The outrage over Dr. Seuss books
Dr. Seuss Enterprises decided to discontinue the publication of six slow selling Dr. Seuss titles because they contained racist images. In response, America lost its ever loving mind. We are not talking “Green Eggs and Ham,” “The Cat in the Hat,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” or even “Horton Hears A Who.” The Lorax, Sam-I-Am, Sylvester McMonkey McBean and King Looie Katz are fine. Even Thing One and Thing Two, who creep everyone out, are safe and sound asleep in their storybook beds. No one is going to find Cindy-Lou Who on the side of milk cartons anytime soon.
People who had not bought a Dr. Seuss book or, let us be honest, bought a book in general, in two or three decades were outraged. Shouts arose that this was just another example of “cancel culture.” Social media posts were filled with righteous outrage. People were so upset that I am even sure some of the memes did not originate in Russia. Talk radio was abuzz.
How dare people that care about children cancel “McElligot’s Pool,” “The Cat’s Quizzer,” “On Beyond Zebra!” or Scrambled Eggs Super!” and even if those outraged could not name one character in any of these books or even sum up a plot line. “Um, one of them involves a zebra, a pool and a cat that gives quizzes like on Jeopardy or something like that.”
Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel, wrote over 60 books. This was not like they ceased publication of “Green Eggs and Ham.” Because people might not be bright enough to realize if your eggs are green it is most likely mold, and ham is not great for you because it is filled with preservatives and high in cholesterol. Nor was “The Cat in the Hat” even though it glorified a giant cat in a stupid hat breaking into someone’s house and traumatizing two little kids who will need therapy for years afterwards. It was about racist images.
How did Americans express their outrage? They made Dr. Seuss Enterprises even wealthier. People bought as many Dr. Seuss books as possible. Within three days, 15 of the top 20 books on the Amazon bestseller list were by Geisel. Bookstores, yes, there are still stores that sell books, could not keep them on the shelves. Heirs of the Seuss estate reacted by doing their best Scrooge McDuck impression by doing the backstroke in a big vault of money.
When I was a kid, I loved to watch movies on television, especially old black-and-white ones. I noticed that the plots were often jumpy. It seemed like something was missing when there would be a skip from one scene until the next. I just assumed that several of them had just been edited down due to time constraints.
Several years later I watched original prints of many of these films. I was shocked to discover many of these films were edited because they contained racist scenes. Even serious dramas thought nothing of throwing a little minstrel humor into the mix. Audiences in the 1930s and ‘40s loved that stuff! By the 1970s, not exactly the heyday of political correctness, it was cringe worthy to watch for even the Archie Bunkers of the world and the networks responded accordingly.
“Amos and Andy” was one of the most popular television series ever. Comic book characters like the Green Lantern and The Spirit had racist sidekicks that vanished or were changed when readers became more enlightened.
In an us-against-them political world, where people are looking to be offended, a person sometimes has to put themselves in the shoes of someone having to make a decision. What do you do when you are looking at a drawing of an Asian man in a conical hat eating from a bowl with chopsticks or two African gentlemen in grass skirts, barefooted, with their hair tied on top of their heads in a stereotypical fashion?
Adults can recognize that Theodor Geisel meant no offense with such images. He was a product of his time and place and probably did not give two thoughts about them. Children are unable to do that. That critical filter is non-existent in kids. They absorb like a sponge. I have seen little kids look at the same picture book 25 or 30 times straight, never getting sick of it. What do those images speak to them?
Now, I personally would have gone over to the computer, clicked the mouse a few times, and transform any racist images into fat Americans in Mickey Mouse T-shirts. That would probably interfere with Dr. Seuss’s artistic integrity or some poppycock like that, but so what.
If Dr. Seuss were alive today, he would be shocked that his 60 books made $33 million last year and his estate will make a lot more in 2021 thanks to this controversy. Most of these books are well over half a century old. With that kind of money at stake, his most popular books are not going anywhere! Until some trial lawyer sues them because green eggs and ham causes cancer.
Columnist Trevor Soderstrum was born and raised in Story City. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.