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  • Writer's pictureMicah Kolding

The Book-Burners vs. the Cancelers

The scene was a local author book fair, where I had the chance to sell my books and, for better or for worse, get to know the public. After describing my children's books as being "for the Dr. Seuss crowd", one shopper was quick to express how her love of Seuss had only increased "since the schools started banning him". My first thought was that somebody down in Florida must have gone after the Lorax again, what with all the press about GQP-style book-banning as of late, but I soon realized that this woman was in fact talking about the six titles that the owners of the Seuss book rights had elected to discontinue for racist imagery.


"Only in your woke mind," she said, with enough disdain to land a role as a Disney stepmother.


I gave her my best cowboy grunt and waited for her to go away.


This encounter gave me a lot to think about, firstly in regards to how grateful I was not to work in retail, and secondly in regards to the idea of censorship and book-banning. It's a hot topic, especially among trolls and whiny social media personalities who really don't know what the First Amendment means, but have hit upon the idea that they can turn any discussion of them being an asshole into a righteous soap-boxing match of how they're a bastion of free speech. Naturally, you never need to look your gift horse in the mouth as long as you're sitting so high upon it, and the speaker will generally switch gears to trying to silence any infidels brash enough to bring up a topic they deem offensive the moment it becomes appropriate.


In this particular cultural warfront, there seem to be two key factions: The Book-Burners, and the Cancelers. On the surface, it may seem like the only real difference is politics: Both are prone to self-righteousness, both hate to be disagreed with, both see themselves as champions of free speech, and both have a dogma of what crosses the line such that all social niceties must be suspended in order to suppress the offending material. The former is just the crowd more likely to wear a "MAGA" hat, and the latter is more likely to have gone to college.


Admittedly, I've never been a fan of so-called "cancel culture". I've been annoyed by it more than once in the past (there's a right way and a wrong way to approach it, but that's a topic for another time). I hope I wouldn't be surprising anyone, however, when I say that this is the side I'd take in the big My-Speech-is-Free-But-You-Should-Shut-Up debate. There are two big reasons for this, the first one being obvious: Bigotry is bad, mm'kay? And since I hardly need to defend this statement, we'll go right to the second reason: Every book can be replaced.


It may not sound like a very positive sentiment, but "every book can be replaced" absolutely reconciles the arguments against some GQP governor trying to ban "the Lorax" with the arguments in favor of allowing the Seuss titles that haven't aged as well to be unpublished. Consider it, first of all, in the context of protesting the latest attempts to purge libraries and schools of any book that comes off as pro-gay; no matter how many of these books they take off the shelves, there are millions of other gay-affirming titles ready to take their places. Do you want to burn Harry Potter for its depiction of "witchcraft"? Guess what: Those books were never all that special to begin with, and hundreds of others are ready to fill a kid-gets-whisked-away-to-a-magic-school-shaped hole on your local library's bookshelf. Every book can be replaced, and anyone illiterate enough to go after them will never be able to ban them faster than authors can churn them out.


When it comes to books whose time has passed, once again, every book can be replaced. I've thought about it numerous times, whenever someone comes out with a new Peter Pan; here's a wildly dated story that only remains in our popular culture because of parents' illogical desire to give children whatever stories they themselves were raised on. I'll say it: There is nothing about Peter Pan that is so unique and so impactful that we need to take pains tiptoeing around the depiction of "Indians". Frankly, it's not even a well-constructed plot. Whatever value you're getting out of this can be gotten from any of a million unknown titles by talented authors who would love to have half the chance Peter Pan had.


What it is, ultimately, is cultural Darwinism at play. Books are vehicles for ideas, and while it's futile to try to suppress the ideas that represent us, it's almost as futile to try to try clinging to the ideas that we've rejected. The best part of it is that it's not even necessary to "censor" outdated material; I myself grabbed one of the unpublished Seuss books after it was discontinued, and I intend to retain it as a collectable, though I fully respect that nobody wants to be the Kindergarten teacher who tells their mixed classroom about "A Chinese boy who eats with sticks!"


And if you know anybody who is still pontificating about the "woke" boogeyman going after "Green Eggs and Ham", first ask them if they can name any three of the six books that were actually unpublished (none of which are "Green Eggs and Ham"). After that, direct them to "The Seven Lady Godivas", a Seussian book that I am not making up which was taken off the shelves decades ago, and see if their puritanical moral outrage extends to such a title.

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