In recent weeks, the conversation around cancel culture has gone into overdrive. Thanks in large part to a renewed obsession from right-wing media with the topic, every comment suggesting that old figures from popular culture may be problematic has received insane levels of scrutiny. The latest target of scrutiny is Speedy Gonzales, a Looney Tunes cartoon that some believe is problematic.
Why is Speedy Gonzales canceled?
The controversy around Speedy Gonzales actually stems from a related controversy around Pepé Le Pew. As Warner Bros. begins promoting Space Jam 2, they've announced that Pepe will not be involved in the film. The studio didn't offer a definitive explanation for his exclusion, but New York Times writer Charles Blow suggested that the character had "added to rape culture."
As Charles articulated his thoughts about Pepé, he also made comments about Speedy Gonzales, suggesting that both characters had a problematic role on kids' TV. “Some of the first cartoons I can remember included Pepé Le Pew, who normalized rape culture; Speedy Gonzales, whose friends helped popularize the corrosive stereotype of the drunk and lethargic Mexicans; and Mammy Two Shoes, a heavyset Black maid who spoke in a heavy accent," he wrote in his piece.
Charles' piece spawned controversy.
Although there were many who supported Charles' take on the situation, there were also some people in the Latino community who rejected his argument. “I am the voice of Speedy Gonzales in the new Space Jam,” comedian Gabriel Iglesias tweeted in response to Charles' piece. “Does this mean they are gonna try to cancel Fluffy too? U can’t catch me cancel culture. I’m the fastest mouse in all of Mexico.”
Although Gabriel clearly believes that cancel culture has gone too far in attempting to cancel Speedy, other Latinos acknowledged that the character's origins were steeped in racism. When he was first created, Speedy Gonzales was designed as an American stereotype of what Mexicans are like. In spite of these racist stereotypes, though, there were some who came to see the mouse as an icon.
Speedy Gonzales was ultimately embraced by many Latinos.
Although the character's origins were steeped in racism, Speedy Gonzales has grown out of that history to become an icon for many Latinos. He was seen as fast and quick-witted and has become a figure that is celebrated in many circles. His racist history doesn't negate this fact, just as it's also clear that for many, Speedy Gonzales remains a problematic figure.
One of the challenges around modern reckonings with figures like Speedy Gonzales is this dichotomy. Fictional characters who start as racist can be reclaimed by the group they're supposed to be attacking. That truth makes it difficult to determine exactly how these characters should be treated.
What's clear, though, is that Speedy Gonzales, unlike Pepé Le Pew, will be a figure in Space Jam 2. His presence may cause an uproar in some circles, but the question of whether the character's continued existence is indefensible is more complicated than it might initially seem.