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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

Tom Fudge On The Horton Hears A Who! Controversy: The Intersection Of Politics And Art

What do we hear when we hear a who?

By Tom Fudge 

suess Last week protestors caused a ruckus around the opening of a movie called Horton Hears a Who. The movie is based on a children’s book by the late Dr. Seuss, a one-time San Diego resident whose real name was Ted Geisel.  The demonstration was inspired by the story’s proclamation, by kind-hearted elephant Horton, that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” Anti-abortion activists came to the movie’s premiere and handed out flyers afterwards, telling people that Horton’s statement explains why we need to protect the unborn.


The demonstration irked a few pro-choicers. But it didn’t bother me. I have no idea what Ted Geisel’s views on abortion were or whether he even gave the subject any thought. I do know that art speaks to different people in different ways, and the producer of the art is only half of the equation. Consumers make up the other half. And if Horton’s love of people “no matter how small” makes you think of a fetus, so be it.

Matt Scallon
March 24, 2008 at 04:04 AM
I don't have 100% assurance of Theodor or Audrey Giesel's position on baby-killing, either. I do, however, know that both of them have sued pro-life groups to stop them from writing, speaking, or printing --well, just so that I don't have to waste time in court, I'll just use a ephymism-- The Sentence. Nevermind that the Fair Use Doctrine allows for the use of The Sentence, so long as The Sentence is properly attributed. Nevermind that the Giesel's have never sued any other political organization for any other use of any other phrase from any other publication save for The Sentence. Nevermind that the Giesel's didn't mind pro-lifers buying the Book which contains The Sentence and has never refunded any of their money. So, at the risk of court costs, I can only conclude that Ted and Audrey Giesel are very, very small people.

J. Bo from Oceanside, CA
March 24, 2008 at 09:00 AM
Matt, Matt, Matt... it's spelled "Theodore," not "Theodor," and "Geisel," not "Giesel." Also, Theodore WAS, not IS (he died in 1991)... and while we're at the grammar/spelling/language desk, if you're referring to them in the plural, it's "Geisels," not "Giesel's." Theodore Geisel, while alive, was fiercely protective of his material, and opposed all but a very few adaptations of his work; he made exceptions for the animated versions of "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" (mostly due to the involvement of the brilliant Chuck Jones whom he greatly respected) and "The Lorax" (largely because of its environmental message). Audrey Geisel is another story altogether, and the less said about her "making available" her late husband's work, the better. As for his politics...Geisel was an unapologetic leftist ALL HIS LIFE, and (as Tom mentioned) wrote/drew editorial cartoons, posters, and animated films condemning American isolationism and opposing Hitler and Mussolini, both independently and for the War Department. re: "The Sentence," Matt? “A person’s a person, no matter how small" can just as easily be applied to a woman's "personhood," i.e., autonomy over her own body and health, regardless of "how small" she may be considered by family/society/government/her health-care provider/whomever. NO ONE has a monopoly on Geisel's expression of a universal human truth. So there. P.S. Yes, Tom, Geisel missed the moral mark when it came to Japanese-Americans during WWII, a position he came to regret with great shame and for which he apologized in subsequent years... which is more than we ever got from Thomas Jefferson on the issue of owning slaves...

Matt Scallon
March 24, 2008 at 09:05 PM
Dear J. Bo, Where do we begin? After all, it's strange that someone from your side of the baby-killing debate would bother to take the grammatical speck out of a pro-lifer's eye with the beam of your own side's eye. After all, when exactly is your side of the baby-killing debate going to start predicating your transitive verbs? The right to choose? The right to choose what? Breakfast cereals? How about netiquette? It's always bad form and poor etiquette on the Web to correct someone else's spelling, punctuation, and grammar. People's brains move faster than their fingers can type --at least we hope so-- which is why veterans of information superhighway aren't so petty as to criticize another's sentence structure. If this be your first time on a computer, welcome to Internet, Vice President Gore. If this be not, well, might I recommend a hobby? Now, per my spelling error. While there are several reputatable citations where his first name is spelled "Theodor", yes, you're right; it is "Geisel," with both German spelling and German pronounciation. I had corrected my spelling in a follow-up blog entry, a blog entry which, sadly, never got posted. This happens occasionally with KPBS' servers, a problem that even Beth Accomando has had to deal with when she's loaded her movie reviews (we've e-mailed each other on this subject). I could have resubmitted my correction, but, it was 10:00 pm, and I thought, "Only some loser with too much time on their hands would go through the bother prancing around like a peacock over transposed vowels." Well, here are, then. I must say, those are some very mighty fine feathers you have there. Continuing on this theme of correction where no correction should really matter, the Chicago Manual of Style really has no definitive way of handling the tense when dealing with a plural noun where some of the members of the group are past tense (i.e., deceased) and some of the members of the group are present tense (i.e., alive). The problem lies in the fact that English doesn't have a past imperfect tense, and, in leiu of transposing Latin suffixes onto English words, I erred on the side of keeping Audrey Geisel linguistically alive rather than linguistically killing her off. It's the pro-life thing to do, and I understand, given your position in the baby-killing debate, why that might confuse you. Now, to the dreaded "'s." According to the Blue Book of Grammar, in that typical "because I said so" way in which the Blue Book of Grammar operates, the apostrophe should never be used to pluralize proper names. However, the Chicago Manual of Style states, in regard to apostrophes and plurals: "...if you come across a plural that would be misunderstood without an apostrophe, you should use one: for instance, in A’s and B’s, the first term would be mistaken for “As� without an apostrophe, and the second term uses the apostrophe because it would look inconsistent to style them in different ways." I contend that, Blue Book or not, an apostrophe should be used for the pluralization of proper nouns because, given the number of proper names ending with "s," including those with Germanic origins, failure to use an apostrophe might the reader to believe that Ted's last name would be "Geisels" were it not for the apostrophe. Thankfully, we don't have L'Academe, no matter what the Blue Book might think itself to be, and the battle over the "'s" wages on, like so many other more worthwhile debates. Now, finally, to the matter at hand. Neither Ted Geisel or Audrey Geisel have never used the heavy hand of lawsuits on any other organization which obsconded with any Dr. Suess work except for pro-life groups. None. While they may have gritted their teeth privately, neither of them turned such protection of their intellectual property into a public spectacle, save for when pro-lifers used The Sentence --I state again, since you probably weren't paying attention before, a term used properly under the Fair Use Doctrine. Writing as a liberal Democrat, what exactly is "leftist" about opposing the right to life and supporting the baby-killing industry? The baby-killing industry is a for-profit --and, like Haliburton, taxpayer subsidized-- White male-dominated industry which makes its profits from murdering Black babies and mutiliating Black mothers. If anything, the "leftist" position to take is in opposition to the baby-killing industry and in support to the right to life. Apparently, you've never heard of Democrats for Life of America, or, if you have, you weren't probably weren't paying attention. Our Web site,, includes our "95/10" Initiative, which proposes to decrease the number of abortions in this country by 95% over the next 10 years. If someone were truly "leftist," this is something you should be spending your time with, and not suing pro-lifers over their use of The Sentence. No one who's pro-life ever denies the "personhood" of the woman. That's what makes our side of the baby-killing debate different than yours. We don't deny anyone their "personhood" of anyone, born or pre-born. Unlike your side of the baby-killing debate, we don't make babies enemies of their own mothers. We pro-lifers also consider the post-abortive mother the second victim in the feticide tragedy. Apparently, you don't know as many post-abortive mothers as I do, for there was nothing autonomous about their experiences of having abortions. The baby's father pressure them into killing their babies --a practice a shock jock from your side of the baby-killing debate, Tom Leykis, dubiously calls, "The Hail Mary." The baby's grandparents, either her own parents, his father's parents, or both, threaten them with homelessness if they doesn't mutilate their bodies. Colleges take away to take away their scholarships if they don't have abortions, while self-appointed, self-annointed "women's rights" group do nothing. Insurance companies refuse to cover care should that their babies have some genetic disease that, while not fatal, can mean slimmer profit margins. Doctors characterize them as being "too old" to have a healthy baby, as if somehow an unhealthy baby --whatever "unhealthy" might mean-- is no less human than a healthy baby. Meanwhile, anytime we pro-lifers so much as sneeze in the vicinity of an abortion shop, much less offer mothers information about alternatives to killing their babies, the ACLU, the "protectors of free speech," slap us with RICO suits --a practice thankfully struck down as unconstitutional. The abortion procedure itself is what makes women "small," the right to life is what makes them people. You're right, no one has a monopoly on Ted's "expression of a universal human truth." Unfortunately for your side of the baby-killing debate and for Ted himself, he said it, and he can't take it back. "So there?" What, are you in fifth grade? As for postscript, since Jerry Falwell apologized for things he said and did that, in retrospect, he thought better of, does that mean he gets forgiven by your side of the baby-killing debate? Or, is it that there's one low moral standard by which your side of the baby-killing debate judges itself and an impossibly high moral standard by which your side judges us pro-lifers?


March 25, 2008 at 05:47 PM
Co-opting other people's art in order to serve a particular political agenda is always problematic - because, Matt - it's always excruciatingly boring.

Matt Scallon
March 25, 2008 at 06:09 PM
Dear Chris, Boring is as boring does. You're certainly entitled to that opinion. What has made this an issue is not pro-lifers "co-opting" Ted Geisel's words. What has made this an issue is Audrey Geisel's abuse of our courts to suppress its Fair Use. I only wish that Audrey followed Tom Fudge's example (you know it's bad when I'm paying Tom Fudge a complement for demonstrating tolerance).

aaryn b. from full personhood
March 26, 2008 at 12:54 AM
A fetus is NOT a person. Chris: Ten points.

Matt Scallon from A safe distance from the abortionist's forceps
March 26, 2008 at 06:25 PM
Dear aaryn b., From where do you get your biology degree? Nevermind, let's go further than that. Did you take high school biology? What was your grade? Making "because I said so" statements doesn't constitute a score of any kind.