Cancel Culture

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

March 3, 2021

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?

Back to top button