Friday, May 26, 2006

Why Seuss Creeps Me Out

When my daughter was about two years old, she hit that phase in which toddlers need to experience the same thing over and over -- you know, watch the save video three times per day, hear the same song a thousand times per day, or in this case, hear the same story three or four times per day. The story she fixated on was Hop on Pop.

About the time I was finishing up my MA coursework, then, I read Hop on Pop aloud three or four times every day. I had it memorized well enough that I could recite it to her on long car trips to keep her entertained. In those circumstances, it is almost impossible for the larval English professor to avoid deconstruction, so deconstruct I did. And what I found gave me the creeps.

First off, the phrase "Hop on Pop" struck me as having a potential pedophilic implication. Fortunately, the picture in the book shows something a lot less creepy -- two kids jumping on their fat father's stomach like a trampoline.* The behavior of the children is expressly forbidden, though, when after they proclaim "We like to hop. We like to hop on top of pop," a mother-figure pokes her head in the frame and commands them: "Stop! You must not hop on Pop." If it had stopped there, I probably would have thought nothing of it.

But let us consider the case of Mr. Brown, who is having an affair, cheating on his wife with Mr. Black. You doubt me? Look into the book, and you will find the caption "Mr. Brown, Mrs. Brown," with a picture of the couple. Both are smiling, but they are showing no physical intimacy at all. They are not even touching. Why not? Well, in the facing page, we see "Mr. Brown, Upside-Down," and a picture of Mr. Brown standing on his head. Something isn't right with Mr. Brown. Something about him is quite upside-down.

Later (after he has been catapulted through the sky by a puppy on a seesaw), Mr. Brown has a little sexual adventure. We first read the question: "Where is Brown? There is Brown! Mr. Brown is out of town." So far, so good. Then we read "Back, Black, Brown came back. Brown came back with Mr. Black." This time, Brown and Black are pictured holding hands, in a pose of intimacy denied Mrs. Brown. In fact, Mrs. Brown seems banished from the book, as later on Mr. Brown and Mr. Black have a picnic, and she's not invited.

So, first, we have the example of the children's inappropriate behavior with their father, then we have Mr. Brown who, on a trip out of town meets and becomes intimate with Mr. Black, returns home with him and seems to displace his wife altogether. Tsk, tsk.

I'm not sure what to make of the rest of it. There is the puppy that gets into bizarre situations, such as being in a giant cup, perhaps a racist slight against cultures that consider dog a form of sustinance. There is the unidentifiable "Thing," that, regardless of its other shortcomings, can sing, but eventually sings too long (a prescient critique of American Idol, perhaps?). Also, the father who is being hopped upon is chronically depressed, as we learn when we read "Dad is sad. Very, very sad. He had a bad day. What a day Dad had."

Yes, I learned that Dr. Seuss needs to be approached with caution. And don't even get me started on Fox in Sox, with its critique of high fashion and its belligerent Tweedle Beetles. No, definitely not for children.


*I am going mostly from memory here, so my apologies if I get a quote or two wrong.

15 comments:

  1. We *just* concluded a 3 month long phase where every book reading with our almost-three year old had to include "Pops Up"--a frightening collection of a number of Seuss works abridged for a pop-up book form (...and don't even couple the Freudian title with your Hop on Pop observations...) I've never been so happy to return to Thomas the Tank Engine in my life...

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  2. Doc...


    You gotta get out more.

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  3. You know, I'm one of like only twelve American children of the last thirty years or so who never read/was read a Seuss book. And now I'm really glad about that!

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  4. I'm glad you did not go into heavy detail with Fox in Socks. Had you with the same gusto you did with Pop, the innocent bubble that I try to protect my childhood memories in would burst upon the notion of what "moo-goo-gooey-gooey" would have been.

    I will defend the absolute tolerance and peace promoted in The Star-Bellied Sneeches, however. Train children in diversity early, I say.

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  5. Anonymous11:12 PM

    What a bunch of nuts you people are,(and I don't mean anything sexual by"nuts", so don't get excited!) Hop on Pop was the first book I learned to read (at the age of 2). It is an excellent book for children to first memorize, then be able to match word sounds with word pictures. Evidently, you all have some serious hang-ups. I sure wouldn't want you anywhere near my children Mr. Nokes. Maybe that is why you teach medieval literature, because that is where your mind is. Burn a book, burn a witch.........

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  6. Anonymous7:52 PM

    That's a hilarious interpretation of the greatest children's books ever written.. what would you have to say about Bugs Bunny? Bugs is walking around naked eating a carrot... what does that symbolize? LOL... ever read the Star-Bellied Sneaches? Horton hears a who? Go Dogs GO? You could read perversion into anything, especially if you are a pervert.

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  7. Anonymous10:10 PM

    Hmmmmmm...Now I have a very distinct memory of R Scott Nokes rapping Green Eggs and Ham to me while we were looking for "deelie boppers" in an Indianapolis Toys 'R Us waaaaay back in the early 90s. Of course, that was long before the bow ties and tweed suits :)

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  8. Anonymous8:42 AM

    I think your the creepy person - no normal person would sexual inneundo into any of the Dr. Seuss books. I suspose you thought that the Teletubbies promoted gay orientation to kids as well. Paranoid conspiracy theory nuts are the ones that society needs to avoid to raise mentally healthy children

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  9. Anonymous1:52 AM

    Seriously? As a children's librarian for nearly 15 years now, let me say no child I've ever met has subscribed to your theories. They are, however, very proud to be able to "read" that book back to their parents. Especially when they rhyme "Timbuktu" at the end. Huge accomplishment for a 3 or 4 year old. Your picture looks very much like a Dr. Seuss character in the making. Too bad you don't share his whimsical spirit. You've been reading too much Freud.

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  10. Anonymous11:14 AM

    You are delusional! There just isn't anything else to say.

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  11. Anonymous1:10 PM

    Despite all the hysterical commenters above, I interpreted the Mr. Brown/Mr. Black story in exactly the same way. It really kind of screams out at you, if you're older than 5. Did Dr. Seuss really mean it like that? Eh, probably not, but he once described himself as "subversive as hell," so I wouldn't rule it out.

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  12. Anonymous5:27 PM

    weird

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  13. Anonymous8:27 PM

    Oh, brother!

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  14. Anonymous7:17 AM

    I think he intended the Mr. Black piece, but who cares! I think it's funny for some and instructional for the ones who need instruction. Something that gives adults something to chuckle about is hard to incorporate in a children's books.

    Great Job, Seuss!

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  15. Anonymous5:26 PM

    Methinks that most of the commenters here are missing the point.

    Satire.

    This would have never happened to Jonathan Swift.

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