At a time where a wave of #metoo sentiments are pulsing through the globe, Semtex castes her acerbic eye on the 40’s cartoon character Pepé Le Pew. Created at a time where women’s rights were still to a degree flights of fancy, Semtex questions the apparent light-hearted nature of the cartoon. She delves into issues of-sexual inappropriateness, post WW2 ideas regarding women, unwanted attention, sexually aggressive behaviour and of course the entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has become a symbol for predators.
More than a stench-ridden lothario, Le Pew is a narcissist
With the increasing dissatisfaction women have expressed with the state of long-accepted and desperately upheld misogyny in the public space-most of all, in pop culture. Accordingly, looking back upon some of the content peddled to the masses in the twentieth century becomes more astonishing with each retrospective viewing. Among the annals of such nonchalantly patriarchal fodder is an “innocent” cartoon enjoyed by many–or at least, it was without the taint of the jaded eyes that behold it now. For what better metaphorical animal to represent a predatory male than a skunk? Apart from a snake, there’s really none. At least, that’s what Warner Bros. seemed to advocate in terms of the not so subtle symbol of rapacious behavior in the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies series of cartoons centered on one, Pepé Le Pew.
More than a stench-ridden lothario, Le Pew is a narcissist so grand in terms that he apparently couldn’t look beyond himself long enough to see that the cat he always mistook for a skunk (when a white strip of paint “just happened” to fall on her for the sake of the narrative) was, in fact, a cat. But this isn’t the only reason Penelope Pussycat (cue the innuendo-laden remarks) is never compatible with Le Pew. No, it goes well beyond the complexities of an interspecies relationship. The other reason? She has no fucking interest in him. Despite attempts, she is never allowed a moment to breathe in Pepé Le Pew’s midst.
But then, we must remember the year the cartoon was created: 1945. It’s right after the war and the U.S. is both still caught up in its political and economic competition with Europe (apparently favoring France the most–or least, depending on how offensive you find the French stereotype that is Le Pew) and a newfound desire to get American men back on the literal tit of women so that the country can go on producing in more ways than one. Pursue, pursue, pursue. Must propagate the race. Or something to that effect was foremost in the minds of tastemakers driving the motives and desires of U.S. citizens, pop culture geared toward children being the most powerful tool for mind-influencing propaganda.
watching it now conjures images of what it must have felt like for the many actresses cornered in Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room.
With no time to waste after being gone for so long in the war, one can imagine a returned soldier echoing the same line as Pepé Le Pew to his own Penelope Pussycat: “We can do away with the dull preliminaries, and make love right away.” Just standard dialogue in Le Pew’s endless arsenal of marauding lines. Penelope shoulders the constant burden of being pursued by Le Pew as he spouts impossibly bathetic declarations like, “How beautiful you are. How lonesome it has been that I have been without you” (remember, he has a French accent made even more ridiculously over the top because it’s being catered to the perspective of an American audience).
At one point shaking Penelope like a ragdoll after kissing her despite her clear disinterest. Pepé Le Pew suddenly seems to remember that you’ve got to take a lady out to dinner before she’ll agree to do anything too extensive with you. Though he seems to get along just fine with a body as stiff as a board from all that bristling in revulsion. So, he makes a better attempt at romance by exclaiming, “But I forget, but of course. The rendezvous!” Pulling down partitions that appear out of nowhere in their outdoor environment to re-create the look of a house (it sort of reminds one of what the Beast from La Belle et la Bête might inhabit if he were a more modern animal), Le Pew whips out the champagne and puts on a record. He really wants to get the mood just right. Deluding himself that he’s giving the orifice of his desire just what it wants. But the orifice is attached to a woman whose only want is to make a beeline. Singing an unsettling French ditty to himself as Penelope searches frantically for a way out, watching it now conjures images of what it must have felt like for the many actresses cornered in Harvey Weinstein’s hotel room.
Clawing at the walls of the fake ambience Pepé has made appear, a panicked Penelope tries to escape from her rapey oppressor. “Rapey,” of course, under the guise of being “romantic.” A man who just wants to love and be loved in return. Because a woman should simply be grateful that the opposite sex is enthralled with the hunt of her, no? She should consider herself a lucky girl for being told sweet nothings like, “You are my peanut, I am your brittle,” while being caressed and fondled against her will.
Constantly squirming and writhing to get away from him, Penelope Pussycat is further oppressed by the foul odour of Pepé, a perpetually emanating stench that suffocates every flower, insect, frog and any living thing in between in his wake. Would that Penelope could simply die from the lethal stink as well, so that she might not have to go through the same abuse over and over again with each new random white paint stripe that seems to find its way onto her all-black coat.
What’s perhaps worst is that Le Pew doesn’t even have any real interest in Penelope. Not her personality, her aspirations–in short, who she “is.” This much is made apparent as he hones in on her in another episode and says, “Hello young lady, whoever you are.” Because it doesn’t matter who she is to him, so long as she looks like a skunk and can fulfill his always burgeoning desires.
At one point spewing as a conversation starter, “Everyone should have a hobby, don’t you think? Mine is making love,” Le Pew’s sleazoid methods are almost too much to bear in the current climate. Maybe he could bill it that way back then, but in these #MeToo times, his so-called “hobby” is just sexual assault.