Pepe Le-Pew is a gregarious skunk, endlessly pursuing and painfully rebuffed every time by an elusive Penelope Pussycat, who is silenced because she can not draw attention to herself by speaking out, or otherwise defending herself against Pepe. Even if she were inclined to violate the rules of inter-species love, she must fly under the radar of visibility as her true identity must be concealed.
She is on the lam, a scofflaw on the run, a criminal for stealing a lion's (another animal captive against its will) dinner from the zoo. These star-crossed lovers hail from the golden age of Warner Brother's Looney Tunes, and first debuted in Scentimental Reasons (1949).
So what can we glean from the "skunk medicine" Pepe provides? What is endearing is his earnest retro-charm. Though his efforts are often misdirected, he is a gentleman, who arguably pushes the envelope of good taste. But he is also a reminder that there is an art to seduction and that the lover's chase -- think of poet John Keats', "Ode on a Grecian Urn" -- can be fun and exciting.
Ours is a more casual age of distraction rife with ambivalence, or is it too many choices? In the age of serial dating, hook-ups and friends with benefits, it is perhaps considered gauche to display feelings, especially premature, strong ones. When someone is as demonstrative as Le-Pew, there is a tendency to be suspicious, and run in the opposite direction.
And still, who isn't flattered by a graceful pursuit, not to be overwhelmed and flattened by it, but enough to accept the attention gracefully? Pepe's example teaches us to tone down our enthusiasm. If only our protagonists could dialogue more effectively, both could learn from and negotiate their differences and clear the obstacles from their romantic path.
Yet, there's always the risk that despite all his efforts and good intentions, she may never open up, love him or accept his over-powering advances and return the unrequited love. Today, flirtation and seduction is accepted neither as black or white, beyond gender roles, though even die-hard feminists I know say that, ultimately, it is better for a man to be more infatuated with a woman than the other way around, for love to last.
What Le-Pew does embody and holds onto as an ideal is the right mix of receiving and pursuing. As my friend and hairstylist -- who has become over the years a de facto therapist -- Erika Schmidt says, develop the instinct to attract who you need to repel and who you don't.
Our man the skunk is completely blown away by love for the pussy cat, forever dedicated to his hidden lover and strangely resistant to change. If only he could tone down his approach 20 percent, he might be better served. Very dependable, helpful, sincere and loving, Pepe's an extrovert bon-vivant, suave and well spoken with a mellifluous Continental accent.
He may be the original debonair male, and always there for you wherever you turn. In fact, he looks a lot like Mel Blanc, the man who did his voice, along with several other classic cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny, Woody Woodpecker, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Tweety Pie, Sylvester and the Road Runner.
Calling all lovers just in time for Valentine's Day. Here are six pointers to be gleaned from it all:
1. Increase the overall attention paid to tending and mending a relationship.
2. Be well-groomed to cover up the stench left by the brokenness of the world.
3. Show up.
4. Whisper sweet nothings.
5. Persevere in the pursuit of pleasing your love.
6. Lighten up.
Pepe's dark side is his self-centeredness. He holds on a little too tight, and he doesn't hear or listen well to Penelope -- who only purrs, but otherwise stays silent, due to circumstances which have nothing to do with Pepe. If he could care enough about her dilemma, perhaps he could be of service to, help her and thereby endear himself to her more effectively. But that isn't the full-throttled Pepe we've come to know.
He needs to tune into her silences to better hear her, what she likes and doesn't, her needs and wants. If he could only become more present and submit to her silence unquestioningly will there be a chance she might turn to him. Meeting her more fully, perhaps then she will stop running from and step closer to him. Maybe and maybe not, the truth contained in her silence will be revealed to him.
Only once she can trust that she is safe can she speak or be heard. Only then can Pepe's hope that her resistance melt be realized. She will then become transparent to his love, and they will be together as one, united in their love. So whether we focus on Pepe or Penelope, if nothing else, it's a sweet story line filled with laughs to delight us and perhaps enlighten us too.