Do you ever feel like a Who down in Whoville? Like you’re just trying to “Yop” loud enough to keep the Wickersham brothers from dunking your world into a pot of boiling Beezlenut oil?
I do. Sometimes the Beezlenut oil looks like an executive order mandating that boys be allowed to play girls’ sports (so long as they “identify” the right way) and sometimes it looks like one of your culture’s few remaining areas of universal commonality being problematized and canceled.
After all, even presidents as diametrically opposed as Obama and Trump could appreciate the frivolity of Dr. Seuss. In fact, President Obama once stated, “Pretty much all you need to know is in Dr. Seuss,” which may explain a few things about his presidency, but it definitely illustrates his appreciation for the whimsical children’s author.
Both Trump and Obama showed appreciation for the work of Dr. Seuss in their official proclamations celebrating “Read Across America Day,” which was created to correspond to the author’s birthday. Obama’s former Vice President Biden, however, neglected to mention Seuss in his address earlier this week which normally might just make some Seuss fans scratch their heads, except that this year – on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, in fact – the Seuss foundation announced that they would stop selling six books by Dr. Seuss, due to the insensitive way in which Black and Asian characters were illustrated in them.
Yes, don’t tell Obama, but his VP is complicit in the cancellation of Dr. Seuss.
To be sure, there are some troubling illustrations from the mind of Theodore Seuss Geisel. Before he became known as the penultimate children’s author, he was a political cartoonist during World War II and drew several comics accusing Japanese immigrants of essentially being sleeper agents, a sentiment which led to the mass incarceration of innocent Japanese families in the midst of the war.
His depictions of Black people at the time were also unflattering, appealing to offensive tropes and drawn similarly to the “minstrel” stereotype.
Geisel was a product of his time; he held some positions that we now recognize to be abhorrent. Doubtless, we also hold views that the people of his time would rightly recognize as equally abhorrent, and which we should hope future generations will correct.
When we see the moral misjudgments of the most universally loved authors of our time, it shouldn’t lead us to ban his work, but to question our own assumptions about what is morally acceptable in our culture.
Thankfully, Christians have a fixed standard with which to compare the morality of cultures past and present. Even here, however, we should be humble. Religious skeptics rightly point out that Christians have used the Bible to defend wickedness like chattel slavery. Even so, in every age, there have been Christians using God’s word to rightly divide truth from falsehood. They have not, however, always been popular.
There is evidence in his work that Dr. Seuss outgrew some of the ideas he’d held early in his career, particularly in the theme of Horton Hears a Who: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.” This book was even dedicated to a Japanese friend of his.
He also made several documentaries after World War II, one being an instructional video for the U.S. Military, which General MacArthur nixed because of its sympathetic view of the Japanese, the other being an Academy Award winner which painted the Japanese people as victims of an evil oppressor, rather than an enemy race, as he had during the war.
Regardless of his earlier views, Dr. Seuss literary legacy is not one of racial division or political controversy, but of wholesomeness and hilarity. Generations of children of every ethnic background have enjoyed his illustrations and benefited from his silly rhymes. Until the recent uproar, the only way one would learn Dr. Seuss’ troubling earlier work was by sifting through historical archives.
Dr. Seuss’ posthumous treatment, on the day established in his memory no less, teaches us something. “Wokeness” is unforgiving. No matter how much goodness you’ve brought to the world; no matter how well-loved you are; no matter whether you’ve worked to undo any damage you may have done; there is no place safe from the Social Justice Mob for you.
After all, if Dr. Seuss can be cancelled, anyone can be.