The so-called culture wars continue — political correctness, cancel culture, whatever.
Left or right, complaints come at us from both sides of the political divide. And it looks like Pepe Le Pew may be the latest fictional character in trouble.
You remember Pepe, don’t you? He was the amorous cartoon skunk of “Looney Tunes” fame. Pepe was known for not being able to keep his hands — I mean paws — off the lady skunks (to be more accurate, he couldn’t resist the vivacious, to him anyway, female house cat Penelope Pussycat). In the cartoon series, every time Pepe saw her, Penelope was unfortunately mistaken by him for a lady skunk.
When I was a kid, a day off from school on Saturday mornings meant parking ourselves in front of the old black-and-white Zenith television to watch the antics of Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and the whole “Looney Tunes” gang, including, of course, Pepe Le Pew.
But fast forward 50 years and, today, poor Pepe finds himself in the crosshairs of New York Times columnist Charles Blow.
Blow lashed out at Pepe’s manic Casanova-like moves on the ladies, singling him out for his overly aggressive efforts to woo the unimpressed Penelope. Blow even wrapped Pepe’s actions into those of the criminally caddish behavior of men who became targets of the “Me Too Movement.”
Launched in 2006, “Me Too” became an almost daily part of our national dialogue in 2017. That year, several high-profile female actors began confessing how common it was to be sexually harassed by powerful men in the entertainment industry, which should have come as a surprise to none of us.
I guess Blow felt animated superstar Pepe Le Pew was as guilty as, say, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein who — during the course of his career — reportedly exploited his influential position in the entertainment business. Dozens of women came forward, accusing Weinstein of sexual assault and abuse, including rape, over a 30-year period.
But Pepe Le Pew, too? Oh, come on, Charles!
In a recent tweet, Blow claimed that Pepe’s cartoons “added to rape culture.” Having already taken aim at Dr. Seuss for his negative portrayals of minority groups, this time, Blow came under fire for his take-no-prisoners attitude. Pepe’s fans were not amused. Undeterred, Blow proffered his defense, drawing a detailed reminder of Pepe’s behavior.
• Pepe grabs, kisses a stranger-girl (in his case, a lady cat) repeatedly, without consent and against her will. She struggles with all her might to get away from her would-be suitor, but Pepe refuses to let go.
• He locks the door to prevent Penelope from escaping.
OK, I guess in a situation like that, Penelope would have been within her rights to file criminal charges against Mr. Le Pew.
Before the police are summoned, though, it’s important to remember many of the cartoons we watched as children were written for adults, especially the early Warner Bros. shorts. They were usually shown in movie theaters before the main feature and seen primarily by adult audiences.
As for us children watching “Looney Tunes” on Saturday mornings? We got it. They were cartoons. Take Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. After watching one of their signature chases on TV that Saturday morning, we were smart enough to not go out looking for anvils to drop from the rooftop onto the head of an unsuspecting playmate.
Certainly, the actions of Pepe Le Pew and other cartoon characters of decades ago — accepted as normal for their times — do not hold up to our modern, more sensitive standards (standards that, I fear, are sometimes too sensitive). In our politically correct age, it’s like walking on eggshells, carefully choosing every word we say so as not to offend anyone.
Don’t get me wrong; sometimes, a line has to be drawn. Things people might say among themselves within their own social bubbles are none of my business. However, in the age of social media, that’s not as easy to do. When offensive words or actions cross the line into public consumption is where the problem begins.
Then there’s Dr. Seuss. Not to be outdone by Blow’s questionable indictment of Pepe Le Pew, the far-right media machine had its own complaints to deal with. In the midst of a global pandemic, the right was more concerned with the works of a man who wrote books with titles like “Hop on Pop.” Conservative media outlets and many politicians raised a nonstop stink about the “cancellation” of some Dr. Seuss book titles. But, hold it; their outrage is misplaced.
The decision to stop publishing six of his titles was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the company owning the rights to Theodor Seuss Geisel’s books. That makes it a corporate decision, not quite fitting the definition of “cancel culture.”
The company’s move was based on the books’ insensitive, stereotypical portrayals of certain minority groups, including Blacks and Asians. Africans, for example, were drawn with insultingly exaggerated physical features, wearing grass skirts and hoops in their noses. Dr. Seuss, himself, later expressed regret for those illustrations.
Political correctness, cancel culture?
Choose your poison.
Me? I can find fault in them both. Political correctness almost encourages people to look for reasons to be offended or to feel victimized. Cancel culture says if something offends you — a group or a religious belief — it should be removed from public consumption. Short of that, attempts may be made to boycott it into commercial oblivion.
Oh, please. Is there no happy medium for it all?
On the positive side, I can still find at least a little good in them both.
Used in good measure and with the right intent, they make us more aware of others and hopefully might even add a dose of compassion and understanding of people who don’t look or think like us. That could result in a softening of the angst many of us often feel with otherwise divisive issues.
And, you’ve got to admit, it sure does beat going around dropping anvils on each other’s heads.
Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org.