Horton hears a flushing sound

To the tune of “Green Eggs and Ham”

I am Suess/No excuse/I am Suess

Do you like/Yellow Japs and Blacks?/I do not like them

I am Suess/I have no excuse

Would you like them/Here or there?

I would not like/Them anywhere

I am Suess/No excuse/I am Suess

In my day/I was a racist

Maybe not today/But someday

I am Suess/No excuse/Racist Suess

Yes, to our surprise, shock and embarrassment, one of our childhood heroes, Dr. Suess (in reality, Theodor Seuss Geisel) turns out to have a dark past, one that has caught up with him. Kind of like Horton hears a flushing sound.

The six titles to be dropped

And, perhaps to your surprise, Your Favorite Columnist, who despises Political Correctness, condemns Cancel Culture and fights for unfettered free speech, finds the critics are right — up to a point. 

There are six Dr. Seuss titles, among some 60 books, that were found to be offensive. (Geisel also wrote under the names Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone. No doubt the harriers are tearing through those volumes.)

The six titles — which will doubtlessly increase in value as they are suppressed — are “If I Ran the Zoo,” “McElligot’s Pool,” “On Beyond Zebra,” “Scrambled Eggs Super!,” “The Cat’s Quizzer” and my childhood favorite, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” offensive for the image of an Asian person with a queue, in a conical hat, holding chopsticks, eating from a bowl. Another troublesome depiction was of very dark Africans with exaggerated lips wearing grass skirts.

Clearly, he should have stuck to animals, like cats in hats.

Within hours of the controversy exploding, AP reported 10 of the 20 books on Amazon’s best-seller list were — you guessed it — Dr. Seuss.

The so-called slights in the six books are indeed slight.

But that is not true for some of Geisel’s earlier works, which are painful. He did some advertising work and cartoons for a humor magazine that are pretty awful.

And here we have to separate the author of the children’s book from the earlier artist. 

Here is an example of his vile, earlier work.

It’s hard to excuse this

So — who knew? Not many. Not Michelle Obama, who as First Lady read from Dr. Seuss on National Read Across America Day, celebrated on March 2 — Geisel’s birthday.

This week, when President Biden announced the day, he gutlessly omitted mention of Seuss/Geisel, making the illustrator a nonperson.

And that’s where we draw the line: You condemn the bad things he did earlier, but still celebrate his later achievements, which included “The Sneetches,” that promoted racial equality.

Removing the six titles was done by Dr. Suess Enterprises, the company that controls the late author’s works. (Geisel died in 1991.) The company acts in the name of the author and my guess is that Geisel, a liberal his whole life, would not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Times and attitudes change.

You must judge Seuss in his time, and in his totality, and that’s true for Christopher Columbus, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Kate Smith.

So remove the six offending titles, but celebrate the rest. Don’t pretend Dr. Seuss never existed.

Because, while imperfect, he did. 

23 thoughts on “Horton hears a flushing sound”

    As you know. I would never make the cut for “purity” ! As I said often enough. Where I was raised in the ’50s& ’60s, we were not racist . Didn’t know what that word was.
    Fast forward. My wife had a collection of the ORIGINAL “tales of Uncle Rimus”. There is absolutely no chance that those stories would have been published in the ’60s, never mind today.
    Then , the biggest and oldest offender of all. The BIBLE ! But that has already been banned in various locations.
    Next will be our U.S. Constitution.

    1. I had the Uncle Remus and the Song of the South album as a kid.
      Today, no way, and probably correct. Someone could do an updated version. I mean, if we can have a Black Wizard of Oz, why not?

      1. Yes, the Wizard in “The Wiz” is Black, but so are all of the major characters.
        The 1925 film version of “The Wizard of Oz” is much more problematic.
        Dorothy is 18 and looks it. (Judy Garland was 17 and tried hard to look 12).
        The Tin Man in the 1925 version is a villain (despite being played by Oliver Hardy.
        Yes, THAT Oliver Hardy).
        And then, there is the Cowardly Lion. In the1925 film,, the actor is a cowardly Black man
        who puts on a lion costume. Every possible stereotype is here. If sound technology for film had existed at the time, I could imagine a minstrel show number for him.
        1925’s Cowardly Lion was an actor–a man– named Spencer Bell. In the “Oz” film,
        he is billed as “G. Howe Black”. I’m wincing. I hope you are as well.

  2. I invite any woke to read the book “the Lorax” and tell me Geisel wasn’t capable of changing with the times.

  3. Haven’t read the Lorax, but will now.

    Dr. Seuss will always be a favorite, but thank you, Stu for sharing the back story on this one. Guess he wasn’t perfect, but I like Bob’s assessment that his opinions changed with the times!

  4. Didn’t the Three Stooges do blackface and used characters of color for laughs??

    They are still on the air, albeit reruns.

    1. Maybe not those episodes. Movies still contain blackface scenes… such as Yankee Doodle Dandy (story of George M. Cohan) and George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue has Al Jolson singing Swanee in blackface.

  5. I never had the experience of reading the books in question so I really would not be fully informed to make the cuts. However on a wider scale if the power to remove, destroy or interpret continues to widen from corporate board to librarian then the learning curve of tomorrow’s youth could be negatively affected. Should not students have a taste of or understanding just what period books such as those removed had on our culture and how we advanced as a society? Or is it better to erase anything from the past that offends those in charge today for those who seek an education without limits in the future?

      1. Quite right, Stu. After all, it was Winston Churchill who wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

  6. I agree with you on this topic, Stu. And thanks for your in depth research into the matter. So often we have impulsive reactions to these events with no examination. Since this news a few days ago I thought to myself, a Jewish person, how I would feel if Dr. Seuss (or anyone else) portrayed Jews with exceptionally large noses.

  7. Hello Mr. Bykofsky,

    Another excellent article. Like others you have written, I am trying to imagine your former employer running a piece like this.

    What is troubling to me is the lack of a standard coupled with the selective enforcement of past transgressions. For example, why did Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Tina Fey receive free passes for their more recent renditions of Al Jolson’s act while others in Hollywood received the death penalty for other similar activities? As it relates to current events, it appears that Chris Harrison is on his way toward absolution & I predict he will be resuming his duties shortly. Do these lovable, affable (and money making) stars know something their scorned counterparts don’t?

    And how come we can’t arrive at a single standard for the usage of the N-word? It is absolutely not okay for you and I to say it- as well it should. But it is plenty okay if used in certain contexts. As such, the enforcement is selective (and possibly arbitrary).

    Maybe it’s a good thing the MSM is stirring up conflict in the Middle East after four years of silence. It might allow us to take a break from this subject and allow us to reflect a bit.

    As always, thank you for your excellent work.

  8. I don’t think it’s about Seuss, who I never read. It’s about ‘I know what’s best and you better…… ‘ I recall the expression, ‘You don’t know anything,” especially after, ‘You think you know everthing, don’t you?’  Two kids arguing.  The accuser knew less. Most of us grew up, away from petty arguments, unlike the ‘woke’ ( the left) of today. They know everything and are intent that we fall in line.

  9. I suspect every one of us, at one time or another, said or did something that we, in hindsight, would be ashamed of. A famous man (who was killed for his outrageous actions and statements) once said, “Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone.” That TRUTH still holds today…for every one of us.

  10. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    We appreciate your good efforts at being judicious. Having never read Dr. Seuss, I have no prior inclination to defend or criticize his books-but chiefly the sort of evidence you present in your column. I did hear the story reported yesterday or so.

    In a sense, of course, the publishers of the books are perfectly entitled to re-print or withhold them. If they feel uncomfortable with some of the books and decide to withhold them, then that’s all to the good. Its an exercise of conscience. But why is this a national news item? Why did they announce or publicize the point. Why not simply and quietly proceed with their plans?

    I suppose that no one at all likes to be publicly stereotyped. That pretty much goes without saying. But on the other hand, the complaints about this sort of thing have reached rather startling and divisive levels–to the point of inhibiting public and academic debate and discussion; and in accordance with the first amendment, at least, we would rather suffer some insult on occasion than shut up our opponents or even our enemies. Not so, elsewhere in the world, of course. But is there any good reason for this difference? Something justifying, say, “land of the free and home of the brave”?

    As an act of private conscience, we can applaud the publisher’s decision. But we are, unfortunately, left to wonder why all the hoopla? (“Hoopla”: excitement surrounding an event or situation, especially when considered to be unnecessary fuss.) Are we perhaps waiting for the other shoe to fall? Who will the publishers cut next–for the sake of a byline or two? Or, in the expectation of popular attention and controversy to run up attention and sales?

    Are we seeing opening rounds of a commercial attack on the first amendment? Consider our many controversial authors, starting, say, with Salman Rushdie? Do you sense a rush for publicly broadcast conformity among the various bandwagon riders?

    H.G. Callaway

    1. I wrote about this one because it is different from the usual Puritans or PCers trying to ban a book. It’s as if I decided to kill one of my earlier columns because I no longer liked it, for some reason.

  11. Right off the net word for word::

    It’s about to be even harder to find one of the six Dr. Seuss books the writer’s estate has pulled from publication. Ebay says it will not allow the resale of the books on its marketplace. The online auction site is delisting attempts to sell the books, according to The Wall Street Journal.
    ….5 hours ago

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