Monday, January 29, 2018


SPOILER ALERT: Pepe Le Pew is no longer a parody of the stereotypically insistent, aggressive French lover, but instead, apparently, a symbolic symptom of everything that is and has ever been wrong with male-female relations, a cartoon character who should be frowned upon in the sternest possible manner, one whose very existence is inappropriate for the times and the struggle in which we currently find ourselves engaged. At least that’s what the incensed woman who was lecturing a snack bar employee after Thursday (1/25) night’s Phantom Thread screening I attended seems to think.

Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Pepe Le Pew short in a theater packed with woke, self-righteous hipsters ready to jump all over old-timey conventions of humor which they actually suspect represent the evilness of present-day toxic sexual predation. Whether it was intended as a way of addressing the concerns of the MeTimesTooUp movement, or perhaps as sly commentary on the movie we were about to see, the theater showed a Chuck Jones-Pepe Le Pew cartoon, "The Cat's Bah,"
 in lieu of trailers before the PTA picture, and it may naively not have understood the wasp’s nest at which it was poking. When the short started I felt “uh-oh” uncomfortable at first, but I eventually thought that placing this vintage bit of comedy before Phantom Thread was an interesting juxtaposition, and I laughed at the ridiculousness of PLP’s relentless pursuit, not knowing yet the lengths to which Reynolds Woodcock would be compelled to go in his own romantic pursuit of fulfillment. (Given this is Hollywood, and that Paul Thomas Anderson has banned any trailers from showing before 70mm print engagements of the movie, the possibility certainly exists that the cartoon was personally chosen by the director, in lieu of a trailer at this theater, as precisely the sort of humorously pointed juxtaposition to the psychosexual drama I initially sensed. Unfortunately, pointedly humorous juxtapositions are often wasted on the humorless.)

Even as a kid I was able to understand that the amorous skunk’s behavior was not being held up as a standard for sexual relations— I always identified more with the object of his pursuit, the cat who accidentally gets a white streak painted down her back and desperately tries to escape the clutches of the stinky Romeo who can’t even figure out what species it is he’s trying to fuck. At any rate, the behavior is absurdly exaggerated, and tonight’s cartoon ended, as Pepe’s adventures often did, with the skunk shackled to his terrified prey, the master romancer and his literal slave to love. In other words, it’s a critique of Pepe’s behavior, not a primer entitled “Kids, This Is How You Do It.” Amirite? No wonder the generation who grew up on cartoons like these is so universally fucked up. Not like the millennial warriors who fully understand the sensitive interplay of male-female relations in a way that their predecessors could never approach.

Now, like I said, if one chose to, one could perhaps see this cartoon’s very existence, especially in this context, as a deadpan comment on the State of Things v.2018, or at the very least the prickly groundwork laid before the richer, deeper exploration of a very particular battle of the sexes as seen in Anderson’s film. But the woman who was giving the poor snack bar employee a hard time, a kid who, trust me, doesn’t know Pepe Le Pew from Maurice Chevalier or Charles Boyer, wasn’t having any of that. She wanted to make sure *somebody* at the Vista knew how deeply offended she was by this wildly inappropriate cartoon. I’d be willing to bet she’d advocate Warner Bros. going through their archives and erasing every frame of Pepe Le Pew in the name of promoting respect between men and women, as if this silly skunk was ever meant to be some sort of standard bearer on how women should be treated. As I walked past, I slowed down, listened to a bit of what she was saying, read the “get me the fuck out of here” look on the popcorn vendor’s downturned face, and, rather than try to get into an argument right then and there, made sure she saw and heard me as I laughed, looked at her and said, “Unbelievable.” At that point I walked away, and she never missed a beat. She was still haranguing this kid as I hit the streets. For all I know, she kept at him until the manager was called to the scene, at which point she could justify letting him have it too.

It was an ugly scene, further evidence of our enlightened new society’s inability to read and process texts in any context except for the ones they’ve already predigested to fit their favored agendas. It made me angry and not just a little bit sad, and if Phantom Thread hadn’t been so strong, so beyond my expectations, the aperitif of outrage I was exposed to might have been enough to trash the experience of the whole night. Fortunately, I can think for myself, so that didn’t happen. But I think about that kid and wonder how worried he’s gonna be to come to work tomorrow, wondering whether he’s gonna be subjected to further bullying from someone who is deadly certain she knows what’s best for everyone. And I worry that we are close to losing it as a society— when the credits of that cartoon came on, even I felt my chest contract slightly in dread of how this audience was going to react to the barbarous, licentious assault of a 65-year-old animated joke. The wounds of predation run deep, no doubt, but unfortunately there’s no more room, it seems, for discussion or debate over the intent of Chuck Jones, or the Vista Theater, or perhaps even Anderson in showing that cartoon. We’re only to tolerate lectures from people who are convinced we can’t think for ourselves, or who are profoundly disturbed by the independent thoughts we come up with.

I can’t wait to see Phantom Thread again, and maybe I’ll even go back to the Vista. And next time the snack bar kid finds himself pinned down under SJW fire I hope I’ll feel compelled to offer more than a scoff of disbelief.



Terry McCarty said...

Having lived here for three decades, I’ve become used to various younger generations demonstrating superiority to films of the past—whether by laughing at them or demanding rigorous suppression. Perhaps someday, there will be a return to watching old movies/TV even if they have to be preceded by caveats about context, treatment of subject matter and predudices of the era of their making. But in the meantime, I’d caution against the easy temporary satisfactions of saying SJW and implying only one gender takes easy offense (usually, it’s both).

Dennis Cozzalio said...

Terry, it is absolutely true that members of both sexes were groaning and shifting in their seats during the cartoon-- I was seated on all sides by mostly men, in fact, and could easily hear their complaining noises. Of course I do not mean to imply that it is only one gender that was taking offense, because that clearly isn't true. What is true is that it was a young woman who was berating the kid behind the snack bar. That fact wasn't meant as a generalization by me, just an act of reportage. Is there a gender implication to the phrase "social justice warrior" that I'm not aware of?

Binro said...

PLP was my least favorite WB character when I was a kid; I found PLP shorts unfunny and vaguely disturbing even then, long before I heard the phrase "gender issues."

You are absolutely right that any kid knows that PLP's predation of that poor cat is wrong. Just as any kid knows that Bugs Bunny collapsing the Hollywood Bowl onto the head of a pompous opera singer is also wrong. The difference is the opera singer "deserves it" for making the fatal mistake of bullying Bugs Bunny. This is the WB formula: our central character is minding their own business when some maroon comes along and messes with them. Cue falling anvils.

The problem with PLP is that formula is inverted. The anvil falls on a helpless, dumb animal, whose "crime" was to unknowingly make herself attractive to PLP. She hasn't a chance against a talking animal who wears clothes, has opposable thumbs, unlimited resources and a untreatable case of narcissistic personality disorder. Kids, can you say "power imbalance?" I knew you could.

That said, the pissed-off patron reaming the concession-stand kid is *another* example of power imbalance. She has as much right to her opinion about PLP as you have about Chucky movies. But she's a maroon for chewing out some poor guy who had (probably) zero to do with choosing the short and who cannot talk back to her without losing his job. You wanna vent? Vent to the manager! "Lady, leave the kid alone and save it for Facebook!" I can hear Bugs saying.

Her attacking somebody that can't attack back is the ugly behavior. Not her gender or opinion.

And yeah, SJW is a loaded term wielded by those maroons who think there are too many female SF writers.

mike schlesinger said...

First Speedy Gonzales, now Pepe. Millennials: Ruining it for everyone.