Pepé Le Pew seemed to take over social media this weekend with a sudden wave of debate about the Looney Tunes character's problematic nature. Critics rained fresh condemnation down on the skunk for perpetuating rape culture during his time on the air. However, as many people in those online conversations pointed out, this is far from the first time Pepé Le Pew has been "canceled."
The fresh wave of outrage at Pepé Le Pew this week seemed to stem from a New York Times op-ed column by Charles M. Blow. Blow was commenting on Dr. Seuss Enterprises' decision to stop printing six of the author's older books and pointing out that children's media has contained racist, misogynistic and bigoted messages for decades. Pepé Le Pew was just one of many examples Blow brought up, but for some reason, it was the one that social media became preoccupied with. This was especially odd since the argument is far from new.
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
Many commenters linked to their favorite condemnation of Pepé — Dave Chappelle's 2000 stand-up comedy special Killing Them Softly. The comedian joked about revisiting Pepé as an adult and being horrified. At the time, the idea was likely not new, though Chappelle discussed it in a different tone. In the years that followed, however, culture critics would have this debate again and again in essays across the internet.
"We don't see it. Because rape culture is everywhere," reads a 2017 article about Pepé on Project Consent. "It's so ingrained into our minds that we don't even notice it anymore. Every day, we see examples of slut-shaming and rape apologists in the media and on the news. This sets an example for little girls to believe that they should allow men to do whatever they want to them. It teaches young women and girls that they don't have a say in the matter."
Another 2017 article by Richard Wright for Viva takes on the same subject, saying that Pepé and other 20th century media fed children "different messages we may have absorbed without question." The following year, The New York Times published an op-ed by Jennifer Finney Boylan with the joking title "Who Said It: Pepé Le Pew or Donald Trump?" In it, Boylan drew a connection between the seemingly harmless exploits of Pepé and the more insidious actions and rhetoric of powerful men like Trump.
The conversation has never really stopped altogether. In late 2019, Randal Rauser published an article in The Christian Post saying that Pepé looked totally different after the revelations of the "Me Too movement." Rauser also linked to an entry on TVTropes.org, where Pepé serves as an example of a harmful trope known as "Stalking Is Love."
All of the points contained in these articles — and dozens more like them — were made this weekend on Twitter, as they have been made again and again for at least two decades now. Whether any of this will impact Pepé's future in the Looney Tunes pantheon remains to be seen.