Dr. Seuss is down for the count — Dr. Seuss Enterprises is now in command.
After a long, if relatively low-key, jihad against the children’s author by left-wing academics and activists, Dr. Seuss Enterprises has announced that it will deep-six a half-dozen of the author’s books, including “And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” the first children’s work Theodor Geisel published under the name of his beloved alter-ego.
“Dr. Seuss Enterprises” is a comical name — appending the self-aggrandizing business-school dropout “Enterprises” to the lighthearted “Dr. Seuss,” you might as well call it the Magical Childhood Whimsy Corporation of Zhengzhou — and its craven self-censorship renders it more comical still: a veritably Seussian cartoon caricature of corporate cowardice. This is what happens when you give a little bit of power to the weasels down in marketing and human resources.
The complaints about Seuss’ books are not without foundation. “And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street” contains both language (“Chinaman”) and imagery (slant-eyed figure in a conical hat) that are, for good reason, considered offensive. The other Seuss books on the blacklist have similar language and images.
As it turns out, a man born in 1904 and writing during the Roosevelt administration did not have a racial sensibility or a conception of etiquette identical with our own today. This should come as a surprise to no literate adult, and we do not do anybody — least or all children — any favors by conspiring to keep them ignorant of such facts.
The idea that children are harmed by mere exposure to words and images — rather than educated by such exposure — is pure superstition, but regnant superstition. Hence, even self-consciously anti-racist works such as “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” have been suppressed by school boards and libraries for the crime of accurately portraying the world they were written about. “Of Mice and Men” has come under similar pressure, as have dozens of other works by authors from Shakespeare to Maya Angelou.
And this is not only about verboten words and images: Part of the complaint against “Mulberry Street” was its “centering white childhood,” a social-justice no-no. As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, a parent looking to spare their children the indignity of reading “Huckleberry Finn” — arguably the greatest American novel — complained about its storytelling: “There’s no counter-narrative to this black person dealing with racism and a white person saving them.” This is not about George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on television — this is about the elimination of ideas and points of view, narratives, and entire bodies of literature.
Americans have always been keen to ban our best books: Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” was banned in Boston on grounds of obscenity; “The Great Gatsby” has been shelved because of its references to drug use. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was challenged when it was published in 1962 and remains targeted today by the little suppressors, who object to a white man having created a troubling Native American character. Some dolts down in Alabama banned “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” because they felt it was unkind to white people, and others have gone after the book for its sexual explicitness.
How these decisions get made is anybody’s guess — Hachette dumped Woody Allen but published a new edition of “Mein Kampf” in 2017. Mark Halperin’s alleged sexual harassment was too much for Penguin Books, which published the Marquis de Sade’s “120 Days of Sodom” under its Penguin Classics imprint in 2016.
Children’s literature has always addressed serious and sometimes troubling themes, from Little Red Riding Hood to “Watership Down.” Dr. Seuss himself created one of the great satires of discrimination with his Star-Belly Sneetches (self-satisfied bigots who lord it over their plain-bellied brethren). Suppressing that which is troubling in children’s literature in order to relieve uneasiness in neurotic adults is an act of intellectual and cultural violence. It proudly salutes the flag of ignorance.
It would be better to publish 1,000 genuinely wicked books out of principle than to suppress one problematic one out of cowardice. But these are cowardly times, with the Seuss people virtually burning their own books even as Amazon disappears controversial political books such as Ryan Anderson’s “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment” and documentaries such as “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.”
Where does it stop? If anybody ever gets around to rereading T. S. Eliot’s poems, which are interlaced with genuinely nasty anti-Semitism, his heirs will have nothing to live on except royalties from “Cats.”
The Left does not have a philosophy — what it has is an enemies list. And it should tell us something that its enemies include Dr. Seuss.
Kevin D. Williamson’s book “Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the ‘Real America’” (Regnery) is out now.