Shakespeare on the Rocks

I have been experiencing cognitive dissonance of late. I keep reading about how universities are providing ‘safe spaces’ for their students. If I understand correctly, these sensitive students are retreating from the very diversity they expect the rest of us to tolerate.

Do administrators honestly believe they serve these student’s interests? Will coddling them prepare them for the real world?

I once dropped my ice cream cone and therefore wanted to break windows and burn cars. But since I was only two, Molotov cocktails were beyond my capabilities and I could only find satisfaction by throwing a cookie at our cat.

The latest manifestation of this ‘safe space’ proliferation is ‘trigger warnings’, which are being issued in university literature classes (at Cambridge, no less) because the subject matter of some Shakespeare plays may contain “potentially distressing topics”.

I get it. After all, even the bard’s name creates a violent image. Can you imagine going to a play these days by someone named Bill Beheader?

If Shakespeare is too raw, God forbid these students ever open a newspaper. Better they hide out and listen to the soothing tones of the latest hip-hop stars.

New editions of Shakespeare’s plays are coming out where even the tragedies will only have happy endings. You know, like life itself.

Richard III would be reworked to tell the story of a young King trying to operate an Ebay auction. “My kingdom for a horse!”

Henry V could be turned into a musical that would leave them humming with a reprise of the old Herman’s Hermits hit, “Henry the Fifth I am, I am”. “Second verse, same as the first!”

The Merchant of Venice will easily be turned into a tract about the successful imposition of a $15 per hour minimum wage.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream would remain as a fanciful comedy of errors featuring numerous fanciful characters debating which gender restroom they should use. Although much of the rich humor of the original involves gender confusion, if audience members are confused about their own gender, some of the play’s wit may wither. No worries, they can always trot out Bottom.

Othello might be recast in the image of Black Lives Matter where the good news is Desdemona is killed not because of Othello’s jealousy (so unevolved), but due to the violence in her words. Othello acts in self-defense.

Romeo and Juliet wants to be about a young vegan girl in love with the heir to the owner of Bologna’s largest sausage factory. They run off together to farm quinoa.

Hamlet is an activist in the antifa vein. His hatred of his uncle (read Uncle Sam) would finally make sense. Enough with the indecision, already. He and Ophelia would escape to their utopia (a safe space) in a hot air balloon. “To be violent, or not to be violent… What kind of question is that?”

King Lear is an aging king with three beautiful and devoted daughters. He divides his kingdom equally among the three of them and they all live happily ever after. What fool needs conflict?

Taming of the Shrew would become a lesson in toxic masculinity. Duh! Of course, Petruchio would decide he is really a woman and all would be well. The dynamics of their relationship would be the same, but all would be well.

Julius Ceasar would be much better if it were about a chef at one of those Italian food trucks. “One slice of pizza? Eat two, Brutus!”

MacBeth could easily become a favorite. Lady MacBeth would now be the president of Planned Parenthood ranting on about how one can have infinite choices with nary a consequence. “Out damned spot!”

Shakespeare in Love… What? He didn’t write it? But I thought for certain…

Does anyone think these would be improvements on the originals? Must classic literature conform to the fickle fashions of callow youth?

After all, we are told diversity and tolerance is the goal. However, diversity, by its nature is accompanied by friction as differences are amicably resolved and the heft of ideas is reckoned.

It appears these young scholars cannot tolerate the slightest challenge to the truth they espouse. Whither diversity? With truth, what need they fear? Truth abolishes fear.

What ever happened to the ‘truth will set you free’? Truth casts an unquenchable light. Can it even be seen from within a safe space?

 

Dr. Seuss was a Racist! Really?

The headlines tell us Dr. Seuss was a racist.

You say, “What? The beloved children’s book writer was a racist?” Yes, he has been dead for 26 years and his ‘racist’ drawings were published before and during WWII in a low circulation newspaper. So he obviously must now be outed for his despicable attitudes. After all, our founding fathers have all been denounced, why not the much praised and awarded author of successful children’s books?

At the beginning of his career, before WWII, Dr. Seuss began drawing propaganda cartoons for a New York daily newspaper, PM, with a circulation of about 150,000. His drawings of Hitler and Mussolini depicted the mass murdering bullies alternatively as ridiculous and menacing.

It is true that Dr. Seuss drew a few cartoons depicting the feared imaginary ‘fifth column’ of Japanese-American saboteurs. However, it was not Dr. Seuss who suspended the constitution to put Japanese-American citizens – men, women and children into internment camps without due process. That was done by the then Democratic administration and led by future Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren.

Just because Dr. Seuss was a Democrat doesn’t mean he was a racist. He condemned the Jim Crow laws, segregation, poll taxes, discriminatory hiring practices and the KKK supported by the Democratic party of the day.

Dr. Seuss also was very critical of outspoken American anti-Semites and isolationists like Fr. Coughlin and Charles Lindberg. In times of complacency in the face of an enemy bent on our destruction (a topic Dr. Seuss also addressed eloquently), it is easy to forget that WWII was a struggle for our survival.

WWII was as close to all-out war anyone wishes to see. Western civilization was attacked from all sides by brutal and ruthless enemies who had no respect for life or liberty.

Propagandists use simplistic humor and the grotesque to dehumanize and portray the enemy as beneath contempt. The de-humanization of the enemy has existed as long as humankind. Have you seen German and Japanese propaganda pictures from the era? Better check your delicate sensibilities before you look. I promise these disgusting images have none of the wit of those produced by Dr. Seuss.

Dr. Seuss lent his support to our war effort by producing propaganda cartoons to boost morale and to paint the enemy in the starkest terms possible.

Hitler (representing the Third Reich and the Nazis) is variously depicted as a giant snake, a dog, an insect, crocodile, octopus, a mermaid, a cherub and other creatures. That ‘Japan’ is depicted similarly hardly makes those drawings racist.

In a cartoon depicting ‘Japan’ as a giant snake consuming a helpless Asian man labeled ‘China,’ who is Dr. Seuss being racist about? It is Japan’s actions Dr. Seuss condemned, not its race.

Lest we forget, Seuss was a cartoonist. If those depicted in his drawings came off as caricatures, it is because the drawings were caricatures. Hitler and Mussolini didn’t come off any better than Hirohito. And that trio were the true racists.

So, roughly eighty years after publication, drawings done by Dr. Seuss are dredged up as proof of his racism. Really? What possible good is intended by making these claims? If they are so hurtful and dangerous, to what purpose are they returned to public view after all this time?

(Certain advertising drawings Dr. Seuss did in the ‘30s are embarrassing and offensive by today’s standards. They were in line with what the media was promoting during the Depression.)

One value of knowing history rather than merely erasing it, is one can track changes in behavior. If you insist his propaganda work is racist – let’s examine his career. The core of Dr. Seuss’s work stands as a testament to the American values of fair play and equality like few other children’s authors. Dr. Seuss’s post-war creative output is remarkable for its optimistic tone and positive, anti-racist messages. He was doing his own work and not as a ‘hired gun’.

Not only is there no evidence Dr. Seuss held onto ‘racist’ attitudes after his propaganda work, at least one of his books takes racism head-on and shows it for what it is. ‘The Sneetches’ positively explodes all the bogus in-crowd / out-crowd superiority scams used by some groups when putting other groups down – from high school cliques to dominant ethnic groups.

The book “Dr. Seuss goes to War” (from which the images leading to the charges of racism are found) states that “Horton Hears a Who”, published in 1954, was the direct result of Dr. Seuss’s post-war trip to Japan. The book is dedicated to a Japanese friend of his.

Horton is the lovable elephant who discovers a whole civilization (of Whos) living on a dust mote. Horton’s compassionate efforts lead to the Who’s isolated world being preserved from destruction. How many know Dr. Seuss’s post-war experience with the Japanese people led to this wonderful story?

Racism is a terrible thing. The charge of racism is too easily made. The motives of those who make that accusation are suspect.

The United States operates on the ideal that all people are created equal. Shared cultural values such as those enshrined in our Constitution are what allow our people and country to thrive. These ideals are what bind us, not ethnic or tribal identity.

One would be hard put to find a true racist able to declare one of Dr. Seuss’s most famous and favorite lines from ‘Horton Hears a Who’: “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”