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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

The Sneetches

 

 

Dr. Seuss

 

In childhood, I enjoyed visiting the Amarillo Public Library with other kids who attended the Amarillo Community Center. Aside from seeking out books related to ninjas, sharks, dinosaurs, or tanks, I liked story time when adults would read to children.

 

Among other authors, I adored the work of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as “Dr. Seuss.” Something about his peculiar stories, catchy rhyme scheme, and unique illustrations was oddly familiar to my overactive imagination.

 

To my satisfaction, Dr. Seuss’ legacy was essentially cancel-proof when a call to “cancel Dr. Seuss due to racist imagery” was broadcast a couple years ago. Cooler heads prevailed, as one source stated in defense of the author:

 

Each reader and educator will have to make an individual decision about Dr. Seuss, as well as about any artist whose ideas evolved over time, even as early prejudices left inevitably ugly stains on his work. How much evidence do we need of compassion and bravery in Dr. Seuss’s political cartoons to ignore the grotesque caricatures of African and Asian people which lurk in some of his picture books and cartoons? There is no simple answer to that question.

 

No human’s character of which I’m aware can survive an absolute purity test—an assessment of perfect innocence—because we are all fallible beings. Dr. Seuss once depicted certain races, ethnicities, and nationalities in a manner incongruent with modern standards of appropriateness.

 

Nevertheless, I maintain that the culmination of his life’s work isn’t worth destroying due to his imperfect nature. As a child, I found joy in Dr. Seuss’ work that has stood the test of time and I continue finding value in his contribution to literary history.

 

The Sneetches

 

One of Dr. Seuss’ books which contributed to my fundamental understanding about humanity is The Sneetches and Other Stories. In particular, “The Sneetches,” and associated animated TV musical special, is worth examining in relation to current sociopolitical events around the world.

 

The tale describes two similar types of creatures, the Star-Belly Sneetches and the Plain-Belly Sneetches, who resemble one another with exception of an abdominal star marking the former and not the latter. Based on this distinction, Sneetches are treated differently from one another.

 

Those with “stars upon thars [their’s]” are akin to Karl Marx’s concept of the bourgeoisie (haves). Those with “none upon thars” are like Marxism’s concept of the proletariat (have-nots). Regarding this dichotomy, one source states:

 

The word ‘have-not’ is specifically used for those human beings who are deliberately denied of the means of livelihood by those who welter in wealth. The term can be better understood if it is juxtaposed with its antonym, ‘have’.

 

The have versus have-not Marxist schema was something about which I learned during my second graduate study program. However, rather than the bourgeoisie struggle against the proletariat, I was taught about how neo-Marxism and post-Marxism were supposedly better suited for markers of identity other than solely economic.

 

Colloquially, the transformation of Marxist concepts to suit modern identity struggle is called “cultural Marxism.” Of this, one source states the concept is a “conspiracy theory with an anti-Semitic twist, [and] is being pushed by much of the American right.”

 

I disagree, as the label of “anti-Semitic” is little more than an ad hominem attack that misrepresents those who support the proposal of cultural Marxism. As such, I tend to favor how a separate source categorizes this matter:

 

Cultural Marxists took over the universities and transformed the class struggle into one over race, sex, and other immutable traits, and used these positions of power to reinterpret not just history but reality itself. Cultural Marxists also abandoned violent struggle in favor of indoctrination.

 

The reader is free to diverge from this interpretation. Given what I was taught at university, cultural Marxism is as fitting a description as any to highlight the have versus have-not paradigm addressed in “The Sneetches.”

 

Although there are a number of interpretations which may apply to the story, one source declares that it “teaches children to be tolerant through a metaphor of what happened during the Holocaust.” Not an unusual perception, a separate source states:

 

In the story, the Sneetches discriminate against each other according to whether or not they are wearing stars. I wondered if this symbolism was an intentional sympathetic gesture towards the plight of the Jews.

 

Regarding this comparison, I’ve paid close attention to reactions of the world’s populations concerning the 2023 Israel-Hamas war. Not in any way meant to trivialize this matter, I’ve witnessed non-Jewish and non-Palestinian people donning symbols of their preferred Sneetches associated with the war.

 

Likewise, and just as character attacks are used regarding those who reference cultural Marxism, I’ve observed people who critique the actions of Israel as a state being labeled anti-Semitic. Worse yet, I’ve witnessed calls to “restrict’ speech to fight antisemitism.”

 

Just as attempts to suppress the works of Dr. Seuss were largely unsuccessful, I hope that further destruction of the barely intact First Amendment will be ineffective. I imagine I’ll be erroneously accused of being an anti-Semite for suggesting such a thing.

 

While I have no remedy for the bloodshed of October 7, 2023, or the incredibly disproportionate loss of life as a result of the murderous event, I can speak to the non-Sneetches in the crowd. Mainly, I suspect that practice of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) techniques may help reduce self-disturbance concerning the war.

 

Suppose there is a legitimate struggle for existence argued by the haves and have-nots in this conflict. The Star-Bellied Sneetches claim a right to exist, as do the Plain-Belly Sneetches.

 

Let us further grant the premise that each of these Sneetches genuinely believe in the moral supremacy of their cause. In fact, let’s take this one step further and argue that those with stars upon thars and those with none upon thars claim a divine right to victory.

 

If the reader doesn’t object to the simplistic framing thus far, I propose that you and I cannot control or influence these Sneetches in any meaningful way. We may hope for a beneficial outcome for one or both sides, though we cannot rationally demand that our desires will be met.

 

Further, we can agree that the catastrophic loss of life is undesirable, because I suspect most people would agree that it is. Still, awfulizing this matter—working ourselves up into an emotional frenzy—likely won’t do you, the Sneetches, or me any good at all.

 

Moreover, it may be healthier to tolerate and accept matters—putting up with unpleasantry and admitting powerlessness to alter outcomes for the Sneetches—than to convince ourselves that we can’t stand that war occurs. After all, whether we permit it or not, life will play out as it does and without our consent.

 

Finally, we may want to refrain from overgeneralizing about the war by declaring that all Star-Bellied Sneetches, all Plain-Bellied Sneetches, or all others are low down, rotten, crummy, and unworthy of rational compassion. Each of these REBT techniques may be useful to keep from upsetting ourselves.

 

Conclusion

 

For many years, I’ve enjoyed Dr. Seuss’ content. Though his legacy has come under fairly recent scrutiny, I continue to value the moral and ethical considerations related to his work.

 

Specifically, “The Sneetches” examines a cultural Marxist perspective regarding Star-Bellied and Plain-Bellied Sneetches. Through this lens, the haves oppress the have-nots, or vice versa.

 

In Dr. Seuss’ story, a character named Sylvester McMonkey McBean offers to remedy the Sneetch identity problem my adding and removing stars for a fee. However, once the Sneetches run out of money the cunning salesman packs up and drives away, leaving the Sneetches to resolve their own problems.

 

The fantastical tale ends thusly:

 

The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches

And no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches.

That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars

And whether they had one, or not, upon thars.

 

In my opinion, the matter of societal oppression isn’t too complex than to relay via an anecdotal narrative of imaginary creatures. Still, unlike the utopic ending by which Sneetches learn to live in one accord; life often doesn’t unfold in such a way.

 

Building upon how others have likened the Star-Belly Sneetches to Jewish people and their historic plight, herein I’ve related the plight of Palestinians to the Plain-Belly Sneetches. Undoubtedly, someone will chastise this oversimplification and label me anti-Semitic.

 

At any rate, my message relates to those people who are not Sneetches on the beaches, though who disturb themselves over the 2023 Israel-Hamas war nonetheless. Cultural division that is steeped in outrage creates its own unique conflict, though nowhere in comparison to atrocities which have occurred in Israel and Gaza.

 

Unlike McBean, who outwitted the Sneetches by capitalizing on the Sneetch identity quandary, I offer REBT techniques free of charge within this blogpost. To those people who upset themselves with beliefs about Sneetches on beaches, this post is for you.

 

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

 

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

 

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

 

 

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW

 

 

References:

 

Barlow, R. (2022, April 7). Dr. Seuss won’t be canceled after all. WBUR. Retrieved from https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2022/04/07/theodore-seuss-cancellation-rich-barlow

Berkowitz, B. (2003, August 15). ‘Cultural Marxism’ catching on. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/intelligence-report/2003/cultural-marxism-catching

Camp, E. (2023, December 12). Washington Post op-ed argues that colleges should ‘restrict’ speech to fight antisemitism. Reason. Retrieved from https://reason.com/2023/12/12/washington-post-op-ed-argues-that-colleges-should-restrict-speech-to-fight-antisemitism/

Casey, L. (2016, February 29). The Jewish reason why I read Dr. Seuss to my sons. Kveller. Retrieved from https://www.kveller.com/the-jewish-reason-why-i-read-dr-seuss-to-my-sons/

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