This is kind of old news, but I guess I was a little afraid to touch the topic. I was feeling guilty about being just as excited as all the tourists that have been lining up outside the Kwik-E-Marts across the country. The 7-11 cross-promotion with The Simpsons Movie sounded awesome when I first heard about it. And I wanted to go. And I did. Twice. Yes, I ate a pink frosted donut and drank a squishy with glee. And I would have bought Krusty-O’s if they weren’t sold out both times I went (the second time, I missed the last box by ten customers!)
My first excursion was about a week ago and I was with a group of Koreans. Before we went, I asked them if Apu were a Korean character would we feel the same way about this? None of them seemed to have a clear answer and all of them seemed to forget I even asked the question once they saw the glow of the Kwik-E-Mart sign. I kept going back and forth about it this in my head because I love Apu, but I could also see why some people might feel like this publicity stunt was insensitive to the South Asian community.
I had seen the blogs that were very anti-7-11 like from Ultrabrown:
customers with a banner mocking their ethnicity and accent as a promo
for the Simpsons
movie. Next they’ll be asked to don turbans and bow to customers while lisping”
But it still didn’t sit right with me as simply something we should write off as racist. To me, Apu is one of the most complexly written South Asian American characters. Yes, he has a funny accent and he has a stereotypical job, but from watching The Simpsons for such a long time, I also knew that he was much more than just the “Thank You. Come Again.” guy. For a cartoon, he had a rich background and has consistently been featured prominently in the series. He is also very unapologetically Indian (and Indian American) culturally.
I finally asked one of my South Asian friends what he thought and he pointed me to this blog entry from The Daily Rhino:
I think I have to agree with The Daily Rhino in his assesment of Apu. I think it is similar to some of the criticism I’ve gotten for my own work. Some people were upset that Ernest Chin in The Motel is fat and awkward. Some people were upset that I was focusing on Korean gangsters in West 32nd. Some people just want unnaturally positive portrayals of Asians (though I think if they actually saw a movie where all the characters were well-adjusted, perfect Asian people, they’d be bored out of their mind). Regardless in both cases of my films, what I tried to do was create fully fleshed out three-dimensional characters. By doing that, hopefully, I have subverted the stereotypes and shown Asians in a truly positive and complex light. Much like Apu.
As far as the people that are upset that the real 7-11 workers have to don the Kwik-E-Mart smocks (many of whom are actually South Asian), I think the biggest defense is that these guys are making serious bank. Also I am pretty sure that the store owners volunteered their stores for transformation — I don’t think the big board room of old white men at 7-11 forced them to do it. These stores are franchises, so each owner must have made the decision on their own and from that pool of willing stores the old white guys must have chosen which ones could be Kwik-E-fied. I am sure there is a section of folks that will mock these guys with a racist “Thank You Come Again,” but who has the last laugh when they are the ones spending $5 for pink doughnuts?