So Long to Imagination
March 17, 2021
Dr. Seuss, at least some of his published work, has been added to the academic hit list.
It seems 21st century critics have discovered he was not always a nice guy by today's standards, some of his stories don't fit evolving social morality. His stories weren't balanced in racial representation, among other charges. The critic did admit some of the books were written in the 1920s.
The publisher of the books cited racial implications and inuendos that are not comfortable with today's culture. I can't deny it. We as a society have become so sensitive we have a hard time communicating. The message is frequently lost in the words; less because the words are wrong than because the phrase has a different meaning than when first written.
The part that gets me is the belief that once guilty, always guilty when it comes to social morality. I need to go one step further, when a practice, procedure or script stands in question of the movement of social morality.
It should concern us that in exchange for a happy and all-inclusive world, we are letting go of imagination and creativity. I read one account of why some of the books need banned, I mean no longer printed. The account includes that, without going into all of the details, a minority was mistreated.
So, did the storyline celebrate the mistreatment, or just acknowledge it happened?
It strikes me because I really want to ask how do you define racist in caricatures and a storyline that are barely human. I've yet to meet a creature with a protruding belly of malnourishment and is an unkept hair from his eyebrows to his feet.
Wouldn't it make as much sense to use as a teaching opportunity?
Children learn to read while seeing illustrations of a person's fantastic imagination. Questions of why does this character do this and that with the other character and so on could and should be addressed by child's parents.
I've been told some of my views are idealistic and can't apply in today's world. In some cases, guilty as charged, and I'm ok with it. One of the phrases bounced around now and then is "if not now, then when? If not me, then who?"
I might be paraphrasing a little, but the question applies regardless where we are socially or racially. When two children play together, different races, when does the disconnect start, when the children realize they are different, or when a parent or adult sees the scene through their own filters.
There are limits, and better said I learned through a high school assignment that some writers of fiction and even children's stories were not always nice guys to say the least. It kind of comes full circle. Do we blacklist everyone who has earned public recognition and has a past, or do we explain it in context?
Imagine if some of these books were reviewed in comparison to the culture of when it was written, and now. Imagine if society really believed and practiced the "don't judge by a person's skin color."
The Dr. Seuss books I recall were not racial. They were imaginary to the point of goofy, whimsical even, with words that were nonsensical and taught language by misusing it; words that will never be found in a Merriam-Webster dictionary, and characters and scenery that do not fit reality. Along the way of experiencing one of these stories, the reader/viewer comes to understand a new way of viewing the world. Green eggs and ham are ok, even likable. Each individual's voice in Whoville was important. Even the Grinch learned that Christmas is more than an overdrawn credit line.
Maybe we need to use the "If not now..." statement as motivation to reach across the invisible line, take a chance and greet the person of a different culture. Maybe Dr. Seuss can motivate us, even in his flaws. Maybe we need to be a little uncomfortable with the past if we want a bright future.