Bye Golly, Noddy!

by John Quiggin on March 22, 2021

One of the striking features of the Dr Seuss fuss is that most commentators seem to be treating this as something new. No one I’ve read in US commentary on the topic seems to be aware that “Dr Seuss, cancelled” is a shot-for-shot remake of a British drama.

It reminded me immediately of the arguments about golliwogs in Enid Blyton’s Noddy books, which started just about the time (a long, long time ago) I grew out of those books, and moved on to reading such gems as the Famous Five . After a long series of adjustments, turning golliwogs into goblins and so on, the issue was resolved by the reissue, in 2009, of a new canonical series, with no golliwogs. (There’s still controversy about golliwogs in general, but not wrt Noddy).

As is always the case, once you know what to look for, you can always find someone who’s made the same point before. In my case, very close to home. Here’s Kate Cantrell and Sharon Bickle from the University of Southern Queensland making exactly this point, with many more examples.

{ 10 comments }

1

Frank Wilhoit 03.22.21 at 11:06 pm

Claude Debussy would like a word.

2

John Quiggin 03.22.21 at 11:12 pm

A sidelight is that a separate part of the process, early on, was cooling the relationship between Noddy and Big Ears for fear that they might be seen as gay – still illegal in the 1960s, and stigmatized much longer.

3

Paul M Gottlieb 03.22.21 at 11:37 pm

Both the character and the word “Golliwogg” were created by Florence Kate Upton in her book “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg,” in 1895. The original Golliwogg was a rather gallant and friendly figure, with no negative connotations about him at all. Unfortunately, she failed to patent the character and toy makers and other authors hijacked her creation and eventually the character of the Golliwogg was degraded and the name itself became a derogatory term for anyone who wasn’t white. All this was much to the distress of their original creator

4

J-D 03.23.21 at 12:21 am

… gay – still illegal in the 1960s, and stigmatized much longer …

Stillillegal, right now–oh, not here, in our country, but in many countries, some of them nearby; and still stigmatised, as well, including here in our country, although less so here than was the case until recently.

5

Jim Buck 03.23.21 at 7:59 am

This apology for Golly meme-streams on facebook:

“The origins of the Golliwog began with the British soldiers who occupied Egypt near the end of the nineteenth century. The Egyptian labourers working for the British wore the letters W.O.G.S. on their armbands, indicating that they were Working On Government Service. These labourers were spoken of as Ghuls – the Arabic word for desert ghost – by the British troops. The children of the Egyptians played with black stuffed material dolls. These dolls in turn were given as gifts or purchased by the soldiers returning home to England. These dolls became known as Ghuliwogs, a name which would eventually become the Golliwog we know today.”

Utter bollocks, of course–originating in a book by the author Idries Shah. Those who post the meme, treat it as the ultimate, vatic, gotcha, word of the academy.
Big Ears looks like a bear to me. Yet it is the spankophilia that is most striking in Enid Blyton’s oeuvre.

6

Adam Roberts 03.24.21 at 8:23 am

OED says “wog” (which they mark, correctly, as offensive) derives from “golliwog”, and say that when Florence Kate Upton, who was US-born, invented that word she was adapting “pollywog”, which is: “(US, dialectal) A tadpole.”

7

notGoodenough 03.24.21 at 9:35 am

I am assured that political correctness/wokeness/cancel culture/etc. will “go too far” and lead to a dystopian dictatorial future any day now – with similar sentiments having been conveyed for some decades. However, unaccountably no doubt, somehow the revision of Oompa-Loompas (outrageous censorship of Dahl!) in the 70s has not yet led to left wing thought police hauling people off to re-education camps – perhaps the paperwork is taking a bit longer than expected…

Admittedly this is going from memory, but I seem to recall that when Robertson´s Jam retired their “Golly” mascot, they made a public statement assuring people it was in no way due to political correctness (the previous buzzword). This, perhaps, was a sensible move from a PR perspective – so maybe the lesson to take away is “it is OK to remove things people find offensive, providing you assure everyone that you are not doing so out of any sense of responsibility or concern for others.”

Well, no doubt we will find out when the outrage machine has recharged again – judging from the past, I´m sure we won´t have too long to wait.

8

Fake Dave 03.25.21 at 1:18 am

I was a little surprised to see how many people didn’t know Seuss was racist (his wartime caricatures of Japanese are literally textbook examples), but I wasn’t at all surprised to see so many people pretending he wasn’t. Most of his famous works aren’t controversial though and he’s hardly been canceled. Most children’s authors are selectively censored (usually for being “inappropriate”). Every single person pretending this phenomenon is new or unprecedented is a disingenuous asshole and we really need to stop giving them attention they don’t deserve.

9

Seren 03.25.21 at 1:59 am

I remember, back in the days of political corectness gone mad, the uncomfortable alliance between those who wamted the Noddy books out of our children’s libraries because the relationship between Noddy and Big Ears might normalise homosexual relationships in childen’s minds, and those who wanted them out because the gollywog charachters might foster bigotry towards people of colour.

I suppose the brief overlap was a kind of passing of the batton from one set of cultural guardians of right-thinking to another.

10

John Quiggin 03.25.21 at 7:00 am

The push against Noddy was amplified because childrens’ librarians almost universally regarded Blyton’s books as worthless trash, so they weren’t interested in making them the test case for a stand against censorship,

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