Cancel Culture

Does This Uproar Over Dr. Seuss Scare You? It Should, and Here’s Why

If the uproar over Dr. Seuss’ books doesn’t scare you, it should. Here’s why:

This whole mess is just a hi-tech book-burn­ing. Yes, a la Nazi Ger­many. Yes, I went there.

Don’t believe me? Bear with me a sec: It wasn’t just that a school dis­trict want­ed to ban the books. Yes­ter­day was Ted Geisel’s birth­day. It was also the first day of Read Across Amer­i­ca, a school read­ing pro­gram delib­er­ate­ly sched­uled on Dr. Seuss’ birth­day to encour­age kids to read.

This year the foun­da­tion that man­ages Dr. Seuss’ estate and all his books “cel­e­brat­ed” Dr. Seuss’ birth­day by announc­ing they would no longer print the six offend­ing books. And right now copies of the books are sell­ing for thou­sands on eBay.

So what? They’re not burn­ing any­thing.

There’s more to it than that:

Naughty naughty!

Sev­er­al years ago, iTunes and the band U2 arranged to release their lat­est album on iTunes for free.

But they didn’t just let peo­ple down­load it for free: Apple accessed every sin­gle iTunes account in the world and down­loaded the album to every desk­top, lap­top, iPod, iPad and iPhone on the plan­et.

Apple prod­uct users were angry. Not just angry: Livid. FURIOUS. It was one of the worst PR dis­as­ters Apple ever had.

A few years ear­li­er, Ama­zon dis­cov­ered one of their sell­ers was sell­ing two books with­out per­mis­sion. They were two of George Orwell’s books, believe it or not, and his estate want­ed Ama­zon to do some­thing.

Talk about irony!

So Ama­zon pushed a but­ton, and every dig­i­tal copy of 1984 and Ani­mal Farm van­ished. Just like Apple, Ama­zon accessed every desk­top, lap­top, phone, or tablet with the book, along with every Kin­dle and Nook in the world, and poof: The book was gone.

I saw social media posts and talk­ing heads in both cas­es say­ing “You’re com­plain­ing that they gave you a free album? Get over it” or “So what? It was a free down­load.”

If you’re think­ing the same thing you still don’t get it.

The Inter­net and dig­i­tized con­tent have trans­formed the world, for bet­ter or worse: From Wik­ileaks to pub­lish­ing, music, books, video: You want to read an obscure book or lis­ten to a hard-to-find album? You can, and in min­utes.

But that flow of infor­ma­tion goes both ways.

If you own an Apple device and you’ve bought dig­i­tal movies, albums or books, have you ever noticed how the cov­er art sud­den­ly changes every once in a while?

Doesn’t that wor­ry you?

I don’t know how many dig­i­tal copies of Dr. Seuss’s books there are. Prob­a­bly there are a lot more phys­i­cal copies.

Nev­er­the­less, what if Dr. Seuss’s estate foun­da­tion tells Apple, Ama­zon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads and so on to get rid of all dig­i­tized copies?

Let’s say an activist group decides Lynyrd Skynyrd’s music is intol­er­a­ble because they have pic­tures of the Con­fed­er­ate flag here and there and they sing about South­ern cul­ture? They don’t pro­mote racism (quite the oppo­site, in fact—they called out racist Alaba­ma Gov. George Wal­lace in “Sweet Home Alaba­ma,” for instance).

Nev­er­the­less, what if can­cel cul­ture gets some trac­tion on elim­i­nat­ing Lynyrd Skynyrd and hun­dreds of mil­lions of copies of their albums go poof?

What if can­cel cul­ture thinks Nazism is so bad it should just be wiped from his­to­ry? Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Mein Kampf; videos of Hitler’s speech­es; doc­u­men­taries about the Holocaust—poof.

Did you know Ama­zon won’t let any book­sellers dis­trib­ute Mein Kampf, with just a cou­ple of ven­dors who have per­mis­sion to sell it for aca­d­e­m­ic pur­pos­es?

I’m not heart­bro­ken over that; they aren’t try­ing to dis­ap­pear the book entire­ly. But they could take a hell of a stab at it if they want­ed. If you think no one with the means to do so could pos­si­bly want to start destroy­ing lit­er­a­ture just because they don’t like it, you’re real­ly not pay­ing atten­tion. If even Dr. Seuss can be deemed so scary they’ve decid­ed not to let any­one read his books any­more?

Or flip the issue ide­o­log­i­cal­ly: What if the US descends info a theoc­ra­cy? What if some King James ver­sion purists decide all oth­er Bible ver­sions got­ta go? Poof—along with the Koran, the Bha­gavad Gita, the Torah. I’m not Mus­lim or Jew­ish, but that does­n’t mean some­one else gets to tell me what I can read.

If you think I’m cry­ing wolf, ask your­self this: How many phys­i­cal copies of your favorite albums, books, or movies to you have? How many paper prints of all your pho­tos do you have?

We’ve all engaged in dig­i­tiz­ing our per­son­al libraries to one extent or anoth­er. I have about 45,000 songs, 300 some-odd movies and about 1,500 books in my per­son­al library. And I have CDs, DVDs, LPs and hard copies of some of it—mostly with books. I think I have about 200 dig­i­tal books and hard copies of the rest.

Pho­tos as well: I have about 29,000 dig­i­tal pho­tos, but only maybe 500 print­ed pho­tos.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve sud­den­ly got­ten a lot more inter­est­ed in col­lect­ing phys­i­cal pho­tos, music, movies and music. And I already have all my dig­i­tal con­tent stored local­ly and inac­ces­si­ble (although I’m going to do some research and make sure no one can get at it–I was blind­sided by the U2 album release along with every­one else).

Do you want Ama­zon, Apple, and/or Google decid­ing what you can and can’t read, watch, or lis­ten to? Much less the gov­ern­ment?

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