March 8, 2021

Dr. Seuss

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“Six Dr. Seuss books — including ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street’ and ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ — will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery, the business that preserves and protects the author’s legacy said [last] Tuesday.” AP News

Last week, “Online marketplace eBay Inc… said it is working to prevent the resale of six Dr. Seuss books that were pulled earlier this week by the company in charge of the late author’s works because they contain offensive imagery.” Wall Street Journal

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From the Left

The left is generally supportive of the decision, arguing that publishing decisions are not censorship and that children should not be exposed to racist caricatures.

“To be clear: There have been no anti-Seuss laws passed, no public campaigns to denounce Dr. Seuss, no boycotts, no books burned or banned, no ‘canceling,’ and no one saying that everyone should stop reading the many Dr. Seuss books that don’t contain racist imagery. It was the decision of a publisher to no longer publish a few books that most people had never heard of, the kind of decision publishers make every day.”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

“[This is] an example of ‘the marketplace of ideas’ at work. People have rejected these books with their wallets, which is what Republicans generally tell us is the only thing that matters. Nobody actually reads If I Ran the Zoo or And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

“There shouldn’t be any problem at all with the people who profit off of Dr. Seuss’s legacy deciding that some aspects of his legacy are bad (and could hurt their profits!) and trying to move forward in a world that rejects stereotypes and racist caricatures in children’s books.”
Elie Mystal, The Nation

“As a child, I was led to believe that Blackness was inferior. And I was not alone. The Black society into which I was born was riddled with these beliefs… [There are] doll tests in which very young children were presented with a white doll and a Black one and asked to describe each. Most of the children preferred the white dolls and described them positively…

“About 30 years ago, in my own version of the experiment, I grabbed an old yearbook from a school I attended whose student body was roughly evenly split between white and Black students. I gave it to my nephew who was 4 or 5 years old and told him to point to the people he thought were pretty. Every face on which that little brown finger landed was white…

“It underscored for me that the things that we present children with, believing them innocent, can be highly corrosive and racially vicious… Racism must be exorcised from culture, including, or maybe especially, from children’s culture.”
Charles M. Blow, New York Times

“Taking Aunt Jemima off of a syrup bottle, rebranding Mr. Potato Head or changing the name of the Washington football team, doesn't tell us anything foreboding about our culture other than the fact that, like all cultures, it evolves

“An 11-year-old boy froze to death in Texas last month when the state's power system failed; the Biden administration is currently worried that their infrastructure package will face vast right-wing opposition. Our health care system is so broken that a 7-year-old girl in Alabama has started a lemonade stand to pay for the brain surgery she needs; the GOP continues to attack the Affordable Care Act and undermine any effort to move toward a universal health care system. And conservatives think the top story is Dr. Seuss? If that's where we all turn our attention, how convenient for them.”
Jill Filipovic, CNN

“The conservative movement’s wonks have lost all the major economic arguments in the U.S. over the past decade. The fiscal crisis that deficit and inflation hawks spent years prophesying never materialized. Donald Trump and Jerome Powell turned loose fiscal and monetary policy into objects of bipartisan consensus. The CARES Act alerted the American public to their government’s capacity to make their lives easier through direct cash support. And it also left Republicans less equipped to proclaim a principled opposition to large deficit-financed pandemic relief packages as such…

“But there is another reason why conservatives are devoting less bandwidth to the tyranny of Democratic government than to that of ‘woke’ capital: It’s hard to get conservative voters that worked up about an old white guy trying to send them checks.”
Eric Levitz, New York Magazine

From the Right

The right is critical of the decision, arguing that it is wrong to censor works even if they are offensive according to contemporary, ever-changing standards.

The right is critical of the decision, arguing that it is wrong to censor works even if they are offensive according to contemporary, ever-changing standards.

“The indubitably racist depiction of ape-like Africans in ‘If I Ran the Zoo,’ the canceled Seuss that most deserves it, gets the same treatment as ‘On Beyond Zebra!,’ whose apparent crime is a Seussian picture of an Arab-looking man on a camel-like beast. And a single problematic image seems to be enough to make an entire book disappear: One chopstick-wielding Chinese man in ‘And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,’ apparently, means the first major work of an American master can’t be published anymore…

“The Seuss cancellations also illustrate how a disappearance can happen without a legal ‘ban’ being literally imposed. One day, the Seuss estate decides to self-censor; the next, that decision becomes the justification for eBay to delist used copies of the books. In a cultural landscape dominated by a few big companies with politically uniform management, you don’t need state censorship for books to swiftly vanish.”
Ross Douthat, New York Times

“The list of banned books includes his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, published in 1937, which involves a boy imaginatively recounting an increasingly elaborate parade he claims to have seen while walking home. Mulberry Street is apparently canceled for a single image of ‘a Chinaman who eats with sticks,’ drawn in traditional Chinese costume and a stereotypical style characteristic of the 1930s… McElligot’s Pool seems to be targeted just for a harmless drawing of an Eskimo…

“So far as I can tell, [On Beyond Zebra!] is ‘canceled’ for a vaguely Arab-looking character on one page, the ‘Nazzim of Bazzim.’ Recall that one of the charges against Seuss is that his books feature too few non-white people, and you can understand the inherent absurdity of also banning his books for depicting non-white people…

“Consider the lack of perspective in canceling a book like On Beyond Zebra! just for a single image that is only vaguely stereotypical of a foreign culture. This isn’t even a matter of being offensive; some conception of foreign-ness is how you introduce children in the first place to the idea that the world is full of different people with different ways of life… And if a few of the images reflect outdated stereotypes, it is easy enough to point that out to your children… Why can’t parents be trusted to ensure that Dr. Seuss books, or The Muppet Show, are safe for children’s consumption?”
Dan McLaughlin, National Review

“For whatever reason, eBay has decided it must intervene now to protect customers from Dr. Seuss, even as far more racist and offensive products are still available for purchase… And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street will no longer be available for resale on eBay, but you can still buy Birth of a Nation. You can still buy David Duke’s Jewish Supremacism. Hell, you can still buy Mein Kampf

“You will no longer be able to sell or buy If I Ran the Zoo, but you can still purchase vintage Third Reich memorabilia. In fact, you can still buy any number of items bearing the hated Nazi swastika.”
Becket Adams, Washington Examiner

“The old liberal idea says that if even one person was to hold an opinion, he should have the right to express it since society might benefit if only in rejecting it. Whatever you think of the philosophy of John Stuart Mill, that principle seems worth defending today. There’s a corollary too: ban that one-person opinion and you might suddenly find it catching on…

“Here’s something no teenager has ever said: Mom told me I’m not allowed to watch this so better change the channel to PBS. There’s nothing quite like breaking a taboo; some people even elected a president in part because he stomped all over them. In which case, for its own good, maybe the left ought to recognize that argument is better than censorship.”
Matt Purple, American Conservative

A libertarian's take

“Much of the current pushback against Dr. Seuss is based on a 2019 paper by Katie Ishizuka and Ramón Stephens that consistently interprets his work in the most negative light and peddles extreme ideological dogma. Take Dr. Seuss's 1961 book The Sneetches, which has been widely praised for its anti-racist message: Birdlike creatures with stars on their bellies scorn and bully their plain-bellied cousins until a wily salesman brings a device that can add or remove stars, and all the sneetches change so many times they get thoroughly mixed up and decide to treat everyone equally. But Ishizuka and Stephens attack the poem as insidious because it teaches that color shouldn't matter…

“They also read a sinister racist subtext into The Cat in the Hat: The magical cat supposedly resembles images from Black minstrelsy and exists only to entertain two white children… Should children's literature adapt to a more racially and ethnically diverse, more gender-equal society? Of course. But the way to do that is to add new classics, not discard old ones.”
Cathy Young, The Week

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