La La How The Life Goes On

In a Word: Seuss

Posted on: March 3, 2011

There is something I have to confess.  It’s always been on my mind but it’s either never been important enough to me to bring up, or it’s been too important to someone else to bring up.  But today being his birthday and me being on the receiving end of a nasty literary surprise, the time has come to lay my thoughts bare:  Friends, I cannot stand Dr. Seuss.

I have always struggled to understand his appeal to children and the adults who procure books for them.  All I can think about while reading his “stories” is “oh my god when will this end?!”  They strike me as overly-long, overly-gobbledy, and just plain over-rated.  “But the message!” you say.  “The message!”  Assist me with this.  When I read these stories with Bambina, I’m reaching, grasping to answer her “what does this mean?” questions.  Um, it means that you should totally let someone into your house while your mom is away as long as they promise to clean up before she returns?  Um, maybe it means you should always listen to your pet goldfish?  No! I’ve got it! It means that..hell, I don’t know, but Hector McRumpledy-Pumpledy sings! A song about hoofity-poofity things!  WTF, Theodore?

Truth be told, this all came to a head this evening as I read If I Ran the Zoo to Bambina at bedtime.  Imagine my horror as I realized I had just said, “helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant” to my Chinese-born daughter and then noticed that the illustrations of little McGrew searching for unusual animals included lots of slanty-eyed people and lots of minstrel-type African people.  How lovely.  Luckily Bambina is not familiar with the term “slant-eyed” yet (I am sad to say that the “yet” is a reality), so she didn’t catch it. But I did.  My mouth spoke those words. My child was looking at blackface and Asian caricatures.  In a book we allowed in our house.  In 2011.  Wow.

You could chalk it up to one story, the year 1950, the fact that those were “different times” and hope that makes it okay when your kid gets older and really reads it.  Or you can say, “That is fucking racist and it’s not going to be in my kid’s library.”  Your call.  You can think I’m overreacting if you’ d like to.  But substitute a hook-nosed Jew or a drunk Irishman or whatever the negative stereotype of you is, and tell me  you’re not concerned.  I’m not saying Dr. Seuss was a racist.  I AM saying that those lines and those illustrations are racist, to the point that I’m trying to figure out how they got published in the early 2000’s IN A KID’S BOOK.

Such  illustrations and attitudes are not isolated to that story, it turns out.  Mulberry Street only in 1978 changed “Chinaman eating with sticks” to “Chinese man.”  You know, still eating with those sticks.  Dr. Seuss also drew a lot of WWII propaganda, mostly involving giant buck-toothed “Japs” and mostly sowing fear of a Fifth Column.  Again, I don’t know [as George W. Bush says] “his heart,” but I do know my stomach, and it can’t allow shite like this in my kid’s library.  So, as with all the other “classics” that are beyond offensive to anyone with a modern brain, the Dr. Seuss Compendium will find its way to the storage bin in my cellar, hopefully to be swept away in an unfortunate basement flooding incident (that I may have to engineer).

I plan to also add to the deluge:

Ping (slanty eyed people in “coolie” hats pounding on tardy ducks. Nice!)

Eloise (who, for sport, rips her clothes to look “like an orphan” for the front desk people at her home in THE PLAZA. Punkass rich kid! Her middle name is probably “Gwyneth.” )

Seven Chinese Brothers (every single Asian person in the book is yellow. I shit you not:  Actual yellow)

Curious George (not for being racist or “old-fashionedly offensive” but just for being lame as all hell and for overuse of the Eisenhower-era nonsense filler “why” at the rate of almost one per page:  “Why, it wasn’t a ghost at all! It was George in a sheet!” And please explain why George never gets his ass kicked [or medicated] for being a total hoodlum. )

So happy posthumous birthday, Theodore Geisel.  You’ve accomplished a lot:

People with two young boys get to call them Thing One and Thing Two to gales of appreciative laughter.

Drunk people get to make up rude chants involving “would you could you in a boat?”

Last minute Halloween celebrants can always throw on a striped red hat and call themselves dressed for the occasion.  Extra points for carrying a fishbowl and a rake.

Jim Carrey will never want for funds now that his Grinch will be shown every year after It’s A Wonderful Life and The Island of Misfit Toys.

You reminded me that I’ll “look up and down books. Look ’em over with care. About some I will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With my head full of brains and pride in my name, I’m too smart to read a story that’s racist and lame.”


2 Responses to "In a Word: Seuss"

“look up and down books. Look ’em over with care. About some I will say, ‘I don’t choose to go there.’ With my head full of brains and pride in my name, I’m too smart to read a story that’s racist and lame.”


In honor of this post, I’m sending your girls a book that was given to my oldest by babydada’s grandma…about a farmer who keeps an AX in his kids closet!!!! Its not racist just plain scary 😉

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