The most striking thing about this week's Great Apu Debate isn't that various people like or dislike a '90s cartoon character. (*) It's the fact that the show is still on the air. I just called Apu "a '90s cartoon character," but they're actually still making up stories about him. No, really: They even have the same guy doing his voice. It's wild.
I kept watching new episodes of The Simpsons a lot longer than most of my friends kept watching new episodes of The Simpsons, making it about as far as 2009—but man, now that's nearly a decade ago. I can't even say "it isn't funny anymore," because for all I know the show has had a hidden revival and is secretly funny again. (Hey, it happened once before.) I'd hope that one of you would tell me about that if it happened, but I can't really expect you to, because let's be frank: You aren't watching either.
And this week the series suddenly wandered back into the news. But not because it did something radically new. We're talking about it because it was talking about itself, and by "talking about itself" I mean "talking about stuff it did in the '90s."
It's an odd sort of double vision, to be living and dead at the same time. The Simpsons is an old man haunted by his own ghost.
A couple years ago, Simpsonwave videos were big for a second or two. For those of you who missed their brief moment, these are fragments of old Simpsons episodes remixed into lo-fi nostalgic-sad mood pieces. Here's one:
Even as The Simpsons continued to air on Fox each week, those mini-movies treated the show not as an ongoing program but as a loose dreamscape of distorted memories, their images irrevocably tied to the past. Simpsonwave was an offshoot from the whole hypnagogic pop movement, a micro-genre obsessed with cultural memory. And you know what? That's been going on for a decade-plus now too; it's no more novel than The Simpsons is. Soon I'll be nostalgic for nostalgic remixes of early Simpsons episodes, and meanwhile new episodes of The Simpsons will keep coming out without anyone noticing, except occasionally when the series responds to a controversy about a choice some long-retired writers made when the Soviet Union still existed.
(* I'd write a post about Apu, but my views on the subject are unclickably moderate. Within the hermetic world of The Simpsons, I think Apu is perfectly defensible. I also think any South Asian who had to put up with kids yelling "Apu" at him has every right to resent the character; God knows I've hated TV shows for far less than that. Apu doesn't offend me, and the fact that he offends you doesn't offend me either. Peace.)