In the wake of Dr. Seuss Enterprises' announcement that six old books would no longer be printed, culture critics are putting fresh attention on other aspects of children's media — including The Looney Tunes' Pepé Le Pew. On Wednesday, Charles M. Blow wrote an opinion column for The New York Times saying, among other things, that Pepé "normalized rape culture."
Blow pointed to the problematic features of children's media, as well, recalling even more obscure old characters like Speedy Gonzales and Mammy Two Shoes. However, the condemnation of Pepé Le Pew seemed to hit some readers especially hard. In a series of tweets on Saturday, Blow said that "[right wing] blogs are mad" about that particular comment. He proceeded to lay out his point more clearly for those that did not pick up on it the first time.
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
"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 wrote. "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."
Some critics fought back against Blow, claiming that he was reaching to make a point and that the cartoon was not as sinister as he claimed. Some also debated whether a child could be relied on to absorb the sinister message Blow was implying, believing that it would not impact their behavior down the line.
For most, however, the case of Pepé Le Pew has been closed for a long time. This debate is far from the first time the point has been made. One of the most famous takes on the controversy was Dave Chappelle's 2000 stand-up comedy special Killing Them Softly on HBO. He joked that seeing Pepé Le Pew as an adult alarmed him so much he had to change the channel.
Even Blow clearly did not expect Pepé to be the main takeaway of his column. The line about the skunk was incidental to his larger point about racist imagery within children's media, particularly in the 20th century. After the case of Dr. Seuss' questionable jokes, he hoped readers would reckon with the casual, baked-in racism of other old cartoons and examine how they had influenced their worldview.