Recently I appeared on the Sean Hannity Show to discuss the controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss. The title for the segment was “Cancel culture comes for Dr. Seuss.” This was in response to Dr. Seuss Enterprises deciding to discontinue six books that they considered to “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” In response to this decision, sales of Dr. Seuss books spiked on Amazon and eBay had to step in to prevent the selling of these books online. Once again, credit card activism comes to save the day. The challenge with the Dr. Seuss outrage from so many people is that this rush to just yell out “cancel culture” denies us the ability to do the real critical thinking needed to actually analyze and attempt to understand this book controversy and others.
Regarding “cancel culture”, Business Insider wrote:
On one end of the spectrum [of cancel culture] are people like Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, and R. Kelly who were canceled by the public before their sex-crimes trials. On the other end are everyday people like David Shor, who faced criticism on Twitter after he tweeted a study from an academic journal questioning the political consequences of violent and peaceful protests. Shor, who tweeted the link during the George Floyd protests, was fired, though the company has said it wasn’t over the tweet.
The problem we have today is that “cancel culture” has become for some, particularly on the political right, a catch phrase for anyone who wants to hold on to their antiquated views and not be challenged to think critically. A critical thinking mind would see, for example, that no one “came for” Dr. Seuss. Dr. Suess Enterprises decided on their own to review and remove 6 books from publication. This is called accountability. As Dr. Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better. If a school decides that it is going to remove books that they have used over decades that are insensitive or if Disney decides to acknowledge or remove racist images from their television shows and movies, they are taking responsibility.
While it is true that protests have occurred that have led to the discontinuing of a brand or a removal of an insensitive advertisement, it is not fair to or even accurate to accuse what occurred with Dr. Seuss as “cancel culture.” We cannot live in a society bent on using trigger words to suppress thought. Too many of us instantly choose a side when we hear phrases like Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, critical race theory, free speech, reparations, second amendment rights, liberals, republicans, and so much more. We then search out media sources that do not provide us with more information but more affirmation of what we already believe and then rinse, repeat. I am sure these phrases triggered something in you as well but we have to go beyond the trigger to action.
I wish that more individuals and organizations would take similar steps as Dr. Suess Enterprises. They are fully aware that for some they went too far and for others they did not go far enough. Some believe Dr. Seuss books are completely fine and others are asking why The Cat in the Hat isn’t being discontinued since the character seems to be based off of minstrel characters from the Jim Crow era. At the end of the day, if we want to have schools, organizations, and other spaces where everyone feels truly celebrated and not tolerated, we should all take a look at the literature, cartoons, television shows, movies, and anything else we were raised with and ask the question if these images and symbols are appropriate beyond our nostalgia. We need to focus less on outrage and more on outcomes for the sake of our future and building a country as good as welcoming as its promise for everyone.