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  #21  
Unread 04-02-2021, 11:09 PM
Orwn Acra's Avatar
Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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While I do think they jumped the gun on On Beyond Zebra (my favorite Seuss) and maybe others (I haven't read them) it is, ultimately, up to his estate.

I do find it ridiculous that eBay has apparently banned the banned Seuss from being sold, while Birth of a Nation and Mein Kampf are available.
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  #22  
Unread 04-03-2021, 02:05 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is online now
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Actually, Birth of a Nation and Mein Kampf also violate eBay's policies. And encountering those Seuss depictions as an adult, within the context of decades of interactions with people of other races and cultures, is not as all the same thing as encountering them as an impressionable kindergartener.

Martin, you and John McWhorter seem to be saying that "the Elect" just want to usurp the power to make new rules that other people have to obey.

Who are these "Elect"? Asian Americans and their allies, who have no right to be killjoys and object to the presentation to children of harmless stereotypes? Has the continued normalization of the longstanding attitude that Asians are ridiculous foreigners who don't really belong in American society been harmless lately?

Are you aware that harassment and outright attacks directed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is a real phenomenon? Especially recently? Perhaps you don't think that Trump encouraged anti-Asian attitudes in his followers precisely because he knew he could easily build on foundations that had already been well-laid long ago. But I do.

Does the woman quoted below sound like "the Elect" when she objects to depictions in Seuss's books that are uncomfortably reminiscent of this one, which was published on Feb 13, 1942--just six days before President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 and incarcerated tens of thousands of American citizens of Japanese descent?



The 1937 image from And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street is too big to display nicely here for comparison, so here's a link to it: https://media1.s-nbcnews.com/j/rockc...i t-2000w.jpg

Quote:
Though Seuss’ art has been around for decades — “Mulberry Street,” his first children’s book, was published more than 80 years ago — widespread criticism of his work is relatively recent. Karen Ishizuka, chief curator at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, said Dr. Seuss' books have been able to get away with this racism for so long in part because of the persistence of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. since the 1800s.

“No doubt, the long-standing prevalence of racist Asian imagery within the larger widespread anti-Asian sentiment in the U.S. added to the delayed response to Dr. Seuss’ racism,” Ishizuka told NBC Asian America. “Generations of Americans have grown up with depictions of Asians that ranged from grotesque to comical. Especially when buffered in Seuss’ rhyming verse, his racist depictions, already normalized in U.S. society, are put forth in jest as if they are innocuous.”

Dr. Seuss eventually edited the image from “Mulberry Street” in 1978, more than 40 years after it was first published, by removing the yellow pigment from the Asian man’s skin as well as the pigtail, and changing “Chinaman” to “Chinese man.” But the character’s slanted eyes remained.

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-a...m-long-rcna381
The revised image was still problematical. He's still depicted as a circus freak, just like the man on the facing page, who has a "ten-foot beard / That needs a comb." The clear message: being Chinese makes someone an oddity to be gawked at for the entertainment of "normal" (i.e., White) Americans.

In 2017, three well-known authors of children's books criticized the amended portrayal's inclusion in a mural in a Seuss-themed museum:

Quote:
The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield on Tuesday unveiled its redesigned mural, months after its previous mural, which was revealed on the museum’s inauguration, was criticized as reinforcing racial stereotypes.

The museum also installed a wall label, “Dr. Seuss in Historical Context,” which explains the evolution of the racial attitudes of the children’s book author, a Springfield native whose real name was Ted Geisel.

The museum had its grand opening in July. The first-floor indoor mural at that time featured characters from Seuss’ first book, “And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street,” which was published in 1937. One of the characters was a Chinese man with slit eyes, wearing a pointy hat and holding chopsticks.

Kids’ book authors Mo Willems, Mike Curato and Lisa Yee protested. “We find this caricature of ‘The Chinaman’ deeply hurtful, and have concerns about children’s exposure to it,” Willems wrote in a letter posted on Twitter and signed by all three. “While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago, it is obviously offensive in 2017.” Yee and Curato are Asian American.

Willems, Yee and Curato withdrew their participation in the museum’s Children’s Literature Festival, which had been scheduled for October. The museum later canceled the festival.

[...]

The new mural, installed on top of the old mural, includes characters from “Mulberry Street,” as well as more than a dozen other Seuss stories. A museum statement called the new painting “a celebration of Dr. Seuss’s wonderful journey starting on Mulberry Street and ending with ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go’.”

Beyond that statement, museum officials would not comment.

The new wall text describes Geisel’s childhood surrounded by immigrants: “Ted’s visual world was steeped in what some might now consider racially charged imagery.” It describes unnamed racial characters as exemplifying “images that were common in illustration as short-hand for ethnicity.” The wall text further explains that “The Sneetches,” written in 1961, was a parable about human dignity, which used birdlike creatures instead of people and was beloved by President Barack Obama.

“Does the fact that Dr. Seuss changed over time make it OK that his early imagery in children’s books is no longer comfortable for readers?” the text asks. “We hope all who visit will strive to see Dr. Seuss in historical context and celebrate the fact that a person can change and grow over time.”

https://www.baltimoresun.com/hc-fea-...outputType=amp
The letter on Twitter has since been taken down. It would not surprise me if it was taken down as part of the agreement to revise the mural. I did find sections of the letter quoted or paraphrased in a few news accounts:

Quote:
In their statement, the authors said they had privately appealed to have the mural taken down, or for the museum to “provide context” for the image, which shows a Chinese man with chopsticks in his hands, slits for eyes, and a pointed hat. Otherwise, they wrote, “[d]isplaying imagery this offensive damages not only Asian American children, but also non-Asian kids who absorb this caricature and could associate it with all Asians or their Asian neighbors and classmates.”

When their requests were denied, Curato, Willems, and Yee announced that they were backing out of the festival, which was slated for October 14.

In protesting the mural, the authors sought to draw a distinction between the painting and the author, noting that “the career of Ted Geisel, writing as Dr. Seuss, is a story of growth, from accepting the baser racial stereotypes of the times in his early career, to challenging those divisive impulses with work that delighted his readers and changed the times.”

With the image displayed as a standalone, however, they wrote that the museum was undermining the story of Geisel’s transformation by leaving small children to interpret it for themselves. “While this image may have been considered amusing to some when it was published 80 years ago,” they concluded, “it is obviously offensive in 2017 (the year the mural was painted).”

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/...uss-mural.html
I find the three authors' objection to that image's inclusion in the mural to be pretty nuanced, not a knee-jerk reaction from cancel culture.

BTW, the decision to stop publishing these six titles was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises (a private business), not the Dr. Seuss Foundation (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation).

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-03-2021 at 02:49 AM.
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  #23  
Unread 04-03-2021, 12:33 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I don't think any book, for adults, should be banned. But Julie beat me to it. Children's books are another thing entirely. (I know the Seuss books was a corporate decision, but just saying.)

Last edited by James Brancheau; 04-03-2021 at 12:36 PM.
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  #24  
Unread 04-03-2021, 01:07 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
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Julie, as a child, I knew nothing of Dr. Seuss. My mother sang Hungarian folk songs to my brother and me. I first encountered Dr. Seuss a few years ago, read a couple of the books, and thought they were fun. (I don’t recall which titles they were.) But now I see that Geisel had a darker side (especially the anti-Japanese propaganda he created during WWII). (I wonder if McWhorter knows anything about that side of him.) Now I have zero interest in his books. I thought the topic of this thread might generate some interesting discussion, which it certainly has!

Added in: Having read the Springfield Children’s Literature Festival article, I see that Geisel had grown and transformed. So my interest in him is maybe slightly more than zero now.

Last edited by Martin Elster; 04-03-2021 at 01:31 PM.
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  #25  
Unread 04-03-2021, 01:18 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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Martin, much of Dr. Seuss is wonderful. One thing for sure lacking with kids is a lack of imagination. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Or both are true. One is true. I think that's what cancel culture is. Don't deny them of Dr. Seuss because Geisel was a flawed man.
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  #26  
Unread 04-03-2021, 01:34 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
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Quote:
Don't deny them of Dr. Seuss because Geisel was a flawed man.
Good point, James! I'll keep that in mind. The books I read of Dr. Seuss I found to be quite a lot of fun. (I wish I could remember their titles.)
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  #27  
Unread 04-04-2021, 12:40 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is online now
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I think Theodor Geisel is a useful role model for imperfect people (the only kind that exists) because he, too, was visibly imperfect. He kept trying to use his talents to the best of his ability to make a positive difference in the world, and that ability changed for the better over time. Martin, of Seuss's story books, I think you would particularly like the environmental parable of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax, and also Horton Hears a Who!, in which a compassionate elephant goes to great lengths to save a microscopic community facing grave existential threats because he can't convince his neighbors that it even exists, because only his ears are sensitive enough to hear it. But many of Seuss's books are playful early readers that are more about discovering the joy of language than anything else.

I am strongly opposed to book banning that is intended to restrict adult access to controversial materials. Adults should be able to access any book they want--Mein Kampf included--so that they can see what all the fuss is about firsthand and make their own judgments. (Yes, even if those judgments are not in accord with mine.)

That said, I also think adults should be made aware that certain books are controversial, and they should be given the opportunity to examine those books for themselves before deciding whether or not their own children (but not the whole community's children!) should be given or denied access to them. My own public library publishes lists of banned books for children and young adults, which I used to use to identify books that might generate interesting conversations with my young daughters.

I notice that some of the same conservatives now publicly decrying the "censorship of Dr. Seuss" have previously campaigned to get other books banned from public libraries--e.g., Daddy's Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, and anything glorifying witchcraft. Which makes me think that their problem is not with censorship and book-banning per se, but with whether their own team or the opposing one seems to be "winning" at it.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 04-04-2021 at 01:04 AM.
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  #28  
Unread 04-04-2021, 07:19 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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.

Kevin: “Children can tell the difference between cartoonish depictions and real life. They don't think rabbits talk simply because they watched bugs bunny, or think humans and dinosaurs coexist because they watched flintstones.”


Where to begin? This is patently false — Or at the very least grossly misleading. It smacks of simplification and indifference/ignorance about the development of the human brain and the windows of learning that present themselves from birth. It is a convenient way of dismissing adult responsibility to provide guidance, protection and context for children as they wade into the ever-widening waters of interactions with the world. It’s a laissez faire attitude towards dynamic education. It is the opposite extreme of cancel culture. Find your way back to the middle.

The Seuss books are considered a prominent resource for development of
reading/apprehension/language skills during the crucial early childhood years (0 — 5 years, which is who Seuss books are written for). What makes the Seuss canon so effective is that they attract the child’s imagination through graphic depictions that compliment word content of the books, augmenting the language with graphic pictures that are integral to forming a sturdy bridge to learning during early years.

The act of reading to your child is arguably the best activity you can engage in, not just because it develops listening/language skills and provides a window to learning about the ever-widening world, but just as importantly because it allows the parent to engage in conversation with the child about our culture, our values, indeed our reason for being in the process.
There is no single being that is the same as anyone else. Children are more nuanced and free-thinking than you give credit. Eventually, down the developmental road when enough learning has taken place and enough physiological development has taken place, then yes, they will be expected to distinguish between what is a "cartoonish depiction and real life". But no one is born with the innate ability to sort things out on their own. Cognitive, social, emotional, language and speech skills are the unfinished business of life. Indeed, it is never finished.

Where should I point you to help you begin your decidedly more difficult re-education.......? You’re smart. I’m sure you'll find it on your own if you care enough learn.

I’m buoyed by the Seuss foundation’s proactive efforts to preserve the value of Geisel’s genius.

.

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 04-04-2021 at 08:15 AM.
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  #29  
Unread 04-04-2021, 04:25 PM
Martin Elster Martin Elster is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Julie Steiner View Post
I think Theodor Geisel is a useful role model for imperfect people (the only kind that exists) because he, too, was visibly imperfect. He kept trying to use his talents to the best of his ability to make a positive difference in the world, and that ability changed for the better over time. Martin, of Seuss's story books, I think you would particularly like the environmental parable of Dr. Seuss's The Lorax, and also Horton Hears a Who!, in which a compassionate elephant goes to great lengths to save a microscopic community facing grave existential threats because he can't convince his neighbors that it even exists, because only his ears are sensitive enough to hear it. But many of Seuss's books are playful early readers that are more about discovering the joy of language than anything else.

I am strongly opposed to book banning that is intended to restrict adult access to controversial materials. Adults should be able to access any book they want--Mein Kampf included--so that they can see what all the fuss is about firsthand and make their own judgments. (Yes, even if those judgments are not in accord with mine.)

That said, I also think adults should be made aware that certain books are controversial, and they should be given the opportunity to examine those books for themselves before deciding whether or not their own children (but not the whole community's children!) should be given or denied access to them. My own public library publishes lists of banned books for children and young adults, which I used to use to identify books that might generate interesting conversations with my young daughters.

I notice that some of the same conservatives now publicly decrying the "censorship of Dr. Seuss" have previously campaigned to get other books banned from public libraries--e.g., Daddy's Roommate, Heather Has Two Mommies, and anything glorifying witchcraft. Which makes me think that their problem is not with censorship and book-banning per se, but with whether their own team or the opposing one seems to be "winning" at it.
Thanks, Julie, for suggesting those storybooks. I'll check them out. I, too, am against banning books. And I agree that parents should be allowed to examine whatever books they may or may not choose to show to their children.

Censorship is bad. Trying to "win" some ideological battle is not a healthy way to live in society.
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  #30  
Unread 04-05-2021, 02:51 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I do understand the urge to say things like "His estate has withdrawn the books. Get over it" because a good proportion of the people complaining and suddenly buying up second hand copies may well be arseholes. I think it's too simplistic to think that if conservatives don't like something it must be a wholly good thing. There is also an urge to mock the idea that this is "cancel culture" (that silly phrase that only blustering conservatives use) because the Seuss Estate voluntarily made the decision to stop printing the books. I do wonder, though, exactly how voluntary it was and how much influence and pressure was exerted by the unnamed "experts and educators" mentioned in the Seuss Estate's statement. Making a gesture by sacrificing six books to protect your brand against the possible threat of constant accusations of racism isn't exactly a voluntary act. Anyway, I can't stop having a conversation with myself about this so I've come back for one last long think aloud. Whether we call it "cancel culture" or not, six books have effectively been banned. Not quietly allowed to go out of print because they weren't selling (some were and some weren't, though none were among Seuss' big sellers), but because they have very publicly been deemed "harmful and wrong". Voluntarily withdrawing a book to which you own the rights because you are convinced it is causing harm is pretty rare and seems something worth talking about. The only other example I can think of (perhaps people know others) is when Stephen King allowed his novel Rage to go out of print and convinced his own publishers to pull it. The novel, published in the 70s, is about a high school student who shoots his teacher and takes his classmates hostage. When school shootings increased in the 90s and some perpetrators were found to own the book and one actually mentioned it as an influence, King decided to pull it saying "I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.”

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/...-printed-again


Whether you think King was right, the decision seemed to be one of sincere conscience. Certainly, the causal link between artistic product and potential harm seemed as strong as it ever can be in that case, though this area is always a controversial one. The "morally corrupting" influence of popular culture, especially youth culture, has always traditionally been the province of conservatives and the religious — attempts to ban horror comics, rap, metal and punk music, "blasphemous" films, teen fiction that "promotes" homosexuality etc — and I've always instinctively and philosophically been on the side of the artists, as I'm sure many here have. Restricting culture for moral or ideological reasons is something that should always be taken seriously and I see no reason to take a "get over it" approach just because the instinct to censor is coming from a supposedly left ideology and the people mostly pissed off are conservatives.

The Seuss Estate doesn't actually specify what parts of the withdrawn books are "harmful and wrong" which isn't exactly helpful. But I do wonder exactly how the word "harmful" fits as an accurate and justified definition of some of the images. In And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street the most likely candidate is one illustration of a "Chinese man who eats with sticks" (the image's original yellowish skin tone had already been removed and the words "Chinaman" changed to "Chinese man" in 1978).

https://th.bing.com/th/id/OIP.VxgaK3...id=ImgDet&rs=1

To me, he seems to be presented as an entirely friendly, benign figure. Yes, he in stereotypical traditional costume and yes, he is part of a circus-like parade of 'things seen on Mulberry Street' but in the context of Suess-world everything is a circus and everything is rendered as an oddity: birds and beasts, staircases and bridges, toppling piles of plates, men with top hats or bowler hats or turbans or giant moustaches or elongated legs. To a child, the world is a circus and things that are different are interesting. Children's lives are very centred around food — being told what to eat, when to eat, how to eat — and the notion of eating with chopsticks is fascinating to a child who has grown up with a knife and fork. It was to me. I remember being determined to master chopsticks when the McDonnell's first encountered Chinese cuisine. Yes, I realise this means the image "centers whiteness" and yes, it appears quite old-fashioned to modern sensibilities but I question whether presenting cultural difference to a child in a playful way is inherently racist or has anything at all to do with concepts like "harm" or "hate". Of course, one of the ironies of the general complaint that Seuss' world "centers whiteness" is that getting rid of all his books that feature pictures of people from other cultures on the grounds that they are "exoticised" means that the books that remain feature only white people.

The fact that we are talking about children's books rather than adult literature might make things different for some people. But I question the idea that children must necessarily have their literature shorn of any notion that some of it was written in the past, where people did and thought different things. What reasonable parents, including Chinese ones, reading to their pre-schooler and encountering this image, couldn't simply say "y'know, this is quite an old book and in the olden days when Dr Seuss wrote this, people in America and Europe used to think it was funny that Chinese people used chopsticks to eat but now we're much more used to different ideas from all around the world, aren't we?" Remember, the Chinese man isn't presented as a villain. He isn't sinister in any way. He is simply there, smiling, using chopsticks and wearing a pointy hat. Children aren't stupid. When I was growing up in the 70s British comic books were full of national and racial stereotypes: French people with onions round their necks, turbaned Indian snake charmers, smiling Chinese people in pointy hats, Australians with corks around their hats, hairy Scots in kilts, Native Americans in feathered headdresses, English toffs in bowler hats and umbrellas. Even at a young age I knew not to associate any of it with the real world and none of the images inspired suspicion or hatred in me. It was the world as a colourful circus. And by the time I moved out of my predominantly white small town and became friends with some people from other cultural backgrounds I can say with some confidence that these cartoonish images had no influence on how I reacted to them and bore no relation to how I viewed them. I realise this is anecdotal and I'm not saying we should go back to relying on these kind of silly stereotypes in current children's literature but I think there has been an overreaction in current efforts to erase the past entirely and to be so full of fear about the idea of playful depictions of "difference".

I think it's quite a leap to make the causal link between the image in Mulberry Street and a news story about a recent violent attack on an elderly Asian American woman.

McWhorter makes a good case for the images in On Beyond Zebra (which sounds brilliant btw) also being pretty harmless and Walter (the only person who appears to own the book) seems to concur.

Every case has to be taken on its own merits of course. The other Seuss books may be worse. And something like the rewriting of the Oompa Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, discussed in the article below seems more justified.


https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.the...hildrens-books

Their original presentation as an African tribe being shipped across the ocean to Wonka's factory, a fate they happily accept, could justifiably be called "harmful and wrong". It not only seems to make light of a barbaric period of history, it also has the racist implications that African people were better off as slaves and happily accepted their treatment.

Simply presenting an image of a Chinese person in traditional dress using traditional eating implements doesn't seem the same thing to me and doesn't carry the same weight. I struggle to see what is derogatory or harmful about it.

The Guardian article is interesting. It tries to make a reasonable case for why the Seuss "cancelling" is nothing new (and therefore nothing to worry about unless you're a "conservative talking head"). But all the examples it gives are of books being slightly rewritten or updated, not withdrawn completely. I wonder why this compromise wasn't possible with the Seuss books with some appropriately subtle minor changes? Would "A Chinese man doing magic tricks" be acceptable if he were dressed in a more contemporary way? It would be easy enough for a talented artist to redraw one image for future editions, surely. Basically, it does seem disproportionate, and a shame, to banish some of these books entirely from existence, Mulberry Street amongst them -- his first children's book and therefore of some historical literary significance. It seems like a gesture rather than something done to prevent a genuinely perceived potential for "harm".

Finally, given that the Seuss people have concluded that the books do need to be withdrawn, the Guardian article also, in its use of words like "quietly" and "without fanfare" inadvertently highlights another difference between these older examples and the current story. If the books must be withdrawn (rather than updated which seems a reasonable compromise to me) I stick to my original point in my first post of wondering why the big public announcement on Seuss' birthday was necessary. I think there is something in the current climate that seems to require that everything be a performative statement and I don't know if this is the best way to achieve the presumed goals of racial harmony. It seems to only add fuel to the ongoing culture wars which feel terminally divisive and are simultaneously driving us all mad and boring us all to tears.

Last edited by Mark McDonnell; 04-11-2021 at 01:36 AM. Reason: Added more
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