The cancellation of Pepe Le Pew illustrates how the trend towards mob hysteria has become completely divorced from any pretense of reason and moral purpose.
Pepe Le Pew is a cartoon skunk. He really likes the ladies, he is not even picky about species, so long as it’s got a tail he’s ready to sail. He has no dignity, honor or integrity and is completely driven by lust. His disregard for the objects of his unchecked desire is a grotesque personality flaw. That is the whole point, you’re not supposed to like Pepe Le Pew, you’re supposed to realize that he is an entitled creep, and try not to become like him when you grow up. I realized this by the time I was four or five – Pepe Le Pew is an example of how men shouldn’t act towards women.
And yet somehow the cancelords mistook him for a role model, and wanted to to precipitate his erasure from existence when they took to social media and online forums to convince his owners to drop him from their present and future projects. Now mind you, I could give a shit less about Pepe Le Pew. I have no attachment to him and I would rather eat unwashed water buffalo ass than watch the new Space Jam movie. I will not argue that Pepe Le Pew is an icon who should be preserved, for historical or ideological reasons. I have no desire to defend Pepe Le Pew’s continued existence, I just think that this is the point where cancel culture has lost the plot entirely.
My biggest problem here right from the start is literalism. Pepe Le Pew should not be taken literally, he should be seen as a caricature of machismo excess meant to teach boys some manners. Taking Pepe Le Pew literally as a positive role model of male sexuality is just so incredibly ignorant. It is like canceling Smokey the Bear because he talks about forest fires, and you’re against forest fires. It is totally missing the point. And I see this kind of literalism happening more and more. At first it was the inability to recognize satire, and then to become unironically indignant about it, but now it has spread like wildfire into all aspects of normal cognitive pursuits. I recently failed to convince somebody online that the oldies song ‘Lollipop’ is sexual innuendo, and not just mere simile as they believed. The mind boggles. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that the same generations who masturbate to animated animal-people wouldn’t be able to differentiate between cartoon satire and reality.
I suspect the motivation behind Le Pews cancellation has very little to do with any sort of authentic attempt to understand the character and what it meant, nor to right any actual wrong. I suspect that finding the next target has become like a treasure hunt, with eager little gratification junkies combing media to find something they can associate with social justice movements in any way at all, which they can then toss to a bloodthirsty mob who collectively bully and threaten the right people until they have destroyed something for the mere sport of it. I suspect that the game of cancel culture has exceeded its moral intent and is now just a compulsive activity performed for the sake of feeding the players ego and vanity.
If the premise of cancel culture was ever to encourage and enforce morality, it has become vengeful and cowardly and completely immoral itself. Using the strength of the collective voice to disempower predators is one thing, but it has now become about destroying the target forever. Where is the mercy? Where is the forgiveness and chance at redemption? Where is the humanity? And how much further are we going to stretch the metrics that define a cancelable offense until it has nothing at all to do with actual acts of aggression and predation? That sort of hunger for destruction marks the turning point in this whole thing, where cancel culture itself is going to become a greater existential hazard than the problems it arose to solve.
Yet I do not want to suggest that cancel culture is something new. It has existed as long as recorded history. Christianity employed various versions of it for nearly two thousand years. It is the fundamentalist mentality of puritans, the moral panic of witch hunts and the organized destruction of the inquisitions. It was at the heart of the temperance movement, which begat prohibition, which paved the way for the massively destructive war on drugs. It has traditionally been a tool of the politically and ideologically conservative; and is nearly identical to the ‘trial by market forces’ which capitalist proponents have championed for years. That the faction of people who now consider themselves progressive and liberal now align almost perfectly with the most regressive conservatives in history is frightening. This sort of fascism with a halo is how the most ruthless societies are built from the unintended consequences of an overabundance of unexamined good intentions. This is not people trying to do bad because they are bad, this is people doing bad because they mistakenly-but-fervently believe they are doing good, and that is the most dangerous mistake any society can make.
I do think that, as far as proportions go, it is a relatively small faction driving cancel culture; although it continues to grow. However it doesn’t matter how many people if you have the loudest and most persistent people, which I do believe is the case. Technology has made life in the 21st century very lonely in ways we could never have imagined a few decades ago, and feeling like you are a part of something important provides an escape from that loneliness. Cancel culture has become an open-armed family for people with lots of time and energy to devote, and a lot of emotional and psychological needs and desires at stake. Feeding the trend can become rewarding and addictive and attract fanatical devotion, simply due to our basic desire to feel meaningful, productive and wanted. If this moral mob continues to grow it will require so much new fuel that we could easily incinerate the arts entirely, just as other totalitarian societies have committed cultural genocide in the name of progress all throughout history.
The book 1984 by George Orwell ends with an appendix, which suggests that the fictional history has been recorded in a later era that recognized the folly of it’s past. In that way 1984 is sort of optimistic. When future historians look back at the draconian dystopia we are currently creating they will probably put the turning point of our civilization somewhere approximately around the time a cartoon skunk was deemed too dangerous for a brave new world in which mutually assured destruction became the social bedrock of human morality. A total police state where everyone polices everyone else all of the time for infractions that grow less and less egregious merely for the sake of increasing enforcement activity. When a societies youth become its most aggressive authoritarians, that society is totally and inevitably fugkd. You can give up now, the meek have inherited the earth, and that doesn’t look anywhere near as promising as it did on paper.