Trapped in the Seuss Spiral

The kerfluffle over Dr. Seuss is dumb and tiny and nobody should be talking about it. But instead everybody has been talking about it, and I can’t help but notice that as they talk they all accept unquestioningly two propositions.

1. Dr. Seuss Enterprises stopped printing these books to “preserve and protect the author’s legacy.”

Obviously DSE is allowed to decide what Seuss to publish and what Seuss not to publish, and none of us can actually say boo. But here we are, parroting their alleged motivation, as though we were walking press releases for the DSE.

If Dr. Seuss Enterprises really cared about their author’s legacy, they probably would not have dug through his trash barrel to publish every rejected jotting and incomplete idea of his they could find. They would not have licensed the Cat and the Hat to every hack artist who could more or less imitate Seuss’s style. DSE is motivated by money, and, in this case, they are motivated by fear. They are afraid that an angry mob will come for Seuss’s books, and when it does the gravy train will end.

2. “These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”

We’re not really in a position to comment on this claim (made by the ever-benevolent DSE), because our default reaction is to assert that it it not our role to judge what should offend other people. But in fact the ONLY reason this memorandum on the internal politics of the DSE should be a public talking point is to collect data on how small an infraction makes people afraid. Behold, in case you are interested, the “hurtful and wrong” image from McElligot’s Pool.

Different books have different images, of course, but as we line up like good soldiers to disseminate the DSE’s propaganda, everyone seems to be hastily adding “of course I’ve never read these books myself.” We’re so busy running a victory lap that we literally don’t know what we’re celebrating. I keep seeing people crowing that going out of print is some kind of natural consequence for failing to guess how people “should be” drawn 84 years in the future.

I realize that it’s exciting. “Our side” has scored a victory. The Washington Post’s opinion piece on the topic alternates between celebrating the glorious triumph and asserting that Seuss has always been kind of mediocre anyway. The chosen media of “their side” is doubtless fuming, railing about “witch hunts” (one of “their” favorite topics) and lacing every third sentence with the phrase “cancel culture.” Antifa may be to blame. So, yes, we’ve given ourselves another silly milestone to rally behind, and we’ve given them another bogeyman to rally against and everyone wins except kids who want to read books from a bygone era when poets knew how to scan. 

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