Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, you’ve probably noticed that certain brands and characters are being “cancelled” due to a shift in cultural perspectives and reckonings. Some, such as the Washington Redskins football team and Aunt Jemima syrup, are long overdue. Others, in my opinion, are a forced overcorrection, and I will firmly place one infamous Looney Tune in this category. His name is Pepe Le Pew.
Now if for some wild reason you don’t know who Pepe Le Pew is allow me to explain. Pepe is a French skunk who showed affection to a cat named Penelope when she had the unfortunate mishap of looking like a skunk herself. The problem was that Pepe often got a little…handsy. And in the post #MeToo world, a cartoon character that grabs ahold of another cartoon character, repeatedly kissing her without her permission, is not a good look (to put it mildly).
While Pepe was never my favorite Looney Tune, I always looked back on him fondly. To me, Pepe was a hopeless romantic perpetually doomed to failure because of his stench. He was a tragic figure for whom love was always out of reach. Re-watching those cartoons now, I realized I was merely filtering my nostalgia for the character through a child’s innocent perspective. Pepe is a hopeless romantic, but he’s also a bit of a creep. In the wake of women coming forward with horror stories of men forcing themselves on them, one can never look at a cartoon skunk acting in a similar manner the same way again.
Unfortunately, we live in an age of drastic measures. In order to appease rather than compromise, decision makers find it easier to “cancel” rather than create. My affinity for Pepe Le Pew hasn’t changed, mainly because I feel there’s still potential for great stories at the core of his character. Yes, Pepe was WAY too physical. But he was also a character cursed with a defect. He was stinky, so his attempts at romance were always hindered. But he wouldn’t let that stop him. He fought through his flaws to follow his heart, and that’s a story worth telling for boys and girls everywhere who might find themselves in similar situations. (Not that they smell, but other impairments they may have simply for being born the way they are.) This theme at the heart of the character still has relevance and should be adapted in an appropriate manner for today’s world rather than pushed aside.