Please Read or Re-Read Fahrenheit 451 (please)

Herb’s Blog, Herbdate 22308 – 792:

Here’s the haps:

Sixteen years ago I wrote a post called, “Which Books Should Be Banned?” In that post I described the processes that should be undertaken if a particular book is considered offensive. Now, I read where Dr. Seuss’s publishing company, which is owned and operated by his family, has decided to discontinue publishing six of his books. They apparently went to great lengths to find out what material was offensive in his books. I owned and have read two of the books to my kids over the years. It never came into my mind that there was anything offensive in them. It is probably a smart business decision on their part, however, to take a proactive approach to what could become a volatile situation. The Washington Football team could have done the same thing and been ahead of the game.

But books and sports teams are very different and I wonder if this is the best approach, however, to deal with the offensive images in these books. Couldn’t we use the pictures as talking/teaching points? “Do you think all Asian people look like this? Do you think all African people look like that?” You can find the same images in National Geographic. Was Seuss a racist? I don’t think so or if he was he had grown up and learned better by the time he wrote The Sneetches. While it’s true that he did do a number of cartoon advertisements that contained racial stereotypes, that wasn’t all that he did.

I guess that this was something that was going to come up eventually so who better to deal with it than the family? A couple of articles I found interesting about the man, Theodor Geisel were, DR. SEUSS USE OF RACIST IMAGES and Dr. Seuss’ great-nephew calls museum mural removal ‘extreme,’ criticism ‘a lot of hot air over nothing’.


    • Except it isn’t just one group or organization. I think that’s why I think of Bradbury’s book so much. His take seemed to be that all kinds of little organizations or groups would get offended by something.

  1. I totally agree with you, books should never be banned no matter what’s in them, people should just be educated about the context and the social history behind them. Fahrenheit 451 should be a mandatory read.

  2. Utterly my favourite book. Have read it many times since I was introduced to it at school – sometimes several times a year. Remains relevant and powerful after all this time. Definitely a must read. May I suggest a double-header with ‘Fahrenheit’ and Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ – I think pretty much every opinion I have ever held was forged in these two books…

  3. The PAST was racist. It just was: sexist, homophobic, religiously intolerant etc etc etc. We can’t alter it and we really should not rub it out. As you suggest, Herb, the possibility of discussing ‘Why this would not be acceptable today’ is a great way through. Be sure, in a hundred years time we will all be looked on with disgust for our views…

  4. Here the issue: Dr. Seuss books have been published for a long time, and you ain’t burning all of them. I read yesterday that ebay has now banned the sale of these book (you can still buy Mein Kampf though) but before they banned them, there were copies of “To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street” going for upwards of $600.

    When you and me read these book it didn’t even register that those images could be considered racist. Now it’s an issue, and families will be reading these books to their kids, pointing out the images and saying “look at that picture, they tried to ban it because it was racist Johnny, but it’s ok. We’re not offended by stupid stuff like this.” I 100% guarantee you that this will happen.

    To some extent, the world is formed by how it is perceived. If the world is perceived as a racist hellhole, and if everything revolves around the perceived fact that it is a racist hellhole it will become a racist hellhole.

    Be careful what you wish for.

  5. I think it’s absolutely wrong to acquiesce to a mob, regardless of their configuration. A mob demands things. Protests, particularly peaceful ones, are a different matter entirely. They seek ideals. Mobs demand satisfaction. They’ll never actually find it, because they’ll just move on to another indignation, and that’s just part of the reason they should always be ignored.

    In American culture, challenging books, regardless of the reason, means that you’re challenging the basic tenets of our society. Everyone has their definition of what the American ideal is, and that’s kind of the whole point. It’s glorious chaos. Sometimes hard to bask in, surely, but will forever be worth fighting for. To begin applying rigid expectations to this culture is to begin its destruction. And yeah, I want no part of that.

  6. We are each unique – what is offensive to one isn’t offensive to another. My son-in-law is Japanese. He jokes that he married into a family of eggs – yellow on the inside (because we love Japanese food) and white on the outside. Yellow isn’t an ethnic slur to him.

  7. These things probably just come in waves. In Germany they are targeting food at the moment. For example, they are rebranding Zigeunersoße (Gypsy Sauce), a tomato sauce with paprika, and it is really causing big discussions. Some Roma and Sinti find that really degrading, others welcome the change. The problem is really not the name but what is going on in people’s heads. The passionate rasists won’t change a view just because they put a different label on the packaging… It’s probably about time that these issues get a bit more awareness in our societies.

    • “The passionate rasists won’t change a view just because they put a different label on the packaging”…I agree.

  8. The foundation of “political correctness” is intolerance which is profoundly ironic, it seems to me. I think one of the greatest consequences of all of this is that people are encouraged to feel like victims and resilience is undermined. Now, if something upsets someone, that “something” needs to be eliminated as opposed to that “someone” needs to suck it up!

I like comments and try to respond to them all if I can:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.