Wednesday, July 11

The CNN clip (updated again)

Update: Here’s the full segment CNN ran last night on the Simpsons / 7-Eleven controversy:

Racialicious was incensed:

From Paula Zahn’s Cheshire Cat-like grin as she introduced it, to Allan Chernoff’s overly-jaunty tone in the voice-over, it was clear that the message was: these hypersensitive desis need to lighten the fuck up.

I’m surprised they restrained themselves from adding some comical, farty tuba tune in the background…. they couldn’t find a single South Asian activist, academic, writer, or politician to address this issue?

… the discussion was inane. Everyone basically downplayed the significance of this racist caricature, and Traynham, a black man, summed it up thus: “…it’s one of those things where frankly it just makes me feel uneasy, but I’m not Indian-American.” In other words, racism that is not directed against him is not his problem. [Link]

Here’s the transcript:

ZAHN: A movie that hasn’t even opened yet has launched a nationwide controversy. Listen to this.


MANISH VIJ, FOUNDER, WWW.ULTRABROWN.COM: This is a very stereotyped, racist caricature of an Indian-American.

ANDY CHAUDHARI, 7-ELEVEN OWNER: It’s all fun. It’s about fun. It’s a cartoon.


ZAHN: Well, “The Simpsons” may be a cartoon, but is a 7-Eleven tie-in funny or downright racist? …


ZAHN: You would think that, after 20 years, “The Simpsons” had run out of ways to offend and outrage. The show, of course, is part of our culture at this point.

But the first “Simpsons” movie is less than three weeks away now, and a promotional tie-in with convenience stores has some people screaming racism.

Allan Chernoff brings the immigrant outrage over “The Simpsons” and 7-Eleven out into the open tonight.



UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: The aspirin is $24.95.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Ph.D., the greedy and unethical Kwik-E Mart owner in the “Simpsons” cartoon who would gladly sell you a dirty hot dog off the floor.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Oh, no. It is encrusted with filth. Ah, well, let’s sell it anyway.


CHERNOFF: Now Apu is part of a promotional stunt for 7-Eleven. In a tie-in this month with the upcoming “Simpsons” movie, a dozen 7- Elevens have been turned into real-life Kwik-E Marts. Indian-American blogger Manish Vij charges 7-Eleven has created a racial caricature mart. Apu’s accent, he complains, is entirely unrealistic, part of a distortion of his ethnicity.

MANISH VIJ, FOUNDER, WWW.ULTRABROWN.COM: This is a very stereotyped, racist caricature of an Indian-American. And, with the 7-Eleven promotion, it is the first time this has jumped into the real world.

CHERNOFF: Indian-American Serge Haitayan, a store owner in California, who declined to appear on camera, writes on the Internet, He’s insulted that his own parent company would embrace what he calls a racist portrayal.

“This is an absolute embarrassment for our company,” writes Haitayan. “I am not willing to accept to be compared to Apu. I cannot imagine any store willing to re-brand to Kwik-E Mart, even for a day.”

Fact is, though, half of the re-branded 7-Elevens are owned by Indian-Americans, like Andy Chaudhari in Manhattan. He and other 7- Eleven franchisees from India say they’re fellow immigrants need to lighten up.

ANDY CHAUDHARI, 7-ELEVEN OWNER: It’s all fun. It’s about fun. It’s a cartoon.

CHERNOFF (on camera): So, you don’t think this is racial in any way?


CHAUDHARI: No, nothing at all. Nothing at all.

CHERNOFF: There is no debate that the promotion is good for business. Specially-made “Simpsons” foods, like Buzz Cola and Krusty O’s cereal are literally flying off the shelf here. In fact, owners of stores that have been converted to Kwik-E Marts say their sales this month are more than double what they were this time last year.

CHAUDHARI: I can’t even explain to you how good it is going on. People are — customers are so happy.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Hundreds of 7-Elevens are owned by Indian-Americans, according to the company, which says they overwhelmingly approved of “The Simpsons” tie-in. And 7-Eleven says, no store was forced to participate.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: How much is your penny candy?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Surprisingly expensive.


CHERNOFF: In “The Simpsons,” Apu’s Kwik-E Mart overcharges for rotten food. That’s OK, says 7-Eleven. We can laugh at ourselves.

MICHAEL JORGENSEN, 7-ELEVEN INC.: I would say it certainly is positive. It is a cartoon. And it is meant to be fun.

CHERNOFF: 7-Eleven is hoping all Americans can laugh along with “The Simpsons” as they snap up Krusty O’s and pink movie doughnuts.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.


ZAHN: So, what do we really talking about here, corporate racism, or get over it, get a life?

Let’s go back to our panel with those questions, Robert Traynham, Julie Roginsky, and Laura Flanders.

Do you really think that’s funny, or were you insulted by that?

ROBERT TRAYNHAM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, I had mixed emotions. Look, I mean, if everyone is buying into this and it’s a good thing, it’s a good thing. But, it feels weird though, simply because they’re stereotyping and they really are pushing the envelope. And so, having said that, it’s one of those things where frankly it just makes me feel uneasy, but I’m not Indian-American.

ZAHN: But the stereotyping is something we should have gotten used to in “The Simpson’s.” I’m going share with our audience, now, another clip from the TV show where you see Apu in action.


APU, THE SIMPSON’S: Hey, Kearney, this fake I.D., it is truly excellent. Say, if you tell me where you obtained it, I will overlook the ice cream sandwiches concealed in your armpits, eh?


ZAHN: Are you offended by that?

LAURA FLANDERS, AIR AMERICA RADIO HOST: You know, I thought it was a silly story, when I first heard about. I thought if we want to talk about Indians being harassed, let’s talk about salvations harassed by homeland security not Homer Simpson. That’s been a plague in this community every since 9/11. But then, you know, I started actually researching the story and listening to what the shopkeepers had to say and they said, you know it hard enough in this climate, particularly as an immigrant, to work hard, to make a living, to serve this community, and now to be kind of asked by your corporation that owns the lease, that pays the utilities, that, you know, this isn’t entirely free choice, to be asked to participate in this kind of crude ethnic jokery that is making fun of your own ethnicity. I don’t think it’s so funny.

ZAHN: Julie, let’s put up on the screen what one of the south Asian owners of a 7-Eleven franchise had to say. “…accepting our portrayal of Apu is nothing less [than] accepting the images portrayed years ago in the U.S. of black people with very black faces, big lips, and white teeth; that image is considered racist, so does Apu to me.”

Would there be more outrage if we were talking about unfair characterizations of blacks?

JULIE ROGINSKY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Guess what “The Simpson’s” unfairly characterizes everybody. It’s an equal opportunity mocker of, you know, they have a police officer who looks like a pig. They have, you know, a Born Again Christian that they constantly mock. They have women they constantly — it’s a comedy show. You know, it sort of reminds me of “The Sopranos,” people were saying it’s a anti-Italian stereotype, people are going to think all Italians are mobsters. Well, I think in real life people know that all Italians are mobsters. I think people in real life know that Indians — South Asians, in general, are extraordinarily accomplished. You know, and it’s just an equal opportunity mockery. I mean, look at the cartoon…

FLANDERS: The very person you quote there, his name is Serge, was too afraid to talk to your reporters, your producers for the segment. He’s afraid of reprisal. So, that goes beyond just funny.

TRAYNHAM: Well, it does push the envelope. It does push the envelope.


ZAHN: Push the envelope? Do you rember what senator Joe Biden had to say?

TRAYNHAM: Absolutely, about Barack Obama or in reference to 7- Eleven? Of course, absolutely.

ZAHN: Well it’s — and 7-Eleven. Let’s listen to what he said many months ago.


SEN JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: In Delaware, the largest growth in population is Indian-Americans moving from India. You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.


TRAYNHAM: Well, he’s not joking, but it is still very offensive, extremely offensive and shouldn’t have said it.


ZAHN: So, if you’re offended by that, and I understand Simpson’s is a cartoon, I get that — well, you said you had mixed emotions, Julie doesn’t have mixed emotions. She thinks it’s funny. ROGINSKY: It’s a cartoon. It is silly.

TRAYNHAM: But it’s still indicative of a time and place where you don’t do things like that, that you shouldn’t push the envelope…

FLANDERS: It goes back to when CBS and Don Imus, you got an industry, a company that wants to be amping up its profits, what does it do? It goes to crude ethnic stereotyping.

ROGINSKY: There’s actually an episode that I saw Apu, 15 years ago I think, with him, Paul McCartney, teaching one of the main character on “The Simpson’s” about vegetarianism and what a lovely way to save animals. So, this is not just a stereotype…

FLANDERS: Well, now I have to be very clear to our listening audience — our viewing audience, that I’m not related to Ned Flanders.

ZAHN: Oh, thank you for setting the record straight on that.

FLANDERS: This is reality TV confusion.

ROGINSKY: People should calm down.

ZAHN: Julie, will you review the movie for us?

ROGINSKY: I totally will and I’m sure it’ll be great.

Robert Traynham, Julie Roginsky, Laura Flanders. Thank you. [Link]

Related posts: Reminder: CNN tonight, Watch CNN Tuesday night, Meanwhile, over at Racialicious…, Racial Caricature Mart, Step’n Dispense It (updated again), ‘The Simpsons’ go Bollywood (updated)



 Comment feed
  1. 1trollerboi

    Maneesh Veeshhszh, eh? Ouch! but congratulations on the xposure.

  2. 2anantha

    Paula Zahn’s Cheshire Cat-like grin

    I am just glad that someone else felt the same way too. Am I wrong in assuming that the MSM would highlight every instance of outrage positively and not pooh pooh it, especially when there is a chance that a substantial percentage of a certain minority group in the country might be sharing that outrage? *sigh*

  3. 3Rahul

    Aargh! Do these people not understand the difference between a cartoon and real life??? Boggles my mind!

    And that Chernoff guy must be racist, right? Extending your last name like that? :)

  4. 4chick pea

    aww lighten up..

    apu is giving us free slurpees today :)
    oh i mean squishees ;)..

    thank you.

  5. 5reivolg

    Come on, people, get a sense of humor! The Simpsons is a cartoon, and a satirical one at that. Just like South Park, it makes fun of everyone. EVERYONE! Life’s too short to be this prickly over something that’s nothing more than good fun. Get over yourselves!

  6. 6Blue

    I think people in real life know that Indians — South Asians, in general, are extraordinarily accomplished.

    There’s actually an episode that I saw Apu, 15 years ago I think, with him, Paul McCartney, teaching one of the main character on “The Simpson’s” about vegetarianism and what a lovely way to save animals.

    Oh, please.

    And they weren’t actually addressing the question all — they had clearly made up their mind and wanted to prove why everyone else was wrong.

    I’ve deconstructed the Quik-E-Mart thing here, after I noticed that half the zany sayings in the store weren’t even Apu quotes (they were said by other characters on The Simpsons). “Just slap anything stupid up on the walls, it’ll sound like Apu!”

    It made me realize that they weren’t trying to do a “tribute to” a favorite character; they were just trying to make the desi guy look funny. Grrr.

  7. 7chachaji

    Manish, you appear awfully low-key in the two seconds (or less?) they give you in this clip. Where’s the outrage? :) Well, maybe it’s in the rest of the clips. Look forward to those…

  8. 8manish

    Maneesh Veeshhszh, eh?

    What is it about American English that makes people pronounce ‘ij’ like ‘eezh’? If someone can answer this it’ll clear up a longstanding mystery for me :)

  9. 9Rahul

    Where’s the outrage?

    Where’s the pompadour, I ask?

  10. 10kali billi

    I saw you on CNN and I have a question. Do you use fairness cream? You were looking pretty pasty white I’m trying to figure out what happened to the brown. Just kidding, dude. Black people would be just as upset. I cannot understand why they did not have an Indian American there to ‘represent.’ They could have at least aksed Sanjay Gupta to come on over and say something to get some browns to ‘lighten up.’ After the Michael Moore fiasco he appears to be a bit of a sell-out to Republican interests.

  11. 11trollerboi

    What is it about American English that makes people pronounce ‘ij’ like ‘eezh’? If someone can answer this it’ll clear up a longstanding mystery for me :)

    well, you could always succumb to the forces and ‘change’ your name to Vidge. Pride hit and bureaucratic paperwork aside, this does make sense. I had a cousin who finally went “Pretty” and there are other precedents of course - The Trinis (Narine’s, Persaud’s etc), the Jewish folks (Barbers, buckman’s) etc.
    but then again, a couple more references to your name in MSM and i’m sure the world will get it right. Keep at it dude.

  12. 12ak

    manish - congratulations on CNN, though as others mentioned, it’s too bad they restricted you to one sound byte. i would have thought they would bring you in as a guest ‘expert’ towards the end - while robert traynham’s comment could have meant that this sort of issue wasn’t his problem, i think he meant that an indian-amrican would have been in a better position to explain the nuances of the matter. though i was glad that laura flanders brought some of the issues into focus. i still don’t know how to feel about this whole thing - part of me wants to just pass it off as plain cartoon - i.e. immature - humour, but i also do see the relevance of racial stereotyping, if only for the implications it has for our image in greater american society. the only thing that i came away with is that paula zahn/cnn tends to be somewhat one-sided in its ‘reporting’ of news. it just seemed like a waste of air time, really - why spend nearly 10 minutes on the issue if almost very aspect of the segment is skewed to prove one point? i feel it did mor bad than good, by making desis look like whiny, oversensitive minorities who need to take themselves less seriously.

    What is it about American English that makes people pronounce ‘ij’ like ‘eezh’?

    i think it has something to do with american exoticization of foreign cultures - as in this is how an indian name should sound. i’ve noticed that americans, in particular, have a very distinct way of pronunciation of foreign words - there’s a certain cadence and emphasis that they consistently apply. my name is, almost without fail, mispronounced by americans, and in exactly the same way every time.

  13. 13Nina P

    Maneesh Veeshhszh

    But Manish retaliated by saying ca-RICK-ature.

  14. 14sank

    you notice how they opted to edited out the screen shot with the ultrabrown logo? manish you know i know you know you’re a little pissed about that one… big media ALWAYS does that — they always purposefully angle cameras away from the subject’s branding or cut in at the moment it’s out of frame…

    damn it.