Friday, October 19, 2007

What's the French word for 'swagger'?*

Growing up, i had a rousing friendship with both the Disney family of cartoon players as well as the playful crew over at the Warner Bros. house. Every afternoon, i would carve out at least an hour of recreational television watching in great anticipation of seeing my favorite Donald Duck, Chip 'n Dale, Daffy Duck and Foghorn Leghorn slapstick (i didn't care much for Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny because they too closely resembled the good guys). All of these jesters were placed in the most aggravating, conflicting and trying situations with obstacle after obstacle tossed at them which i deeply related to. It now occurs to me the oddity of my young self relating more to these 2-dimensional celluloid illustrations than the flesh and blood that marauded around me, but nonetheless it was very true. I sought the animated teleplay of underdogs rather than interact with the real life bullies and unpredictably feral schoolmates.

Of all the regular set of characters i came to enjoy and even emulate in my own behavior, there was one that struck a nerve that these four chums somehow didn't. I related to this quartet by way of their unkempt state of always being on the wrong foot, singing a song slightly off-key, skipping to a beat that drew unneeded attention to them. However, this one fella struck a chord in me i couldn't identify at the time. His scrapes didn't involve dashed get-rich schemes and top-your-neighbor foibles. Instead, his purr-suits were exclusively that of the opposite sex.

Of course i speak of Pepe le Pew:



In this cartoon, as in most of his performances, the discovery of his existence immediately elicits distress calls from the poor discovering sap. They freak out when they identify him as "Le pew" or in the anglicized version of French, a skunk. His stench identifies himself as a monster. So many of my own stubborn views and ticks invited similar disparagement, as a result his alienation became an instant brotherhood for me to latch onto. There were many days of social solitude and isolation that caused me to wonder if i smelled awful, but even then, that didn't ignite my attachment to him and his cartoon saga.

Every episode where he starred that i remember involved him relentlessly pursuing a female (a pussy, at that). Such blatant sexual conquests had never been re-enacted in a way i could enjoy. Like most kids, i pinched my nose in utter dramatic contempt when the movie got to the kissing part. I did it because i didn't understand why the two characters wanted to do that, but also, because other kids around me were doing it, and at that age, i tried to minimize the amount of negative attention i attracted. Monsieur le Pew, however, made it acceptable to enjoy the hunt of the female species.

I loved the way he jaunted after them, with such persistence, such effrontery and patience, and such, such confidence. His "swagger" consisted of a calm, ballet-like bounce, whereas the targeted female was racing with haste and frenzy. He knew that once he set his sights on her, he would have her. I'm not certain whether i related to this so much because i naturally felt this way myself, or because i learned this from Pepe. Either way, caper after caper, i treated his cartoons less as entertainment, and more like visits from a kindred spirit. The only parts of his episodes i didn't care for were the ones where he'd get the girl only after he'd changed (i.e. dipped in paint, de-scented, shaved, etc.), and for that matter, she would too.

I've always approached an interaction with a female with a blind sense of faith that it will go favorably. I assume that they'll find something interesting about me, keeping them open long enough to chat. This isn't as brashly arrogant as it seems, but actually stems more from the fact that i get along with the opposite gender so well. Some aesthetes have the ability to walk up to an instrument they've never played and make angelic music with it. Some can advance on a wild horse, whisper in its ear, and lead it off the meadow to a new way of life.

*Answer: épate

5 comments:

Ani said...

I love hearing the ways in which you relate your childhood to the person you are today.

bailey said...

I loved Pepe. I could have had the hots for him, actually. Self-confident, great accent... He was sort of romance-with-a-hammer - and a girl can appreciate a determined guy who knows how to take chase.

On the other hand, I would disagree with your assessment of Bugs Bunny; he didn't resemble a good guy all that much. He was impertinent, cheeky, and liked pushing people's buttons. I'm surprised you couldn't relate. :)

I'd also like to add Sylvester & Tweetie's adventures to your list. I mean, hell, the cat spent his entire life trying to eat the poor bird. Rather dominant behavior, no?

Crazy cat... thinking every bird was submissive...

oatmeal girl said...

odd. i rarely saw Pep le Pew as a kid, and didn't have patience for him when i did. maybe it was too adult for me.

now, of course... i love anything in french. even faux french. tho i couldn't help but notice (and appreciate) the little bit of yiddish that sneaked in to this cartoon early on. when the perfumier tosses the cat towards the store to drive out the offending skunk, he seems to shout out the (in this context) meaningless french word "avec" (=with) when in fact it is just an abbreviation of the yiddish "gai avek" (=go away).

meanwhile, the curious thing about "épate" bring the french for swagger is that the verb épater means to surprise, and (what i didn't know) the phrase épater le monde means to set the world on fire.

i love the poetry of etymology!

Deity said...

ani,
i'm grateful that you enjoy those meanderings. i know that there are those who would prefer i just talked about sex and blowjobs, so it's gratifying to hear that others enjoy hearing this stuff.

bailey,
Bugs? Are you kidding? Whenever he and Daffy were in the same skit, who got the anvil on the head, the face full of shotgun pellets, or the hot gravy poured down his throat? The poor ebony mallard got it. Bugs, that smug, indignant rodent just sat back and watched as his fowled friend suffered.

Wait a sec...

o.g.,
i don't know yiddish, but can appreciate it. i'm not sorry to say that i adore the French, and their language and their culture. i'm famous for my outrageous impersonation of a frenchman which i often employ whenever i'm around any of my closest Freggy friends.

oatmeal girl said...

somehow, a love of the French and a passion for corsets seem to go together...

a kinky costume drama in the making!