Check out the original article for some Seuss images and sweet rhymes from author Aaron Retica. Happy Belated Birthday, Dr. Seuss!
There is nothing more ridiculous than the cultural insights you derive as a parent, at least the kind that come to you when you are reading “The Foot Book” or “The Sleep Book” for the 107th time. I am not the first to notice that Dr. Seuss’s rhymes sound good declaimed in hip-hop-style. Try it with the opening lines of “The Sleep Book.” Try it and you will see.
Just came in
From the County of Keck
That a very small bug
By the name of Van Vleck
Is yawning so wide
You can look down his neck.
It’s Dr. Seuss’s birthday today. Seuss is the guardian angel of Reading Across America, which brings millions of parents into classrooms on March 2 to read with their kids. Just this morning I sat in my younger daughter’s fifth-grade class, listening to “Happy Birthday to You!” The rhythms of Seuss’s verse kept me thinking about his influence on rap, because Seuss was the dominant voice for younger readers throughout the period when the rappers who created the music were growing up.
Run D.M.C. acknowledged Seuss’s influence in “Peter Piper,” the first song on their crucial 1986 record, “Raising Hell,” suggesting that they were now usurping his crown.
Philip Nel, Seuss’s biographer, notes that “both Seuss and rappers have used poetry as a medium of dissent,” although I think I’d give the edge to the rappers, “The Butter Battle Book” notwithstanding. Seuss’s propulsive verse is friendly to a number of other declamatory styles, including the preacherly tradition, captured most spectacularly in Jesse Jackson’s reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” on “Saturday Night Live.” The Seuss-rap stew is also exploited by the L.A.-based comedy troupe Half Day Today in its pleasing “Cat in the Hat” rap, which imagines the Beastie Boys as figments of Seuss’s imagination and lets us know that Seuss himself
Looking into these connections, doing research, in fact, on Seuss’s avant-garde sympathy for African-Americans (long before the rise of the civil rights movement), I discovered something that surprised me, even though it has been written about before — I think I may have been reading “The Foot Book” when the news broke. During the Second World War, Seuss drew dozens of cartoons for the left-wing tabloid P.M., in which he nobly advanced positions that were anti-isolationist, pro-integration and philo-Semitic, while at the same time publishing a series of caricatures of the Japanese and Japanese-Americans that are revolting to look at now. I understand that we were at war — my grandfather served on a hospital ship in the Pacific and never dropped “Nips” from his vocabulary — but contextualizing Seuss’s cartoons only removes some of their viciousness.
Many of them feature drawings of Hitler and General Tojo that are far more savage in their depiction of Tojo, including one in which Hitler and Tojo are imagined carved into Mount Rushmore. But the most startling and upsetting of these cartoons, which was published on Feb. 13, 1942, shows a long line of Japanese-Americans, an “honorable fifth column” spreading from California into Oregon and beyond, with each smiling person waiting to pick up a package of TNT. They are, a caption explains, “waiting for the signal from home.” It does not help Seuss’s cause when we learn that President Roosevelt signed the executive order authorizing internment a week after this cartoon came out, although of course the planning for relocating Japanese-Americans was long under way.
It turns out that Asian-American educational groups protested against Seuss being chosen as the patron saint of Reading Across America for precisely this reason. Nel’s comprehensive biography and two art books about Seuss’s war efforts do a fine job of looking at Seuss’s work as a whole, but it is still deeply disturbing to see the otherwise-estimable Seuss engaged in this kind of propaganda, illustrated with figures that don’t look that different from those who populate his children’s books.