I unfortunately missed out on reading any Dr. Seuss as a child. From what I gather, Dr. Seuss was more of a North American phenomenon than a British one. Luckily for me, during a graduate communication course, my professor, who is a big Dr. Seuss fan, showed us a clip of a Dr. Seuss cartoon in order to prove to us that Dr. Seuss was an interculturalist.
The class watched “The Sneetches.” I love cartoons and I knew I was going to be entertained. I wasn’t expecting to be educated as well.
The story talks about a creature called a sneetch. There are two types of sneetches, one with green stars on their bellies, one without. The sneetches with the stars on their bellies feel superior to the star-less sneetches and thus alienate them from all sorts of activities in the community. The star-less sneetches are sad but one day another sneetch shows up with a Star-On machine, which is capable of putting a star on the star-less sneetches’ bellies. However, when the original star-belly sneetches see the previously star-less sneetches with new stars on their bellies, they decide to pay to get their stars removed. Then the original star-less sneetches also pay to get their stars removed.This goes on and on until everyone runs out of money. Then the peddler leaves, rich of course.
To me, it was amazing how a simple children’s book could pack in so much food for thought. There were so many themes in this book that could be explored:
1-Prejudice- Obviously the main message is the idiocy of judging someone based on their appearance. Here the star is a visual but in human terms it would probably be skin colour primarily, with other things such as hairstyle and clothing being secondary.
2-Exploitation- Exploitation is rife among people who are dissatisfied with how they look, those who strive to look different. Skin bleaching came to my mind, skin bleaching is absolutely rife in many parts of Africa, as is evident by this article: http://www.africanglobe.net/africa/african-women-practice-skin-bleaching-golden-niche-marketing/
Africa is awash with skin bleaching products because many people strive for a more “European” look, the look the media is most impressed with, apparently. Exploitation of women in society seems more prevalent to me as well- women feel the need to buy more things to be happy How much money goes into the beauty industry? Way too much!
3-Dominant group politics- Slightly related to point two is the fact that the dominant group gets to decide what is fashionable. What they deem as fashionable leads to social acceptance. In this case, it’s the star on the bellies, the star the star-less sneetches desperately wanted in order to be welcomed. It could be anything as silly, really.
I guess you can’t blame the minority for allowing the majority to decide on things, but it’s clear that the majority encourages marginalization and segregation; the sneetches with stars on their bellies would not let their children play with those other sneetches. This is how racism starts. The star-less sneetches were not invited to marshmallow parties and other events held by the star-belly sneetches. Imagine how we would feel if we were so marginalized? So many people are, and the stakes are higher than invites to marshmallow parties.
My professor called the features he critiqued identity vulnerability and chauvinism of minor differences. It really made me think about why a specific group of people would think very highly of themselves at another group’s expense. And dwelling on the minor differences such as hair texture, language, cultural differences and so on, definitely loses sight of the fact that we are all human.
So in sum, Dr, Seuss is awesome! He opened my eyes to the impact children’s books can have, even on adults.