As a humor columnist, there are things that come up that you have to write about whether you want to or not, or else no one around you will let you hear the end of it.
The first is the recent story about Dr. Seuss Enterprises taking six of his books out of production because they contain, quote, “racist and insensitive imagery.”
Now this one came as a complete surprise. Most of us, when we think about Dr. Seuss books, don’t actually think about racism. We think of easy books to read to our kids until we get to the part where he makes up a word.
True, most of his made-up words sound like racial epithets: Sneetches, Fiffer Feffer Feff, Nizzards, Fuddnuddlers, Gerald McBoing Boing, and I can’t be the only Yid who can’t read “The Zax,” without picturing someone I know named Zaks.
But we’re talking about racism specifically. Perhaps things that were not intended to be racist, but that don’t conform to modern sensibilities.
Sure, you might think, “What’s the big deal?” But some Asian parents, for example, are reading this book to their kids, and they say a line like, “I’ll hunt in the mountains of Zomba-ma-Tant, with helpers who all wear their eyes at a slant,” and then there’s an awkward silent moment while everyone in the room gets to process this, before the kid goes, “What?” And no one sees it coming, because it’s not like the book is called, The Cat in the Hat and the Old-Timey Asian Stereotypes!
The point is your kids should not have to learn about racism like this, this early in life. They should learn about racism later in life, through horrible personal experiences. Like everyone else.
And anyway, for any one of you readers who has a problem with this, realize that as Yidden, we’re not strangers to canceling people that are racist, such as the mitzvos not to live in Mitzrayim anymore after that one time, and not to buy German cars.
I feel like most of the people who are protesting this are thinking, “Well, if they ban these books, what’s next?” I want them to ban “Hop on Pop”. Let’s not give the kids any ideas. And why is the Pop fat?
It’s not like all his books are going away. It’s 6, out of 50. The other books are still around – The Cat in the Hat, Fox in Socks… What is this obsession with children’s book characters that wear one item of clothing? The man in the yellow hat… No, not that one.
And most of his books have important lessons for kids:
- Green Eggs and Ham is about how if you want your parents to do something, you should keep pestering them and they’ll eventually give in
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish is about the dangers of drinking fish-tank cleaner
- I Am Not Going to Get up Today is about soif z’man
- Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book is about corona, as is I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today, I think
Also, technically, the books aren’t being banned. It’s just a decision by the publisher to no longer sell them. Honestly, it’s weird that they were still selling a book that was printed in 1937. How many other books from 1937 are still on the market?
Also, had you actually read any of these six books before this? I’ll be honest with you: I hadn’t.
My point is that the government didn’t mandate this. It really sounds like a marketing ploy – we have all these 80-year-old books that no one was reading, and now suddenly everyone’s curious as to why they’re being pulled. The publishers are pulling a book called, If I Ran the Zoo for being racist, and everyone’s wondering, “Um… What is in this zoo?”
And speaking of marketing ploys masquerading as inclusivity, we have the story of Mr. Potato Head.
“What possible inclusivity problems can people be having with Mr. Potato Head?” you’re asking. “He’s already brown.”
Well, they’re taking out the “Mr.” It’s just going to be “Potato Head.”
And of course people are upset about this one, because potatoes should be girls and boys, the way the Ribbono Shel Olam intended.
There is no gender! You’re putting clothes on a potato!
“Yeah, but this one’s a man. Because I put man clothes on it.”
Okay, so then your treadmill’s a man.
But people are like, “What are they going to remove next? Is Manhattan just going to be Hattan? Are manners just going to be ners? And what about manicures? And mannequins? And maniacs?
Don’t be ridiculous. But I definitely would worry about Mr. Clean. Before long, lobbyists will be asking, “What, only men can clean? Women can’t clean?”
I don’t agree with that. I’m inclusive. Women can clean too.
Anyway, according to the senior vice president at Hasbro, Kimberly Boyd, “Kids want to be able to represent their own experiences.”
See, apparently, girls for example weren’t relating. Because let’s say you’re a girl, and you’re attempting to play with Mr. Potato Head, you’re like, “But here’s the problem: I don’t see myself as this Potato Head.” Whereas your brothers are like, “I totally see myself as this Potato Head!”
Because apparently, everyone needs there to be a potato that’s like they are. Really? That’s not why we buy this. You think I want to see myself in this toy? I’m putting two noses in the ear holes. What do you want?
But from a marketing standpoint, it’s genius. They’re going to sell so many toys to people on both sides who think they’re voting with their wallets. Nobody was writing in to complain about Mr. Potato Head. I have to believe in that. I believe people have some kind of brain in their head, or at least a hollow space where they store extra body parts they’re not using. This wasn’t them. This is just a marketing thing, because the truth is that they had a toy that people buy once and that’s it, because it hasn’t really changed in 65 years ever since they decided to sell a plastic potato instead of making kids supply their own potato from home.
But here’s my issue: The term Mr. is a term of respect, like “Mar” in the Gemara. So now we’re just calling him by his last name? Is that what we’re teaching?
“Yeah, we’ve seen this guy without eyebrows. We can drop the formalities.”
Hey, if you want to lost the gender, why not Dr. Potato Head? It’s doctor – of plastic surgery! Plastic; get it? That part was by accident.
To me, “Potato Head” sounds like you took off the respectful title and are just calling him by his last name, which by the way sounds like an insult. Like it’s a euphemism for some race or something. Like, say, Ashkenazim. But even if it isn’t, you know who gets called by their last names? Boys! So what did we change?
And now, on top of all this, PETA is of course trying to jump on the bandwagon too.
So you remember how last year I wrote an article about how PETA was making a whole stink that we shouldn’t use expressions like “Kill two birds with one stone,” because it’s demeaning to animals who know English? Well now they’re saying that you can’t even call someone a type of animal. Because that’s offensive to animals. Like if you call a coward a chicken, chickens will get offended. Even if there are no chickens present. Because that’s not what it’s about.
“No, it’s okay to call him that; there are no chickens around.”
Oh really? Is it okay to say any racial epithets if there’s no one from that race around? You get into a habit of saying it; next thing you know you’re doing it at zoos.
In fact, PETA put out a chart of helpful substitutions:
Instead of chicken, say coward.
Instead of rat, say snitch.
Instead of snake, say jerk.
Instead of pig, say repulsive.
Instead of sloth, say lazy.
And that’s it. They just had five. Talk about lazy. Thanks, PETA. Those are the words I couldn’t think of.
So now people can have conversations like,
- “What are we having for supper tonight?” “Coward. We’re having coward.”
- “I saw a snitch on the subway today.”
- “Before we leave the zoo, can we go see the jerks?”
Okay, so that’s clearly not what they mean. But the timing of this whole thing is definitely a little fishy suspichy.
What PETA has been doing, though, is they’ve been asking the dictionaries to remove the definitions of these words as it pertains to insults. Because usually when I’m trying to insult somebody, I’m like, “One second, let me pull out a dictionary. One second!” At most, it’s only used by the people who just got insulted and want to find out what that meant.
And this is assuming that a dictionary even dictates the language. Like any words that you ever hear people using, it’s because the dictionary thought it up, and then society gets up to date, like, “There’s a new word now. I just read it in the dictionary.” “Oh. Is it nice?” “No, it’s an insult.” That’s not how it works. People start using a word, and eventually the dictionary says, “Uch, I guess we have to add it.” And they definitely don’t take out words we don’t use anymore.
“And what’s next?” everyone asks. Next, Peta will probably get on the Dr. Seuss books. If you can’t have insensitive depictions of animals, then Dr. Seuss is very problematic.