This Week’s Dr. Seuss Nonsense
A story that is both unserious and yet emblematic of our age in a serious way.
So, I learned this week that I am the victim of the ever-pervasive, all-encompassing terror that is cancel culture. At least, that is the only conclusion that I can reach concerning the fact that, without any doubt, Northeastern University Press is not going to be printing any new copies of my book, Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia (BTW, you can read Voting Amid Violence for free here). Indeed, they canceled me several years ago. For that matter, to my knowledge, Yale University Press has not had any additional printings of A Different Democracy.
After all, we learned this week that Dr. Seuss Enterprises will no longer sell six of Dr. Seuss’s works due to racial stereotypes in those books. So, if not printing more copies of those six books is “cancel culture,” the only reasonable conclusion that I can read about two of my books is that I have been canceled as well!
But, of course, this is absurd. Books are not reissued all the time, for any number of reasons. The fact that most of the six books in question are amongst the more obscure in the Seuss catalog almost certainly plays into the decision (a decision by a private business done of its own accord). Without a doubt, had Dr. Seuss Enterprises not issued a press release (and on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, no less), I am 100% certain that most people (especially the ones who were outraged! on Tuesday) would not have even noticed.
My mother read Dr. Seuss to me as I child, and I read Dr. Seuss to my kids. The only book in the list I recall is And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, Seuss’ first and a favorite of mine as a child. A dive into a stack of children’s books we have reveals that we own If I Ran the Zoo in a collected work called A Hatful of Seuss. Thumbing through it I vaguely remember reading it to the kids (the favorite in that tome was Sneetches and Other Stories). I would guess that the phrase “With helpers who wear their eyes at a slant” with a commensurate caricature of three Asian men in the reason for the discontinuation of If I Ran the Zoo along with this image:
Let’s not forget that the stated goal here is to address the fact that, as per the statement for Dr. Seuss Enterprises, “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
So, the goal here is to diminish the presence of racial stereotypes in children’s literature. Indeed, with most things that are labeled “political correctness,” being overly “woke,” or as part of “cancel culture” this is about trying to increase sensitivity to the fact that popular culture in the United States has often treated whiteness as normal, and non-whiteness as not normal and inferior.
There may have been other ways to deal with these books apart from not printing them any longer, but the notion that the goal here is insidious in some way is either borne of ignorance or malicious untruths (unless, of course, one simply likes and respects racist caricatures).
Now, on one level all of this is silly because of the faux outrage that is on display.
The bottom right image is just a blatant lie also (it is a frame from The Cat in the Hat) because it suggests to the uninformed that the Cat in the Hat is being canceled. The immediate linkage to the Biden administration also underscores the way in which FNC clearly sees its market as pro-GOP and anti-Democrat (not pro-news, and certainly not “fair and balanced”).
On the other, it is a clear illustration of what is wrong with both right-wing infotainment, but also Republican Party leaders.
We have here a story with clear facts that nonetheless was immediately spun into a false narrative by right-wing media outlets and even the House Minority Leader on the floor of the House of Representatives. It is a clear illustration of the willingness of these actors to distort reality for short-term political ends while sowing medium-to-long-term resentments in the broader society. It mirrors the way they have dealt with the 2020 elections, but in this case, there is no room for even disingenuous questions and concerns, but rather a really straightforward story that is being utterly exploited to create strife and division because it serves the political and business ends of FNC, Newsmax, and the Republican Party.
To be clear, I am not saying there are any legitimate grounds for questioning the 2020 results. What I am noting that the sheer scale of an election, and the fact that it cannot be done in a way that is perfectly transparent, leave room for conspiracy theories. There are many places for conspiracy to sneak into a process that has to have, by definition (e.g., the secret ballot), some level of secrecy.
With the Dr. Seuss bit, all the facts are on the table. No need for innuendo or guessing. There isn’t even a place for half-truths. It is all just there to see.
The facts are incontrovertible:
- The owners of these books decided to stop publishing them due to what it considers racially insensitive depictions.
- We are talking six out of forty-five children’s books by Dr. Seuss (although Wikipedia tells me he wrote “over 60”).
- No one is banning these books. There are no book burnings. The books will likely remain in libraries (and odds are you can still buy some of them from Amazon while supplies last).
- The Cat in the Hat is not getting canceled. Nor the Grinch, nor Horton, nor Sam-I-Am. And, indeed, dozens of other books will continue to be published.
Side note: conservatives should really hate the Cat in the Hat, as he is a pure agent of chaos and is an anti-authority figure (who encourages disobeying one’s parents). For that matter, the Christmas that the Grinch stole is awfully secular in form, if you ask me.
Regardless of the facts, here’s Leader McCarthy:
While, yes, this just a passing statement, is it a lie intended to rile up supporters. It is a double lie, in fact, because a) Dr. Seuss has not been “outlaw[ed],” and b) the Democrats (the “they” in the sentence) had nothing to do with the six books in question not being published going forward. There is likely a third lie (“now they want to tell us what to say”), but I am confused as to what he is specifically referencing about HR1 in that sentence (in context, it makes no sense).
Fundamentally what we have here is a story that has a grain of truth (some books will no longer be published) that tickles a faux culture war issue (cancel culture) while touching on an American taboo (book banning) and includes a well-known, indeed, beloved cultural touchstone (Dr. Seuss).
It is like the ridiculous Mr. Potato Head business. It allows culture warriors to exploit a branding change to tickle transphobia in certain populations while also appealing to the power of nostalgia (also present in the Dr. Seuss business). Not to mention that, shockingly enough, the faux outrage over Mr. Potato Head was based on a misunderstanding of the marketing move by toy-maker Hasbro:
in a tweet later that afternoon, Hasbro clarified that while the brand is changing, the actual Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still live on and be sold in stores. In a picture posted on Twitter, the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” names are less prominently displayed at the bottom of the box, instead of the top.
“While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD,” the company tweeted.
Kimberly Boyd, a senior vice president at Hasbro, said the intention of the brand name change was to be more inclusive and to have the characters still live within the Potato Head universe.
I must to confess to some level of amusement at the notion of a “Potato Head universe,” but I digress in an already longer-than-intended post.
The Potato Head stuff at least links to a broader GOP talking point regarding gender politics (say that not to endorse, but to note the connection). The Seuss stuff is just plain lying to raise the hackles of supporters. Why not sow just a little bit more polarization and division? After all, who could that hurt?
No doubt an expert on political communication could analyze all of this better and more completely than I have. Still, what strikes me is that this approach to political communication/media behavior is disturbing and by no means linked solely to seemingly silly stories like Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. First, it shows the exact same kind of approach we have seen in regards to the 2020 elections. Second, it is an elevation of culture war issues over more serious issues (like, say, Covid-19).
To be clear, these kinds of “silly” stories can do a lot of harm because people understand the context and often have deeply emotional ties to the topics at hand. It is actually easier to create more and deeper divisions on these kinds of issues than on actual public policy.
It all matters because healthy democracy (which no, we currently do not have) requires a bit more intellectual honesty than we are currently seeing. And this is just another way in which the “news” some people get is really just a form of agitprop and to the degree to which supposedly serious political actors (the Minority Leader on the floor of the House debating legislation about strengthening elections) looks more like talk radio than anything else.
None of this is good for the health of the republic.
See, also, Aaron Rupar’s piece at Vox: Why Fox News is having a day-long meltdown over Dr. Seuss. He concludes:
That Fox News is lying isn’t really news — after all, the network has spent weeks misleading people into believing that recent widespread power outages in Texas are somehow an indictment of the Green New Deal.
But that the network is making this big of a deal over Dr. Seuss on a day when so much else is happening illustrates how much the network is still struggling to establish an identity for itself in the post-Trump world. And it’s also a reminder of how far it’s willing to go to construct an alternative reality for its viewers, where the most important things are their grievances.
Maybe the collection should be called, “A Hateful of Seuss” now.
A friend linked me to a article on l’affaire Suess, with a note that Amazon appeared to have many copies, both new and used. Said he ordered 2 of each, in case they rocket up in value due to demand from RW’s. If not, he’ll give them to his grand nieces and nephews.
Since the publisher could have quietly dropped the books, let’s accuse them of virtue signaling for making an explicit announcement.
A point I made on Twitter: this was Geisel’s own estate making the call. And it is entirely consistent with everything we know about Dr. Seuss, who was never about making kids feel bad. 99% sure if he were alive today Geisel would have pulled the books on his own.
There are real issues with cancel culture and kidlit, but the idiot hysteria of Republicans makes it impossible for us to have a rational discussion about those issues.
And let’s not forget the only anti-fascist book aimed at small children, Yertle the Turtle. Or the Lorax, a passionately environmentalist book. Or The Sneetches, a pointedly anti-racist book.
Geisel was a brilliant guy who is still, after decades, unique and never equalled.
Speaking of FOX, Kevin Drum notes that they’ve been talking about Seuss all day, but not showing the pictures in question. Presumably because even their audience would see them as offensive, somewhat undercutting the outrage.
These are not serious people.
Also, the fact that *Representative Cawthorn,* of all people, is in their Fox News outrage collage above is…ugh.
Hillary Clinton nailed it: https://twitter.com/HillaryClinton/status/1367520387639242754
Clearly, we need the Kevin McCarthy Act, requiring private publishers (all publishers?) to publish and market any and all racist caricatures in their backlog. Sure, it’s unconstitutional, but let’s introduce it into the House, schedule a vote, and make those
fuckersvery concerned representatives vote on it.
I’m tired of these performative lies.
Also, all potatoes sold in this country should either be male or female, and their genders should be clearly marked at every step of the production chain.
On a more serious note, I would support a use-it-or-lose-it update to copyright law. If a work goes out of print for more than 7 years, fast track it to public domain. Because while McCarthy is just feigning outrage, he does brush up against an actual important issue — who controls our cultural heritage?
Should a corporation be allowed to hold the exclusive rights to publish something, just so they can make it vanish? I don’t think that’s what copyright was really meant to address, and it wasn’t an issue when copyright wasn’t basically forever.
Putting this in a phrasing that the right wing might understand: should I be able to buy up the rights to the works of Ayn Rand and send her life’s works down the memory hole?
I don’t understand why just the particular pages are not omitted. Having read both books as a kid and to my kids to the extent I can quote passages from memory, I am pretty confident that the story lines will hold up with those isolated edits. I will certainly keep my copies and will have to figure out if there’s a way to present them to my grandkids without ignoring nor duplicating the problem.
You might have chosen a better example. Yes, absolutely. You should not only be able to do it, you should do it. The world would be a better place.
Honest question: what political ends do they have beyond stoking the grievances of their base?
The Democratic Party is about to implement a COVID relief package polling at 70% approval which will be even more popular once the money starts to be distributed. Lock-step GOP opposition to the Democratic bills on voting rights and police reform is also dependent on misrepresentation because both proposals are reasonable and easy to defend in democratic and moral terms. The Republicans have no affirmative agenda to promote.
Lying and crying about Mulberry Street is their only play.
The copyright period was extended a while ago to match the longer period in the EU, because of a need to avoid EU hostile action. U.S. can not act unilaterally on this.
It is a matter of time before “Bugs Bunny” and “Tom and Jerry” cartoons are the objects of this ridiculous “cancel” insanity. There will be a backlash and people will turn a deft ear every time they hear the word “racist”. And that will be people of all races. How about an “age of reason” movement?
Today seems to be my day to lose things. I spent 10 minutes finding my phone, then I couldn’t find the note I scribbled about the pre-admission COVID test, and now I can’t for the life of me find the downvote button 😛
Just as an observation, the first place I checked online had a high-quality scan of each of the books, in PDF and CBR formats. The time stamps suggest that they had been there for at least a couple of years.
@Joe: I mean, if you’ve already got it and it’s racist, you can point that out or insert your own edit. We’ve done that with a bunch of the illustrated childrens books we inherited. But I wouldn’t recommend that for a publisher, since it confuses the collection – am I getting the racist version, or is this the sanitized-for-our-modern-sensibilities one?
The magic of Dr Seuss is how he just gets cadence and phonemological play. The guy was a damn genius at it. And he was one of those people who, it sounds like, evolved a lot over his lifetime, basically the proof that “Product of Their Time” is a lie we tell ourselves to not get frustrated with our olds. It’s hard to think about editing that out, especially when you’ve got the option to just shut it down. Sell 3 of one book in a year, kill it off – we don’t need the ’40s casual stereotyping. And if that’s the reason you’re ending that one in particular, put out a press release.
What’s pathetic about the whole thing is watching the Right go crazy because the free market (literal owner of the work in question) relied on personal responsibility (again, literal owner of the work) to make a decision, then blame the government. This is a loon squad with no actual principles, just a pile of gripes. “Someone call the manager, I want MacGillicajigger’s Ocean back!”
@Tyrell: Nothing has been ‘cancelled’ here. Did you even read the OP?
Conservatives canceled (or at least, suspended for quite a while) the careers of a whole range of actors, authors, artists and musicians way before that: the McCarthy “witch hunt” trials, anyone?
I’m quite positive warner brothers isn’t currently distributing some of the crazy racist Bugs cartoons from the 40s. Without even looking it up, I can be fairly certain they stopped distributing those pieces years ago.
You were never outraged about that happening because no one, including you, really gives a crap.
It’s a law of modern politics that 99.9% of all outrage from the right is performative.
Whenever there is a kerfluffle about a literary work, I am always let to wonder if the people making all the noise actually read the work in question. Recently, there was concern on the Amcon site because some school district stopped read The Odyssey, and I wonder how many defenders of this open had looked at Homer since leaving school.And clearly the people attacking Huckleberry Finn haven’t read it, or if they read it, they didn’t get it.
I read the “Beyond Zebra” one about 65 years ago. I recall it as a clever play on the alphabet. I don’t recall any racist images, but it has been a long time and in an era where racist observations such as Blacks being unfit to play quarterback were common.
As far as Mr. Potatohead, one of my friends got one, and we immediately stuck a firecracker in him and blew him up. A lot of fun. I don’t know what that says about my politics.
@Tyrell: I’m going to assume that the rational human who writes you as satire is fully aware that there are some Bugs, WB, and Disney cartoons that have either been unavailable, or only get shown with huge content disclaimers, for *years.*. For much longer than the term “cancel culture* has existed.
Well, not WB or Bugs Bunny, but my dad looked high and low for a Disney movie, Song of the South, ever since we first got a VCR (early/mid-80s) until he gave it up in the late 90s, and never found it for home video.
I’m thinking someone stole a DeLorean next year.
I’ve always wondered what to do about cartoons which contain caricatures of particular races which were common at the time. Getting rid of them if such caricatures were standard seems to be overkill, but if they’re in kids’ books one can see why an editing job is a good idea. One of the first Doctor DoLittle books falls in this category. The editors of a recent edition did a brilliant job together with the illustrators–they had Prince Bumpo wanting to get a lion’s mane (rather than turning white) and the illustration of this was spectacular. Hugh Lofting seems to have had much harsher feelings about upper-crust Englishmen–he started writing the Doctor’s tales during his time as a soldier in WWI, so he probably had his own experiences of the “led by donkeys” decisions.
@charon: I would expect that the EU response would have to be proportional to the damages, and if a work is out of print — generating no revenue — the damages are roughly $0.
There’s likely quite a bit of wiggle room, which could give the result of public domain, without actually stripping the owner of the fiction of the rights that they are not using. An expansion of fair use to cover the entirety of a work not in print, for instance, or a clear definition of the damages being $0.
Alls I know is that if Disney isn’t releasing “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and “The Song Of The South”, they are depriving us of our cultural heritage of scarred childhoods and racism.
Also, the folk music of the 1930s could not have been created with the current copyright system, as there was so much wholesale theft of verses and melodies to create derived works. Whether the obliteration of that type of folk is bad or good is another question.
I mean this in the best of all possible ways, but… was your dad … racist?
At least in the US, there is a certain crowd of people who want to see Song of the South, and they’re generally either racists or really curious about how racist it is. (The answer to the latter is “so racist that the company that still shows Dumbo with the Jim Crow crows is unwilling to let it see the light of day”, which might just be hysterically over the top racist, if you have a dark sense of humor)
I seem to remember cartoons where Bugs Bunny altered himself, perhaps for the purpose of disguise to resemble an Asian caricature. I have not seen this cartoon in maybe 50 years, though. Because the studio made that decision. Nobody forced them to do it. And it’s no great loss, really.
@Jay L Gischer:
Are you sure about that?
I think there is actually some value in having the racist parts of our culture still available (not promoted, but available) so people can see how racist it really was, and reflect upon what was considered acceptable.
And if that leads to Stormfront folks gathering to watch Song of the South, or racist loony tunes watching racist Loony Tunes… so be it.The folks who embrace racism are already pretty far gone, and seeing an offensive image in a Dr. Seuss book isn’t going to suddenly make them racist.
But I think it’s important for the rest of society to not whitewash our past, if only to not diminish the accomplishments we have make to get where we are.
Breakfast At Tiffany’s would be a much better movie if someone cut the Mr. Miyagi scenes, and they should do that. But the original should still be available.
Yes, but not militantly so. He just made racist comments now and then.
I don’t think that has anything to do with that movie. He liked musicals. A lot. All his favorite movies are either musicals, or star Angela Lansbury or Julie Andrews.
I think it is about cementing identity and feeding off the (relative) loss of power that many white Americans feel. I noted the power of nostalgia in the post, and I think that it is pretty potent. “They are taking your childhood away!” is the claim.
It is like @Tyrell:
I hate to say this, because I loved Looney Toons as a kid, but only people of a certain age care about Bugs Bunny (and it isn’t my kids, who range in age from 19 to 24). Young adults now grew up with VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, streaming services, and reams of channels dedicated to them. They weren’t locked into whatever was on the local UHF channel after school.
This is all about vague notions of “heritage” and the like, and it is powerful stuff. And it is about whites losing their privileged position as being the baseline of “normal.”
@Gustopher: I agree, and with no snark at all would state that that is what libraries and archives are for (to include electronic ones online).
@Gustopher: Yeah, I agree with that – we should preserve this stuff and remember how terrible it was along with how little people at the time realized how terrible it was. A sort of cautionary tale. At the same time, the cartoons in question were not especially memorable, was what I was saying.
On another topic, it’s my thesis that pretty much every white person in America is racist to some degree. And maybe some of the others, too, but I don’t know about them. I am a white person, though, so I know more about that. And yeah, we kind of all soaked in it, even if the worse parts of it had already been scrubbed.
So, I decline to describe people as “a problem” as opposed to specific deeds, words, or acts as a problem. Yeah, those Seuss cartoons are a problem. Was Ted “a problem”? About as much a problem as every other white person in America during his life. Probably less.
@gVOR08: True. But you and I are not the target audience of that particular argument. Rhetorical considerations matter.
Huh. All of the people I know who want to own a copy of SotS want it for the cartoon adventures of Br’er Rabbit. I loved those cartoons as a kid, and I do not remember them including any racist portrayals — the animals were all animal-colored. The narration was done in the dialect of the Uncle Remus books; I suppose some might consider that to be a racist caricature or a denigration of black speech, but I wouldn’t.
The live action parts of the movie… that’s what “fast forward” is for.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Every so often, they make new versions of Loony Toons. There’s one now airing on cable (airing on cable??) made up of traditional shorts, much mdoernized. I don’t really care for the styling or story lines.
There was one a few years back with longer episodes, which had the usual characters living in the present, and dealing with modern problems, as well as the usual cartoon issues. That one was quite good.
But, yeah, they can’t dominate the way they did when offerings were fewer. Also, quite frankly, the WB cartoons were rather good technically speaking. Lots of movement, lots of backgrounds, lots of voices (most by one person), while the competition was far more static, hastily drawn, and nowhere near as lively.
These cartoons aren’t a problem. They’re just racist stereotypes which don’t have to be published. Stereotypes aren’t art. Nobody is grappling with the issues presented by a racist stereotype. The Palm Beach Story is an amazing piece of art, but you can’t watch the scene with the black porter and think it even matters to the movie itself. If that got cut, who would miss it?
Actually problematic art is a different thing. Republicans don’t get art, so that’s they have an audience of idiots complaining about dumb stuff nobody remembers. There’s a huge new bio of Philip Roth and Roth is about problematic in the metoo era as you can be without being Woody Allen. No one is cancelling Roth. The only reviews are being done by liberals and the left, I’m guessing, all of whom are the only readers of Roth.
Here you go. Song of the South DVD
@Steven L. Taylor:
I get all that, but I would argue that “cementing identity and feeding off the (relative) loss of power” isn’t a political end but rather a political means. Stoking the grievances of the base is a way for the the GOP to secure power, but they no longer have anything to offer when it comes to what they would do with the power once they got it. They aren’t even pitching tax cuts anymore.
It’s all handwaving about the loss of white privilege and hoping the base won’t notice that this alone offers no solutions to rural economic stagnation, opioid addiction, the dissolution of the nuclear family, or other challenges which conservatives will acknowledge. (And of course, the handwaving does even less for challenges like climate change, policing abuses, or wealth inequality which conservatives refuse to acknowledge.)
My inner pedant is screaming at me Steven:
“Sew” according to Julie Andrews is a needle pulling thread. You mean they want to ‘sow’ the seeds of polarization and division.
Sorry, I could not help myself.
The primary end of politics is power, not policy outcomes.
Kevin McCarthy wants to be re-elected first and foremost (and it would be keen if he could be Speaker instead of Minority Leader).
And I am not being at all snarky in this response, even if my tone might seem a bit quippy.
It’s not handwaving. It is not at all unusual for a dominant class, especially a dominant ethnic class, to panic when it thinks it is losing power.
@OzarkHillbilly: I appreciate the correction.
One thing I do wonder is since the offending parts generally aren’t integral to the stories, instead of getting rid of the books entirely, why not just edit out those parts?
The reason I’m wondering is that when I was little, we actually had “If I Ran the Zoo”, and decades later I can’t remember the part they’re talking about at all and I’m sure no one would miss it if it were just excised.
The part I remember is the very end where we finally see the whole zoo, which was this amazing multilevel drawing full of Escher-esque stairways going all over the place and fantastical Rube Goldberg contraptions for feeding the animals, and I remember I used to just sit and stare at that final two or three pages, always finding new little details hidden in the drawings.
I feel sad that amazing finale is going to disappear.
@Steven L. Taylor:
No doubt this is true for the majority of politicians and for many the tribalist voter. I question whether this MUST be true or whether it SHOULD be true. I am a political pragmatist, so I use my vote in order to try to give power to those politicians who will pursue my preferred policy outcomes. I don’t think I’m that odd a bird.
Yes, it is not unusual for a dominant class to panic at it’s loss of privilege & power. Actually we tend to see that panic accompanied with claims that the once dominant class is now an oppressed class. Politicians playing to that panic and parroting the claims of oppression from this once dominant class is the very definition of handwaving – as in hand-waving is a pejorative label for attempting to be seen as effective – in word, reasoning, or deed – while actually doing nothing effective or substantial. This GOP rhetoric is never accompanied with any suggestion of sound policy that will stop or reverse this loss of dominance in a multi-cultural democracy.
As a boy, I loved the Leslie Charteris ‘Saint’ books. But even then, 50 years and more ago, the way he portrayed Black people made me uncomfortable. Ditto P G Wodehouse and Edgar Wallace. I’ve no idea if the books are still published, but if their estates decided to drop the most offensive ones, it would be a positive move.
But on a lighter note, lots of people are saying CBS was an early practitioner of cancel culture when it cancelled ‘Amos’n’Andy’. Political correctness run wild!
Michelle Obama was promoting white privilege when she read Seuss’s stories to children? Barack seemed to like the stories as well. Clearly they were both racist.
I would argue that at its root, politics is about power. You can’t do anything (or stop anything from being done) without power. Indeed, I would argue that it is not a question os should or must, but is it an empirically foundational “is.”
The power of the dominant class is eroding and large sections of it are trying to figure out what to do about it.
And “hand-waving” has the connotation of being largely ineffective. My point is that while a lot of this seems impotent and ridiculous, it does motivate people.
Trump engaged in four years of this stuff, stoking grievance and reminding groups of supposed loss of power and the crescendo of his presidency was an insurrectionist attack on the US Capitol to disrupt a constitutional process.
That’s not to mention the fact that Seuss was an outspoken liberal. It was his outlook as a political cartoonist, and he definitely carried it into his children’s books. The Lorax, for instance, is a thinly veiled critique of the logging industry.
Over the years Seuss seems to have acquired a position in our culture similar to Orwell and MLK, in that conservatives have collectively decided to ignore his well-documented left-leaning views and appropriate him as one of their own. The pro-life movement tried to suggest Horton Hears a Who was a parable against abortion, when in fact it was actually intended as a statement of his change of heart regarding anti-Japanese racism.
In his bit, “Father Flotsky’s Triumph,” Lenny Bruce satirized the stereotypes that Hollywood promulgated, including a painfully drawn black one. Fast forward several decades, when 30 Rock, during its live episode, had an Amos and Andy parody including Tracy Jordan and John Hamm in blackface. Jordan implores him to stop doing his minstrel show schtick, to which Hamm replies, “I bet you could catch a rainbow in dat hat!”
The intent of both skits is obvious. Racist stereotypes are not only painful, they’re patently ridiculous. No one could walk away from them saying, “I think racism is definitely a good thing, and eminently justified!” Except, perhaps, people who are already dedicated racists. Both bits are funny, at least to me, but you might feel differently.
You can’t watch the live episode of 30 Rock on Amazon’s streaming service, the current home of that series.
(By the way, in the same episode of 30 Rock, Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey showed how awful the misogyny and threatened domestic violence of The Honeymooners was.)
FWIW, that DVD is apparently a bootleg that’s been made to look like an official Disney release.
It is available to stream at the Internet Archive.
A different take on the Suess issue: if Republicans had not historically led the charge on Copyright extension, most of Suess’s works that were withdrawn would be in the Public Domain by now and this would not be an issue.
@Steven L. Taylor:
Supposed as to power arguable but nothing supposed about the diminished cultural dominance – Fox et al seem really focused on the culture stuff.
@charon: If I understand your comment, the point I am trying to make is that they attack on the cultural stuff because it is both easy and motivating for their audience.
I think this at least partially connects to my nostalgia point. People remember Seuss with fondness (at a minimum, the Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and especially the cartoon version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas), know that Orwell is anti-Communist/wrote a book folks of a certain age had to read in school, and the MLK said we should “judge a man by the content of his character.” And it all happened at least 50 years ago, meaning it is from “the past” and therefore more gooder than current wokeness.
I see a similar phenomenon in some of the Star Trek fan discussions–there are people who are all upset about how “woke” or “SJW” the new Trek is. It is pretty amazing, given that Trek has always been political and has always had an underlying liberal philosophy.
I also appreciate the fact that in protest, cultural conservatives are rushing to protest buy Suess’s books from… *checks his notes*… the same publisher who supported the family’s decision to stop printing the books. And the royalties from said sales are… *checks his notes*… going to the same family that made the decision to take the books out of print.
Michael Reynolds, you should announce that you’re pulling some random Animorphs books because they’re hellua-offensive and then profit!
@Steven L. Taylor:
I was being ironic. Barack Obama was your best president in decades, and Michelle Obama a very classy first lady. No one could seriously suggest either was even remotely racist. But they both endorsed Dr. Seuss. Doesn’t that suggest there’s very little racism in his books?
@Northerner: You should have used the irony font, because your intent was not clear.
@Steven L. Taylor:
I think the MLK example is more sinister than that–it’s part of a sustained attempt on the right to rewrite the history of their relationship with the civil rights movement–but that’s somewhat tangential to my point about Seuss, and I was the one who brought up the example; I might have been clearer if I stuck to Orwell as the prime analogy, where I agree it’s more nostalgia.
@Steven L. Taylor: I think we are talking past each other. I just don’t think that it so clean as politics is about power first and foremost or even empirically true that power is the primary political end.
Trump is an excellent case in point. Indeed, Trump used the nostalgia for white dominance that is MAGA to motivate enough voters to get him to the White House and he spent his entire term stoking grievance to hold power over GOP voters and politicians. He continues to hold that power.
But, what Trump did with that power once he had it was consistently unpopular and in the end he was unable to sustain his hold on power. You saw the same news reports and campaign ads that I did – disaffected Trump voters sharing their stories of betrayal because Trump didn’t bring factories back to small town America and he didn’t build the wall that he said would have turned the tide of immigration. For an electorally significant number of Trumpers, there was no point in keeping Trump in power if he wasn’t going to do something about the challenges they face.
I would say it’s a chicken/egg situation regarding which comes first. In the politics of a democracy, you can’t do anything without having power, but you can’t hold power without doing something substantial with it.
Obviously poor writing on my part, since both you and Steven Taylor didn’t get it. I guess I just thought the Obama’s were so obviously not racist that it had to be irony (in the same way as if I said say Michael Jordan wasn’t a good basketball player).
How do people who think Dr. Seuss is racist explain people like the Obama’s liking his books?
I take the view everyone is at least a bit racist, just some more than others.
You can value Shakespeare while perhaps noticing a bit of antisemitism in “The Merchant of Venice” along with some misogyny in “The Taming of the Shrew.”
I’m not sure why you think the amount of racism in his books must be uniform. I mean, in general there is very little time travel in H. G. Wells’s books, but you can’t really use that fact to say that The Time Machine must not have any…
The critical difference might be what happens when someone points out your biases.