I’m emerging from my long nap of depression — like some sad groundhog, seeing its shadow predicting six more weeks of pandemic — to comment on what is apparently the new great enemy of those sad souls whose news intake consists wholly of conservative media: Cancel Culture. The same folks who were very upset about confederate monuments being taken down are now very upset about Hasbro deciding to drop the “Mr.” from their Potato Head toy… They’re very upset that the Seuss estate decided to stop publishing six problematic books that almost no one had ever hear of until very recently… And now they’re very upset about the news that Pepé Le Pew is being dropped from the reboot of Space Jam with LeBron James. And they’re blaming it all on one insidious enemy… The dreaded Cancel Culture.
These are the same folks who rushed to iTunes to buy music from country singer Morgan Wallen after he was filmed using the N-word. These are the same folks who suddenly became big Harry Potter fans when JK Rowling caught flack for anti-Trans statements. And amazingly (read: hypocritically), the Venn diagram of people angry about “Cancel Culture” and the people who cheered when donald trump demanded “Get that son of a bitch off the field!” (in response to NFL players using kneeling during the anthem to protest racism & police brutality) is a perfect circle.
Here’s the thing: Pepé Le Pew was ALWAYS a rapist. I might not have realized it growing up, but it was always right there. I remember watching those cartoons as a kid… That black cat that accidentally painted a stripe on her back by going under a freshly painted white fence was trying like HELL to get away from him. He was kissing her as she struggled to get away. He would block the freaking door and lock the locks as she tried to run from his aggressive affection, creepily bouncing on all fours after a terrified female who spurned his advances. And that crap was part of my childhood, being pumped into my brain every Saturday morning. I mean, Jesus… If any man acted that way toward a woman, he clearly needs to be removed from society until he is rehabilitated. And if you’re listening to republican voices, you’d think a great injustice has been committed by Pepé Le Pew’s scene being cut from Space Jam 2.
The question is: Why would conservatives be in an uproar over a cartoon — one whose entire character was centered around sexual assault — not being included in a movie for kids? Why get angry about a non-gendered toy potato? Why cling to 80 year old racist caricatures like Speedy Gonzales?
The answer is simple. Fear. Conservatives want to “conserve” the past, and they’re afraid of change. They’re afraid of their eroding privilege. They’re afraid of progress and evolving social norms. They’re afraid of a growing feeling of being “outnumbered” by people who have a more evolved understanding of human decency. And that fear turns to anger… Anger at feeling “bullied” and “shamed” into conforming to these new norms… Anger at being held accountable for their words and actions.
But even more than that, it’s anger at feeling targeted. And this is important: The feeling of being targeted comes from who they are aligning themselves with. Do you align yourself with the people being harmed, or do you align yourself with the ones DOING the harm? If folks are aligning themselves with the ones being told “You don’t get to say the N-word anymore,” they feel targeted… Bullied… Shamed. If they are aligning themselves with the ones who are being harmed and harassed by the use of the N-word, then the N-word being “canceled” feels like standing against injustice. The real tragedy is that most people who align themselves with groups in positions of power don’t KNOW or have conversations with people who are the targets of oppression.
So a lot of people who align themselves with groups in power might think, “What’s the big deal? So Speedy Gonzales was Mexican? It doesn’t mean you have to take him out of the movie.” But until you speak to a hispanic kid who was fast growing up and inevitably got called “Speedy Gonzales,” you might not identify with the group that is the target of oppression. And maybe you didn’t even notice (because you weren’t the group being caricatured) that every other Mexican mouse OTHER than “Speedy” was portrayed as being fat and lazy.
Listen… I watched Sixteen Candles when I was a kid. I watched it over and over. I loved that movie. My friends and I quoted it all the time. Like a lot of dumb white kids, we thought the character of Long Duk Dong was funny, and we found many opportunities to say “What’s happenin’ hot stuff” and “Oh sexy girlfriend” with Asian-sounding accents. Every time he entered the scene, a freaking gong went off. I’m sure the one Asian kid at our school probably didn’t think it was quite as funny… But we weren’t identifying with HIM. And “The Donger” wasn’t even the worst part of that movie. Jake Ryan straight up offers his super drunk girlfriend to the “The Geek” for him to have sex with, and says, “Have fun.” She is barely conscious, and entirely too drunk to give anything resembling consent. When the obviously drunk Caroline whispers “I love you,” Anthony Michael Hall breaks the fourth wall and says, “This is getting good,” right before he totally has sex with an unconscious girl, we suppose… And the “hilarity” of date rape ensues. The next morning, when the Geek asks her if she enjoyed herself, Caroline says, “You know, I have this weird feeling I did.” And as Molly Ringwald wrote in The New Yorker, “She had to have a feeling about it, rather than a thought, because thoughts are things we have when we are conscious, and she wasn’t.”
Now, does this mean we have to burn the originals and “cancel” every movie that John Hughes ever made? I don’t think so (and no one is trying to do that, just like no one is trying to remove all the copies of Green Eggs & Ham from elementary school bookshelves… You morons). We can learn about the messed up rape culture of the 80s & 90s, and talk about how it still persists today (and led to trash like Brett Kavanaugh being appointed to the Supreme Court). But it ALSO doesn’t mean we should be playing Sixteen Candles for middle school movie day, just because it’s rated PG and some people have a nostalgic feeling about it.
Think about how much societal norms have changed just since 1984 when Sixteen Candles came out… Now think about the kind of crap that was acceptable in 1945 when Pepé Le Pew debuted and Warner Brothers thought that a cartoon of a rapist male skunk not taking NO for an answer from a female cat sounded like a good idea for a kid’s show.
Republicans talk a lot about the “Invisible Hand of the Market” — this idea that markets are driven by unseen forces, and we should let those forces play out — but now that the markets are reflecting a growing distaste for rape culture and white supremacy and using someone’s culture as the butt of jokes, all of a sudden they want to mess with the Invisible Hand. Norms are changing, and people are calling for a fairer representation on their entertainment. So when we see loving, same-sex couples on a commercial, it’s not “the media” trying to “shove things down our throats.” It’s a reflexion of changing norms. Humanity is progressing. Some things that USED to be acceptable are no longer acceptable. And societies (and markets) work to enforce those new norms. There are consequences for saying things that people in 1945 felt perfectly comfortable saying…
If we figure out that the heroes of our youth were rapists, we don’t defend & diminish the consequences of rape culture… We find new heroes. If we figure out that a beloved cartoon from our youth was actually a racist caricature or a rapist skunk, we don’t demand their inclusion in movies being made today… We move on. People need to ask themselves if the things they are trying to “conserve” are actually worth keeping. Norms change for a reason. The people upset at the “cancelling” of Speedy Gonzales are the same dimwits who are pissed off about female Jedis in the new Star Wars movies. Do you really want to be the person who is angry about making a female rabbit’s boobs smaller so as not to sexualize her? Just because there are some good episodes of Fat Albert, doesn’t mean Bill Cosby gets a cameo in the reboot. You might still have a nostalgic crush on Jake Ryan, but by today’s standards, he’s a total sleaze ball. Guess who else was a rapist… James Bond, that’s who. And just because you have fond memories of a rapist skunk from your youth, it doesn’t mean you are being attacked because popular opinion has him being excluded from a movie made today.
“Cancel Culture” is what conservatives call it when their bigotry & cruelty are recognized for what they are. If you’re more angry that a radio station stopped playing an artist who got caught calling people the N-word than you are about the harm done by that artist’s words, you might not think of yourself as a “racist,” but I guarantee I can tell you who you voted for in the last presidential election. If you are the sort of person who is more upset about “cancel culture” than you are about rape culture, you are not a good person. And if that makes you feel “attacked,” I don’t know what to tell you. Deal with it, snowflake. Start identifying with the victims & survivors of rape, rather than the rapists. Norms change. And as they change, there are consequences for breaking those norms. Just because you fondly remember a time when executives used to be able to slap their secretaries on the fanny, it doesn’t mean that you are the “victim of cancel culture” when your old, sexist ass gets fired for doing it today. Sweet Lord, this is not that hard, people…
What is depression, if not a giant sense of “screw it” persevering? I’m so very thankful to those of you who have continued to support me through this very difficult time in my life. I know I’ve not been writing as often as I usually do. There have been so many times I have thought about writing, and then just been overwhelmed by a deep feeling of “What’s the fuckin’ point?” I don’t know if anything I do makes a difference, but… just in case, you know? This post is especially for my friends who check up on me when I’m hiding from reality. I sure love you all. If you are also in a hard, dark place lately, please reach out… And if you’d like to support my writing, you can DO THAT ON PATREON, or you can LEAVE A TIP ON PAYPAL or on Venmo at “chris-boeskool.” Otherwise, please follow along on Facebook and on Twitter.