Let’s get one thing straight — I don’t like Facebook.
I think it’s clunky. I think it’s boring. I think it’s a cesspool of overbaked propaganda and under-monitored misinformation.
But I visit it occasionally to like my mom’s posts. The last time this happened, I found myself face to face with the weirdest trend.
“I’m gonna go read DR. SEUSS and play with a MR. POTATO HEAD. And if you don’t like it, you can unfriend me CUPCAKE,” the post said, copied and pasted by older relatives and high school classmates — pretty much the only two groups of people I interact with on Facebook.
I knew why the post existed. Conservative Americans had been up in arms the last few weeks about the Mr. Potato Head brand — not the character, it’s important to note — dropping the Mr. from its name to become more inclusive. The Dr. Seuss debacle was also familiar to me — six of Seuss’s books would no longer be published due to racist themes.
Still, I laughed aloud at the sheer volume of my acquaintances so devoted to … reading children’s literature and playing with toys. Some people posted about the “cancel culture” dilemma multiple times, equating it to the gun rights debate and government censorship.
Yet, from an objective perspective, this is a simple situation — two private businesses decided to appeal to modern audiences without withdrawing nostalgia. After all, Dr. Seuss' other books — including “Green Eggs and Ham,” “The Cat in the Hat” and all the classics — are all available. As for Mr. Potato Head, he’s going nowhere. Hasbro specified that only the brand name would change.
Why are we so consistently willing to make ourselves look logically ridiculous for the sake of argument? Why do we blow past the realm of logic for the sake of extremes?
For a long time, this has been the argument — call the other side stupid. It won’t take you long to tap into Facebook or Twitter and find an argument about complicated issues that immediately digresses into insults of intelligence that completely miss the main argument. Here’s one. Here’s another. Here’s a comment from Ted Cruz, who tweeted this instead of, you know, doing his job.
We do this because it’s easy. We do this because it allows us our bubble. And even more than that, it’s part of our culture as Americans.
Our national culture has long been prone to pride. Even at our country’s origin, we were a gritty group of colonies that refused to back down from the reigning authority because we considered ourselves entitled to an authority of our own. This sense of unbridled stubbornness still persists today, manifesting in the individualistic, passionate American of today. But this stubbornness — like any personality trait — is only as constructive as we allow it to be.
Americans today are not just prideful. Pride evokes some kind of personal connection, some intense protective instinct. Perhaps I could be wrong, but I strongly doubt the people gumming up my Facebook feed with posts and rants had their lives changed by Mr. Potato Head or the obscure Dr. Seuss classic “McElligot’s Pool.”
This is not prideful, just behavior. This is self-superiority, ingrained in a hyper-partisan American culture where even the most logical answer to a problem is unacceptable simply because it gives the other side a point.
“Cancel culture” has become a ridiculous buzzword because it has been so tremendously stretched and warped by those who criticize it, egged on by their need to assert their superiority. By minimizing legitimate acts to recognize wrongdoing or expand accessibility, those decrying “cancel culture” contribute to the toxic atmosphere of the “you’re wrong because you’re stupid” argument that does nothing for legitimate discourse.
Look at the Dr. Seuss controversy. Conservative speakers across the country have decried this move as a deliberate attempt from the left to eliminate Seuss’ legacy and further a slippery slope of content destruction.
According to Ben Shapiro for Stopping Socialism, stopping the production of blatant African caricatures “places us on the road to complete devastation of our culture and our rights.”
Shapiro says: “Now any book — no matter how old or how inoffensive — can be, and indeed ought to be, banned. Now any kernel of information — no matter how true — can be discarded.”
But we aren’t talking about every book or every kernel of information. We are talking about a strictly offensive book with racial stereotypes — an idea that is fundamentally entrenched in falsehood. There is nothing true in racist imagery.
Even Shapiro’s use of “banned” is a gross oversimplification. The six books were discontinued specifically by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, a business that handles the marketing and publications of Seuss’ work after his death. Seuss’ own family members founded the enterprise.
If the conservative establishment values the importance of private business and the rights of businesses to choose their content without hindrance, the exercise of those rights by Dr. Seuss Enterprises should be embraced. This is exactly how content creation should interact with a free market, small government society.
If the issue is not with the action itself, it must be in motives — the racial themes. But why would conservatives make themselves the proponents of racially-charged caricatures and stereotypes? It is not because “they are stupid.” It isn’t even because “they want to be racist.” We can’t even agree on what racism is anymore. But conservatives are trying their best to directly oppose liberals who perpetuate “anti-racism.”
And there we have it — the anti’s of anti-racism. Conservatives oppose the discontinuation of Seuss’ six books because they are too prideful to align themselves with liberals. They cannot swallow their sense of superiority enough to take the perfectly logical stance that a private institution can choose to stop the spread of blatantly racist caricatures.
I understand that there are some aspects of “cancel culture” and “woke culture” that take things too far. I don’t think we should dismantle history because it is problematic. I don’t think information should be censored or books burned.
But we can’t make mountains out of molehills here. When we look at the facts of these “cancel culture” situations, they do little harm to the overall institutions they represent. Isn’t it worth the damage for Black children to read books without caricatures of them in it? Is there any great cultural death in a lesbian Potato Head couple?
All in all, I end up with more questions than answers because I am baffled. I don’t know what drives such passionate, stubborn anger. I don’t know what has driven my neighbors, friends and family to defend such starkly meaningless acts with patriotic pride.
What exactly will true-blooded Americans do to remain superior? What actions will they take to gatekeep logical ideas for the sake of proving their stubborn will over their peers?
They will argue for it. They will fight for it.
They will lose their dignity for it.
Emma Krab is a sophomore English and journalism major. Reach her at email@example.com.