One thing for certain is that television programs are a product of the time in which they aired. What is acceptable on television and what is not changes rapidly—and the changes have occurred particularly rapidly in the past twenty years or so.
Lately, The Simpsons has been criticized for not really standing the test of time—what makes that particularly strange is that The Simpsons is still on the air.
So why is the hit animated comedy being criticized? Partially because of the characterization of Apu—more specifically, the character’s voice. Apu speaks with a thick Indian accent and owns a convenience store. The writer of an article in The New Yorker said that Apu’s character is an example of “soft” racism, similar to characters like Charlie Chan and Uncle Tom. The writer, Hua-Hsu, said that such characters may be designed to thwart stereotypes, but they instead end up advancing softer and “no less racist” stereotypes.
Actor Hank Azaria voices the character of Apu, and he spoke about the character because of a documentary that argues Apu is a racial stereotype. He said that the documentary made interesting points and gave everyone a lot to think about. He said it is really upsetting that the character might be offensive or hurtful to anyone.
The character of Apu is not the only issue viewers have with older episodes of The Simpsons, however. The show has also been called xenophobic because of certain episodes set in foreign countries, such as Bart vs. Australia. It was argued that the episode played on Australian stereotypes. A similar criticism was made against Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo in regard to Japanese stereotypes.
Bart vs. Australia first aired in February of 1995—over 23 years ago. Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo aired on May 16, 1999.
While the episodes were likely intended as cheery, friendly jabs a couple of decades ago, they’re being taken a lot differently today by many.
The Simpsons has also taken heat recently due to men impersonating women and impersonating a lesbian. As such, it has been called transphobic.
However, the show has been praised at times for being progressive and enlightened. In particular, it has been applauded for shedding light on societal sexism.
The Simpsons is certainly not the only show that many believe hasn’t aged well. Friends, one of the most popular shows in the world, has been accused of being homophobic and sexist—and therefore outdated. There are a lot of jokes about the character Ross’ wife being a lesbian, and the character Chandler frequently worries about being mistaken as a gay man.
It has also been called transphobic because of the way Chandler refers to his father, a transgender drag queen. The character of Joey has also been called sexist, and current viewers do not like the way the character of Monica was made fun of for having been fat as a child.
Friends initially ran from 1994 to 2004; the final episode was aired almost 14 years ago now, and times certainly have changed. It is the viewers’ choice, of course, whether or not to watch programs from decades ago; however, it is important to remember that the shows were products of a much different time and could only reflect the values of their day. There are even more extreme examples of outdated programs that are still loved by many and frequently aired. Times have definitely changed.
For example, a little over 65 years ago, an episode of I Love Lucy was actually considered scandalous by network executives because it involved a woman trying to tell her husband that she was pregnant. The actress Lucille Ball was actually pregnant with her second child when the episode was filmed, but she couldn’t actually say the word pregnant on air. Network executives thought the word was too vulgar.
It was about 55 years ago that one of the longest recorded laughs in television history occurred on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The main character, a Caucasian middle class suburbanite, thought that he and his wife had brought the wrong baby home from the hospital; he contacted the people who he thought had his real baby, so they visited his home. They turned out to be African-Americans. It was, at the time, groundbreaking.
The simple fact of the matter is that television has become a lot more progressive and enlightened in a very short period of time. It wasn’t until a 2000 episode of Dawson’s Creek that two men would share a romantic kiss on American primetime television. Arguably, the show Will and Grace aired one first, but that was a kiss of protest and not a romantic moment. The first kiss between two women in American primetime occurred in 1991 on LA Law, and the first same-sex kiss in American soap opera history occurred on All My Children in 2003. That kiss was considered groundbreaking at the time and was actually very controversial.
Things have changed a lot in the past 15 years.