So, I promised reflections on Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Seuss, to complement my ongoing brilliant double-parody, with special reference to Seuss’ late ‘cancellation’ – the withdrawal of six books from publication. I did muse a bit on Twitter. The best metaphor for it is: Seuss is the Evergiven of kid’s lit. All right, I’ll resay it a bit.

Seuss: he’s so big, if he runs aground on something – like some racist drawings in If I Ran the Zoo – he’s tough to ‘refloat’. Seuss Inc. had a branding problem, therefore, with these old books. They are really old. It’s a testament to Seuss’ evergreen style that they still look graphically fresh enough that one is shocked that he let in the racist stuff.

So, as others have pointed out, it’s not exactly surprising that Seuss Inc. decided to spruce up the brand by clearing out old, off-brand stuff that isn’t spinning the dollars anyway.

Here is one point that has been missed in a lot of the discussions, back and forth. Namely, five out of the six books that have been ‘cancelled’ (except for The Cat’s Quizzer) follow the familiar Seuss ‘story within a story’ formula. It’s all happening in some lunatic kid’s head, after page 1 and before the last page. But this kid is adorably innocent, eager to grow and ‘go get ’em!’ so his dreams are harmless and no doubt he’ll grow up fine and strong, a pillar of his community! But when the kid is this sort of paradigm little white boy from the American suburbs, in the 50’s, the world from his point of view is obtrusively normed as the sort of place where HE is the center, rightfully. It’s all a show for him. It produces a sour Cecil Rhodes in shortpants mood when he’s off stripping the rest of the world of beasts and resources, to build whatever the hell he’s dreaming.

Obviously Seuss is, himself, poking fun at the kid, who has such stereotypical visions of ‘funny foreigners’ at his beck and call. But the fact that he’s poking fun doesn’t fix it.

A kid is small! A kid should be able to dream of conquest without being a threat to anyone.

But Seuss isn’t small. Seuss is huge.

So these white boy idle dreams of conquest run heavily aground in the canal of ‘National Reading Day’, also known as ‘Dr. Seuss Day’ (because it’s his birthday, March 2.) You can’t ask every kid in America, in 2021, to indulge a white reverie of conquering Africa or Asia or the Middle East, and having a bunch of natives as your servants. (In a sense, it’s just like Mr. Sneelock in If I Ran The Circus. In his dream, Morris McGurk imagines making Sneelock do all sorts of crazy stuff – ‘I’m sure he won’t mind.’ That’s funny. But it’s not funny if it gets crossed with ugly racial stereotypes. That’s just history, folks. The past isn’t the past.)

I think five of the six ‘cancelled’ Seuss books are harmless for kids of all sorts. Except for Zoo, which is way over the line, and it’s amazing it took this long to pull it. But once you are viewing Seuss that way, through an ‘is this iffy?’ lens, it’s not too surprising the other five got swept up, too, in the corporate image clean-up. It’s a shame. A lot of people have been like ‘who’s read these old minor Seuss titles?’ Well, I say Seuss was at the height of his graphical and inventive powers in the 50’s. These are his best books, in a lot of ways. McElligot’s Pool is the most beautifully done – the watercolors. On Beyond Zebra is super clever, and the Circus book is lonely without it’s racist friend, the Zoo book. What are you gonna do? (Reforming copyright law to let these old titles go would be good, but that ain’t gonna happen.)

Anyhoo, I’m going to talk about something else today. (But I really gotta write my magnum opus ‘Seuss cancelled?’ thumbsucker someday. Ideally, after everyone is so bored by the topic that only a few read it.) [click to continue…]