Not a Good Idea
A couple of friends of mine pointed me to this post about a plan from Warner Brothers to bring back Pépé le Pew in 3-D, voiced by Mike Myers, in one of those CG-laden crapfests. The AV Club says this, in part:
. Pepé Le Pew, occasionally characterized by people who take these things too seriously as a racist caricature of a smelly French person, will once again work his date-rape-y wiles on Penelope Pussycat, with the two being the only computer animated members of a an otherwise live-action cast.
I hope that the AV Club is being a little tongue-in-cheek with that “take these things too seriously” bit because my first thought when I heard of this project was “boys learning that it’s okay to paw and stalk a a girl because you really really like her is just what we need, especially if we tell them it’s cute if you do it in an outrageous French accent.” no, we really don’t need that. We already send boys mixed signals about what’s appropriate conduct around those they find attractive–the last thing we need is a cartoon skunk doing some version of “do I make you horny baby?” My only real question will be what’s more likely to make the audience vomit–the story or the 3-D?
I can understand Warner Brothers’ desire to update their cartoon characters for a young audience. I really do. That’s just free money laying out there–parents my age and a little younger will be willing to drop a few bucks in order to see the cartoons they grew up with. Hell, I went to see Space Jam. In the theater, I might add.
But sometimes you have to acknowledge that the characters you created decades ago aren’t appropriate anymore. Disney has disappeared The Song of the South, and a large number of the early Tom and Jerry cartoons have been heavily edited to remove racist scenes. Pepé le Pew was a character created at a time when few people took sexual harassment seriously (outside those people being harassed, at least), and he’s a one-note joke. There’s no way to bring him back and tame him so his conduct would be anything near appropriate for a contemporary audience.
Besides, it’s not like Pepé was ever a front-line star. You’ve got Bugs and Daffy and Elmer Fudd, Porky Pig and Marvin the Martian and maybe even Foghorn Leghorn (I’d have to think on him a bit, and maybe watch those cartoons again to be sure). And what’s more, you’ve got the opportunity to create and integrate new characters into the universe. Hell, bring back the Animaniacs and the rest of that crew while you’re at it.
But not the Tiny Toons. Screw those guys.
Just put Pepé back in the vault with Speedy Gonzales and Slowpoke Rodriguez and let their memories fade. We don’t need them now, except as relics. Let the scholars have them for study and deconstruction.
Update: When I posted this to my Facebook page, some friends of mine from high school and college said they thought I’d over-thought this a bit, that we’d all grown up with this stuff and had managed to become not horrible people, so maybe the cartoons didn’t have that large an effect on us. And it would be easy to look at who I am now and come to the same conclusion.
But the truth is that when I was a kid, and even when I was a young adult, I was a pretty shitty person, and part of that, I think, came from being surrounded by humor that played on stereotypes. My dad was a huge proponent of the idea that people should be willing to be laughed at no matter the situation, and he used his own condition to prove it. He’s had polio as a child, and had a crippled left arm, which meant he’d grown up as the butt of jokes and bullies. I got glasses in kindergarten, had asthma, and was a smart-alecky nerd with no off switch for my mouth, which meant I was subjected to the same treatment, and I dealt with the bullying the same way, which translated into, as I got older, “I can take it, so you can too.” Like I said, I was a shitty kid.
And I was a shitty adult for a long while too, in part because no one really challenged me to look at my conduct from another’s point of view. Truth be told, I still look at myself as a work in progress, though I’m a lot more sensitive to racism and sexism than I ever was even in my early 30’s. But I wonder how much of my inability to recognize casual racism and sexism came from the entertainment I was surrounded by–the stereotypes and the insult humor, just to name two examples.
Obviously I can never know for certain, but the more I think about it, the more I lean toward the idea that I was at the very least being told that it was okay to be callous toward the feelings of other people, and that even if I didn’t mind being ribbed, my experience wasn’t necessarily universal. It’s taken me until my forties to even consider it. Kids don’t think these things through at all.