CSotD: Diverse topics

(Matt Davies — AMS)

Rick McKee (Counterpoint) 

We’ll start the examination of the Great Dr. Seuss Crisis with a Juxtaposition that contains both the plaint and the answer.

First of all, I am not the only one who suspects that the rightwing was desperate to distract us when they leapt upon the decision by Seuss Enterprises to cease publication of six troublesome titles (which they explain here) and by Read Across America Day to drop him from the lead role.

And while McKee condemns it as yet another case of those annoying people who disapprove of racism (or, noting the hat, sexual assault of women), Davies looks deeper into the motivation on the other side, and sees people who don’t want to give up their role as the American default and the very definition of “normal.”

The first thing is to open the books and examine the problematic elements, because, as noted in that statement from his heirs, the racism may have been innocent, but it was real.


That “default American” issue is a tricky one, as seen in this page from “To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street.”

Seuss later changed “China man” to “Chinese boy,” but the bright yellow skin, slant eyes, pig tail and ancient dress continue to set him aside from the white men on the reviewing stand, as does the fact of his place in a parade of marvels rather than back in the audience with the “normal” people.


The dreams of a boy in one of my favorite Seuss books, “If I Ran The Zoo,” to go off on Frank Buck adventures in search of astonishing beasts rests on the bwana/sahib element of colonialism, which was — for all the genuine affection of people like Osa Johnson for the native people who assisted their efforts — condescending even if you don’t point out that they “all wear their eyes at a slant.”


Juxtaposition of the Day #2

(Joe Heller)

(Deb Milbrath)

Heller and Milbrath seem to deflate the issue, Heller with a regretful shrug and Milbrath with a condemnation of the First Amendment issues.

The censorship issue is moot in that nobody is “censoring” Dr. Seuss. When the people who own the rights to something decide not to sell it anymore, that’s not censorship. That’s the free market.

And the school pilloried for getting rid of the six books apparently didn’t get rid of them. They simply decided to no longer highlight them. Kids can still request them.

As for Heller, he’s right. We’ve sure been down this road before.

I had an aunt who was a treasure but a product of her times and I remember my father and I, one Christmas holiday when she was visiting, huddled around the TV watching David Suskind interview Black Panther Bobby Rush and praying Bernice wouldn’t come into the room.

In the case of beloved literature, it similarly means avoiding trouble. I wrote about it in a 1994 newspaper column:

I even got to play an active role in a cleaning-up process about that time, when I worked with Sid Couchey, known for Richie Rich and other Harvey titles, on a fundraiser for our educational programs, reprinting a series of historical cartoons he’d done back in the Sixties for my paper, The Press-Republican of Plattsburgh, NY in book form.


It was mostly a reassembly job, though he did a set of intro and outro panels to frame it in a modern classroom.

But there were a few edits, and, in this panel, they consisted of changing “savage” to “bloody.” Nobody would deny that the wars then were bloody, but there was no need to attribute that to one side being subhuman.


The history was light-hearted, and Sid made fun of everyone, but, even with our edits, I was doubtful of how the series would play in Akwesasne, the Mohawk community on the edge of our circulation area.

We planned to make extra copies of the book available to all our classrooms, but I went up there to confer with the superintendent first.

I pointed out that Sid mocked the French, the Scots, the settlers, the British as well as the Iroquois, but the superintendent pointed out that humor isn’t funny when you feel you’re still at the bottom of the ladder.

We left it that we wouldn’t automatically deliver bundles, but we’d make it available to any teachers who asked.

None of them did and I was neither surprised nor offended.

It had nothing to do with censorship. It was a matter of choosing what they wanted and not choosing the things they didn’t want.

As for the six Dr. Suess books no longer being published — less than 10% of his output — children’s literature is a huge, huge market right now and there are thousands and thousands of books for kids, and their parents, to choose from.

While Colin Kaepernick remains unemployed.


Now you can invest your sons AND daughters!

Jimmy Margulies (KFS) is only one of many, many cartoonists condemning the Biden administration’s response to Khashoggi’s murder, a crime clearly ordered by the Crown Prince.

I’d note that one of the US demands has been that Saudi Arabia end its crackdown on women who insist on doing things like drive cars.

And, as noted here, we’ve also suspended arms sales, ended our support of their war in Yemen and put strong sanctions on their murder crew.

Most important, Biden apparently had a talk with the actual King about keeping Sonny Boy on a shorter leash.

We also have, let the record show, not arrested or sanctioned Vladimir Putin, who murders dissidents regularly.

Nations at peace achieve their aims in other ways.

I’m okay with Margulies’ take, but — as someone who already saw one son in the Gulf and has a grandson currently in the service — I wish cartoonists who (figuratively) rattle the sabers and (literally) wave the bloody shirt would add an asterisk to their signatures, indicating that they have a son or daughter they’re willing to contribute to cash the checks their pens are writing.

It’s always the old to lead us to the wars
Always the young to fall — Phil Ochs


6 thoughts on “CSotD: Diverse topics

  1. I went crazy for ABC books in my early youth and still have to restrain myself from downloading too many free fonts. “On Beyond Zebra,” with its imaginative letterforms, was tailor-made for me. I reread it yesterday and have to say the mock-Indian/Arabic costumes seemed too fanciful to be offensive but then I’m not of either ethnicity.

    When you consider how his estate has mined the Seuss booklist — remember all the tie-ins for the Lorax movie? — it seems hard to believe they couldn’t commission new art or text. Probably judged it wasn’t worth it; none of the titles had the famous characters in Heller’s cartoon.

  2. When I started to read to my kid I realized how truly tedious those Seuss “list” books are. (If I ran the Zoo, If I Ran the Circus, To Think that I Saw it on Mulberry Street, and so on) I would skip pages when reading not only to avoid questionable art and content, but generally just to get through the book faster. Sadly, the kid caught on.
    The books with actual plots (The Cat in the Hat, Horton hears a Who, etc) are good to great; but dropping “If I ran the Zoo”, etc. is no real loss to children’s literature.

  3. Prince Bumpo’s desire to be white was spurred by his reading of fairy tales, in which all the princes were white and no princesses were black.
    Does that tell anybody anything?

    Yes, Lofting was a white Victorian, and yes, it’s likely he was attempting to mock poor Bumpo’s child-like innocence of the world. But the message to a contemporary adult reader is that fairy tales and storybooks need to have more diverse princes.

  4. Odd to note that the African people in the Mary Poppins excerpt talk as if they were extras in “Gone With the Wind.”

  5. Must be genetic, Mary. Reports of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech had her speaking the same way and her first language was Dutch, second was English, never lived south of the Mason Dixon line. (First report of the speech had her much less GWTW-like)

  6. “Black Panther Bobby Rush” — He is now my Congressman!
    (Illinois 1st C.D.)

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