In the last year and a half, we have seen a dramatic increase in cancel culture and the left’s determination to reengineer our past in order to politically alter the present. We watched as statues of not just Confederate generals, but American presidents were pulled down—and not just by lawless vandals, but by local governments who have caved to the power of an authoritarian left that sees no value in the past if it does not reflect every value of the present. Abraham Lincoln, despite saving the Union and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, is no longer fit to have his name on some San Francisco area schools because their school board deemed him unacceptable.
In 2016, Obama described the world-renowned author [Dr. Seuss] as “one of America’s revered wordsmiths.”
Still, the left seems remarkably concerned about cartoons: and just this week, it fastened its eyes on Looney Tune icon Speedy Gonzales, calling the quick-paced mouse a “corrosive stereotype.” It was against that backdrop that a recent decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to end the publication and licensing of six of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (Dr. Seuss) children’s books was announced. And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra!, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer will no longer be published, the company wrote, claiming that the “books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Although the company made the decision last year, they chose to make the announcement on March 2nd: National Read Across America Day—or, as it’s more commonly known, Dr. Seuss Day.
In 1998, the National Education Association partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises 1998 to launch Read Across America Day as a way to encourage children to read. The important role Dr. Seuss has played in children’s literacy was remarked upon by former President Obama, who began the presidential tradition of issuing yearly Read Across America Day proclamations, each of which mentioned Dr. Seuss. In 2016, Obama described the world-renowned author as “one of America’s revered wordsmiths.”
The tradition was continued by former President Trump, with a brief interruption in 2017, when it was former First Lady Melania Trump doing the honors. “Dr. Seuss has brought so much joy, laughter, and enchantment into children’s lives all around the globe for generations,” Mrs. Trump said during a visit to the Phyllis and David Komansky Center for Children’s Health in New York, where she read from her son’s favorite book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! “Through his captivating rhymes, Dr. Seuss has delighted and inspired children while teaching them to read, to dream, and to care.”
That delight and inspiration were short-lived, however, as President Biden, breaking with tradition, decided not to mention Dr. Seuss in his first Read Across America Day proclamation. “The proclamation was written by the Department of Education and you could certainly speak to them about more specifics about the drafting of it, but Read Across America Day has not existed forever,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “It has only been around for a short period of time. It elevates and celebrates a love of reading among our nation’s youngest readers and the day is also a chance to celebrate diverse authors whose work and lived experience reflect the diversity of our country.
Joe Biden has just removed Dr. Seuss from “Read Across America” because he thinks the books are racists.
Joe, just because you can’t read them doesn’t mean they’re racist!
— Errol Webber (@ErrolWebber) March 2, 2021
“Diversity” being the keyword. In 2019, the NEA ended its contract with Dr. Seuss Enterprises and has been re-branding Read Across America Day, giving it a more left-approved veneer. “Our student populations are ever-changing and evolving and every year there are new children’s books that reflect that diversity. That’s why NEA’s Read Across America is rebranding with a new logo to appeal to students of all ages and backgrounds and a continued mission of ‘Celebrating a Nation of Diverse Readers,'” the organization announced.
It was in this context that Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced that “working with a panel of experts, including educators,” it had reviewed its catalog and made the decision last year to cease publication and licensing six of its titles. The problem, it seems, was some of the imagery in the books was deemed racist by today’s standards. True, some of the pictures of Asians and Africans might not be appropriate by today’s standards because, no, they were not pictured in Western suits with iPhones in hand. But when you consider that so many of the images in Seuss’s books are a weird juxtaposition of animals and humans, then it is entirely debatable whether anyone should truly be offended at all. But it is that kind of offense that runs through so much film and television today as we insist upon depicting people from the past as they are today.
The relatively minor and seemingly innocuous act by Dr. Seuss Enterprises is representative of a larger desire by government, woke corporations, and Big Tech to arbitrarily decide what is suitable for you to read and what is not. As Kyle Smith, writing for the National Review, explains, “The progressive Left enjoys greater control over the educational establishment than any other institution, and it senses an opportunity to revise the canon of young people’s literature so that every title in it advances the propaganda imperatives of today.”
We begin with Dr. Seuss but where do we end? The possibilities of censorship, the expectations of cancel culture are virtually limitless. Who can be silenced next? What book, what film, what periodical can be deemed offensive or injurious to someone and thus needs to be excised from a reading sphere that is increasingly confined to the fragile parameters of cyberspace where entire literally collections can be dashed with the ease of a mouse click, and history itself can be amended with a few brisk edits.
THE ULTIMATE CANCEL CULTURE LANDSCAPE
As conservatives and admirers of American culture caught wind of the Seuss cancellation, sales of those canceled books immediately went through the roof. Some may have rushed to vendors because they expected the books to become scarce (and more valuable) but others, no doubt, reacted with righteous indignation that anyone would attempt to tell them what they should read and what they should jettison. Then woke corporations like eBay Inc. who did exactly what one would anticipate: they banned the sale of the books. On Thursday, the online marketplace confirmed that it is removing copies of six canceled Dr. Seuss books. “eBay is currently sweeping our marketplace to remove these items,” a spokeswoman for the company said in an email.
Big Tech presents the ultimate cancel culture landscape: people and beliefs can disappear immediately.
That might not have been such an ominous act unless one considers two factors: the decline of independent booksellers and the overweening enthusiasm for big tech to enforce liberal values at any and every opportunity.
First, the question of distribution. Book stores were already in decline before the pandemic, and the successive lockdowns have only served to reinforce that trend. It is not difficult to test that theory by trying to find a store in your neighborhood that sells new or used books. Many will have been repurposed or shuttered. It is not inconceivable that we could soon live in a world where buying a book from the corner store is nothing more than a nostalgic memory.
So that leaves us with the large online distributors selling us books. And what will they let us read? As conservative commentator Ross Douthat writes explains,
“The Seuss cancellations also illustrate how a disappearance can happen without a legal ‘ban’ being literally imposed. One day, the Seuss estate decides to self-censor; the next, that decision becomes the justification for eBay to delist used copies of the books. In a cultural landscape dominated by a few big companies with politically uniform management, you don’t need state censorship for books to swiftly vanish.”
Big Tech presents the ultimate cancel culture landscape: people and beliefs can disappear immediately. Big Tech famously canceled former President Donald Trump when Twitter permanently canceled his account, prompting former Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to (rightly) point out that this is the sort of thing that happens in China. Banning the former President of the United States was followed by a purge of more than 70,000 Twitter users who veered too right for the platform’s comfort.
At the end of January, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a prominent and vocal supporter of Trump, was also canceled. Lindell declared that he will “not be erased” after a ban that was followed by the refusal of some stores to carry his bed and bathroom products.
The move from canceling people they deem too conservative to canceling content was, of course, seamless: in February, Amazon removed conservative scholar Ryan Anderson’s 2018 critique of the transgender movement, When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. Last week, they pulled a documentary on Justice Clarence Thomas, without explanation. (Could it be because he is the most conservative judge on the Supreme Court?)
Amazon doesn't want you to read Ryan Anderson's *When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment*. That in itself tells you that you should read the book and learn from it. Buy it for $16.99 from Amazon's competitor Barnes & Noble: https://t.co/VwstXyRF8j
— Robert P. George (@McCormickProf) February 21, 2021
Unlike books that have to be burned, censorship on the internet is immediate. If 24/7 news coverage and immersion in social media produces a glut of communication, it also renders people and policies utterly evanescent commodities that can be forgotten just as easily as their Twitter followings turned them into cyberspace celebrities. And with people increasingly accessing books and films through the internet, it means that offending material can simply disappear overnight.
The left’s assault on our cultural history has affected film as well. Films like “Gone With the Wind” are increasingly difficult to see because they present an antebellum narrative that is considered not only disagreeable but toxic to some current viewers. Turner Classic Movies used to be immune from this trend but recently announced that it would target 18 films that have been deemed “troubling and problematic.”
[W]e sometimes need to defend the most noxious ideas in order to maintain our liberty to communicate and discuss ideas freely…
“We’re not saying this is how you should feel about ‘Psycho’ or this is how you should feel about ‘Gone With the Wind.’ We’re just trying to model ways of having longer and deeper conversations and not just cutting it off to ‘I love this movie. I hate this movie.’ There’s so much space in between,” TCM host Jacqueline Stewart informed the Associated Press.
But of course, that’s exactly what they’re saying; they are telling us that we should interpret these films through the prism of today’s political correctness and that we are no longer allowed to just enjoy these features as art; they must be seen as political statements. And the political problem they pose is that being historic, their depictions are no longer acceptable for leftist tastes.
Defenders of free speech have long suggested that we sometimes need to defend the most noxious ideas in order to maintain our liberty to communicate and discuss ideas freely, without the state ravenously intervening and telling us what ideas are acceptable and which are not.
It’s interesting that critics of eBay were quick to point out that while banning Dr. Seuss, they were continuing to sell copies of Adolf Hitler’s political treatise “Mein Kampf.” But, despite the outrage, it would not be a good idea to ban Hitler’s autobiography because without it we are bereft of actually knowing that this man put all of his racist ideas in print and explained how he was going to skillfully use propaganda and lies to enlist the support of an entire nation. He even promises to invade the Soviet Union when he has the opportunity. “Mein Kampf” is not just history; it is a lesson in history. Will it offend people? Of course, it was designed to. But is that any reason to banish it subject it to the same book burning that the Nazis famously staged in order to demonstrate which books were no longer deemed acceptable reading for Germans?
“Where they burn books, they will also burn people.”
It was German poet Heinrich Heine who noted, “Where they burn books, they will also burn people.”
The real danger, then, in pointing out that “Mein Kampf” and other clearly offensive works are still available on eBay is that we are only baiting the ban-happy liberals who run this corporation to find more material that we shouldn’t be reading or shouldn’t even know exists. And when we don’t know something exists, when we select what sort of books and writings and films were produced in the past, we are literally changing history.
Civil rights attorney Leo Terrell made that point. One of my favorite political analysts, Terrell was a lifelong Democrat before embracing former President Donald Trump as a true populist leader who didn’t see racism lurking around every corner but encouraged an old value called equality. Terrell weighed in on the Dr. Seuss controversy and addressed the real issue: “You cannot ignore history, you cannot eliminate history,” Terrell continued. “They use this argument of racist as a gimmick, a talking point to basically cancel people out. I think it’s wrong as a teacher… We cannot eliminate our history. Some of our history is bad but the majority is great. Both sides need to be taught.”
That is precisely the point, “both sides need to be taught.” And that is precisely what the woke left doesn’t want. Material that is deemed offensive must be deleted, not discussed. Issues that are considered “settled” by the left. Abortion is one of those issues. For those who support abortion, there is no need to debate the issue because abortion is a human right, and any attempt to regulate that right is a direct assault on that right so there is no need to debate it. The matter is settled. There is no other contravening opinion worth noting.
Cancel culture is already removing people, books, and films from our lives. They will soon move on to ideas. There will be so many ideas deemed noxious by the woke left, and though it will be a large encumbrance to remove them all, you can bet they are up to the task. They know political victory is always a result of successfully promoting ideas, and when yours are the only ideas and beliefs allowed to be seen, the victory will be swift and certain and, perhaps, final.