Editorials, Opinion

Not canceled, no matter what Fox News might say

Last week, we started the conversation on cancel culture. Today, we continue that discussion with things that are not cancel culture — regardless of what Fox News says.

Dr. Seuss is not canceled. Mr. Potato Head is not canceled. The Muppets are not canceled.

In order for something to be “canceled,” there has to be outside pressure for change, generally from a large group of people, in response to something. Canceling happens after the fact — it’s a pushback against behavior that others find objectionable. What we’ve seen happen in the examples above is corporations and entities take the initiative to make changes so their brands and products better reflect their values.

Of the 60 books written by Theodor Geisel and published under the penname Dr. Seuss, Dr. Seuss Enterprises (which handles Geisel’s estate) has decided to stop printing or licensing six books. Fifty-four books will continue to be printed. The six that have ceased publication contained racist caricatures, such as a “Chinaman” with slanted lines for eyes in “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street” and African men who more closely resembled monkeys than people in “If I Ran the Zoo.”

As for Mr. Potato Head, he is not dead. (Emphasis on the masculine pronoun.) Hasbro has not dropped the beloved male spud; it has only chosen to change the brand’s name to reflect the full line of products, which also include Mrs. Potato Head and even Potato Head Tots. Never fear: These classic toys aren’t disappearing. All that’s going to change is the packaging, which will say “Potato Head” prominently on all boxes, while “Mr.” will still appear on Mr. Potato Head’s box, and “Mrs.” will still appear on Mrs. Potato Head’s box.

The Muppets are also not canceled. When the cherished puppets found a new home on the streaming service Disney Plus, the decision was made to put a warning on certain episodes, noting, “This program includes negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.” The potentially offensive episodes have not been removed; viewers are merely given a heads-up regarding some of the content they may encounter.

Here’s the thing: No one is going to stop you from reading “And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street” or “The Cat’s Quizzer” to your children. No one is going to stop you from buying existing copies, either. No one is going to stop you from calling your Potato Head toy Mr. Potato Head or make you refer to your Mr. Potato Head by a gender-neutral pronoun. No one is going to stop you from watching The Muppets, nor from showing The Muppets to your kids.

They aren’t canceled.

They aren’t banned.

They aren’t going to be burned and then erased from the history books.

The companies behind these products looked at what they were selling, and how they were selling said products, and asked themselves: Is this in line with the brand we are today?

For these particular products, that answer was no. So the companies — of their own volition — made changes. That is not being “canceled” — no matter how Fox News tries to spin it.