Boy, oh boy, it sure has been a busy few weeks for folks who love decrying cancel culture.
In case you don’t know what I’m talking about (which, if you are a human who has access to the Internet and you’re reading this, you probably already do), there have been a handful of people claiming a few things in the media have been “cancelled” – both Muppet and non-Muppet related – in recent weeks.
First we dealt with some Muppet fans claiming that the Muppets were cancelled because Disney had the audacity to place a disclaimer in front of six episodes of The Muppet Show for containing some outdated, offensive material (and to be clear, this material was always offensive, we just now have the vocabulary and awareness to have a dialogue about it). Disney did not take down any of these outdated bits; they kept the episodes intact. So: not cancelled.
Then there was the Dr. Seuss debacle where people claimed he was “cancelled” because his estate will no longer be publishing six books of his catalogue of 60+ children’s books for racially insensitive depictions of humans. As this is not Muppet-related, I won’t dwell on it… but also, a private company choosing to make decisions to protect their bottom line is not cancel culture.
Now let’s get into the recent controversy of this week, where it’s been announced that Looney Tunes‘ Pepe Le Pew, at least for the time being, is now retired because, let’s not beat around the bush, he’s a problematic character who would need a whole lot of reworking to be okay in 2021.
This has since sparked a new controversy – and I say “controversy” in the lightest way possible – with Twitter users suggesting that if Pepe Le Pew is being “cancelled” then Miss Piggy should be as well.
This is a pretty ridiculous statement. We all know Miss Piggy is not about to be cancelled and this is going to blow over by the end of the week. From what I’ve seen, it’s only a dozen or so people throwing this idea out while the rest of the Internet shrugs their shoulders. It just doesn’t hold much water.
But hey! I’m a Muppet fan. I’m a woman. I have a lot of opinions about rape culture – because that’s basically what this whole thing comes down to, right?
So sure, let’s talk about it. Should Miss Piggy be cancelled?
I will admit, it’s easy to draw a correlation between Miss Piggy and Pepe Le Pew on a surface level. Both characters, Pepe consistently and Piggy more so in the past, haven’t exactly respected the definition of consent. Pepe is constantly chasing Penelope Pussycat (and yes, I did just have to Google what her name was) in their cartoon shorts together despite her very clear physical cues that she is not interested, while Piggy repeatedly made advances much to Kermit’s dismay in those early Muppet Show days. It’s easy to hold up clips of both characters performing these acts and define them as the same.
And I want to be clear, I don’t condone a lot of Piggy’s behavior towards Kermit on The Muppet Show and in some of some slightly later Muppet projects. Consent is important and necessary in any relationship, and we should see that reflected on our television screens. Piggy quite literally throwing herself at Kermit, covering him in kisses as he protests, and karate chopping (i.e. hitting) him when he says or does anything she doesn’t like, I think we can all agree, isn’t the greatest. Men can be victims, and women can be assailants.
Not to mention there are also several occurrences of her being overtly forwarded with male guest stars. There are many moments that come to mind, but the segment of her and Rudolf Nureyev singing ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ sticks out most in my mind. Like other parts of The Muppet Show, not everything is going to hold up over time, and Piggy’s advances on / hitting Kermit and the male guest stars is certainly one of those things.
But it’s important to note that we haven’t really seen much of this version of Piggy in the last decade or so. Piggy has grown when it comes to her relationship with Kermit and the men she interacts with. Let’s look at the two most recent Muppet movies, The Muppets (2011) and Muppets Most Wanted – in both those films, Piggy and Kermit have an established relationship and, while she does put some pressure on him at the start of the second movie to get married, we don’t really see any physical or emotional lines crossed.
In fact, Piggy and Kermit tend to have relationships that are pretty good on consent in all of their full-length films, with maybe one or two stray karate chops thrown in. And even in The Muppets (2015) sitcom, we don’t see Piggy forcing kisses on Kermit in her office, cornering him at the water cooler, or making advances on him in front of coworkers, because Disney realizes in this day and age that just doesn’t fly anymore.
The people who are bemoaning a fifteen second disclaimer in front of the Muppet Show episodes don’t seem to realize that the reason such disclaimers aren’t needed at all on newer Muppet films and shows is because the Muppets have grown and changed with the times, and Miss Piggy is no different.
I also want to point out the difference between a female character and a male character on TV shows in the 70’s throwing themselves at a romantic intended. I’ve seen a few people excuse Pepe Le Pew’s behavior because, and I quote, “He’s so oblivious that it makes him funny and charming.” This statement I find especially disturbing because it is essentially saying that as long as a man doesn’t realize that he’s making a woman uncomfortable and that she’s not consenting, then it’s okay for him to keep doing it.
While, again, I don’t condone Piggy’s repetitive actions towards Kermit in The Muppet Show, at the time of The Muppet Show taking off and figuring out Piggy as a character, this was probably seen as a very progressive, feminist portrayal for their leading lady. Here is this pig who knows she’s gorgeous and a star, and she’s not afraid to let the frog she’s got her eyes on know she’s enamored. Could she have done this better and less problematically? Absolutely. But even with Piggy throwing herself at him, Kermit usually has a lot more agency in the situation. He shuts her down verbally, makes jokes at her expense, and stands his ground. Men have almost always had the power over women in romantic dynamics, even when a woman is bold, comfortable in her sexuality, and not afraid to speak her mind.
Finally, I think the biggest difference between the characterization of both Pepe Le Pew and Piggy is, well, their characters. While they both started off as one-note jokes, the Muppets and Disney have taken the last forty-five years to grow Piggy. While her love of Kermit might still be one of her defining characteristics, her endless advances on him no longer really are. She’s now a tenacious, career oriented pig. Meanwhile, all Pepe Le Pew has had over the years is chasing one understandably upset cat. If anything, Warner Brothers should take a note out of the Muppets’ playbook on how to adapt a character to better fit a present day audience.
Needless to say, Miss Piggy isn’t going anywhere. While we can certainly examine the way she’s been portrayed in the past, we can also appreciate how far she’s come as a character. And, as the one real leading female Muppet that’s been given room to change over the years, hopefully she’ll keep on adapting and growing with the times.
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by Julia Gaskill