Dr. Seuss! Mr. Potato Head! Why the Culture Wars Have Never Been Dumber

No one is trying to cancel Green Eggs & Ham. No one is trying to cancel Dr. Seuss. If either of those things were happening, that would certainly be a big story, bolstering the narrative being pushed by those obsessed with illiberalism on the left. Instead, Dr. Seuss Enterprises is updating its standards in a way that has long precedent. The estate of the Belgian cartoonist Hergé, for example, did the same thing with some of his works, most notably the infamous Tintin in the Congo. (And if that’s your thing, you can still buy it online!)

What principle is at stake here? It is still not clear. Yascha Mounk conjured a good-faith argument out of thin air, claiming that there was an actual furor driven by people “upset that some books of one of America’s most beloved authors will no longer be published” and that these fans were “genuinely upset” by this news. But again, these are books selling in the hundreds of copies, competing with other, more popular Dr. Seuss titles that litter every child’s bedroom in this country. If people were outraged, it was based on the suggestion that all of Dr. Seuss’s works were being pulled from circulation.

People like Mounk want to elevate this controversy to Fahrenheit 451 levels, making it a question of intellectual freedom and censorship. But the actual argument, as far as I can tell, boils down to this: that racist caricatures of nonwhite people are not a sufficient justification for ceasing to produce new copies of a book. 

This is all reminiscent of another very dumb recent controversy. Last week, the right erupted over news that Mr. Potato Head would now be simply a gender-neutral Potato Head—yet another example, the usual suspects shouted, of the left imposing its values on everyone else. Never mind that Mr. Potato Head is gender neutral by design—you can make it look however you want! Never mind that the allegation also wasn’t true—Hasbro was still making Mr. and Mrs. Potato Heads, it had just changed the name of the umbrella brand. And never mind that, in the end, it’s a toy potato. 

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