This one’s not really meant to be ‘Ha ha’ funny, so I’m curious about the reaction I’ll get. Here below, I wrote a bit of an essay explaining my thoughts. You’re welcome to skip it if you want.
Disclaimer: for drawing the cartoon characters in the 2nd and 5th panels, I pretty much copied from real WB cartoon frames. I’m not that fluent in drawing these characters and I wanted them to as recognizable as possible. The 4th panel is all me.
*Ahum* There we go:
Looking back, Pepe Le Pew looks like a stalker and attempted rapist to me. How’s that for a children’s cartoon? From the late 40’s even! A while back I wondered how this ever got made but I realised that the intentions had to be very different from my perception. Of course, Pepe is a caricature created in 1945, with cartoons running until the early 60’s. He’s a parody of the stereotypical French lady’s man mixed with the macho bachelor who thinks every woman is attracted to him. Even if they say they’re not. This could only have been made in those times, with different sensibilities and a certain male dominated creative environment I think. It is subtle in some ways, very crude in others and totally not P.C. A bit like ‘Mad Men’ maybe (but I haven’t seen that so I don’t really know). So it’s certainly not meant to be taken as agressive as some find it to be now. But does it just translate poorly to our times of political correctness or is there really something wrong?
I certainly wouldn’t want to get a cartoon cancelled or censored over not being P.C. I’m a firm believer in free speech, especially in the form of artistic expression. How is it a good idea to try and shield people from all that is warped or different in the world? Or course, it’s a bit different for kids. Parents are allowed to protect their kids, in fact they should, lest they become really unhappy and fucked up adults. But we all see some weird shit growing up and it’s up to our elders to talk to us about it and it’s up to us to learn that everything’s not ‘normal’. You don’t want your kid to watch South Park? That’s fine, he would probably miss the satire on our current culture. It’s not meant for your 6 year old to watch. But kids aren’t just sponges and I don’t believe they will think (sexual) violence is ‘okay’ by watching a cartoon. We all know that people are forced to do or undergo things they don’t want to do and we know it’s wrong. It’s a consequence of empathy and a base instinct. No cartoon is going to change that. I saw these cartoons as a 7 year old and my gut reaction was: “This is all kinds of wrong” but I didn’t pick up on all the sexual innuendo. Like all Chuck Jones cartoons, these were also very well made animations and you can just focus on that.
All that said, I just don’t like this cartoon character. It’s a skunk trying to rape a cat, “kind of, but not really, but yes he is”. I found it a bit disturbing 20 years ago and I do more so today. Because I live in a different world than the one where this was created. Because (luckily) a lot of unhealthy views on men-women in popular media have been pointed out to us over the years. So we can get past that and strive to create something better.
That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t exist. He’s a product of his time. We should accept it an put it into context but also be able to acknowledge the perverse that’s in there. We do have different sensibilities nowadays and if a parody like Pepe were created now, he would be explored in a different way. Or at least I hope so.