On Dr. Seuss and cancel culture

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hey everybody. Ian Bremmer here. Welcome to your week, life looking better every day in the United States, coronavirus land. But I thought I'd talk about, this week, all of this cancel culture that everyone's talking about right now. If you're on the wrong political side, your opponents are trying to shut you down and you take massive umbrage. I see this everywhere, and it's starting to annoy.


Last week, maybe, the biggest story was about Dr. Seuss and the fact that a few books were taken down, no longer being published by the Seuss Foundation, the publisher of those books, because of ethnic and racial stereotypes that were promoted in those books from decades and decades ago. Publishers in the private sector have the right to publish whatever they do and don't want that they have intellectual property control over. One thing that seemed silly on the back of it was all of these people then deciding to spend massive amounts of money, pushing Dr. Seuss to the top of the charts, for a whole bunch of books that were not getting canceled, that were still being published, money of which would be going to the same publisher that had decided to cancel the few books in the first place.

So very bizarre, and maybe makes everybody happy or everybody unhappy at the same time. But of course, the big story is that you had, then, this huge fodder for people on the left and right to come after each other. If you're on the left, of course, these books are horrible and need to be removed from the public dialogue. That of course also means that you're smearing Dr. Seuss as a whole, who, from many of our perspectives, were children's books that we grew up on and were just fine.

Then on the conservative side, you have people saying, "This is an outrage. Can you believe that they're trying to burn books and ban books? It's the beginning of authoritarianism and we're being canceled." Kevin McCarthy doing a reading of Green Eggs and Ham, which is perfectly fine, and you can still buy... A lot of people like to stand up and read perfectly innocuous Dr. Seuss books, but now there's strong politics behind it.

The problem is that any political issue, at a period of time that the United States is more politically divided, more politically dysfunctional, where political opponents are not just political opponents but are considered to be bad, fundamentally evil, means any issue that can be made into tribal warfare inside politics in the United States becomes precisely that. It drives people kind of batshit, right? We saw that with the Muppets, too. Those of you that know me know that I am a big fan of the Muppets, both as a show and puppets as a concept, so much so that it's like Hair Club For Men. I decided to become an owner.

Now, because done it back in the '70s, a lot of the skits that were done are now considered insensitive. So, Disney has decided to put a warning label on all of the Muppet shows from back then, warning of negative depictions and or mistreatment of people and cultures. To be fair, this is like the warning symbol that you see on your McDonald's apple pie that contents are indeed hot and could hurt you. It's because the United States is an incredibly litigious society and overly litigious society. This is corporate speak for, please don't sue us. We've done what we needed to do," but anybody that wants to watch the Muppets can still watch the Muppets.

It should not be a big deal, but of course you see Donald Trump Jr. coming out and saying, "They're banning the Muppets," and all of these other folks on the right saying, "How dare they. How can they possibly be banning the Muppets?" Which, of course, no one is actually doing. So, you see how we have a lot of folks' partisan ship on the right going crazy about cancel culture.

But what about on the left? Yeah, it's happening on the left, too. I saw this last week when Governor Abbott in Texas came out and said he's opening everything. So, 100% businesses are being open and no more mask mandate, which struck me as... I understand the business opening because there is an economic tradeoff between opening businesses and having quarantines, and when people are getting vaccinated, there's a much greater move in favor of economic openings. But saying you're ending the mask mandate is stupid and just playing politics. So, I was annoyed about that.

But then I saw people with millions of followers from the left on social media, like Michael Moore and Keith Olbermann, who were so angry with Abbott that they said, "This is Texas, and you see what they're like in Texas. If that's the way you feel well, then we shouldn't be sending Texas any vaccines." Who the hell is we? We're Americans. First of all, Texas is a diverse state that has both Democrats and Republicans. It's increasingly purple. It's not red or blue. Even if it was red, everybody needs vaccines. The entire country is rolling vaccines out and it's really important for us to do that in the US and do it around the world.

But there is such incredible dysfunction psychologically in this us versus them, bad versus good, black versus white, that you have partisans that have just lost their minds, that have lost their humanity in the spirit of being on the same team. The one that bothered me from the left the most in the last week was about CPAC. Some of you may have seen that when the CPAC Conference occurred down in Orlando, Florida at the Hyatt hotel, there was a stage and the design of the stage looked like, design-wise, a rune. They're not the swastika, but a rune that was worn by some Nazi officers.

Of course, everybody on the left goes crazy. Not everybody. A lot of people on the left go crazy, that it must've been intentional, this is a dog whistle for white nationalists and white supremacists. So, you have people with significant followings on the internet intranet saying that this is a Nazi support, and that you should be banning the GOP and banning Hyatt, which was hosting all of us. Alyssa Milano, with well over three million followers on Twitter, saying, "Hyatt is totally fine hosting Nazis. Boycott Hyatt."

Of course, anyone could understand that this was vastly overdone. This is conspiracy thinking that no one is doing research into figuring out what the actual stage looks like and this obscure rune from the Nazi-era Germany. Then we find out, we get the actual facts, which is it was a design, an event design company, that came up with the stage design for a fairly awkward space to do something that large. Company was called Design Foundry based in Maryland. Small company, 98%, more than 98%, of their political donations from their employees in the last year went to Democrats, not Republicans. They were the ones that came up with the design and they apologized.

The GOP said they're not going to use them for further events and all of that. Well, you would think on the back of that that, of course, Alyssa and others are going to take down their posts and they're going to say, "We got it wrong," and apologize. No, no. As of today, that post is still up there with thousands and thousands of retweets saying to boycott Hyatt, and Hyatt losing money on the back of this.

A small piece of advice if anyone sees this, post this out for Alyssa. Alyssa, do them a favor. Go stay at a Hyatt and take a post of yourself at the Hyatt and tell your fans the next time they're going to a hotel, they should stay at a Hyatt. Why? Because you caused economic damage out of political lunacy. It was completely wrong. It was completely without merit. They did nothing wrong. This is hurtful. It's hurtful to the country. It's hurtful to the corporation, but most importantly, it's hurtful to us. It's hurtful to the people who are no longer looking at each other as human beings, but instead as political sport, as scoring a point.

It doesn't matter if more of this is being done by one side or the other. What matters is that it's lunacy. It's fake news. It's not facts. It's conspiracy thinking. It's really going to cause much more damage to our polity, something that, I think, deeply, we all still want to believe in, and we want to make better.

So that is my little rant for today, for Monday, for kicking off the week. I hope everyone does well, and increasingly we aren't going to need to avoid people. Just a little bit longer. Looking forward to that. Take it easy. Be good.

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