Is Dr. Seuss is a Victim of ‘Cancel Culture’?

Is Dr. Seuss is a Victim of ‘Cancel Culture’?

Dr. Seuss is a victim of ‘cancel culture,’ say a lot of people in the past three days since the announcement that after a year of study, six of Seuss’ books will not be reprinted due to portrayals that are ‘hurtful and wrong.’ The six books are And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, McElligot’s Pool, If I Ran the Zoo, On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

I happen to own the first three, which are the three oldest of the six. An examination of the books reveals mild but still unfortunate stereotyping of foreigners, with Asians most frequently pictured.

Here are some of the offending drawings:

Illustration of a man carrying a bowl of rice and chopsticks. Text says "A Chinese man who eats with sticks"

The original line from 1937 to the 1970s was ‘A Chinaman Who . . .’ 

Foreigners are rendered as stereotypes. Here is the worst one, from If I Ran the Zoo:

Turning the pages with new eyes, we see that Seuss’ characters are almost all White men. In And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, the scene is entirely male (20 men, zero females):

There is casual sexism too:

Text says "Hmmm... A reindeer and sleigh. Say - anyone could think of that, Jack or Fred or Joe or Nat - Say even Jane could think of that."

So even the girl, Jane, could put ‘reindeer’ and ‘sleigh’ together? ‘Hmmmm’ indeed.  There are no significant female characters that I can think of in Seuss. Maybe in the later books, but not in the ones from my childhood. The King’s Stilts, and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins are 100% male.

Kind people are trying to cut Seuss some slack. He did these drawings, and he did some drawings during WWII that were unflattering to the Japanese (and to Japanese Americans), but he was in many ways a liberal. His stories addressed injustice and promoted kindness. His classic story The Sneetches is famous for its teaching about discrimination.

Some conservatives are clamoring for a condemnation of ‘cancel culture’ in this instance, but a publisher voluntarily choosing to not perpetuate stereotypes is a business decision, and not an instance of cancel culture or suppression of free speech. 

Cancel culture, per Wikipedia, is “a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles, whether it be online, on social media, or in person. . . “

Pop culture, including the Urban Dictionary speak of it as withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectional or offensive. Many conservatives (and some liberals, soon perhaps including Gov. Cuomo) consider themselves ‘canceled’ when they are called out for lying.

Rev. Leland Bond-Upson

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  1. Sue Manago

    As a younger senior and a PreschooI Teacher, I do think that this is “cancel culture” as it applies to today’s standards, but my age and familiarity to Dr. Seuss just thinks that this is unfortunate. I do not think that my preschoolers see these portrayals as hurtful and wrong – they just laugh at the silly pictures and the silly rhymes. I think it takes the verbal influence of those who interpret them as hurtful and wrong to introduce this thinking. That being said, I respect and understand the opinions of those who are offended and hurt by these portrayals.

    • Leland Bond-Upson

      Thanks for writing. I hope you are right about the preschoolers not noticing. But many studies show that when it comes to race, impressions are being absorbed at surprisingly early ages. — Rev Leland

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