Much of the discussion around nostalgia-bait sequel Space Jam 2 has fixated heavily on cancel culture, and edits to the film that potentially took place as a result of shifting public attitudes.
Let’s take a look:
Pepé Le Pew
Pepé is one of those Looney Tunes characters who is locked in an endless pursuit, like Wile E. Coyote or Sylvester the Cat.
Unlike those two, Pepé doesn’t want to eat his prey – he wants to have sex with her, the joke being that he is a narcissistic buffoon who doesn’t understand that Penelope Pussycat despises him.
And sure, it makes uncomfortable viewing nowadays – but Pepé isn’t a particularly popular children’s character in 2021. I don’t think many children today would even recognize him.
NYTimes writer Charles Blow, however, sparked a heated debate after accusing the character of contributing to rape culture, a rather serious accusation for an animated skunk.
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I don’t think this kind of rhetoric is particularly convincing (at least, not when discussing Looney Tunes).
Yet, during an old comedy sketch, Dave Chappelle makes the exact same point, and he does so convincingly, because he makes you laugh.
This is, after all, a silly discussion – it should be funny!
Was Pepé canceled?
Yes, in 2017. But he wasn’t canceled in 2021.
While many have drawn a connection to Blow’s criticism and Pepé’s removal from Space Jam 2, Pepé’s single scene in the film was removed several months before Blow’s commentary, and the skunk was never even animated for the live-action footage which was shot.
Which is ironic, because his scene was apparently intended to highlight the importance of consent – Blow would have probably been pretty happy to see it.
At one point, Warner Bros. was planning to release a Pepé Le Pew feature film, written by Max Landis. However, in a darkly ironic twist, Pepé’s film was canceled after Max Landis was accused of sexual assault.
Warner Bros. reportedly has no future plans to revive the character.
The seductive Lola Bunny in the original Space Jam stems from a long, hilarious history of deliriously horny animators, exploring their sexual fantasies through cartoons.
For many young ones that watched the first film, Lola sparked something of a confused awakening (and people wonder why there are so many furries around these days).
Was Lola canceled?
No – her design was changed to be less overtly sexual. And some fans had a problem with that. But that redesign happened long before the Space Jam sequel; Lola has appeared a couple of times in previous Looney Tunes animations, resembling the shape of Bugs Bunny and sometimes given an eccentric personality.
A similar thing happened to the modern incarnation of Crash Bandicoot’s love interest, Tawna Bandicoot, who was desexualized and given a more action-packed role in the latest Crash Bandicoot game, provoking the ire of horny gamers.
Personally, I don’t think there’s any harm in having curvy cartoon characters exist among their silly, shapeless peers, as long as they’re not the sole female representation that exists on screen. They’re not hideously offensive; they’re even kind of cool, with their casual, retro sexism. But who knows – maybe the hypersexualized fantasies of horny animators will come back into vogue, eventually.
And hey, those who are really pining for the old days can always pay a visit to Deviant Art.
Even the most diehard of anti-cancel-culture activists would admit that classic Looney Tunes cartoons are packed with deeply offensive and outdated racial stereotypes – no one, to my knowledge, yearns for the days when Bugs Bunny would, like, fall into a mud puddle and come out wearing blackface.
But Speedy Gonzales is a little more complicated – he has been accused of perpetuating negative racial stereotypes about Latin Americans. At the same time, Speedy Gonzales is wildly popular in Latin America, and is generally a pretty positive character who usually emerges as the victor of conflicts.
Charles Blow did mention the character in his criticism, but saved his ire for Speedy Gonzales’ friends, rather than the titular hero himself.
Gabriel Iglesias, the actor who voices Speedy Gonzales in Space Jam 2, took to Twitter to preemptively defend the cartoon mouse from censors.
Was Speedy canceled?
Briefly, in 1999 – Cartoon Network took Speedy Gonzales off the air, fearing that he was too offensive for modern sensibilities. But after fans campaigned to bring him back, Speedy Gonzales returned to the screen.
And clearly, he’s in Space Jam 2.
As usual, after all of this exhaustive cancel culture discussion, Space Jam 2 has likely been given a massive marketing boost on social media, without spending a single cent; perhaps we need to come up with a better definition.
Source: Forbes – Business