Charles Blow angered the internet when he wrote Pepe Le Pew ‘normalizes rape culture’
A columnist for The New York Times has published an op-ed that claims the Looney Tunes French skunk Pepe Le Pew ‘normalized rape culture.’
Charles M. Blow made his critical comments in an article titled ‘Six Seuss Books Bore a Bias’ published in the Grey Lady in the wake of news that certain beloved Dr. Suess children’s books were getting ‘cancelled’ for racist depictions.
In the article, Blow wrote: ‘Some of the first cartoons I can remember included Pepé Le Pew, who normalized rape culture; Speedy Gonzales, whose friends helped popularize the corrosive stereotype of the drunk and lethargic Mexicans; and Mammy Two Shoes, a heavyset Black maid who spoke in a heavy accent.’
The Times article did not provide much more thought to Le Pew, instead choosing to focus on other characters perceived as racist but it sparked fierce backlash online.
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Blow argued that Le Pew, pictured left, grabs and kisses strangers without consent as they struggle to get away
In the cartoons, the French striped skunk relentlessly pursues a black cat named Penelope Pussycat
Charles Blow took to Twitter to defend the statements in his column and expand on them
The Pepe Le Pew debate is not entirely new. Comedian Dave Chappelle called Le Pew a rapist in 2000 in his first HBO special, Killin’ Them Softly
‘[Right-wing] blogs are mad [because] I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see. 1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, [without] 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,’ Blow tweeted on Saturday.
‘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.’
He continued: ‘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.’
Later, Blow added: ‘Misogynists – just like racists and homophobes – will defend to the death their “right” to exercise their harm, and to in fact excuse the harm as harmless.’
The Pepe Le Pew debate is not entirely new. Comedian Dave Chappelle called Le Pew a rapist in 2000 in his first HBO special, Killin’ Them Softly.
‘They use the TV to program us from a young age. You ever watch like a cartoon that you used to watch while you were little as an adult? That s**t is wild s**t,’ Chappelle said.
Chappelle recounted watching Looney Tunes with his nephew and telling him to pay attention to Pepe Le Pew ‘because he’s funny.’
‘I’m like good God, what kind of f**king rapist is this guy? Take it easy! That dude [his nephew] was sitting there cracking up, like ‘see, sometimes you got to tap that p***y like Pepe”,’ Chappelle joked.
‘I had to turn the channel real quick and turn on Sesame Street.’
In one 2018 article published by Vocal Media, the author argued that: ‘Pepe Le Pew Is the Mascot of Sexual Harassment.’
‘Anyone familiar with Pepe Le Pew from the Looney Tunes cartoon menagerie will get the same image in their head. A male skunk merrily bouncing towards a terrified female black cat who had the misfortune of somehow getting a white stripe painted along her back,’ claimed Vocal Media writer Richard Wright.
Wright continued: ‘Pepe Le Pew provided just one of many cues I received as a teen in the 80s that normalized rape culture and patriarchy.’
Twitter critics came to the defense of Pepe Le Pew after Blow’s comments in The New York Times
‘In retrospect, now that I think back about various messages I absorbed from entertainment media, there was a lot that I had absorbed and internalized.’
However, critics have said that the cartoon is meant to satirize the concept of ‘love at first sight’ and does not promote rape culture.
In 2019, a Reddit user came to Le Pew’s defense, writing in the subreddit r/FanTheories: ‘I think the story of Pepe is about how if a woman is just not interested she’s not interested and you shouldn’t keep pursuing I think this because Pepe never gets the girl and when the tables turn he becomes the one uncomfortable.’
‘So I think the moral of Pepe is in fact about respecting women and not to be a skunk.’
‘Seems to me that they’re missing the fact that the reason it’s amusing is that Pepe is delusional. He’s not being offered as a model to follow,’ tweeted @HiddenPinky.
Jerry Dunleavy, an investigative reporter for DC Examiner, wrote: ‘Even as a kid I thought the French-accented Pepé Le Pew was the butt of the joke.’
‘He thinks he’s suave & debonair & that women are lucky to catch his attention, but he’s a cringe loser & literally a skunk that the female cat runs from. Pepé also hates it when roles get reversed,’ Dunleavy tweeted.
Wajahat Ali, a columnist for The Daily Beast, tweeted a reference to Martin Niemöller’s First They Came poem which shows the cowardice of German intellectuals during the rise of Nazism.
‘First they came for Potato Head and I said nothing. Then they came for Dr. Seuss and I said nothing. Now Pepe Le Pew,’ Ali tweeted.
Jack Posobiec, the alt-right political activist, tweeted: ‘If the NY Times says Pepe Le Pew adds to rape culture, what will they say about the Coming 2 America sequel where the entire plot is based Leslie Jones’ character date-raping Prince Akeem?’
Actor Michael Rapaport quipped that he was calling for the cancellation of Elmer Fudd for ‘animal abuse.’
‘I’m calling for cancellation of Elmer Fudd! This animal abusing lunatic perpetuated & has inspired miss treatment of animals for decades. Also does he have a license for the Fire Arms?’ Rapaport joked.
In another tweet, Rapaport said: ‘No it didn’t teach boys anything at all, you’re BUGGING.’
Some came to Blow’s defense and argued that people try to bill Pepe Le Pew’s actions as ‘romance’
Pepe Le Pew, a character from Warner Bros.’ Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series, was first introduced in 1945
Another Twitter user joked that Le Pew ‘should have asked for affirmative consent before this kiss, like an actual skunk.’
‘I shudder to think of how this genius is going to react when he discovers Wile E. Coyote inspired ISIS suicide bombers,’ @thehankrose tweeted.
Others said that cartoon characters should be taken as role models, writing that Blow has ‘too much free time.’
‘I never took Looney Tunes’ characters as a role model or try to imitate them. I only enjoyed them as entertainment,’ @J1tten tweeted.
In a similar tweet, @BudFugate wrote: ‘Dude is right. Pepe def taught me this and the coyote taught me if I tie a boat motor around my waist and dropped the propeller in a bucket of water while wearing roller skates that I would go forward really fast.’
Some, however, did come to Blow’s defense – including blogger Tinu Abayomi-Paul.
‘AND they bill it as romance to try to trick girls into putting up with it before they become women,’ Abayomi-Paul tweeted.
She added: ‘Again I ask how he is wrong about this type of cartoon we see AS KIDS contributing to rape culture. EVERY episode is about his unwanted advances on someone.’