The Side of Dr. Seuss You Don't Know
Artists who become famous for their children's work get relegated to the 'sunshine and candy' category of our minds. But it turns out Dr. Seuss had serious political bite.
Theodor Geisel was a political thinker. The lifelong cartoonist drew hundreds of confrontational and thoughtful panels highlighting not only his disdain for Hitler and war, but for American inactivity and politicking during World War II as well. Most people don’t know this side of the man, for it was his middle name used in his most famous works.
Working for PM, a daily newspaper in New York City, Dr. Seuss railed against fascism, the influence of Tammany Hall, anti-Semitism, and, regrettably, Japan—he later apologized for stereotyping Japanese people instead of his usual target, politicians.
Geisel’s collection is held at The Library of UC San Diego; dozens of his 200 cartoons can be seen in Dr. Seuss Goes to War. For many Americans, World War II seems like a distant reality, but some of the themes explored in Geisel’s work continue to be relevant today, sometimes eerily so.
When Mitch McConnell announced that the top Republican priority was to “deny President Obama a second term,” the result was blaming Obama for everything that went wrong, as well as not crediting what he’s done right. This is not the first time politicians have employed this technique.
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The emergence of fake news is also not new. Misinformation, as expressed in the lead photo above, has long been rampant. Geisel felt that America was not doing enough to combat Hitler’s forces, a favorite subject of his pen.
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Of course, one of the most prominent issues now is immigration—an old topic destined to play on loop.
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Confusing the public about the real enemy is another tried—and useful—technique. For example, running on a platform to ‘drain the swamp’ while later considering the king toads of said swamp in your cabinet.
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Then there’s confusing dialogues with Russia, Taiwan, Japan—the growing list makes us wonder who’s really pulling the strings.
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We know what strings are not being pulled: the tax purses of the wealthiest Americans, including one candidate in particular who bragged about being smart for avoiding paying his share. Geisel knew such tricksters well.
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He also knew what they really are.
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One of the most disturbing aspects of the current nationalistic thrust is a severe uptick in anti-Semitism. Obviously Geisel had plenty to say about this during World War II.
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Voter fraud is another time-tested practice, most effective when one side invents an invisible demon then promotes it—on his side.
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We are experiencing a wave of nationalism not felt since the days that Geisel was penning his political cartoons. It might have been over seven decades ago, but his messages remind us just how little we have matured or understood about the world we inhabit.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/4/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
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