It is hard to keep up with the cancellations these days, but for various reasons the news of Dr. Seuss struck a nerve. The Associated Press reported this week that six Dr. Seuss books “including And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street and If I Ran the Zoo — will stop being published because of racist and insensitive imagery.” School districts “across the country have also moved away from Dr. Seuss,” the AP reported, with one school district in Virginia referencing how recent “research” has “revealed strong racial undertones in many books written/illustrated by Dr. Seuss…” And the Wall Street Journal now reports that Ebay is “sweeping” its site in order to delist the offending books.
Meanwhile, President Biden deemed Dr. Seuss to be unmentionable on Read Across America Day on March 2—a day intentionally celebrated on the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991). A USA Today story couched the absence of Dr. Seuss in Biden’s proclamation in the most benign terms possible: “The NEA has pivoted from popular children’s author Dr. Seuss to a focus on diverse children’s books.”
And then there is the news that Mr. Potato Head will no longer be a “mister”, but will instead answer to the “gender-neutral” name “Potato Head.” Hasbro, which introduced the toy in 1952, says it is “making sure all feel welcome in the Potato Head world by officially dropping the Mr. from the Mr. Potato Head brand name and logo to promote gender equality and inclusion…”
There is something absurd about these news stories that cuts both right and left. That a classic children’s toy must conform to gender ideology or that a beloved children’s author must have his legacy clouded with racism strikes conservatives as both ridiculous and merciless. Their response in protest is then portrayed by those on the Left as unserious fear-mongers frothing in rage about a toy and a mere six books being removed from the shelves.
We all know that there is far more going on. But to see that we need context. For one thing, it is not merely the removal of six books; there will now be a perpetual cloud over one of the most beloved children’s authors of all time. It is a cloud that will, with time, make him and all of his work less and less socially acceptable. Never mind the many wonderful, character-building lessons in Dr. Seuss books, including the message of The Sneetches, which taught millions of children over the decades about the evils of racism in a simple and compelling way.
Furthermore, it is not just Dr. Seuss alone but increasingly an entire canon of cultural history that is literally or metaphorically being vandalized and removed for the sake of removing and rejecting parts of our history from a collective cultural memory. Abraham Lincoln and George Washington are on the chopping block—but it is not they who are the target so much as the unifying narrative they represent. Also targeted have been statues of beloved Saints and even of Jesus and Mary. However, it will not end with statues because it is not about statues; it is about attacking both the story and the ultimate author whose authority the attackers will not respect and tolerate, let alone revere and uphold.
What is not canceled is also important context. Amazon still sells Mein Kampf. Cardi B’s pornographic song “WAP” (don’t look it up!) is under no threat on any platform. Instead, the Left aims at more wholesome targets.
It is precisely the wholesomeness and remarkably wide popularity of Dr. Seuss that makes him a likely and effective target. Innocence, for the woke, is dominance—and thus it must be corrupted or shown to be corrupt. Casting suspicion over Dr. Seuss achieves two important goals in the progressive march into hazy wokeness.
For one, it prompts us to suspect that if Dr. Seuss can be a racist (without even knowing it!) then likely all of our society and history is hopelessly racist. Creating this sort of blanket suspicion over all is where the new goalposts lie and reflects a supply and demand problem for the Left. The demand to uncover racism is at an all-time high, even while the supply of racial transgressions is at a low, creating a fervor and hysteria to convince people to find racism anywhere. This keeps on fueling the narrative that it is, in fact, everywhere.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it prompts us to become suspicious of ourselves. “I grew up loving Dr. Seuss,” you might think. “How did I overlook this racism? What else am I not seeing now?” No longer able to trust ourselves makes us more docile to the totalizing coercion of the woke mob.
The more suspicious we become about those around us, as well as about ourselves, the more successful is the narrative that racism—the secular stand-in for original sin—is found in everything and corrupts everything. And, with that established, that our redemption is found in our perpetual suspicion of ourselves and others. But unlike the path of redemption for a Christian, this secular version puts us on a harsh and merciless road.
The destruction of statues and iconoclasm that consistently precedes revolutions are not accidental; it is part of the necessary reprogramming that must occur in order to make people fearful, disoriented, and subservient. It is a road we have seen before and the pattern is always the same, with the same tragic outcomes to varying degrees. But it only succeeds by our consent, and its greatest threat is an informed and free-thinking populace, unafraid and truly awake.
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!