Author Topic: Cancelling Dr. Seuss  (Read 7087 times)

apl68

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Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« on: March 12, 2021, 09:36:21 AM »
I'm know I'm taking a real risk of stirring up the hornet's nest here.  I try for the most part  to stay out of the culture war fights.  But this one hits right where I work.

Most people by now are aware (because it blew up all over social media and the "news") that six Dr. Seuss titles have been discontinued by the publisher, for reasons of a sort commonly described as "political correctness," or, more recently, "cancel culture."  The news has resulted in a mad rush by collectors and speculators to grab all remaining copies.  The suddenly scarce works are suddenly worth a lot of money.

Public libraries in my own state have had people they've never seen before suddenly wanting to check out these titles in blatant efforts to steal them for resale.  They've also had a number of honest inquiries about purchasing them.  The State Library has advised libraries to put their copies of the titles under guard to prevent theft of what have overnight become effectively irreplaceable literary antiques.  An article about the situation made the front page of the state's leading newspaper today!  My colleagues have been reporting some truly crazy stuff.

Our own library's Facebook has blown up with questions and rumors.  I've felt it necessary to address the whole business in my weekly local newspaper column.  We're assuring patrons that we haven't purged Dr. Seuss, that most titles remain available as always, but that our copies of the suddenly scarce titles (we have three of them) will now be limited to in-library use only.  Some of the titles are among Dr. Seuss' more obscure works--but they include To Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street, which ranks right up there with The Cat in the Hat.  I'm just glad I got a personal copy of a childhood favorite, Scrambled Eggs Super a few years ago when I happened across one.  No way I'd be able to afford one now!

A couple of years ago the American Library Association "cancelled" Laura Ingalls Wilder by removing her name from one of its leading awards.  J.K. Rowling, who for years had been an absolute darling of the "right on" crowd after misguided people challenged her Harry Potter books, has been cancelled.  Now part of the Dr. Seuss corpus (And the man was a flaming lefty in his own lifetime, too!).  Where is it going to end?

A simple decision by a publisher to discontinue a few titles shouldn't be this fraught, or lead to such an instant media and social media circus.  Or create new problems for librarians just trying to do their jobs.
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marshwiggle

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #1 on: March 12, 2021, 10:00:07 AM »
Over the years, our public library has periodically had a display about books which were historically banned, making the point that book-banning (or burning) is, in hindsight, a really bad thing. It's sad to see those same organizations now seriously contemplating removing "inappropriate" books.

Of course, many of the historical bannings have been from conservatives, and probably most librarians have seen themselves as liberal. Now that the pressure to ban is from the left, the librarians are much less willing to stand on principle.
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Parasaurolophus

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #2 on: March 12, 2021, 10:07:39 AM »
If J.K. Rowling has been cancelled, then how come I keep hearing about her? (And from her.) She's one of the least cancelled people I can think of, precisely because she has access to a huge megaphone. She's especially privileged, in that context, because she gets to talk despite the fact that she's extremely ignorant about the subject she wants to talk about.

I mean, look. I grew up on Astérix and Tintin, and I absolutely love them, and look forward to introducing my hatchling to them when the time comes. But there's no question that there's a hefty dose of racism in there (I think it's worse in Tintin, actually, because Astérix is about national stereotypes, although I have to say that the people who've continued the series after Uderzo and Goscinny just don't get that, and have introduced some staggeringly racist material.). When we get there, we're going to have some conversations about it. Ditto Harry Potter.

But the hatchling will be allowed to read them and enjoy them. Just like we can read and enjoy things produced by bad people, or for dubious ends. It's just that we shouldn't stop up our ears and ignore these artists' moral failings. Sometimes (but not always), those moral failings are reflected in their works, or cause you to reinterpret those works. That's OK. That's why I don't read Stephen King any more: I don't trust him, and the fact that he doesn't have my trust (qua author or implied narrator) undermines my ability to enjoy his works as an adult, because those works so often deal with the very subjects on which I don't trust him.


The Geisel estate's decision is no big deal, and it's one they're totally free to make. They get to decide what they want his legacy to look like, and what they want to be associated with. Publishers make these decisions all the time. This isn't a 'cancellation'. And it seems to me that everyone who's in such a rush to stockpile these titles should reflect on their motives for doing so. I was never into Dr. Seuss, so I don't really need to do any rethinking, just like I never liked Woody Allen's movies, so I don't need to think about my relation to those, either. I have other, better things to think about, things dearer to my heart, like Astérix and Tintin.
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Parasaurolophus

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #3 on: March 12, 2021, 10:11:02 AM »
Over the years, our public library has periodically had a display about books which were historically banned, making the point that book-banning (or burning) is, in hindsight, a really bad thing. It's sad to see those same organizations now seriously contemplating removing "inappropriate" books.


You might be surprised to learn about library collection 'weeding' practices...
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marshwiggle

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2021, 10:18:26 AM »
Over the years, our public library has periodically had a display about books which were historically banned, making the point that book-banning (or burning) is, in hindsight, a really bad thing. It's sad to see those same organizations now seriously contemplating removing "inappropriate" books.


You might be surprised to learn about library collection 'weeding' practices...

I think Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility" is stupid and racist, but I would never tell the library they shouldn't have it. I don't think it needs some kind of warning label; posterity will determine its fate.
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Parasaurolophus

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2021, 10:27:06 AM »
Over the years, our public library has periodically had a display about books which were historically banned, making the point that book-banning (or burning) is, in hindsight, a really bad thing. It's sad to see those same organizations now seriously contemplating removing "inappropriate" books.


You might be surprised to learn about library collection 'weeding' practices...

I think Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility" is stupid and racist, but I would never tell the library they shouldn't have it. I don't think it needs some kind of warning label; posterity will determine its fate.

But when posterity decides that it doesn't think it should keep White Fragility in print--or in the local library collection, where nobody has signed it out in years--that's a cancellation, right?

If it isn't, then how is this any different?
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marshwiggle

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2021, 10:38:24 AM »
Over the years, our public library has periodically had a display about books which were historically banned, making the point that book-banning (or burning) is, in hindsight, a really bad thing. It's sad to see those same organizations now seriously contemplating removing "inappropriate" books.


You might be surprised to learn about library collection 'weeding' practices...

I think Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility" is stupid and racist, but I would never tell the library they shouldn't have it. I don't think it needs some kind of warning label; posterity will determine its fate.

But when posterity decides that it doesn't think it should keep White Fragility in print--or in the local library collection, where nobody has signed it out in years--that's a cancellation, right?

If it isn't, then how is this any different?

If the criteria for removing books is based on things other than content; how long since it's been signed out, the physical shape the book is in, etc., then I have no problem with that. Just like I'm not too picky about how books are chosen to be added to the collection, especially if it's pretty much that books with enough requests get added. And any book that gets dropped doesn't automatically need to be replaced; if no-one has signed it out in a decade there's no need to have it. Having any sort of gatekeeping individual or committee who decides what people ought to be able to read is the scary idea.
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Langue_doc

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #7 on: March 12, 2021, 10:50:31 AM »
The New York Public Library is keeping its collection of Dr. Seuss books and will continue to lend them out. Yay!
https://www.foxnews.com/us/new-york-public-library-dr-seuss-books

Caracal

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #8 on: March 12, 2021, 11:03:21 AM »
Basically there's just a banned Dr. Seuss books bubble, right? I can't imagine these books are actually rare. They've been in print for decades without interruption and there must be tens of thousands of copies out there. I'm sure three weeks ago you could have gotten a used copy for 5 bucks on Amazon. Obviously, some of the increased demand for used copies is real, probably mostly driven by people who want copies to make an ideological point, but I'm sure there are plenty of copies out there to meet that demand. Actually, copies don't really appear to be scarce at all, just absurdly expensive.

I can't imagine there are many people out there who are going to buy some 90s printing of a Dr. Seuss book for 200 dollars just so they can express their feelings about cancel culture. To the extent that anybody is buying these things, it is presumably in the belief that they are going to go up even more in value. The problem is that there are lots of copies sitting around in boxes in people's basements and some of those people are going to hear they might be valuable, dig them up and try to sell them and the whole thing is going to crash very quickly.

Hegemony

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #9 on: March 12, 2021, 11:16:14 AM »
If the Seuss foundation had just quietly stopped publishing them, I doubt there would have been any outcry.

The depiction in If I Ran The Zoo is indeed problematic. I think stopping publishing a book because of the line "A Chinese man who eats with sticks" (and who, if I remember correctly is wearing one of those pointed hats) is overdoing it. But whatever. Both sides have been so riled up for so long now that it's just like poking a hornet's nest to do anything in one direction or the other.

As for J. K. Rowling, the massive vitriol directed at her is indeed a change. Any time someone on the left mentions her, there is an obligatory preface of "I used to like her, before I understood that she is a monster."

dismalist

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #10 on: March 12, 2021, 11:18:09 AM »
No worries. Should be available as samizdat in due course.
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Caracal

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #11 on: March 12, 2021, 11:38:15 AM »
I

I mean, look. I grew up on Astérix and Tintin, and I absolutely love them, and look forward to introducing my hatchling to them when the time comes. But there's no question that there's a hefty dose of racism in there (I think it's worse in Tintin,




I loved Tintin too and still have all my books. But man, they are really, really racist. And, of course, Herge was a fascist. There's a decent amount of anti-semitism miked in to Tintin as well. I wouldn't keep my kid from reading it when he gets older, but I'm not sure I'd introduce him to it. This stuff is weird, because, on one hand, I read Tintin as a kid and understood that the depictions of subservient, simple black people with giant lips and tomahawk wielding native Americans were messed up, but still enjoyed it. But I dunno. There are plenty of great graphic novels that aren't just filled with blatant racist and anti-semitic tropes and images.

I have mixed feelings. In a way, I wonder if it was useful for me as a kid to read something that I enjoyed, but contained scenes that I knew were really messed up, and reflected ideas I found repulsive.

marshwiggle

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #12 on: March 12, 2021, 11:44:34 AM »
If the Seuss foundation had just quietly stopped publishing them, I doubt there would have been any outcry.

Not likely. But that's the double-edged sword of virtue-signalling. If you want to be recognized for rightthink, you also set yourself up to be recognized for pandering. If you simply want to do what you think is right but don't try to get publicity for it, then you aren't likely to get publicly criticized for it either.

I mean, look. I grew up on Astérix and Tintin, and I absolutely love them, and look forward to introducing my hatchling to them when the time comes. But there's no question that there's a hefty dose of racism in there (I think it's worse in Tintin,

I loved Tintin too and still have all my books. But man, they are really, really racist.

And apparently, that didn't turn either of you into flaming racists. How amazing to think that people can see inappropriate ideas and behaviour and not automatically emulate them!!!!
« Last Edit: March 12, 2021, 11:47:10 AM by marshwiggle »
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Parasaurolophus

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #13 on: March 12, 2021, 11:55:41 AM »

I loved Tintin too and still have all my books. But man, they are really, really racist. And, of course, Herge was a fascist. There's a decent amount of anti-semitism miked in to Tintin as well. I wouldn't keep my kid from reading it when he gets older, but I'm not sure I'd introduce him to it. This stuff is weird, because, on one hand, I read Tintin as a kid and understood that the depictions of subservient, simple black people with giant lips and tomahawk wielding native Americans were messed up, but still enjoyed it. But I dunno. There are plenty of great graphic novels that aren't just filled with blatant racist and anti-semitic tropes and images.

I have mixed feelings. In a way, I wonder if it was useful for me as a kid to read something that I enjoyed, but contained scenes that I knew were really messed up, and reflected ideas I found repulsive.

I've revisited Astérix recently, but not Tintin. That's a good reminder that I should probably have another look.



And apparently, that didn't turn either of you into flaming racists. How amazing to think that people can see inappropriate ideas and behaviour and not automatically emulate them!!!!

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Caracal

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Re: Cancelling Dr. Seuss
« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2021, 11:56:39 AM »


As for J. K. Rowling, the massive vitriol directed at her is indeed a change. Any time someone on the left mentions her, there is an obligatory preface of "I used to like her, before I understood that she is a monster."

I don't think she's been the victim of some sort of massive injustice. She's a wealthy, powerful person who wrote some stupid and harmful things on Twitter. I don't really agree that it makes it some moral imperative to boycott Harry Potter or anything.

That said, sometimes knowing too much about someone can make it hard to enjoy their work. I find Mel Gibson so detestable that I don't really want to watch movies he's in. I'm not taking a moral stand, I just can't really get into a movie when he's in it because I dislike him so much.