I am a very serious Dr. Seuss fan.
Once I led 5,000 people in the world’s largest reading of "Horton Hears a Who." I was speaking to the California PTA’s state convention and projected the book’s pages on two giant jumbotrons. Our voices thundered off the walls of the giant arena, “A person’s a person no matter how small!”
Another time, in my daughter’s fourth grade, I stood on top of a classroom desk and read Green Eggs and Ham aloud in all the different accents I could think of. This was a birthday present for her tolerant teacher.
I belong to the generation of children who Dr. Seuss saved from a life of “See Dick run. See Jane run.” Instead we got a giant cat in a red and white hat who caused trouble and rhymed. So when I recently heard the dire warnings from conservative politicians and pundits that Dr. Seuss was under attack, I took notice. “The cancel culture, going after Dr. Seuss tonight!” proclaimed a Fox News broadcast.
Well, then there were the actual facts. No one, as it turns out, was actually burning copies of "Hop on Pop" in the streets. Librarians weren’t dumping "Yertle the Turtle" into trash bins. What did happen was Dr. Seuss Enterprises – the company that owns and publishes his 60 books – said it will no longer publish six of them. The company decided some of their images, drawn more than 70 years ago, didn’t look so good through a modern lens. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” said the company.
One, for example, offers up the people of the African Island of Yerka, a strange black mix of man and monkey. Another offers Chinese characters who all have exaggerated slanted eyes and walk around carrying chopsticks.
White authors and publishers didn’t think much about these images of racial stereotypes back in 1950, when whites-only bathrooms were a part of life in many places. But now it is 2021 and we have hopefully become more conscious about such things. The publisher decided that these aren’t exactly the kind of images it wants to parade in front of the world’s first graders of any race.
To be clear, none of the other 54 Dr. Seuss books are affected. The Grinch is still safe, despite his relentless efforts to steal Christmas. The Sneetches are still free to roam the streets. In all likelihood, if Dr. Seuss himself were still alive, he probably would have yanked the images long before. So this hardly seems to qualify as the end of children’s literature as we know it.
Nonetheless, the machinery of fake outrage still shifted quickly into high gear, trying to stir up a crisis where none existed. The morning after the announcement, Fox News ran eight different segments warning that Dr. Seuss was under assault from left-wing cancel culture. Republican politicians eagerly joined the bandwagon. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy declared bravely, “I still like Dr. Seuss.” Then he released a five-minute video of him reading "Green Eggs and Ham." To be honest, it wasn’t very good. He didn’t even stand on his desk.
The wonderful Theodore Seuss Geisel filled his books with all manner of positive messages for children. As Horton the elephant listens to the tiny ‘Whos,’ we get a lesson about the urgency of caring for others. When Yertle the Turtle demands to be raised high to see his kingdom, only to fall down into the mud, we get a lesson about the foolishness of arrogance. And if these sudden pundit and politician defenders of Dr. Seuss really want the job, let them read "The Lorax" aloud on Fox News the next time oil companies make a play to drill in the middle of nature preserves.
Here’s a fun Seuss fact you might not know. Dr. Seuss wrote "Green Eggs and Ham" on a bet with his publisher that he could produce a bestseller using only 50 words. He won that bet and last year the book first published in 1960 sold another third of a million copies worldwide. It will probably sell another third of a million this year.
Here’s another bet. In a week, all those fools who warned us that Dr. Seuss was being canceled will move on to the next bogus threat to life as we know it:
They will launch their new attacks.
And they will do it with no facts.
They will do it here.
And they will do it there.
There are fools like these, just everywhere.
Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of the Democracy Center and a columnist with the Lockport, New York, Union-Sun & Journal. Reach him at JimShultz@democracyctr.org.