his most recent work on the forthcoming Netflix series Space Force—Willard is probably best known for improvisational work in the mockumentary films of Christopher Guest. While he almost always played an unflappable buffoon, his buoyant charm and genius for ad-libbed absurdity made him a perennial joy to watch in both his major film roles and his frequent guest appearances on shows like The Simpsons, Community, and Drunk History. Here's a look back at some of his most iconic roles.

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TV

"The Simpsons'" Apu, as We Know Him, Is Dead

Hank Azaria will no longer be voicing Apu.

Fox

Apu is no more, or, at the very least, the Apu we knew is gone.

Ever since Hari Kondabolu's 2017 documentary, The Problem With Apu, the iconic Kwik-E-Mart owner has been widely viewed as a source of controversy. Kondabolu's documentary explores the culture surrounding Apu, the Indian immigrant stereotypes Apu enforced, and the effect it had on the children of Indian immigrants who grew up in the '90s and 2000s. On one hand, Apu was arguably "representation" for Indian immigrants at a time when there were no other Indian characters on TV. But on the other, Apu's stereotypical manner of speaking and catch phrases like, "Thank you, come again!" became a common source of ridicule for Indian people in the real world.

"I think particularly right now, people feel so aggrieved and crazed and powerless that they're picking the wrong battles," said Simpsons creator Matt Groening at the time. "I am sorry that The Simpsons would be criticized for having an Indian character that, because of our extraordinary popularity — I expected other people to do it. I go, maybe he's a problem, but who's better? Who's a better Indian animated character in the last 30 years?"

Apu Simpsons Fox

To Groening's point, even in 2020, there are very few Indian faces on American TV. But for Azaria, the diversity provided by Apu didn't necessarily make up for the real pain that the character caused so many young Indian-Americans.

"The idea that anybody, young or old, past or present, was bullied or teased or worse based on the character of Apu on The Simpsons, the voice or any other tropes of the character is distressing," said Azaria shortly after watching. "And especially in post-9/11 America, the idea that anybody was marginalized based on it or had a hard time was very upsetting to me personally and professionally."

Azaria immediately called for more South Asian representation in The Simpsons' writing room, but now, after 30 years of being the white voice actor behind the best known Indian character on American television, Hank Azaria has officially decided to step down from the role.

"Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn't want to participate in it anymore," Azaria recently told the New York Times. "It just didn't feel right." However, he admitted being hesitant to give up the character. "I didn't want to knee-jerk drop it if I didn't feel that was right, nor did I want to stubbornly keep doing it if that wasn't right," he said. "But then I started thinking, if that character were the only representation of Jewish people in American culture for 20 years, which was the case with Apu, I might not love that."

"What happened with this character is a window into an important issue," Azaria said. "It's a good way to start the conversation. I can be accountable and try to make up for it as best I can."

Of course, that doesn't mean that Apu is actually gone. "Apu is beloved worldwide," said The Simpsons executive producersexecutive producers in a statement confirming Azaria's departure from the character. "We love him too. Stay tuned."

So what does the future hold for Apu? Can a character largely based on cultural stereotypes survive in the media landscape of 2020, or has Apu already failed the test of time? After all, times change, and culture changes, too. Things that were largely considered "okay" in 2019 can no longer hold up when we factor in the voices of non-white people who grew up experiencing the repercussions. But change is a good thing. That's how humanity grows and advances. Maybe Apu can grow and advance, too, with an Indian voice actor and Indian writers leading the way.

Peter Pan

Disney's new streaming service, Disney+, premiered on Tuesday to universal complaints.

The system is buggy, it crops out jokes on The Simpsons, and it essentially killed off the Netflix Marvel series. But considering the constant commentary on trigger warnings and the very predictable uproar from a segment of white men whenever a woman or a person of color is placed in a role that could have been given to someone less "political," it's a wonder that there hasn't been more of a backlash against Disney's new content warning.

Along with the usual warnings where sexual themes and violence are concerned, certain Disney movies have been officially labeled as even more racist than others. Pocahontas, for instance, has missed this distinction by tapping into relatively benign "noble savage" stereotypes, rather than playing into grotesque caricatures of inhuman otherness in its depiction of non-white characters. Peter Pan, on the other hand, was not so lucky. It joined the list of movies containing "cultural depictions" so "outdated" that they need a special warning so thoughtful parents can shield their kids from that particular brain-poison (while exposing them to a host of others).

Disney's "Peter Pan" - What Makes the Red Man Red? www.youtube.com

Other movies have earned this recognition include Lady and the Tramp, Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and Fantasia. Some have argued that referring to these wildly dehumanizing portrayals of non-white people (or, tellingly, animals standing in for non-white people) as simply "outdated" places the blame on the era in which they were produced, without taking any responsibility for the impact of producing and distributing such harmful iconography. After all, if Disney is willing to wage an endless fight to maintain their exclusive rights to Mickey Mouse—and for the subsequent deprivation of the public domain—shouldn't they likewise be held accountable for the indefensible content in much of their IP? If the blame doesn't belong solely to them, then why does the profit?

"Jim Crow"in DumboDumbo

It's a compelling argument, but it overlooks an important point. Namely, Disney is right about the eras that produced such offensive trash. Their movies have always tapped into the zeitgeist—the lowest common denominator of ideas. And for the entire history of "Western Civilization," those ideas have been horribly racist (as well as homophobic, misogynistic, and culturally chauvinistic). Colonialism is the foundation of "Western Civilization." The looting and subjugation of other peoples and their lands have made it possible for the Western world to flourish. The United States, for instance, was "settled" on top of an existing civilization that white men ravaged with the help of guns, biological warfare, and the forced labor of people who were stolen from their homes, then bred and sold and treated as livestock.

This brand of devouring colonialism has been made possible by concerted efforts to dehumanize anyone who doesn't conform to the mold of the dominant elite. And men like Walt Disney perpetuated that brand. Whatever Jordan Peterson might want you to believe, Disney movies have always been propaganda—part of a mythos that defined "the West" in contrast to the rest of the world, holding it up as something worth defending. "Western Civilization" is inextricably linked to these self-aggrandizing myths, and any attempt to undermine derogatory depictions of the Other is fundamentally an attack on "Western Civilization." Worse than the new content warning, Disney has completely omitted Song of the South, erasing the proud tradition of pretending that black people were happy as slaves. The Disney+ claim that "The Vault Is Wide Open" seems to be ignoring a few items in the lock box at the back.

In short, Disney's latest effort at woke-washing is an affront to the principles that our society was built on—namely, the principle that the world belongs to white men, and no one else is really a person—but it doesn't go nearly far enough. They are attacking our disgusting history in little ways, but they are still profiting from its relics and using Tom Hanks to put a nice face on the whole operation. Now that Disney owns literally all of culture, they owe it to us to own up to the dark past that defines our society and attack "Western Civilization" head on. Because until we fully dismantle the disgusting ideas at the core of "Western Civilizations" and begin to build an inclusive and global society, we will not have earned the right to call ourselves civilized.

TV News

Does Matt Groening Know "The Simpsons" Is Still On?

Who still watches this? Who hurt them?

GeekTyrant

For some reason on Wednesday, Fox renewed The Simpsons for two additional seasons, since that show is apparently still on the air.

As the longest-running scripted TV series on prime time, the series will reach 32 seasons and 713 episodes, clinging to dear life like an uncle who refuses to die until his estranged children visit just one last time. CNN calculated, "At an estimated 22 minutes per episode, it would take you more than ten days to watch 32 seasons of The Simpson without stopping." CNN is either serious about their math or they held a young intern captive for ten days, but the more pressing question is: who still watches The Simpsons?

When the show debuted in 1989, it was controversial but fully embraced as a departure from a mass of boring family sitcoms. The Chicago Tribune reviewed, "This cartoon family, the creation of Matt Groening, is a bizarrely bug-eyed bunch and far more wicked, funny and sophisticated than what we have come to expect from cartoons." USA Today called it "an existential riot on the terrors of home, work, and school."

Flash forward to 2019, however, and how is this shit still on? It's certainly not ratings gold, it recycles its old material, and in a time when we're not cool with racial stereotypes anymore, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon (voiced by Hank Azaria) freaks people out. (Even Azaria's said maybe it's time to let the character go).

Some might say it's nostalgia, as The Simpsons was the network's golden child when Fox was just getting started and had yet to accrue an army of dead-eyed, paunchy newsroom conservatives. But even with Family Guy and Bob's Burgers on Fox, Matt Groening's baby is the network's most successful hit. With an endless guest cast of relevant celebrities, from Gal Gadot to Awkwafina, the show does pull in about 4.8 million viewers every episode.

Still, The Simpsons is so iconic, it's only natural to assume the show was long dead. At least with 651 episodes completed, there's already a Simpsons meme for every reaction we might have to the next two seasons.

That CNN intern when they finally let her stop watching all 32 seasons:

Fox viewers who stay tuned after The Simpsons:

The writers brainstorming ideas for episode 700:

Every Simpsons episode in season 32:

BONUS: This is actually what every episode of season 32 should be:

by techgnotic on DeviantArt


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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