Pepé Le Pew seemed to take over social media on Saturday, not just because of Charles M. Blow's op-ed for The New York Times, but for his follow-up on Twitter. Blow mentioned Pepé off-handedly as one example of how cartoons had reinforced negative worldviews in the 20th century in his article. When he got some push-back on that point, in particular, he was fully prepared to double down on his criticism of the Looney Tunes skunk.
"[Right wing] blogs are mad [because] I said Pepé Le Pew added to rape culture. Let's see," Blow tweeted on Saturday morning, a few days after his column was published. "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. 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."
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.— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 6, 2021
Blow's tweet may have helped spur an all-day conversation about Pepé on Saturday, which took over the trending topics category along with Speedy Gonzalez. However, it represents only a small fraction of the point he tried to make in the article itself. Blow was arguing that the six Dr. Seuss books that were taken out of print this week were only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to problematic children's media of the last century or so.
"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," he wrote. These were just a few examples in a broader discussion about cultural representation.
"Racism must be exorcised from culture, including, or maybe especially, from children’s culture," Blow concluded later on. "Teaching a child to hate or be ashamed of themselves is a sin against their innocence and a weight against their possibilities."
In the context of that article, the brief mention of Pepé was warranted, but many users were baffled to see the old cartoon character taking over Twitter on Saturday. Pepé's transgressions have been re-hashed time and time again by culture critics for over two decades now, and some were exhausted by the debate. Whether Blow's bigger points will reach them remains to be seen.