What would Dr. Seuss do?
Would he agree to quit publishing those six books that his foundation, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, has nixed?
Would he re-release them in an edited form, deleting or changing the offensive pages and illustrations?
Or would Theodor Geisel be mad as hell that the foundation was messing with his stuff?
I don’t know. Probably nobody does, but it’s an important question. Because if he were alive, I think all (or most) of us would agree that he’d have an absolute right to quit selling or edit the books. Or not.
Whether he’d stop the publishing may be a bridge too far, but some Seuss experts and relatives who knew him note that Geisel did produce some stuff that perhaps wasn’t considered offensive at the time, but is now. And he showed some regrets for those works. He certainly progressed throughout his career and became almost a lefty radical by middle age. A far cry from his minstrel show as a high schooler.
This is what Seuss’ stepdaughter, Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, told the New York Post on Tuesday, as reported in USA Today.
(There) “wasn’t a racist bone in that man’s body,” but she acknowledged she thought it (ending the publications) was a “wise” choice “in this day and age.”
“He was so acutely aware of the world around him and cared so much,” Dimond-Cates said. “I think this is a world that right now is in pain, and we’ve all got to be very gentle and thoughtful and kind with each other.”
Some of his war-time work could certainly be viewed as objectionable, at least today. From BBC.com:
“The Japanese cartoons are horribly narrow and racist and stereotyped,” says historian Richard Minear. A supporter of the mass incarceration of Japanese-Americans, Seuss used offensive stereotypes to caricature the Japanese in his cartoons, leading to accusations that he was racist.
“I think he would find it a legitimate criticism, because I remember talking to him about it at least once and him saying that things were done a certain way back then,” Ted Owens, a great-nephew of Geisel, told The New York Times. “Characterizations were done, and he was a cartoonist and he tended to adopt those. And I know later in his life he was not proud of those at all.”
Seuss followed up a 1976 interview for his former college, Dartmouth, with a handwritten note in which he partially apologized for the cartoons. “When I look at them now they’re hurriedly and embarrassingly badly drawn, and they’re full of many snap judgments that every political cartoonist has to make . . . The one thing I do like about them, however, is their honesty and their frantic fervor. I believed the USA would go down the drain if we listened to the America Firstisms . . .”
According to Minear, “Horton Hears a Who!” was an apology of sorts for his anti-Japanese cartoons. The 1954 book is a parable about post-war relations between the U.S., Japan and the Soviet Union, promoting equal treatment with the line “a person’s a person no matter how small”.
Geisel is dead, and the closest entity to the author himself is the foundation that wants to preserve his legacy. The difference between government, schools, libraries, etc. – I haven’t heard of any that are banning the books; some are de-emphasizing them as libraries and schools should do among the thousands of books from which they have to choose; some are just better than others – vs. the owner or the closest thing to the owner makes ALL the difference in the world. Quitting your own stuff is not censorship. If I quit writing Facebook posts or newspaper columns tomorrow (you wish!), that would not be censorship
But even if you think Dr. Seuss Enterprises is doing a noble thing, don’t give it a total altruistic pass. I’m sure they’re set to make big $$$ on the sale of the fairly few remaining copies of those six books.
Capitalism triumphs over all.