Calling Dr Seuss


Mar 04

Here is where we get something straight.

I know NOTHING about the “cancel culture.” I don’t know where the phrase comes from or who’s pushing it or what it entails. I know only that if we don’t stop the hatred, we will destroy ourselves.

With Potato Head genitalia being a burning issue on Capitol Hill, I thought I’d divert your attention to old stereotypes, and bring up an old friend of mine called Theodor Geisel, though you might know him as Dr Seuss.

Dr Seuss was almost a doctor, nearly earning a PhD in literature at Oxford, but instead met a woman (the downfall of many a PhD candidate) who discovered his drawings and notebooks and grabbed his reins to drive him into writing and drawing for a career and that’s exactly how he started.

Jump ahead to WWII and we find Seuss drawing over 400 political cartoons early on denouncing Mussolini and Hitler and that non-interventionist Charles Lindbergh. Those cartoons can now be found at AbeBooks in a beautiful (new) book entitled Dr. Seuss & Co. Go to War.

Appallingly, this was drawn just before Japanese Americans were rounded up and place in camps.

Because I’m a cinephile and like a true cinephile I also appreciate the world of animation, I discovered some of Geisel’s early work at Warner Brothers, where he wrote the bulk of the Private Snafu series. Though they were official films of the War Department, they were still Looney Tunes and Dr Seuss combined and were just a lot of fun. Here is one of my favorites called Spies. Just try to listen to the rhyme without thinking of Dr Seuss. Most can’t.

Geisel was brilliant and well educated and also had a leaning to the left. Though he, like most, depicted Nazis and Japanese like idiots, he deplored racism at home against Jews and blacks. And he was a product of his time. Thus today, because of modern sensitivities, his books are falling out of favor due to his stereotyping different nationalities. Some of these are so subtle the average person doesn’t see them, and others claim, “Oh you’re seeing something in it that isn’t there.”

Take The Cat in the Hat. He’s been a beloved cartoon figure for children for decades, but in 2014 out came a scholarly work asserting he was “an elaborate mockery of black people.” [Ref]

Apparently our sensitivities have reached a point where the publishers, after consulting with a panel of experts, decided that the following six titles will no longer be printed or licensed in the future.  

The above fact has suddenly boosted the price of these because they are not collector items. In fact, I watched one book jump from $15.00 to nearly $900.00 between the time I found it and the time I clicked to purchase it.

What bothers me about this decision is that erasing history is a bit like pretending it never happened.

If these books are deemed racist, why can they not be used to teach racism?

Over the past 20 years, Looney Toons has been restoring many of their old cartoons from the thirties and forties. They are bringing back the original colors and just cleaning them up. But they are not repairing them. If the final film came out with an error, the error stays. And these cartoons are full of racist stereotypes, in fact, some from that era just will not be restored, though you can find them in collections still (because they’re out of copyright). But the point is, even in the latest releases of these restored cartoons, viewers are told that though these stereotypes are just as wrong now as they were then, and we cannot pretend they did not exist.

Thus they have returned to us as learning tools, and that’s where I am with Dr Seuss. If we expurgate his work from history, we are doing a disservice to future generations because he was a racist, as were most back then, a product of his time, and while his work is fascinating, imaginative, and brilliant, it was also racist. Erasing them makes it seem like they never existed, and that in itself is the same as re-writing history, at least in my mind.