Welcome to The Pearl Report, a segment where I try to explain why people are clutching their pearls about things going on in the media. I dunno, I just like the name and I can’t think of a tagline. In our inaugural post, I’m going to talk about this whole Dr. Seuss thing.
How about: A segment where I try to explain why pearls are clutched when they shouldn’t be.
I’ll keep working on it.
So, here’s what is happening.
Dr. Seuss Enterprises are pulling six books from publication, all of which contain racist or antisemitic images. The books are And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, On Beyond Zebra!, McElligot’s Pool, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzler. You know, all six of your favorite and most recognizable Seuss books. Honestly, I’m a book guy and I have only read Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo which should tell you something about the pearl clutching. Here’s the full press release in handy image form:
Dr. Seuss Enterprises goes on to say “Ceasing sales of these books is only part of our commitment and our broader plan to ensure Dr. Seuss Enterprises’s catalog represents and supports all communities and families.”
Of course, people (mostly the Right) are coming out and saying how this is cancel culture and how dare they do this to an American institution and yes, I can absolutely read at a first grade level. They are decrying the “Libruls” for yet again destroying the very thing their whole life is based around. It’s the Potato Head thing all over again (which is also a pearl clutching non-issue).
Oh that’s a good one. The Pearl Report: Breaking down pearl clutching non-issues since 2021.
So, why should I let go of my pearls?
I’m just going to give it to you straight: This means literally nothing. Dr. Seuss Enterprises was not pushed into this corner by SJWs or roving gangs of feral liberals, they did this themselves. If anything, it was a strategic move on their part. They can pull six unpopular books from publication AND get some free PR out of it. Is that too cynical? Probably, but still.
The main reason I know this is a disingenuous and ultimately useless move is that The Cat in the Hat was pulled. “But, Zach!” you cry, pearls firmly in hand, “Why would you cancel my cat?!” Let’s ask Philip Nel, author of Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism in Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books. The book posits that The Cat has very firm roots in blackface Minstrel shows.
Katie Ishuzuka, one of the foremost Seuss scholars in the nation, states “The Cat’s physical appearance, including the Cat’s oversized top hat, floppy bow tie, white gloves, and frequently open mouth, mirrors actual blackface performers; as does the role he plays as ‘entertainer’ to the white family—in whose house he doesn’t belong.”
So, there is basis for the argument that The Cat should be outta that (I lost steam on the rhyme leave me alone), but it is absent from the pull list. Why? Because this was a purely financial move on the part of DSE.
“But, Zach!” you cry, grabbing your pearls from a feral liberal who stole them to give to Socialism, Inc. “You are so against banning books! How can you be so complacent in the face of such a travesty!”
Ah, yes, the whole “Book banning is bad” argument that the Right has been touting after their White Nationalist spokesman, Josh Hawley, had his book pulled by Simon and Schuster because he, you know, led a failed coup. To put it bluntly, this isn’t book banning. At all. Neither was Hawley’s situation. Hawley was free to go to another publisher and peddle his offerings to God-Emperor Trump there. Maybe Ben Shapiro can help him out. Hawley, Shaprio, and Gina Carano can finally Voltron into the Omega Grifter. I was going to photoshop a picture of them all together with Tucker Carlson and Nick Bongino and put the caption as “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” It would have been hilarious, but I really don’t want to do it.
I lost the thread.
Right, book banning. I like to think I know a few things about banned books. I’ve spoken at conferences about it, led programming, and done scholarly work on challenged and banned materials, so, yeah. A few definitions: Challenged is when there is a complaint filed to a person in power (school board, library director) that a book needs to be taken off the shelves, but is not removed. Banned is when the book is removed from the shelves. Very broad-strokes definitions, but you get it.
If you take a look at the Frequently Challenged Children’s Books, you’ll see that Seuss is completely absent. You will see, however, that many of the books in that list deal with human (or penguin) sexuality or different religions. Keep that in mind. Many of these books are challenged by a single person or by a group who want to remove the book due to their beliefs. Looking at the research from 2019, we see that most challenges come from patrons, parents, and administration. In the graphic below, you can kind of see how things were trending regarding what those beliefs are.
Eight of the ten most challenged books in a year were due to inclusion of LGBTQIA+ content. Now, I’m just a godless liberal heathen, but I don’t think that it’s the Left that are against that. Along with that, a majority of the books are challenged for conflicting religious viewpoints which I’ll give you two guesses as to what religion is being talked about.
The only reason I’m bringing all this up is to show you how ridiculous it is to say that the owner of the materials who made the choice to pull these books from print is anything like the actual books being challenged. That was worded weird, but you get it.
Which brings me to my final point and I’ll try to be quick so you can drop your pearls before they fuse into your hand. The Seuss books were being pulled due to harmful imagery and stereotypes. Mulberry Street features “an Asian person wearing a conical hat, holding chopsticks, and eating from a bowl,” while Zoo “includes a drawing of two bare-footed African men wearing what appear to be grass skirts with their hair tied above their heads.” These are actual stereotypes that cause harm. The actual issues in censorship come from individuals forcing their belief structure on the entire public.
So, what’s next?
Nothing happens after this. You can still buy Seuss. You can still get Oh the Places You’ll Go for your graduation gifts. He’s not going anywhere. Forbes listed Seuss as the second most profitable dead celebrity just after Michael Jackson. The estate is doing fine without these books. Ultimately, I think it was a PR move that was also a way to get trim the wheat from the publishing chaff. Yes, Dr. Seuss is problematic and yes I will probably still read his books to my daughters. Will I talk to my kids about how harmful his representations of Asians and Africans are? Absolutely. Will I enjoy every minute of reading Fox in Socks? Yes. Yes, I will.
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