Censorship Sucks!

When I first heard about a possible censorship of Dr. Seuss books, like so many others, I said: “What?”  My eighteen years of working at the American Civil Liberties Union gave me experience to ask, “who is the censor?”  Not that censorship is okay under any condition, but usually, the censor is a third party that finds something objectionable to their own beliefs and attempts to stop the artist, author, or distributor from allowing the objectionable material to be read or seen by others.

Facebook was abuzz with people saying that this censorship was cancel-culture and that they would continue to read Dr. Seuss books, even the ones that have been banned.  The words “cancel-culture” caught my eye.

First of all, the books are not banned; they will no longer be published.  That’s a big difference.  Second, the decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the licensing entity holding rights of publishing for all of his books.  It’s not a third party claiming that the books are offensive; it’s the heirs.

I never read Dr. Seuss books as a child, and I don’t remember an adult reading them to me, either.  Perhaps I was too young to remember, but knowing my family, I’m sticking to the former.  Even in adulthood, I thought these books probably originated in 1950 or later.

Two of the books that have been discontinued are the first Dr. Seuss book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” published in 1937; and “If I Ran the Zoo,” which was published in 1950.  These books have been around for quite some time.  Many Dr. Seuss books were written in the 1950s.

Do you remember reading “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?”  If that book is still in a bookcase at home, you had better hold on to it.  It is selling for $350 on Amazon.  “If I Ran the Zoo” goes anywhere from $499 to $799.99.  “Green Eggs & Ham,” and “The Cat in the Hat” are still popular books, and they will continue to be printed.

Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, was a political cartoonist for a New York newspaper in the early 1940s.  He admitted to using “harmful stereotypes to caricature Japanese and Japanese-Americans.  Decades later, he said he was embarrassed by the cartoons, which he said were ‘full of snap judgments that every political cartoonist has to make.’”

Based upon his reconciliation regarding those political cartoons, it doesn’t surprise me that his foundation would proceed with the discontinuation of some of his books.  Dr. Seuss was a kind man who didn’t want to offend anyone.  If he were alive today, he may agree with this decision.

I have to agree that this matter borders on censorship.  However, it’s not the type of censorship that we usually see.  No one has pulled these books from the bookshelves; they will no longer be printed.  They’ll still be available to read; you just have to find them in order to read them.  Censorship is “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”

The foundation’s decision to halt the printing of these books does not fall under the definition of “suppression or prohibition.”  There is no movement to prevent anyone from reading these discontinued books.

But is it cancel-culture?  “The Cat’s Quizzer,” one of the discontinued books, “hasn’t sold in years through the retailers BookScan tracks.”  It seems like this move by Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a financial decision in many ways.  “Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of censorship in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person.”  This decision doesn’t even come close to the newfound definition of cancel-culture.

In the 1970s, I read a book to my daughters that all three of us enjoyed immensely.  “It Could Be Worse” was written by Margot Zemuch.  It was a story of a married man named Ivan who was upset that the house smelled of cooking, the children were screaming, etc.  He went to the Rabbi who told him to bring the chickens into the house.  When that didn’t work, he was told to bring in the dog and the cat into the house; next the goats.  This went on with the cow and the horse.  Finally, poor Ivan couldn’t take it anymore.  The Rabbi told him to take all the animals out of the house, sweep and clean it, and come back when everything was done.  Ivan was happy and smelled the sweetness of dinner cooking and the thrill of the children’s laughter.  Ivan brought the Rabbi wine and bread as a token of appreciation.  The moral, of course, was in the title of the book.  Things can be worse.

In the 1990s, I went looking for that book to read to a different child.  I couldn’t find the same book, but I found a book by Margot Zemuch called “It Could Always Be Worse.”  It was the same story with some changes.  The Rabbi was now a wise man, the token gifts at the end of the story did not have wine, and word ‘always’ was added to the title.  There may have been some other changes, but the point is that the moral of story remained the same.  Yes, words were adapted to make the story more politically correct.  But if you hadn’t read the first edition you would never had known that it was revised to be acceptable to a wider audience.

Public outcry may prompt Dr. Seuss Enterprises to allow Random House to print these books with modest changes.  It’s sort of like “The New Coke.”  It won’t be the same as the old books, but after time, we’ll realize that the story is the same.  Change is inevitable.  It just doesn’t happen as fast as it did in “Dirty Dancing.” [In this movie, the 1960s changed into the 1970s overnight.]

Go ahead and add these six books to the list of others that have been censored at one time or another: Catcher in the Rye (I had to read this book twice to figure out why it was banned); Huckleberry Finn; just about any book by Judy Blume; Fahrenheit 541; The Bible; Gone With the Wind; and Mein Kampf, just to name a few.  And these books have not been censored nor discontinued by the authors or their heirs.

I can’t quite reach the level of saying this is censorship, but if you own one of these six books, hang on to it.  It just became worth a whole lot more.

Censorship sucks!  However, it also sells books.

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