Dr. Seuss

Speaking Out: Cancelling won’t better society

By  Paula Ducepec, Youth Speak News
  • March 17, 2021

During the COVID-19 lockdown, my siblings and I started viewing movies and TV shows that we grew up with and developed a game: we would try and see which jokes, ideologies, portrayals and topics will eventually get cancelled according to today’s standards and practices.

It takes a bit of effort to finally unpack what a simple word or action would mean in our now “realized” minds. I call it realized and not “woke” simply because we just about realized whatever we watched would mean that we have new and different experiences and perspectives than when we were kids, not that we were asleep and unconscious when we watched it for the first time.

Part of this nostalgia trip is re-reading some books, and it’s sad to say some of these books have been caught in the “cancel culture” onslaught. Recently, six Dr. Seuss books have been discontinued and recalled due to supposed racist content in the books. Philip Nel, a professor and expert on racism in children’s literature, told The Guardian, “the decision by the Dr. Seuss Foundation to withdraw six books should be viewed as a ‘product recall’ and not, as many claim, an example of cancel culture.”

Concurrently, Pepe Le Pew from the Looney Tunes franchise has been cut from the Space Jam sequel. New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow opined the amorous skunk “added to rape culture” due to the character’s promiscuous and forward actions.

Racism and rape culture, these are very much topics that need to be tackled, exposed and addressed. But it begs the question: Is getting “cancelled” the appropriate remedy?

It is commendable that we as a society are attuned to errors of the past, but I find censoring, “cancelling” or recalling materials itself to be an error. Just as Joe Rogan said in his podcast episode with comedian Greg Fitzimmons, aptly titled Woke Culture is about Compliance: “They are making everything binary: it’s us and them. It’s 1 and 0. There is no room for nuance; there is no room for the complexity that is the human race.”

The human race is very complex, which makes suppressing an idea almost illogical. Would not hiding such content be more harmful to society? We should expose truth. Hiding the literature would not make the issue disappear. Books on racism, sexism and all the other “isms” should be allowed to be within reach of people, however, to provide proper education.

These are teachable moments. A conversation has opened and it is an appropriate occasion for those who are knowledgeable to educate. Heavy issues such as these should not portray only the palatable perspective; the more obscure and atrocious side must be seen as well so that we may learn to see what is “good.”

In The Guardian piece, it was called a “moral decision” by the Dr. Seuss Enterprise to recall the books. I think it is our moral obligation to expose the truth — the good and the evil. There’s much we can learn and it is our moral obligation to teach the next generation.

Yes, many books would be worthy of getting “cancelled” in today’s landscape. But instead of stashing them away, out of sight and out of mind, I think that we can weaponize these and use them to teach. Since cartoons are very simple, they stand out. We could use these to show racism or sexism, whatever the issue is, what it looks like and its form. We have to use what we already have.

As a society, we easily overlook the complex layers that have led to our contemporary social structure.

Life is not binary. It is too complex for us to hide because it has offended a few.

(Ducepec, 22, is a recent Bachelor of Science graduate from the University of Toronto.)

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