THE UNCOMFORTABILITY OF UNCOMFORTABLE COMMENTARY
March 13, 2021
Popular culture is an amazing thing. It has the ability to bring out something that, ostensibly, originally was deemed basic and without any real depth and ends up driving conversations that would give deep divers a run for their money. That is the beauty about popular culture, the fact it takes up a mind of its own. It’s the sentient metamorphism of culture, for me.
In the past seven (7) days, we witnessed vitriolic conversation happen in the most unusual spaces, one dealing with a movie, the other with a cartoon character. I am of course speaking about “Coming 2 America” and now “Pepe Le Pew”. Both of which are silly in of itself but landed upon the intellectual front lobe of many people (including yours, truly, lol).
Let us start off with Coming 2 America, shall we…
Now I don’t want to get into a whole diatribe about whether I liked the movie (if you’ve listened to the podcast or followed me on social media- I have made my feelings abundantly clear). However, I do want to focus on the fact that people (*cough* Black people) took entire umbrage with the fact an individual could not like the movie. The conversation usually went like this “If you didn’t like the movie it’s because…
A) You expected too much
B) You’re Too Woke
C) You have no sense of humor and you need to lighten up, y’all be critical for NO reason!
D) You don’t appreciate Black people working
E) You’re the spawn of Satan himself
F) All of the Above.
First of all…. I take offense to ‘E’ because clearly Satan has done a poor job of raising me because I ain’t seen him in my life. Not one shred of influence. He let another man raise me, give me his last name and introduce me to my alleged birth father, my arch enemy. I have done adopted Satan mortal enemies’ religious ideology and everything…but I digress.
In reality, people are allowed to not like something, more importantly, we are allowed to be critical of something that culturally specific. This is what happens when you put out something in the air and allow the world to critique it. You are providing people opportunities for individuals to evaluate your creation. Furthermore, criticism, when done through the frame of love and positivity, can actually be healthy. As far as I am concerned, the criticisms I heard about the film, including myself, were only done within the idea of improving representation of black culture. Not to tear down Eddie Murphy, or the other cast members. Wanting better for people, the art form, the culture and ultimately our people are never a bad thing. There is nobility in evaluating something and saying…. “We can do better…” because that is not hate…that is love. Black people especially have to step away from ‘sacred cows’ of criticisms, because frankly, it’s unhealthy. It is this mentality that has forced us, as people, to not lend proper criticisms on anything surrounding popular culture, or popular figures (*cough* President Barack Obama). If every time someone lends criticism to a proverbial sacred cow, then we run into the risk of losing the ability to evaluate something. The further we are from having uncomfortable conversations, the harder it will become to evaluate and properly evolve. Which lends me into my next subject of Mr. ‘Pepe Le Pew’.
Listen, first of all, I know that he is a fake cartoon character. Second of all, he is a skunk. Third of all, I understand the absurdity of pontificating on a skunk. Lastly…let me reiterate, I am aware that I am talking about a fake cartoon character skunk. Okay! Now that we got that squared away! Let’s dig in!
Look I get it, losing a huge cartoon character like Pepe really stinks (pun intended). But let us be real (as real as we can be concerning cartoon characters). Mr. Le Pew offered no real purpose other than his lone objective of being an over-sexualized skunk who never understood the meaning of personal space and consent. But it makes sense, a character created in 1945 would have an antiquated approach to women. So yes, a character whose sole purpose surrounds his over aggressive approach to women, simply does not fly in 2021. Especially if the character holds no real appeal outside of his over-sexualization. What is the point of keeping something that has outgrown its use and central appeal If the character is unable to reform, and re-purpose? It is simply a relic of an era that society has moved on from-thankfully. Take for example Bugs Bunny, a character created in 1938. His characterization is one of being cool, funny, quick-witted, clever and outsmarting almost anyone who antagonizes him. At that same time, when he was created, Bug Bunny displayed bigoted tendencies. However, the real basis of the character never changed, therefore it was easy to adjust the personality quarks of this character over time with losing the integrity of what he represented. Imagine people saying we cannot cancel Bugs Bunny because we grew up with his bigoted statements. How insane would that be. Bugs Bunny benefited from a growth of character over the last 83 years, unfortunately, Mr. Le Pew did not. I am not aware of the conversations had at Warner Brothers concerning this character, but one would have to imagine that they weighed the reformation of the character against the probative value of keeping it and realized its value comes up short. Warner Brothers was willing to have the uncomfortable conversation and lend itself to criticism. No company is in the business of severing an IP (intellectual property) unless it feels like the property is more burden than it’s worth.
The actual statement here is that unless we are willing to have a genuine conversation, not laced in emotional undercarriage, then we will fall short in proper evaluation and context. Instead of grown adults besmirching serious criticism, or grown men arguing on the behalf of a cartoon character, we should be asking the weighty questions and seeking honest answers that will push the culture forward.
At the end of the day, it is astonishing how pop culture can turn into Frankenstein’s monster. The irony of course being that when the story was first created, it was designed to highlight the fictional danger of modern technology and human ambition. However, it metamorphosed into simply a horror story about a dim-witted resurrected corpse. Which goes to show you, that no matter your greatest intentions, pop culture will undoubtedly take your intention and create a monstrous narrative on its own. Scary thought, isn’t it?