This weekend saw a surprising explosion of debates about 20th-century cartoon characters — most prominently Pepé Le Pew and Speedy Gonzales. The two characters got starkly different treatments in the arguments, chiefly because of the stereotypes they were based on. While Pepé was easy for most people to condemn, the conversation about Speedy was a bit more nuanced.
The whole debate stems from Dr. Seuss Enterprises' announcement this week that it would stop publishing six of the author's old books, which contain racist imagery and language. In response, Charles M. Blow wrote an op-ed for The New York Times, arguing that those Seuss books were just the tip of the iceberg. He argued that children's media of the last century was heavily steeped in racism and bigotry, citing Pepé Le Pew and Speedy Gonzales as two examples. Before long, both cartoons were trending on Twitter, with commenters arguing over their specific favorite characters rather than Blow's greater point.
Speedy Gonzales is a special case because many Latino and Latino-American users were the ones defending him. Many argued that he was the first and most prominent representation they remember seeing in pop culture, even if he was flawed in some ways. Some generalized that any attempt to "cancel" Speedy was rooted in "white guilt," not real altruism.
Still, there's no denying that Gonzales reflects a different cultural time, and many of the jokes in his cartoons are troubling in hindsight. At the same time, it is a major leap to say that Blow or anyone else was trying to "cancel" Speedy in any meaningful way. Rather, they were trying to draw readers' attention to a cultural artifact and provoke some critical thought.
Like Pepé Le Pew, the debate about Speedy Gonzales is also far from new. The conversation has been had again and again, yet none of them have resulted in him leaving TV. Nevertheless, it rages on to this day. Scroll down for a look at Twitter's latest debate about Speedy Gonzales.
Some critics joked that a simple litmus test for Speedy would be to imagine those jokes being made for the first time today. In most cases, this thought experiment ended quickly.prevnext
My face when now they're trying to cancel Pepe Le Pew and Speedy Gonzalez... pic.twitter.com/HymRbRL9Bo— Waga NSFW (@NSFWaga) March 6, 2021
Many users joked that anyone criticizing Speedy Gonzales in 2021 has too much free time on their hands. However, they might not have known that a new iteration of Speedy will debut later this year in Space Jam: A New Legacy, where he will be voiced by Gabriel Iglesias.prevnext
Stop calling everything "cancel culture" because you're too dim to have a nuanced opinion. People can be offended by something, or think something sucks, and that's not "cancel culture" - it's free speech.— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) March 7, 2021
Likewise, these are all nuanced conversations. I think most Latin people love Speedy Gonzalez, which is a pretty good argument that he shouldn't be "canceled". But Pepe le Pew, to me at least, is offensive because of the way he treats that cat.— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) March 7, 2021
Filmmaker James Gunn posted a thread on Saturday saying that the debate over Speedy was being over-simplified — and that many others had been as well. Gunn himself was briefly fired from Marvel Studios over some dark, violent jokes he made earlier in the decade, so he is more qualified to weigh in on the subject than most.prevnext
First they come for Pepe, now Speedy Gonzalez is trending. Look man. If y'all know Loony Tunes like I do, you know that NONE of them are safe by today's standards. To quote a certain wascally wabbit.."of course you realize, this means WAR." pic.twitter.com/oDOF5gZSJO— ThaGospel (@gospel_tha) March 6, 2021
Die-hard Looney Tunes fans acknowledged that the entire franchise has problematic moments in its nearly century-long history. They argued that the characters all needed to change and grow with the times, but that it shouldn't snuff them out of existence.prevnext
HOT TAKE! Trying to cancel Speedy Gonzalez is just as annoying as complaining about Speedy Gonzalez getting canceled— Working on Villainverse Ch 5 (@Cheesymanfredo) March 7, 2021
"Sees why Pepe Le Pew and Speedy Gonzalez are trending" pic.twitter.com/0dthiRvku3— GraceFieldPaladin (@MoonPaladin) March 6, 2021
Many, many commenters said that the whole conversation about these cartoons was annoying and that people on both sides were out of line.prevnext
Speedy Gonzales rep is quite the opposite. The League of United Latin American Citizens called Speedy a cultural icon. He was praised for being sharp and getting the best of his enemies.— Jackson Pauls (@PaulsJackson) March 6, 2021
You can read more about this here: https://t.co/gLGANRCgf0
The weird thing about Speedy Gonzalez is that for a while Warner Bros did try to get rid of him for being a Mexican stereotype but then it turns out the Mexican community generally sort of liked him so they were like "no, bring him back" and they did. 🤷♀️— Non-Binary Jennifer Corvino🏴🎥👻🎵 (@elevatorcore) March 6, 2021
Many people tweeted references to a past attempt to "cancel" Speedy, saying that it had failed because Latino people simply loved him too much. This is essentially true — according to a report by Quartz, Cartoon Network shelved Speedy in 1999, but the League of United Latin American Citizens lobbied for his return. Speedy was back on the air in 2002 and has gone through some subtle changes since then.prevnext
i feel like we've had the same discussion over and over again latinos love speedy gonzalez bro— teeth enthusiast 🔞 (@overhaulkin) March 7, 2021
Finally, people on both sides of the issue observed that the debate about Speedy, Pepé and other characters was simply repetitive and boring. They called for an end to these circular debates with no end in sight.prev