THE SEUSS CONSPIRACY

(A work of speculative fiction) 

 On an idle winter day during a global pandemic, as "Read Across America Day" approaches, a member of the board of directors of Doctor Seuss Enterprises melancholically scrolls through Twitter on his iPhone. Observing left wing social media going apoplectic about a tacky gold-tone statue at CPAC, he suddenly has an epiphany about the zeitgeist and quickly fires off an email to the other directors: 

"You guys, 

We have a golden opportunity that I think we need to take advantage of. 

There is, obviously, a significant population of Americans who like racism. There is also a significant population of Americans who like performative anti-racism. 

Both groups can be reliably counted upon not to read all the way to the end of the first sentence of a news article or press release, but to react with outrage and moral certainty to whatever memeified version of an account they encounter from a pundit they already agree with. In the case of things related to the oeuvre we manage, those memes will almost certainly take the form of rhyming couplets with painfully chaotic meter that people will inexplicably consider clever, because not only do Americans not understand how intellectual property works, they don't understand how poetry works, either. But I digress. 

As you well know, our portfolio includes a number of obscure and under-performing titles with imagery and/or text that trades on exaggerated racial stereotypes. We make a few cents in royalties each year on these titles by selling replacement copies to libraries with completist collection policies and/or grandmas who have not themselves read them in 60 years and so have forgotten how long and, frankly, boring their are. The income rarely covers the cost of the warehouse space to store them or the occasional print run to restock the warehouse. We dare not promote them, because we don't want to draw attention to the racist shit and face a backlash. But we've so far been wary to let them drop out of print entirely out of a vague sense that Audrey entrusted us to steward Geisel's complete works. So they've been a drain on the whole operation for some time. 

I propose that we go ahead and cease publication of these titles, but instead of just dropping them from publication as happens with literally thousands of books every year and no one notices, I think we should announce publicly that we are making this change because of the "overt racism" in the books. 

The white people who like racism and hate "cancel culture" will be enraged at the "censorship" of a beloved children's author, and will rush out and buy copies of our remaining high-performing titles to show their support. 

The white people who dislike racism and find "cancel culture" rhetoric annoying will laud us for "doing the right thing," and will also rush out and buy copies of our remaining high-performing titles to show their support, conveniently overlooking or explaining away the deeply problematic content in some of our more popular holdings. 

People of color have never really been our target audience anyway, so if they are subjected to tedious demands from their white acquaintances that they explain exactly what is wrong with the books we're dropping, or blamed for the loss of a beloved childhood favorite because they're "too sensitive" (even if they've never expressed any opinion whatsoever about any Dr. Seuss book), that's frankly not our problem. 

It's a win-win proposition that could be worth millions of dollars in added revenue. 

The only question in my mind, really, is which books to cut. I'm sure we can all think of a few obvious candidates. I think we should focus on our worst-selling titles, but throw in a couple of titles that most journalists have at least heard of, since we might not get the media attention we need for this to work if we send out a press release that makes your typical news director think, "I didn't even know Dr. Seuss wrote that. Why would anyone care?" If I Ran the Zoo strikes me as the perfect combination of racist and obscure-but-not-too-obscure for this project. I welcome your suggestions for other titles to include and the ideal target number. 

While I think we want to be sure to include at least one or two somewhat familiar titles, we also should be cautious about overplaying our hand by not dropping anything that's too beloved, particularly not in this first round. But if this works the way I think it will, we may be able to capitalize on this strategy for multiple rounds of cuts before anyone catches on. We could ultimately streamline the collection to a few best-selling titles, while sparking millions of dollars in consumer slacktivism purchases in the meantime. We could branch out beyond the racism outrage market in future years if this proves to be a winning strategy. Imagine the attention we could get from pro-lifers for cancelling Horton, or from the environmentalists for chopping The Lorax. The sky's the limit. 

If we can figure this out and make the announcement before Geisel's birthday, we might be able to leverage that for more media attention. Most people haven't noticed that we're not formally affiliated with Read Across America anymore. If you're on board with this idea, please write back as soon as possible. Let's not leave this money on the table."

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