“It was mildly creepy to hear that the custodians of Theodor Geisel’s estate, Dr. Seuss Enterprises, consulted with a ‘panel of experts’ and decided to cease publishing six Seuss titles because they ‘portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.’ But it was much creepier that so few people notionally in the free-expression business, so few liberal journalists and critics, seemed troubled by the move.”
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, one of the paper’s three token conservatives (or perhaps “non-knee-jerk Democrats” is more accurate), in his column, “Do Liberals Care if Books Disappear?”
The question is a rhetorical one. Douthat knows the answer, and so do regular Ethics Alarms readers: “Only if the books that disappear are those they agree with.” Though the column focuses on the Dr. Seuss metaphorical book-burning, Douthat properly interprets what it signifies. Of course, he is appropriately late to the party, for it was obvious well before “If I Ran the Zoo” was under attack that the totalitarian-tending Democrats and their progressive supporters and allies were in favor of “good” censorship. Never mind—Americans rushed to their mailboxes to vote an anti-free speech regime into power anyway.
Better late than never for Ross, I guess. Here are some highlights (but read his whole piece):
—“Plus, we were told, it’s only six books. And is Seuss so great anyway? “The vast, vast majority of his books, the ones without racist images or references,” wrote Philip Bump of the Washington Post, “will still be sold.” And if “Dr. Seuss’s profile wanes a bit … to whom is harm being done?” In The Guardian, Lili Wilkinson noted dismissively that “the six books in question were far from being bestsellers,” while Bump’s colleague, the usually perspicacious critic Alyssa Rosenberg, took the cancellation as an occasion to complain about “the tiresome lack of imagination” of people who obsess over Seuss but not, say, Peter Spier. Now I love Peter Spier, but this is still a censor’s argument. Upset that you can’t get a copy of Ulysses? You can still read Dubliners, which is better anyway. Also, plenty of other Irish authors out there.“
Rationalizations #8, 22, and 33!
—“In fact the Seuss cancellations illustrate exactly the problems with censoriousness that liberals normally invoke. First, you have a nonspecific justification attributed to unnamed “experts” and “educators” that sweeps up a range of books and illustrations…Second, the vagueness of the new standard offers openings for further disappearances. The anti-racist left is already ready with a critique of Seuss’s larger oeuvre, taking on everything from the alleged minstrel-show element in “The Cat in the Hat” to the complacent colorblindness of “The Sneetches.”
This really is a slippery slope, and the Left likes it slippery.
––“The Seuss cancellations also illustrate how a disappearance can happen without a legal “ban” being literally imposed. One day, the Seuss estate decides to self-censor; the next, that decision becomes the justification for eBay to delist used copies of the books. In a cultural landscape dominated by a few big companies with politically uniform management, you don’t need state censorship for books to swiftly vanish.”
—“What does this say about the condition of liberalism? Something not so great, I think. I don’t expect “The Cat in the Hat” to be unpublished or my own tracts to swiftly vanish. But it was a good thing when liberalism, as a dominant cultural force in a diverse society, included a strong tendency to police even itself for censoriousness — the ACLU tendency, the don’t-ban-Twain tendency, the free-speech piety of the high school English teacher.”
Sadly, Douthat here sinks to the predictable level of equivocation required of the conservative Patty Hearsts under New York Times control. “Not so great?” You’re talking about the erosion of freedom of speech and expression in the United States of America, and your verdict is “Not so great”?