They didn’t cancel old Dr. Seuss! Oh what wondrous, splendiferous news!
Sorry. The Seuss muse seized me on reading that the beloved author of my early years still brightens his childhood six decades later, and three after his death. Theodor Geisel outsells all other licensed-intellectual property books—children’s and adult’s —despite the wails of those whose own intellectual capacity maxes out at “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
One short year ago, the Fox host and his buddies hollered cancel culture! after Dr. Seuss Enterprises discontinued six of its namesake’s books for images that, by the 21st century’s updated lights, were racist. They included Geisel’s first work for children, 1937’s “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” which depicted an Asian with a conical hat, chopsticks and rice bowl, and “If I Ran The Zoo,” featuring unshod, grass-skirted Black men.
Moral standards always evolve. Today’s bikinis, for example, would have brought indecency charges a century ago. Nevertheless, Carlson, devoid of empathy for children of color seeing those now-interred images, barked “demented” about the Seuss decision, adding that “if we lose this battle, America is lost.” Ben Shapiro snarkily tweeted, “We’ve now got foundations book burning the authors to whom they are dedicated. Well done, everyone.”
News that canceling a mere 10th of Geisel’s output hasn’t extinguished reading of the remainder won’t appease MAGA types. That movement is and always was a racist tumor that will continue mourning the deep-sixed six.
Moral standards always evolve.
But let’s assume that some people genuinely feared last year’s purge was the woke camel’s nose under the tent, ready to inhale other, heretofore revered works to appease those who make their living taking perpetual offense. (To the extent that the worrywarts were prescient, it’s actually their own camp that today fanatically denudes bookshelves.) Some of the angst may have involved older people grappling with new notions of what’s racist, just as they may find the sexual mores of today’s youth alien.
More importantly, in l’affaire Seuss, Carlson’s and Shapiro’s headbangers didn’t do their homework.
Had they boned up on Geisel, they’d know that he was admirably willing to cancel himself if he felt it appropriate. The Lebanon (NH) Valley News, where I worked for many years, interviewed Geisel biographer Donald E. Pease, Jr. He recalled how a friend’s comment that storyboards for “The Sneetches” were anti-Semitic so anguished the author that he destroyed them and resolved to kill the book. His editor convinced him the friend was wrong, and Geisel tweaked “The Sneetches” to publication.
We can’t all be Seuss scholars. Yet our culture warriors remain equally clueless about the culture they purport to defend. Demonizing the left, they imagine a supposedly unstoppable, cancel-culture Godzilla. In reality, smart progressives know when woke up goes wacko.
Hence San Francisco voters, among the country’s most left-wing, bouncing three school board members who’d deemed Abraham Lincoln (and the Sierra Club’s co-founder) too racist to name a school after. Hence the brushoff to literal police abolition — a real-life delusion in some faculty lounges and activist cafes — from a plurality of African Americans, the Democratic mayor of New York, and progressive pundit/politician Bakari Sellers, who, asked what “defund the police” means, he replied, “Democrats suck at messaging.”
Hence liberal columnist Ruth Marcus dismissing Yale Law students who objected to the conservative Federalist Society for “supporting anti-Black rhetoric”: “Sorry, but if you’re triggered by the Federalist Society, you don’t belong on a law school campus. ”
Such inventiveness can’t be canceled.
The MAGA crowd ignores the cultural sinew, including Dr. Seuss, connecting us all. You don’t become the top-selling author in this diversifying country without appealing to diverse readers, and Geisel’s enduring popularity proves the BIPOC community has the American genius for cultural appropriation. (Good thing, too.)
Just as my mother amused me with “Green Eggs and Ham” in the 1960s, Christina Milian, the Afro Latina entertainer, recorded it as part of a giveaway of Seuss books to homeless children. From a Colorado tutoring program for Latin American youngsters to an Iowa school’s Nation of Diverse Readers celebration, Geisel is bursting out all over.
And not just between covers. Netflix will air five new preschool series and specials based on Geisel works, including “The Sneetches.” Amazon meanwhile is casting a baking competition series for which contestants will be “crafting incredible confectionary creations tied to beloved Seuss characters like The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch, and more.”
If this is cancellation for a writer, we humble scribes should all aspire to it.
When our son was a kindergartener, we attended a school literacy night at which three teachers each read a picture book. Two were fine but indistinguishable. The third was unlike either, a Dr. Seuss title that so tongue-tied the reader in webs of whimsical pseudo-words that the audience giggled with delight.
Such inventiveness can’t be canceled.
Follow Cognoscenti on Facebook and Twitter.