The Journal of Applied Impossibility
I find myself writing about something current and "topical" and then sitting on it for months or years until no one cares except me, but I'm still grumpy about it (I started on this piece March 4th of 2021). I think that if more people did this, the social fabric would be in a better place. At any rate, there is a bruhaha about the most celebrated children's author.* This is my hot take (freshness not guaranteed by date of publication).
Doctor Seuss is being "cancelled" -- that is, six of his books will no longer be published. In the twenty first century, this means that no one will ever be able to read them ever again!† Witness: Tucker's assessment of the situation. As usual, my take is boring. Things are both better and worse than they seem. Better because, Sneetches does not appear on the chopping block (but the day is young). Worse because what is actually being cancelled is not Dr. Seuss but forgiveness.
Now (February, 2022) I just had a strange experience. I dreamt that I went on facebook the other day and it was folks on the Left who were against censorship. Strange. There was a comic about a mouse was being banned in a school library in Tennessee. I lived there long enough to have a sense of being 'from Tennessee' so I pay attention to it sometimes.
Back to Dr. Seuss, however. Some of his illustrations were what used to be called 'in bad taste' and are now regarded as unspeakable hate that has no place in the world and must be stamped out no matter the cost. This includes caricatures of non-white-western people (some of which were in bad taste). He drew anti-Japanese propaganda during World War II. He later regretted it, and apologized, thus settling the controversy once and for all.
ONCE AND FOR ALL!
Except that was not enough. And it will never be enough. I remain confused every day that the people who want to make it mandatory that school children learn about the awfulness of America's history think that those same school children should be protected from Dr. Seuss's works (or whatever the cancel-target du jour is). It is superimportant to learn that America put Japanese immigrants and their descendants into internment camps. It is less important to learn about the Ni-'ihau Incident, which precipitated that decision. For the record, I don't think that it excuses internment camps (I don't know what such an excuse could look like), but it does help me understand them. And if we are actually interested in improving our future behavior, understanding it is important, and excusing it is not.
Because it's important, there's a point I want to harp on. One of the rifts around which the culture wars are splitting us is our belief about passing judgment on history. And the judgment comes, in part, in the form of the teaching -- especially the question of what is taught (and thereby emphasized), and how it is taught (and thereby what comes to be seen as justified). Conservatives I speak to are concerned that schools, who once upon a time saw their duty as including teaching students to love their country, are actively teaching students to despise America. This is troubling, and if we were to imagine that the sacred cow being topple were different, the teams would reverse themselves, and the complaints would be obvious. If I were to spend a week talking about atrocities Japan committed during the War, I am confident that I would be accused of fomenting 'Asian Hate™.' (Which would be super ironic because the victims of some of the worst parts were themselves Asians). That is, teaching anything is fraught. On one hand, ignoring history, denying it, sweeping it under the rug, are not good ideas. On the other hand, teaching something with the silent disdain of so-called objectivity, we are running the risk of stoking resentment, rather than alleviating it.
But worse would be to teach the bad and only the bad: never to allow the people who have made mistakes acknowledge them and move on.
When my older son was much younger, he loved The Grinch. I don't just mean the movie, (though he would dress up and act out scenes from it). I don't just mean the book (though he would have us read it through the month of March). I mean that he loved the character of the Grinch. When this first started, I asked if he realized that the Grinch was the bad guy. He (then age four) corrected me. "No, dad. He's good in the end. He gives all the presents back to everyone." My son helped me to appreciate stories of redemption.
Let's hold to these stories, because they are precious. Now go forth, and proclaim the possibility of redemption!
* For definitions of "is" that include the moment I began to write this, though not necessarily the moment at which I hit "publish." Let the record show: I began writing this March 4th, 2021. I became aware of what I will call Geiselgate yesterday.
† This is a joke about the availability of all human knowledge online, coupled with the Streisand effect, which means that I will predict that more people than ever will be reading Dr. Seuss. That said, I think that the shift from a fundamentally physical manifestation of texts to a fundamentally digital one carries risks of erasure more than ever, but the consolation is that resisting attempts at erasure is also easier than ever.
‡ I'm sure I'll use the diesis here eventually.
I write about all sorts of things. This is one of the places where I do it.