We can’t say with any degree of certainty whether Theodor Geisel would appreciate all the controversy that’s been swirling about his work recently. But we think he probably would.
Throughout his career, he never shied away from politics or controversy, and, more than anyone else, he understood that his works were always a matter of interpretation and that people often saw in them what they wanted to see.
Don’t forget, it was Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, who, in 1974, just a few days before President Richard Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal, sent columnist Art Buchwald a copy of his book Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now! — with ‘Marvin K. Mooney’ crossed out and replaced with ‘Richard M. Nixon.’ Buchwald asked if Geisel if he could reprint it, and despite warnings from his publisher that this was probably not a good idea, Geisel gave his blessing to do so.
And that’s just one example of how the author eschewed the ‘play it safe’ and ‘let’s be careful not to offend anyone’ theory of the universe, one that has pretty much taken over life as we know it in 2017, where political correctness — or the endless pursuit of it — is the order of the day.
Which brings us to the recent controversy about Seuss and his work. First, a librarian in Cambridge refused to accept Dr. Seuss books given to her by the current First Lady, claiming that the author was a “tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature” and that his illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.”
Next, three children’s authors said they would boycott a festival at the recently opened Seuss museum in the Quadrangle because of an image of a Chinese man on a mural at the museum, complete with chopsticks, one they said was a “jarring racial stereotype.”
In response, the museum’s leaders have said they will replace the mural with “a new image that reflects the wonderful characters and messages from Dr. Seuss’ later works.”
That decision didn’t sit well at all with Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, who called on the museum to consider leaving the offending mural in place. Meanwhile, restaurateur and developer Andy Yee, the son of Chinese immigrants, took offense at the proposed removal and, along with business partner Peter Picknelly, offered to buy the mural to display elsewhere.
“Where do we draw the line?” the mayor asked in his statement. “This is political correctness at its worst, and this is what is wrong with this country?”
As we said at the top, Theodor Geisel probably would have liked all this — and we’re just going to guess that he would be right there with the mayor on this one, saying, in essence, ‘my work is my work; interpret it how you will, and discuss it as you will.’
But we’re just speculating.
Actually, what Ted Geisel would do is not the issue here. It’s what the museum should do in this matter, and this is not an easy question to answer.
The new facility in the Quadrangle is called the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum. His world was different from this one, and his world (and his works) certainly included a number of stereotypical images, many of which would be considered harmful to those who see them.
Does the museum present this world unvarnished, or does it take pains — as it looks like it will — to only show the parts of this world that probably (that’s probably) won’t offend anyone?
While we completely understand why the museum would take out the mural in question — this image may indeed be offensive to some Asians (if not Yee), and there are plenty of ‘safer’ images, for lack of a better term — this is a very slippery slope to start down, or continue down, because we started down it a long time ago.
If museums start removing art (and that’s what this is) that offends someone, anyone, then soon we’ll be looking at blank walls. It’s the same with books, statues, monuments, and buildings named after people.
Let the discussion continue. Theodor Geisel would have liked it, and he probably would have joined right in.