When The Cartoon Character Tattooed On Your Rear End Gets Cancelled
I got the cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew tattooed on my right fanny cheek back in 1992, when I was 21 years old. Mind you, this was a time when a blockbuster indie hit movie Dazed and Confused featured a Matthew McConaughey character whose running “joke” was that he was a lecherous 23-year-old who sexually preyed upon high school students. (“That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”) Meanwhile, the biggest sitcom star of the day, a 39-year-old Jerry Seinfeld, was openly dating a 17-year-old to a chorus of no public criticism whatsoever. It was kind of a different era!
But in the last week, my ass tattoo honoree Pepé Le Pew has suddenly become a controversial figure, despite having no real cultural relevance in at least 25 years. So what do I do about my ass tattoo? Welcome to my Ted Talk about what happens when the cartoon character you got tattooed on your ass suddenly gets cancelled.
WHY DID PEPE LE PEW BECOME CONTROVERSIAL LAST WEEK?
The Looney Tunes franchise has not enjoyed great cultural significance since the 1990s. But back when I got my Pepé Le Pew tattoo, Looney Tunes reruns were getting very high ratings on Nick at Nite, and many major retailers had huge Looney Tunes merchandise displays, leading up to the runaway success of the film Space Jam in 1996.
But in light of the recent Dr. Suess book removal controversy, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow wrote a very thoughtful opinion piece on racist imagery in legacy children’s books, saying that Pepé Le Pew “normalized rape culture.” Pepé Le Pew was the only character called out for sexual misconduct rather than obvious racism (and many of the characters Blow described were indefensibly racist caricatures), so Blow got blowback from right-wingers saying this was cancel culture gone “overboard.” Blow responded with a detailed description of how the amorous skunk character “helped teach boys that ‘no’ didn’t really mean no.”
RW blogs are mad bc I said Pepe Le Pew added to rape culture. Let’s see.
1. He grabs/kisses a girl/stranger, repeatedly, w/o 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. pic.twitter.com/CbLCldLwvR
— Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) March 6, 2021
Fast forward four days, and we see news that Pepé Le Pew has been removed from the forthcoming LeBron James Space Jam sequel. (Mostly because the film replaced its director, which is often a sign that a movie will be terrible.) In the deleted scene, Pepé Le Pew had reportedly been recast as something of a post-Weinstein predator, and the scene confronted the character’s problematic past. He nonconsensually kissed the arm of a human, non-cartoon woman, who slaps him and he spins physical comedy-style into a barstool.
The woman in the scene is Brazilian vocalist and actor Greice Santo, herself an abuse survivor, who had a hit song about coping with a stalker. She’s upset that the scene was deleted, with her publicist telling Deadline, “Now the scene is cut, and she doesn’t have that power to influence the world through younger generations who’ll be watching Space Jam 2.”
I am the voice of Speedy Gonzales in the new Space Jam. Does this mean they are gonna try to cancel Fluffy too? U can’t catch me cancel culture. I’m the fastest mouse in all of Mexico 💨 pic.twitter.com/Ov4wjO00kM
— G a b r i e l – I g l e s i a s (@fluffyguy) March 7, 2021
There are two ways to deal with sudden criticism of a cartoon character you love. One way is to react defensively, blame “cancel culture,” and to ignore any contemporary criticisms that the art that may have aged badly. The other way is to rewatch the decades-old work again through modern eyes, and try to assess fairly whether that is still something you can support and feel comfortable being associated with.
SHOULD PEPE LE PEW BE CANCELLED?
It’s really the decision of the studio or whomever owns the intellectual property at that time. But personally, whether this character has aged badly and whether I want to get rid of my ass tattoo, yes — I am getting rid of my Pepé Le Pew ass tattoo.
What I remember of Pepé Le Pew was his adorable design, the way he bounced through meadows of flowers, and did Rudolph Valentino impersonations during quick and relentless recoveries from ass-whoopings. What did not occur to me at age 21 in the early 1990s was the sexual consent violations that were indeed crucial to his character. That was terrible oversight and I’m really sorry it took me 29 years and a “cancel culture” dustup for me to realize this.
In the case of Speedy Gonzales, you can remove the trope that his Mexican friends are drunkards and rehabilitate the character into a less problematic modern version. But in Pepé Le Pew’s case, the non consensual groping is just too critical to his character, and it cannot be disassociated from his persona. Some people might not fuck me if they saw that tattoo on my ass! I don’t know if I would even fuck me if I saw that tattoo on my ass.
So-called “cancellation” works differently with cartoon characters. A cartoon character cannot go to therapy, cannot join an accountability pod, and cannot “do the work on themselves” because they do not exist in reality. If a real human celebrity has a scandal, they can be remorseful and put in the work to improve their moral character. But a cartoon character is controlled entirely by a team of creatives at an entertainment company, whose main priorities are maintaining brand loyalty and positive public relations as opposed to real accounting and reckoning over what is right and what is wrong.
I’ve decided it is wrong to keep that three decade old Pepé Le Pew tattoo on my ass. So what am I going to do? I could use your help in deciding that, so let’s have a look I’m dealing with here, and TRIGGER WARNING there is a picture of my hairy, 50-year-old ass if you keep scrolling down to the conclusion of this post below.
SO WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH THIS PEPE LE PEW ON MY ASS?
I am going to get it covered. This is my decision, it’s my ass. If you want to tell me that any alleged cancellation of Pepé Le Pew is some manner of “woke mob” with an out-of-control agenda, I would argue that you’re trying to discourage me from doing what I genuinely think is the right thing to do.
Am I going to run out and get it covered right away? No. Tattoo parlors can operate in the red tier, but the reality is that not one person has seen my ass in the last 12 months, and I do not anticipate being naked around anyone anytime in the near future. I’m pretty cautious about these public safety protocols, and asses are just filthy. I will get this ass tattoo covered when San Francisco enters the “No Color Whatsoever” tier.
But the issue does remain that I have this 4-inch by 2.5-inch, all-black, no-background Pepé Le Pew tattoo squarely on my rump. So… how should I get that fucker covered? What should I get over top of it? Sound off in the comments. Because I’ve really got some skin in this game.