Strakon Lights Up

Take a look at "The Cat in the Hat"
to see where American kidcult is at


Yet again have I rested from translating Faust into Sanskrit and plumbing the deep structure of the Beethoven Late Quartets, and repaired for more profane refreshment to the telescreen. In so doing I encountered several previews and promos for the new Mike Myers movie "The Cat in the Hat," the "long-awaited" adaptation of the famous children's book by Theodore Seuss Geisel. And I had to gasp.

Now, I must have been the wrong age for the Dr. Seuss books; seems I was in junior high before I began to be dimly aware of them. Certainly I never read any. But I've never heard anyone describe them as smutty. Instead, the cautionary word on Geisel from my buddies on the Right was always strictly political: he was an old lefty who worked as a political cartoonist from 1941 to 1943 for the "progressive," i.e., Stalinoid, New York paper PM. And maybe, they warned, he deliberately smuggled some crypto-pinko stuff into his cartoon-and-doggerel books for kids.

I plead ignorance on that last part, but the rest is true. According to a blurb at Amazon.com for a book of Geisel's wartime newspaper cartoons:

Seuss drew over 400 cartoons in just under two years for the paper, reflecting the daily's New Deal liberal slant. Starting in early 1941, when PM advocated American involvement in World War II, Seuss savaged the fascists with cunning caricatures. He also turned his pen against America's internal enemies — isolationists, hoarders, complainers, anti-Semites, and anti-black racists — and urged Americans to work together to win the war.

That lumped-together enemies list positively reeks of the Popular Front, doesn't it? (In passing, may I say: Shame on Amazon.) Most of the articles I found while Googling insist that Geisel lambasted Stalin, too, but the only such toons that I identified were dated May 15 and June 20, 1941, while the Hitler-Stalin Pact was still on, causing comsymps and useful idiots all around the world to toss and turn. In fact one of the two toons was critical only to the extent of depicting Stalin as being over-credulous in the face of Japanese assurances! All of Geisel's later efforts featuring Stalin praised and celebrated him as civilization's heroic and long-suffering paladin. In a June 1942 effort, Geisel went so far as to laud Stalin's stooge Molotov as a "red-tape cutter." (The cartoon catalogue I mined is at http://orpheus.ucsd.edu/speccoll/dspolitic/Frame.htm.)


So far, so bad. Whether or not any deliberate "smuggling" of propaganda occurred, I would be astonished to learn that none of Geisel's worldview leaked into his Seuss books for kids. However, in the translation of his work from print to screen, it looks as if the color we really have to worry about is not red but blue. For in 2003, old-time Stalinism is long dead, and cultural Bolshevism rules. Down with the Ministry for Heavy Industry, up with the Commissariat for Profound Degradation. In the promos I've seen for the "Cat in the Hat" movie:

• The Cat spots a photo of the kids' mom and becomes sexually aroused. (His tail stiffens, for one thing.) When he finds out it's their mom he becomes quite embarrassed and apologizes.

• To undercut some anti-Cat admonitions offered by a fish in a fishbowl, the Cat observes that the fish "drinks where he pees."

• The Cat shows off a futuristic science-fictional vehicle to the kids, who note that the acronym for the car, "SLOW," is uninspiring; whereupon the Cat explains that the previous name for the car was Super Hydraulic Instantaneous Transporter; whereupon much "Eeeek!"-ing and "Ooops!"-ing ensues. (Get it? Ha. Ha.)

• For some reason neighborhood kids have suspended the Cat from a tree and are beating him with baseball bats as if he were a piñata. And one little boy swaggers up and plants a mighty swing in the Cat's crotch. For the benefit of any Martians among my readers, I must explain that in modern American popular culture nothing is considered more hilarious than seeing a male suffer a blow to his testicles and fold up in excruciating pain. However, it is not considered hilarious to see a female suffer an equivalent physical assault on her breasts; in fact, that is not seen at all.

One wonders what nasty little surprises await in the theater that were too raw for the telescreen.

I didn't go looking for the promos I've cited. They were just the ones that swam by in the course of my casual couch-potatoing. True, the scenes I've described are less vile than some of the stuff you'd see in "Midnight Cowboy" or "Boogie Nights," but, remember, "Cat in the Hat" is going to draw in millions of children of grade-school age, even if it is rated PG and really meant to entertain Baby Boomers, nostalgic and feculent. (Pause and reflect for a moment on what it means for our civilization that a movie based on a Dr. Seuss book wound up being rated PG.) The kids will see what the adults see, and we can only hope they don't understand all of it; but kids are all too understanding these days.

Given the horrifying cultural and moral mutilation that Americans have inflicted upon themselves over the past forty years, the moviemakers — themselves thoroughly ruined — may not realize that their film will help ruin children. Far more frightening is the possibility that many happy chortling popcorn-munching parents may not realize it either.

Or care.


P.S. Yesterday my 85-year-old father and I took in "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," the cinematic spectacular based on some of Patrick O'Brian's Napoleonic-era sea stories. After emerging back into the 21st century, we remarked to each other how intensely gripping and credible the movie was. It was only the next day that it occurred to one of us — my father — that vile language and smutty situations were completely absent from it. My father said that, if it weren't for the violence and the scenes of surgery, "I could have taken my mother to that picture!"

Not so, of course, with "Cat in the Hat." It's so hard to figure out what counts as an adult movie these days.

November 22, 2003


P.P.S. On Monday, November 24, CBS's "Hollywood Minute" segment, distributed to local news affiliates, reported that the Cat movie "dominated the theaters this weekend despite some tough reviews," earning more than $40 million.

There may be a silver lining here, though. The more parents and children there were who crowded into the theaters, the fewer there were who could attend the rallies in support of Michael Jackson.

November 24, 2003

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