Sometimes cancel culture can make the heart grow fonder. Is that how that saying goes? Well, if not exactly, there’s something of that effect happening right now with Pepe le Pew and his, now controversial, character. Since the infamous skunk was put out of commission last week because of an outcry over his on-screen treatment of female characters, the canceling has had something of the opposite of the intended effect. It seems that now Pepe le Pew is one of the most popular characters out there on streaming.
Right now Pepe Le Pew and Friends is the top-rated streaming show on iTunes in the United States topping other popular shows like South Park, Yellowstone, and Superman & Lois. Having a cartoon character at the apex of the streaming charts isn’t something new. It’s this particular character that is interesting right now considering he isn’t all that notable and hasn’t been in the forefront of minds basically for decades now (if he ever even was). But recent news has brought him back into the limelight enough that apparently people want to see exactly why he’s been canceled. It’s a fascinating turn of events.
The dust-up around Pepe Le Pew which helped vault the character to the top of the streaming charts comes from the recent news that the skunk had been removed from the upcoming Space Jam: A New Legacy production. That stemmed from a New York Times op-ed piece by Charles M. Blow lambasting the character and the writing around his actions when it came to females on screen. The contention was that with Le Pew’s main driver being to win the love of Penelope Pussycat, he took actions that implied he was willing to achieve his ends by the use of force. He repeatedly blocked her exit from rooms when trying to get away from the skunk and forced himself on her as well.
The fallout from this op-ed and its subsequent reaction was for Warner Bros to take the character out of the upcoming movie and effectively cancel him going forward. Originally, the studio had planned to have Pepe Le Pew interact with actress Greice Santo in the movie and the latter was going to layout just why Pepe’s actions toward women were so harmful and negative. In this way, they were planning to rehabilitate the character with the understanding that the past writing for him had considerably abhorrent. But in the end, they decided that the juice simply wasn’t worth the squeeze. Why bring the controversy into the movie when it would be easier to just eliminate the character altogether?
And Warner Bros didn’t stop there with Pepe Le Pew. In addition to being written out of the new Space Jam, they also announced that the skunk would no longer have any appearances in the Looney Tunes franchise. Why bother really? It wasn’t like the character had all that great of a legacy to begin with. Though he’s been around since 1945, the cultural resonance isn’t anywhere close to characters like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, or others. I suspect the Looney Tunes folks saw it as no big loss on that end. He wasn’t part of the core group to begin with. Better to cut ties and move on than continually fight an uphill battle with the cancel culture crowd.
Sometimes cancel culture has its desired (though negative) effect of removing a person or character from the limelight as punishment for past actions. But sometimes it just makes demand around seeing that character increase. We saw this with Dr. Seuss a couple of weeks ago and the publishing company removing a certain selection of his books from distribution because of different perceived racial characterizations. The news made the prices of the selected books jump in the short term on eBay. Such is the case with Pepe Le Pew and Friends on iTunes where it ranked number one on the platform for four-straight days over the course of last week.
So Pepe Le Pew is officially canceled by Warner Bros and Space Jam 2. But iTunes has the show rolling for those who want to see why there was such an outcry over the character. Canceled in some places, but not in others.