Cancel culture shows it’s looney times for Looney Tunes

  • Saturday, March 13, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

By Tom Purcell

Is the world finally coming to grips with the wrongs I endured as a child growing up in the 1970s?

I came of age before 24-hour cable news channels sensationalized childhood abductions and made every parent in America terrified that their kid was likely to become the next victim. We ’70s kids were in constant physical danger – real danger.

We built wooden ramps that we jumped our Spyder bikes off of – without any thought of a helmet or elbow pads. We roamed freely anywhere we wanted all day long and had to navigate the outside world without a single adult chaperoning our every move.

Somehow, I survived growing up without losing a single arm or leg. But now, more than 40 years later, I’m wondering if my young psyche was permanently traumatized by TV cartoons. Every Sunday morning, we religiously watched Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Sylvester, Tweety, Yosemite Sam and many more.

There was no shortage of life-and-death conflict and psychological tension in those Looney Toons. Sylvester the cat was always scheming to eat Tweety Bird, but the clever little bird foiled him every time. Wile E. Coyote was obsessed with catching and eating the Roadrunner, but the Roadrunner was always several steps ahead of his diabolical plans. Elmer Fudd was out to shoot Bugs Bunny, but Bugs made a fool out of him every time.

Sure, the storylines always showed our heroes outwitting their supremely confident, though dull-witted, villains. Sure, the stories were popular and very funny, in part, because the “mastermind” villains always became the victims of their own dastardly plots.

But what about the nonstop violence? Anvils were dropped on heads. Guns and cannons exploded in many episodes. Dynamite was commonly used. Surely, this cruel cartoon mayhem caused me trauma that I internalized.

Then there was Pepe Le Pew, a character born in 1945 who thinks himself as irresistible to the opposite sex and who imposes his affections on his unwilling victims at every turn. Despite the obvious takeaway that Pepe’s aggressive behavior stinks – he is a skunk, after all – and that he is a buffoon to be ridiculed, some now argue that he is a dated character who should be canceled from the airwaves for good. But that kind of thinking is another example of the dangerous slippery slope the cancel culture is on.

A lot our popular culture is outdated, politically incorrect or morally questionable when viewed through today’s uber-sensitive lens. For example, “Huckleberry Finn” exposes the wrongness of racism in a powerful way, yet Mark Twain uses terms that are harsh and hurtful by modern standards. Do we cancel “Huck”?

The larger question is, do we simply erase our past as though it never happened because viewpoints in books are now widely considered offensive? Or do we take a more nuanced approach and leave our icons and great stories as they are and use them as opportunities to explain who we were and how and why an evolution in our thinking has occurred?

Despite the traumatic 1970s childhood I somehow survived, I favor the nuanced approach. Still, I refuse to visit the Grand Canyon for fear that an anvil may fall on my head.

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Send comments to Tom at Tom@TomPurcell.com.

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