On the heels of Dr. Seuss being muzzled for racist depictions in a few books, another beloved childhood memory is also being called problematic … one Pepe Le Pew.
The Looney Tunes character fell into the crosshairs of NYT columnist Charles M. Blow — who wrote an op-ed titled “Six Seuss Books Bore a Bias” … where he argued racism is deeply embedded into American culture (especially pop culture) and fed to kids at a young age.
He brought up cartoons like Speedy Gonzales and Mammy Two Shoes — the former being another LT character he says pushed racist stereotypes against Mexicans and the latter being a Tom & Jerry character portrayed as a heavyset Black maid who speaks with a caricaturized voice. You usually just see her legs/feet … but her full figure was depicted too.
Those two examples specifically address his race concern, but he threw in Pepe as well as another ‘toon that telegraphed the wrong message … saying the French skunk normalized and perpetuated rape culture. Of course, a lot of people had very different reactions — some agreeing, and others lambasting Blow for suggesting a drawing could sway real-life behavior.
This helped teach boys that “no” didn’t really mean no, that it was a part of “the game”, the starting line of a power struggle. It taught overcoming a woman’s strenuous, even physical objections, was normal, adorable, funny. They didn’t even give the woman the ability to SPEAK.
To that, Blow responded … “RW blogs are mad bc I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see. 1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o consent and against her will. 2. She struggles mightily to get away from him, but he won’t release her 3. He locks a door to prevent her from escaping.” It’s true … Penelope Pussycat was often in Pepe’s clutches.
Still, some say he’s reaching to make a point … and that the cartoon was never meant to be interpreted that way, adding it was all in good fun and that no child would absorb Pepe’s behavior as something to be mimicked. Fair enough, but the cartoon theory isn’t novel.
The great Dave Chappelle once touched on this exact issue in a stand-up special of his, “Killin’ Them Softly,” where he TOO brought up Pepe Le Pew … and flat-out called him a rapist. He discussed other kid shows that looked much different through an adult lens — like “Sesame Street” characters … which he hilariously compared to troubled adults.
Say what you will … but 20th-century media is certainly cringe-worthy in 2021.