Femme et al.
Pepé Le Pew was a French skunk (Looney Tunes, Warner Bros., 1945) who falls in love with a black cat whose backside and tail are accidentally painted white from a spilled bucket of paint. Thinking the cat is a skunk, “la belle femme skunk fatale,” Pepé courts her with obtuse conviction, the unwitting cat too docile to even meow. I’ve always found this cartoon bleaker than the rest, its lonely protagonist even more deluded than shotgun brandishing Elmer Fudd. Many earlier cartoons operate as grim allegories about futile pursuit (i.e. Woody Woodpecker, Tom and Jerry, etc.), as if already apologizing for adulthood. The false white stripe, then, may represent steadfast projection, however ingrown. This has little to do with Susan Sontag, other than, inversely, her admitting to dying her hair black once it went grey, save the streak of white for which she was known. Caused by Waardenburg syndrome — a rare genetic disorder characterized by pigmentation anomalies in minor cases, and deafness in more acute ones — the white streak became a signature of premature maturity, wisps that hinted, or rather could not contain, great wisdom. I use “admitted” in parallel to “disclosing,” which were Carl Edmund Rollyson and Lisa Olson Paddock’s word in Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon (2000), as the implication is that the dyeing of one’s hair falls into the camp of cosmetic vanity, that she should have just “greyed out” the old fashioned way, to let the formidable stripe become unnoticeable with age. She is to die of cancer in 2004, which cynically brings to mind a statement of hers in the Paris Review (1967) that “the white race is the cancer of human history,” whose subsequently brilliant sarcastic recantation was that “it slandered cancer patients.” A great writer always wins on paper; as for real life, the loss is immeasurable. It’s endearing how bad white people feel, how you’ve turned your neutral description into a pejorative. I’ve decided to love her, regardless of her hair, on my behalf. It’s easier this way. If life is a game of leaving quotes behind, the dead always win. Now all of us have something to look forward to.