During my religious viewing of Looney Tunes episodes during my early years, I enjoyed all of the characters except one: the obsessive skunk named Pepe Le Pew who kept chasing around Penelope Pussycat and other feline females.
I was too young to get the sexual connotations of what was going on — I thought girls were icky until the third grade anyway. But something stunk about this prancing dude, and it wasn't just his noxious spray. The Maurice Chevalier wannabe kept smothering these poor ladies, who clearly had no desire to be anywhere near him. He reminded me of annoyingly clingy kids who tried too hard to fit in at school and were starved for attention. But worse.
More recently — though long before cancel culture routinely sparked national headlines over this kind of thing — it became clear to me that Pepe was basically a stalker who would never accept "no" from a woman.
Comedian Dave Chappelle seemed to have had a similar realization. Two decades ago, he did a routine about how he was excited to show his nephew some Pepe Le Pew cartoons because he remembered how funny they were. Upon watching them again, he thought, "Good God, what kind of f---ing rapist is this guy?"
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Now, the cartoon creep won't be stinking up the room much longer. Last week, it began circulating that his appearance in "Space Jam: A New Legacy" has been excised. Though the recent tweets from New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow asserting that Pepe helped normalize rape culture focused attention on the distressing critter, it turns out the "Space Jam" sequel's director, Malcolm D. Lee, apparently decided not to go forward with a planned sequence back in the summer of 2019.
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(Before you freak out that Pepe might disappear into oblivion, remember that scores of people own copies of his cartoons. They are still available on HBO Max, plus many are on YouTube, and you'll probably always be able to watch them somewhere. Cancellation is never permanent, since, for better or worse, nothing stays off the internet forever.)
I agree with critics that wokeness, political correctness and cancel culture have often gone too far. You can't simply eliminate everything that you find offensive or troubling, since that would mean scrapping almost any art made before the 21st century. I certainly rolled my eyes when Cookie Monster practically had to start apologizing for his sugar addiction.
And I don't have problems with other Looney Tunes characters. I wasn't inspired to make fun of kids who lisped or stuttered because of Daffy Duck or Porky Pig. Bugs Bunny's dressing in drag to fool his hunter nemesis Elmer Fudd, while certainly not a feminist statement, lampooned the idea that men are suckers for pretty women. (I also loved the devastation wrought by the Tasmanian Devil and wished Wile E. Coyote would finally catch that cocky Road Runner.)
But occasionally there are characters and situations that really aren't funny and do send disturbing messages to children, and we should acknowledge that rather than roll our eyes and lob insults on social media. Et tu, Le Pew? Oui.
That being said, I think Warner Bros. erred by not including a Pepe Le Pew scene in "Space Jam: A New Legacy." Reportedly, the original — and preferable — plan was to see the relentless skunk finally get his comeuppance.
The scene as it was supposedly written: Bartender Pepe gets handsy with Greice Santo (from "Jane the Virgin"), who then slaps him and pours a drink over his head. After that, Pepe admits that Penelope Pussycat holds a restraining order against him, and star LeBron James tells Pepe that he can't touch other toons without their consent.
While the last part of that sounds overly blunt to me, it was still a good idea to incorporate the character into the sequel with a clear display of what he was doing wrong rather than simply leave him on the cutting room floor.
Perhaps they could have taken a cue from the 1949 Oscar-winning short "For Scent-imental Reasons." In it, the tables were turned on Pepe, and he didn't like it at all when he had to scamper a mile in someone else's paws.