Dr. Seuss has become the latest casualty of cancel culture.
On what would have been the 117th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904–1991), Dr. Seuss Enterprises made the decision to remove six of the author’s books from circulation, including the title that launched his career, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
The other books that will no longer be published or licensed include If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, The Cat’s Quizzer, On Beyond Zebra! and Scrambled Eggs Super!
The Cat in the Hat was also considered for cancellation. But according to the Associated Press, who broke the story, that title will continue to be published “for now”.
Following the announcement, Amazon immediately cancelled new sales of the six de-listed books from their platform. Soon after, used copies of these titles appeared online priced from $169-$1,500.
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” Dr. Seuss Enterprises told the AP. The company that exists to preserve the legacy of the iconic children’s author went on:
Dr. Seuss Enterprises listened and took feedback from our audiences including teachers, academics and specialists in the field as part of our review process. We then worked with a panel of experts, including educators, to review our catalog of titles.
In words that are becoming very familiar in the 2020s, the company explained that,
“Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
Today, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday, Dr. Seuss Enterprises celebrates reading and also our mission of supporting all children…
Those suddenly offended by the books many decades after their publication have decried the “racist caricatures and themes of cultural dominance and dehumanisation” in the works of Dr. Seuss. In one book, an Asian person is portrayed eating from a bowl with chopsticks and wearing a conical hat. In another, African men are wearing grass skirts and have bare feet.
Critics also highlight a recent study that found a “lack of diversity” among the characters in the Dr. Seuss canon whose publication stretches back to the early 1940s.
Theodor Seuss Geisel is the bestselling author in American history: last year alone his books still collected US$33 million in profits. As far as highest-paid dead celebrities go, Dr. Seuss is second only to late pop sensation Michael Jackson.
In fact, so prominent is Dr. Seuss that Read Across America Day is held on the late author’s birthday — the 2nd of March, when the de-listings were ironically announced.
Since Read Across America Day began in 1998, U.S. presidents have regularly made proclamations on this day praising Dr. Seuss. In 2016, Barack Obama said of the famous author,
Through a prolific collection of stories, he made children see that reading is fun, and in the process, he emphasised respect for all; pushed us to accept ourselves for who we are; challenged preconceived notions and encouraged trying new things; and by example, taught us that we are limited by nothing but the range of our aspirations and the vibrancy of our imaginations. And for older lovers of literature, he reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously…
President Biden evidently took things quite seriously this year, opting not to mention Dr. Seuss at all. When questioned about this, Biden’s press secretary responded that Read Across America Day is “a chance to celebrate diverse authors whose work and lived experience reflect the diversity of our country.”
As cultural commentator Ben Shapiro highlighted this week, the Dr. Seuss affair is book-burning by another name. While the digitisation of books and films has had many benefits, reasons Shapiro, “all it takes now to burn a book is a couple of I.T. guys and a delete button.”
In a recent podcast, Shapiro compared what is unfolding in the United States to a phenomenon that took place in the USSR called samizdat. Samizdata was the practice of copying and sharing literature that had been censored by Russia’s communist government.
The main difference, of course, is that it’s not the state engaged in censorship here in the West, but individuals and corporations. By any measure, we have widespread evidence of a cultural revolution, the likes of which often preceded major political upheavals last century.
Shapiro names as the cause an “animistic individualism governing all of society” in which the culture “must be made subservient to the individual’s oversensitive feelings.” Warns Shapiro, “this is a cultural sickness that has decided that all of the hallmarks of Western culture must be done away with.”
The fate of American society does not rest with conservatives. It rests with people in the middle who might consider themselves good-hearted liberals… Are those people just going to go along with the Woke crowd… or are they going to stand up? … The time for apathy is over…