Dr Seuss: another victim of “cancel culture”?

 

Dr Seuss: another victim of “cancel culture”?

The works of Dr Seuss (the pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel) have a special place in America’s heart, said Constance Grady on Vox (Washington DC). Every year, on or around 2 March, the National Education Association (NEA) marks the birthday of the late author and illustrator with a special day of events designed to get children excited about reading. Yet the NEA made no mention of Geisel during last week’s Read Across America Day. Not coincidentally, that was the same day that the publishing imprint Dr Seuss Enterprises, which preserves Geisel’s legacy, announced that it would cease publishing six Dr Seuss books – including And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937), and If I Ran The Zoo (1950) – on the grounds that the works “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong”.

“The Left used to be against banishing books,” said Kyle Smith in National Review (New York), but it seems even Dr Seuss is now considered beyond the pale. Never mind that Geisel was a proud liberal and that some of his stories, notably The Sneetches, are “allegories about the stupidity and vileness of racism”. He has been labelled a racist because McElligot’s Pool (1947) has a “harmless drawing of an Eskimo”, and On Beyond Zebra! (1955) features a camel-riding Arab nobleman called Nazzim of Bazzim. The Cat in the Hat is apparently safe for now, but with critics complaining that the cat’s look is rooted in the imagery of minstrel shows and blackface, it’s surely only a matter of time before this book, too, is banned.

My initial response to this news was also irritation, said Scott Huler in Newsweek (New York). And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street was one of my favourite Dr Seuss stories. Looking at the book again today, though, I was shocked by the picture of “the Chinese man, who eats with sticks”, with his little slanted eyes and wood-block clogs. It turns out that in original editions of the book, the character was even more offensively stereotypical and was referred to as “a Chinaman”. Geisel later redrew the character and expressed regret for some of the stereotypes he used in his early cartoons. Geisel published some 60 children’s books over his long career, more than 90% of which are as delightful today as they ever were. Stopping printing these six books, which haven’t aged well, isn’t “cancel culture”; it’s just moving with the times.

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