Facebook posts are really funny
They sometimes make your brain feel gummy
But worry not! For provide, we can,
A fact check to help you understand!
Okay, maybe we’re not so great at making rhymes like Dr. Seuss, aka Theodor Seuss Geisel, could create. But we can help you decipher some of the memes on social media that you may have seen lately.
The Dr. Seuss “canceled books” controversy
A lot of commentary regarding “cancel culture” — the idea that certain segments of pop culture with long histories are being replaced or removed entirely, due to a renewed examination of their possibly being insensitive to marginalized groups of people — has been taking place online recently. Whether it’s Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben being removed from grocery shelves, or Mr. Potato Head’s packaging losing the “Mr.” part, these changes have caused quite a stir, usually on the right-wing side of things, being seen as unnecessary and an overreach. Others, however, are welcoming the changes, while a good segment of the population also just doesn’t care.
In the grand scheme of things, these changes don’t actually cause real harm. But they do, in some people’s minds, rectify (at least a small bit) wrongs that have been made in the past.
The vast majority of times, these types of changes come about from the companies themselves. But with the changes involving Dr. Seuss made this week, an interesting series of memes and claims have come about: some are blaming the current president, Joe Biden, for what’s happened.
Let’s dig in, and we promise you: no more silly rhymes.
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The claim: Joe Biden’s to blame!
The memes started up after it was announced this week that six books authored by Seuss would no longer be produced. Those six books included the following:
- “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street”
- “If I Ran the Zoo”
- “McElligot’s Pool”
- “On Beyond Zebra!”
- “Scrambled Eggs Super!”
- “The Cat’s Quizzer”
Immediate backlash came about when the announcement was made, with many online claiming that their childhood favorites should not get this sort of treatment.
Who knew Joe Biden was such a great book seller. pic.twitter.com/7SNmUOQGaB
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) March 3, 2021
To be clear: it is only these books that are seeing their productions being ended. Dozens of other Dr. Seuss books, including classics like “The Cat in the Hat,” “The Lorax,” “Horton Hears a Who,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and others will not cease their productions.
However, it wasn’t long before memes began popping up on social media, with one of the most prominent of them being about Biden.
“Trump took down ISIS. Biden took down Dr. Suess [sic] and Mr. Potato Head.”
The claim was repeated by former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who stated it on a far-right internet show called “Real America’s Voice.”
“Donald Trump, he came into office and he took down ISIS, Joe Biden comes into office, and he launches a war against Dr. Seuss,” Greitens, who resigned from his post in 2018 following a scandal involving him taking nude photographs of a woman without her consent, said.
We won’t delve too deeply into whether Trump “took down ISIS” or not, but here’s a quick run-down of that part of the meme:
Most experts believe that he deserves some of the credit for limiting their influence in the Middle East, but that also, 1) he was largely following a plan already began by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, and 2) that ISIS isn’t entirely eliminated. By some estimates, at least half, and possibly more, of the credit belongs to Obama, not Trump.
That’s all we’ll say about that for now, since we’re not fact checking that part of the claim — we’re looking at the other half, involving the current president.
Did Biden have anything to do with the “canceling” of Dr. Seuss’s six books?
Who made the decision to end production?
The short answer: no, Biden didn’t play a role in this matter.
Here’s the deeper explanation…
Geisel passed away in 1991. Presently, the decision over what books to print and other matters regarding his estate is run by a company called Dr. Seuss Enterprises. The announcement of the decision to end production of those six books came about this week, coinciding with Seuss’s birthday.
Why did the company make this decision? After consulting with educators and reviewing its catalog in total, the company determined those six books specifically contained images of people who are portrayed “in ways that are hurtful and wrong.”
This was a decision by the company, not by any government body to censor Dr. Seuss, and certainly not by Joe Biden.
And, in truth? There are some good reasons why this might have been the right decision to make.
One of the books seeing its production ended depicts a white man using a whip on a person of color. Another book shows African characters in a jungle drawn to look like monkeys. And yet another of the books shows a boy holding a gun while standing on the heads of three Asian men.
To put it bluntly, these are not the friendly images we think of when we imagine Dr. Seuss’s legacy.
Seuss and racism
Geisel has long-had a history of drawing racist imagery in the past. He depicted Jews in negative ways in the early half of the 20th century. A supporter of Japanese-American internment camps, he also drew propaganda during World War II that showed Japanese people in stereotypical ways as well.
Seuss later recognized these problems in his own lifetime, and even expressed remorse about how he had drawn people. Many believe that his book, “Horton Hears a Who,” was meant to be a direct apology to the people of Japan and any Japanese-Americans he may have offended.
“It was written soon after the war, and after a visit to Japan. He doesn’t come out and explicitly say he’s recanting his earlier views but it’s a very different take,” historian Richard Minear has said.
Whether you support the changes that Dr. Seuss Enterprises have made or not, the decision to stop publishing six of Seuss’s books was a choice made out of compassion for others. At the very least, we should all recognize that, and understand that it wasn’t a decision out of malice, or of trying to “cancel” Dr. Seuss.
It was also a choice that was made by the company itself, not by anyone in government. Memes that suggest President Joe Biden played a role in the decision to cease production of these six titles are absolutely and wildly inaccurate.
While Biden may be on the “side” of taking a more sensitive approach to our cultural history, he has not forced any company — be it Dr. Seuss, Potato Head, or anyone else — to change their names.