SACRAMENTO – When my daughters were little, I’d often read them bedtime stories. We started with Dr. Seuss and moved on to other thought-provoking and age-appropriate works. I’m not sure if the readings meant more to them or to me, but I’d like to think they helped, in some small way, guide their moral reasoning. They certainly helped guide mine.
As you no doubt have read, Dr. Seuss has been canceled. The Dr. Seuss Foundation has stopped publishing six books by Theodore Geisel, the author who used Dr. Seuss as his pen name. Kansas State professor Philip Nel, who studies “hidden racism” in children’s books, told the Guardian that Seuss was recalled, not canceled. The foundation simply made a “moral decision” not to “profit from work with racist caricature in it,” he said.
Call it whatever you want. If Geisel were alive he might pen a book called, “How the Grinches Stole Our Sanity.” Certainly, a private organization can publish – or not publish – anything it chooses. But, as the Guardian noted, this recall “left many perplexed, since the decision was … not as a result of public pressure that has preceded other such decisions.”
This “recall” isn’t too perplexing. It’s the result of overly sensitive publishers who are applying 2021 standards to an author who was born in 1904 and published “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” in 1957. Then again, Seuss sales have soared since the announcement, so a cynic might conclude that this was a savvy marketing decision.
Nel reassures us that the books aren’t banned. Stopping their sale, however, will deprive new generations of children (and not just archivists) the opportunity to read and enjoy them. It’s hard to pin down all of the modern-day Grinches’ objections, but another Guardian article pointed to Seuss’ caricatures of a Chinese man holding chopsticks. All Seuss artwork is wildly exaggerated. Can’t we just use these stereotypes as a teachable moment rather than banish them from sight?
The article summarizes a 2019 study that found, “just 2% of Dr. Seuss’ human characters are non-white” and pointed to a “marked lack of women and girls in the books.” Now we’re canceling books for sins of omission. I think my daughters have turned out all right even though Yertle the Turtle, Thing One and Thing Two, Horton the Elephant and Sam-I-Am didn’t represent their gender.
Some of Geisel’s main offenses predated the publication of his popular stories. During World War II, he was a cartoonist for a New York newspaper, where he churned out cartoons supporting the war. He even backed the Japanese internment. Some cartoons seem appalling to modern eyes, but they have nothing to do with his books and reflect public sentiments at the time. Others railed against racism and promoted civil rights. Human beings are imperfect and complex.
Geisel seemed to have changed his mind. “Horton Hears a Who,” published in 1954, is about an elephant that has to protect a speck of dust populated by little tiny people,” explained an article in Open Culture. “The book’s hopeful, inclusive refrain – ‘A person is a person no matter how small’ – is about as far away as you can get from his ignoble words about the Japanese a decade earlier.” In today’s cancel culture, there’s no room for intellectual growth or forgiveness.
One of Dr. Seuss’s most popular books was “The Lorax,” which expressed attitudes about the environment and consumerism that today’s progressives – the ones who are now dissing Seuss’ legacy – should appreciate. In the story, the Once-ler ignored the the Lorax, a creature who spoke for the forest, and began chopping down Truffala Trees because he was addicted to “biggering” production and “biggering” his money.
My kids and I loved “Thigwick, The Big-Hearted Moose.” While liberals should appreciate the Lorax, conservatives should enjoy this story. Thigwick was in a moose herd, out munching on moose moss along Lake Winna-Bango, when a Bingle Bug asked if could ride on Thigwick’s large antlers. Then one critter after another asked Thigwick if they, too, could perch there. Being so big-hearted, Thigwick couldn’t say no to anyone, until his antlers were weighed down with moochers.
It’s a great critique of welfarism and democracy – the theory that two wolves and one sheep vote on what’s for dinner. Fortunately, Thigwick and the Lorax are safe from cancelers for now, but imagine what today’s children will lose if the Grinches keep get their way.
Steven Greenhut is Western region director for the R Street Institute and a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This content was originally published here.