You gotta love the internet. Not long after Dr Seuss Enterprises, which published books by the renowned children’s author and preserves his legacy, announced it was pulling six books due to their portrayals of people, outrage ensued.
People started raving that the writer was being ‘cancelled’ –spoiler alert: he’s fucking not. They started bulk buying his books and hoarding them, or selling on old copies at silly prices, in a sad attempt to cash in on this ludicrous display of impotent, pointless outrage.
Frankly, the whole debacle and public outcry is ridiculous. For one, the idiots who are upset at the idea of Dr Seuss being ‘cancelled’ probably have never heard of half the books he wrote.
Aside from The Cat In The Hat and Green Eggs And Ham, they’ve probably not heard of anything the author put together, never mind the books that aren’t being published anymore. One of them is the first book he ever published, and most of the others are obscure parts of his back catalogue that already aren’t that popular because of their racist depictions and the poor values that they might teach to children.
Also, if the internet trolls are this upset that an author’s novels are being pulled by a publisher decades after they were written, then they should hear about all of the actually outrageous stuff that goes on in publishing, like the sexual harassment many women encounter, the lack of support for BAME writers, nepotism and more. That’s what they should actually get angry about, not the fact that a well-known writer, who is long dead and whose works still make millions for his estate, isn’t going to get 6 books published anymore.
The issue with these books is that they portray some pretty offensive depictions, which, in 2021, just aren’t acceptable. I mean, they’ve never been acceptable, but society has only just started to accept that racism isn’t OK.
For many years, other, less renowned authors have gone out of fashion and their books have been put out of print. The Bulldog Drummond series by Sapper were one series that has been out of the public eye, and out of print in many cases, because of its highly offensive depiction of Jewish people.
However, these books haven’t garnered as much attention for being out of print for being offensive, simply because when they went out of print, people didn’t automatically leap to this idea that it’s ‘cancellation’ or a freedom of speech issue to stop printing a book that’s deemed offensive. Freedom of speech isn’t freedom from the consequences of that speech; in other words, you’re more than welcome to write offensive books, but don’t expect publishers to keep printing them when readers start speaking out about the issues.
After all, readers are the backbone of any publishing house’s success. They protest with their purchases, and so publishers have to make sure that they’re printing works that reflect the values they want to portray.
That isn’t to say the Dr Seuss was necessarily an active racist; he was probably just ignorant and reflecting common prejudices from his time. However, today’s readers don’t want to see that sort of racist imagery, particularly not in children’s books, and rightly so. Racism is never acceptable, and the world needs to move on from outdated ways of thinking and embrace new literature.
It’s understandable that Dr Seuss’s publishers, particularly an organization dedicated to his work, and therefore unable to expand with new authors, should want to refresh its catalogue and remove writing that’s not in keeping with its values.
Many classic children’s authors, including the amazing Roald Dahl, created problematic portrayals of some races and types of people, and their books are constantly under scrutiny from publishers and agencies alike. If they’re found wanting and the publishers feel that they are too offensive to remain in print, then they will go out of it and new work will come onto the market.
That doesn’t mean that we can’t take away the good messages we take from these works; it just means that we’re acknowledging that, in 2021, people of different races and creeds shouldn’t be faced with humiliating and offensive portrayals of themselves in children’s literature or anywhere else.
One thing I would say about the ‘Dr Seuss is being cancelled’ argument is that it’s definitely disproportionate and that, honestly, this is what happens in book publishing. Work goes out of vogue, or it simply doesn’t sell very well, so it goes out of print. You can still buy second-hand copies, but they won’t make any more of them, for now anyway.
There are bigger fish to fry in 2021, with a global pandemic still raging and Donald Trump still roaming free despite trying to end democracy in the US and causing untold harm to millions of families through his family separation, poor treatment of refugees, and much more. There’s a lot going on in the world, and the fact that the Dr Seuss estate isn’t going to publish half a dozen long forgotten novels doesn’t really matter all that much.
At the end of the day, I think that some books need to make way for new ideas and that it’s not important when some older novels go out of print, for whatever reason. Books that are offensive to some groups deserve to be put out of print, but they’re hardly ‘cancelled’. There will always be somewhere to get them second-hand, and in the age of eBooks they’ll be an everlasting memento of almost every work of fiction. The only reason Dr Seuss’s work is getting so much notice is because some of his works have been made into popular movies. But racist imagery isn’t acceptable, and so we should remember the books we love by Dr Seuss, and accept that not all of them are worth preserving.