Should We Be Hoping for Either Alleged Sexual Harasser to Avoid Being Cancelled?
3/13/21 – – Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York, and Pepé Le Pew, a cartoon skunk, are facing intense reputational storms. Pressure is building to end the careers of these once-beloved, now embattled public figures.
Both have been charged with serial sexual harassment and assault — repeatedly forcing themselves on females repulsed by their unwanted advances. And here’s the really strange part: Analyzing the news coverage over the last few weeks, you’d think they are equally worthy of censure. Seriously?
Let’s start with the skunk. I should be more precise: Let’s start with Pepé Le Pew.
There is concern that Le Pew is a terrible role model for impressionable young men. He’s the definition of toxic masculinity. No question, his on-screen behavior — perhaps intended to be funny 70 years ago — is and always was unacceptable. New York Times columnist Charles Blow set off a tsunami of hyperbolic criticism when he wrote: “Some of the first cartoons I remember included Pepé Le Pew, who normalized rape culture.”
Is that fair? Are boys likely to follow Le Pew’s lead after watching his escapades? Consider the following:
Pepé Le Pew is a skunk.
He’s not even a real skunk. He’s an animated skunk starring in “Looney Tunes” cartoons (not the most respected platform for thought-leadership).
He’s an animated skunk who speaks with a French accent. Even the youngest kids know that real skunks can’t talk.
He’s an animated skunk with a French accent who suffers from nearsightedness (this leads him to hopelessly pursue cats, rather than females of his own species).
Because he’s a skunk, he smells really bad, which, along with the fact that he’s not a cat, makes him even more unappealing to the felines he stalks.
This animated, nearsighted, smelly skunk with the French accent never earns the interest of the cats he assaults, who drop anvils on his head, set him on fire and otherwise make their rejection crystal clear.
That does not strike me as a recipe for reverence and adulation. “I want to grow up just like Pepé Le Pew” is not something you’re going to hear from even the most impressionable boy. And I believe girls are far more likely to be offended than traumatized by the antics of this clearly fictional, flawed character.
That’s not to say that we should push back against the current movement to allow the dated character of Pepé Le Pew to fade into history. What once was meant to be humorous is uncomfortable at best today. A negative stereotype (it’s not a coincidence that the less-than-aromatic animated skunk was given a French accent) is no longer an acceptable premise for comedy. Warner Bros. is wise to write Le Pew out of any future features.
Au revoir, Pepé.
Now, what about Governor Andrew Cuomo?
He’s real. And the women who have come forward with allegations of harassment and assault are real.
Governor Cuomo (who has an exaggerated New York, not French accent) is not nearsighted, but he is being accused of misreading women’s mere presence in his office or residence as expressions of interest in sexual relations.
Unlike Pepé Le Pew’s encounters, there is a striking imbalance of power in the stories brought forth by Governor Cuomo’s accusers, whose livelihoods and careers were under his control.
Also unlike Pepé, Governor Cuomo is facing additional problems; potentially criminal charges of making deadly decisions during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic and covering up the impact of those actions.
Finally, elected government officials — especially a governor who writes a book about leadership and wins an Emmy award during a pandemic — are powerful role models; far more influential than cartoon characters.
Interestingly, there has been more hesitation, until the last few days, to damn Governor Cuomo (the seventh accuser just came forward yesterday) than to cancel Pepé Le Pew. Many voices quick to assail other public figures charged with sexual harassment initially withheld any criticism of Cuomo. I guess it’s not surprising that Governor Cuomo has a more influential, loyal power base than does an animated skunk. The Governor is owed due process, and I expect him to fight to the bitter end to keep his platform in office.
Ultimately, however, I believe both will suffer similar fates. Neither, for example, will be appearing in the upcoming Warner Bros. TV production “Space Jam: A New Legacy.”
That’s all, folks!