Civil Liberties

I think I accidentally started an urban legend. My bad.

The book ban that never was


I'm flattered, maybe even a little curious.
Dr. Seuss

During Banned Books Week last month, you may have heard that some busybodies banned Green Eggs and Ham because they thought the story was kinda gay. Metro reported that this happened "briefly in the 1990s because of supposed homosexual innuendos." A Minnesota radio station said the book was targeted for its "homosexual theme." Feministe announced that it had been challenged in California for, "No shit, 'homosexual seduction' on the part of Sam." Many other outlets have related the same story, not just last month but in years past. In 2013, Dr. Seuss' classic even made its way into the Oberlin Public Library's banned books display. "Inside the bright orange book," a local paper reported, a "slip explains that it was once thought to have 'homosexual seduction,' because Sam tried to seduce his friend."

None of these reports say where or when this purported prohibition took place, other than those vague references to California and the '90s. A Lexis-Nexis search turned up nothing. I asked the American Library Association, which sponsors Banned Books Week and keeps track of such things, if they were aware of such an effort; they told me it wasn't in their database. Metro said it got its info from a book called Seuss Facts, which as far as I can tell does not exist—though a Facebook feed by that name did mention the alleged ban without citing a source. I got in touch with some of the other reporters and bloggers who had repeated the story. None of them were certain where it came from. After I contacted BuzzFeed's Spencer Althouse, who included Green Eggs in a banned-books list last year, he concluded that the story was "a terrible, terrible rumor" and added a correction to his article. I'm open to the possibility that there's a real event here that I haven't been able to track down, but that seems extremely doubtful.

Besides, I'm pretty sure I know where this began. It's my fault. Sorry. My bad.

Way back in 2002, I wrote a satiric Banned Books Week column that mocked the nation's prigs by suggesting they try to pull something new off the nation's school shelves. The article then devolved into me decoding the supposed sexual subtexts in Treasure Island and, yes, Green Eggs and Ham. Dr. Seuss' book, I wrote,

is a thinly disguised account of homosexual seduction. In this kiddie favorite, "Sam I Am" (that is, "Same As I Am") tries to persuade the narrator to "eat" green eggs and ham. Anyone who has traveled in the Spanish-speaking world knows what "eggs" are. The ham, of course, is a long, phallic sausage, perfect for "porking" someone. The protagonist repeatedly denies any interest in the offer, but Sam persists, proposing that he join him in any number of locations, positions, and kinky arrangements. ("Would you, could you, on a boat? Would you, could you, with a goat?") Finally, our hero gives in, just once—and discovers that he enjoys fellating breakfast after all. Sam has made a convert, and the legion of God-Fearing Heterosexuals is diminished by one.

When I first read that Green Eggs had been banned somewhere, I worried that some literal-minded puritan had taken me seriously and launched a crusade. That doesn't seem to have happened. But phrases from my piece have turned up in several accounts of the legendary Green Eggs ban, and one article actually links to my old column to back up its claims, apparently unaware that I was making a joke. It's true that I never claimed that this ban actually happened anywhere, so those references to California and the '90s didn't come from me. But The Lorax, another Seuss book, really has faced parental opposition in California; and an alleged Green Eggs ban in China reportedly ended in 1991. Both of those factlets were mentioned in some of the same articles that claimed a gay-hating Grundy had tried to keep kids from reading Green Eggs and Ham. I suspect that at some point in the chain of transmission, those different elements got mixed up.

Someone once said that if a spooky legend catches on, it says something true about the anxieties of the people who believe and repeat the tale, even if it says absolutely nothing true about the subject of the story itself. My yarn may be more funny than scary—that's what I was aiming for, anyway—but the idea that people would prohibit a harmless children's book is still pretty frightening. And it's not hard to imagine what underlying worries might be at work here.

Many educated elites live in fear of Bible-thumping troglodytes haunting the hinterlands, some great redneck beast slouching towards Washington to make Sarah Palin president. Book-banning stories are tailor made to fit that terror. Palin herself had to deal with rumors in 2008 that she had tried to fire a librarian who wouldn't remove reams of offensive texts from the shelves. The Guardian once ran an Amanda Marcotte editorial under the headline "The Tea Party moves to ban books." The editorial contained exactly zero examples of Tea Partiers trying to ban anything.

There really are crusaders out there whose fear of demons leads them to try to suppress speech. Just ask the American Library Association. But there are also people whose fear of demons leads them to imagine book bonfires where none exist.

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  1. These Irish orphans are delicious.

    1. The Shortest Way With the Dissenters

  2. I knew it was you, Jesse. You break my heart. You break my heart!

  3. And 'Green Eggs' are ...?

      1. Really? So they're either nasty, fungal infected balls or Irish?

        1. You repeat yourself.

    1. Huevos.

    2. So, what do you say in Mexico if you just want some eggs?

      1. Its all about the context.

        Sometimes the hard salami is just sausage.

      2. "Pedro, I'll have the scrambled testicles please."

  4. Or maybe it's all just a...conspiracy!

  5. This is just a disinfo campaign paid for by your Koch overlords, isn't it?

  6. I just read the story to my kids last night. I had no idea I was indoctrinating them.

    1. Welp it's too late now. They're totally going to turn out gay.

      1. Like they had a chance.

        1. If that's the case he could've at least named the newest one after me.

          1. He wanted a "J". I thought it was obvious.

          2. The newest one really likes boobs.

            1. No, I like boobs, perhaps you're confusing me with sarcasmic?

            2. Who doesn't?

              1. Jesse

    2. What I want to know is where is the Sure2Seuss app to assuage my guilt of raping my childrens' minds with this stuff?

  7. how many of those idiots laughed at the rubes who fell for the Proctor and Gamble sketch?

  8. There really are crusaders out there whose fear of demons leads them to try to suppress speech. Just ask the American Library Association.

    You mean like those who think kids need to be shielded from "The Hiding Place," by Corrie Ten Bloom?

    1. Thanks. No one has ever pointed out before that progressive assholes as well as religious assholes want to control and suppress things they disapprove of.

      1. In this case, there is a bit of relevency, isn't there? The parallel was drawn between the imagined redneck troglodytes and the real-world book banners, suggesting some similarity in their profile. To note that at least some of the real-world book banners share a profile more akin to those imagining the redneck troglodytes seems apropos.

        1. Well said. Anybody remember the book "Nappy Hair"? It was banned for real and no redneck, real or imagined, had anything to do with it.

  9. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam-I-Am...straight.

    1. You're all alone for the month of October. I know you like the part about the goat.

      1. Not with a goat, not on a boat.

        Sheesh! No means no!

  10. I could tell you things about Peter Pan
    And the Wizard of Oz - there's a dirty old man!

  11. Jesse deserves a round of applause: He created his own conspiracy.

    I've been trying to spread lies for decades to no avail. At best, i managed to perpetuate the misconception that 'corned beef' was made by feeding cattle Corn instead of other grains... but even that that was only for a few years, and amongst very, very, very dim-witted NYer's.

    Dr Suess as early pioneer of the Insidious Gay Agenda? = now THAT is masterwork.

  12. Its turtles projection all the way down.

  13. My reading of Green Eggs and Ham has been forever ruined. If I ever see your book in my public library, Mr. Walker, it will be the last time it is seen by anyone!

  14. The Cosmotarian Agenda: first, gay marriage, then, goat marriage.

      1. SNL did it

    1. I think it's the mouse who wants to play house.

  15. supposed sexual subtexts in Treasure Island

    SUPPOSED? That book is so gay it should have been printed on three dollar bills.

      1. Dig down to the treasure.

        1. We got rum, we got the, what was that other thing? Oh, yes...

    1. *walk* the plank

  16. Actually, pretty much all of Dr. Seuss promotes homosexuality.

    Where do you think gays got their twee, arch way of speaking?


    1. Yes. The Sneeches was a screed about the futility of gay conversion therapy and the shysters that promote it.

    2. You need to work on your sarcasm.

  17. *tries not to think about Hop on Pop* *fails* goddammit

      1. I think you just started an urban legend.

        1. And God damn it, beat me to it.

          Okay, well, there's still Foxes in Boxes for the necrophilia sniffers.

  18. None of the "banned" books are actually, you know, banned. You can and always will be able to buy trash, you just have no right to have the taxpayers buy it for you.

    1. you just have no right to have the taxpayers buy it and conveniently stock it on local shelves for you.

      Never forget, not providing = depriving, FTW!

    2. The "taxpayers" covers a whole lot of ground. I guess you have no problem with the taxpayers paying for abortions, Obama phones, welfare, EBT cards, etc.

    1. I was going to mention that, also. Well, Mencken is good company to be keeping?.

      I don't think Mr. Walker need be ashamed.

      My problems with the whole "Banned Books Week" meme boil down to two points;

      1) There's the whole "Librarians know better" attitude. If the town doesn't want you to shelve a book, then as your employer you should freaking listen to them. Librarians are hirelings. OK, maybe a proposed "ban" is absurd. On the other hand Librarians are not High Priests of Culture, they are book custodians.

      2) The notion, promoted by the inevitable display of classics that have been banned, that banning a book is always indefensible strikes me as smug. Somehow or other I have never seen copies of MEIN KAMPF or THE PROTOCOLS OF THE ELDERS OF ZION on such a display. I don't say it's never happened, but I've never seen it. There are books that are nasty, vicious, evil lies. Now, I happen to believe that banning them (that is, preventing their sale) is marginally worse than ignoring them, but I would be annoyed if I found that a public library supported by my taxes and donations gave them shelf space. They belong in scholarly collections (they are historically significant, if vile), or in the little heaps of sordid filth collected by the swine who believe them. I don't advocate actual bans on their publication, but there is a qualitative difference between allowing their publication and actually buying copies.

  19. "Palin herself had to deal with rumors in 2008 that she had tried to fire a librarian who wouldn't remove reams of offensive texts from the shelves. "

    Meh, your average Leftie still believes that Palin said she could see Russia from her back yard. I joked about it last year and got a confused look in response. I mentioned that it was a SNL sketch and the person refused to believe it.

    1. The fact that you would even reach to defend a bimbo with a 90 IQ who was almost a heartbeat from the nuclear football is telling.

      Let's face it. Even the average person HERE is much smarter and more qualified to be leader of the USA.

      "interviewer Charles Gibson asked her what insight she had gained from living so close to Russia, and she responded: "They're our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska"

      "COURIC: Explain to me why that enhances your foreign policy credentials.
      PALIN: Well, it certainly does because our-- our next door neighbors are foreign countries. They're in the state that I am the executive of. And there in Russia--
      COURIC: Have you ever been involved with any negotiations, for example, with the Russians?
      PALIN: We have trade missions back and forth. We-- we do-- it's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America"

      1. I think that I missed the offensively stupid part of the quote you provided. It sounds like standard politician speak bolstering her foreign policy experience.

        Oh wait, she talks kinda ditzy and slow... That must be it you sexist prick.

      2. Palin: We have to be ready for the Stealth Kayak suicide bombers from Siberia.

      3. And she STILL never said she could see Russia from her back yard.

        Wow. I made the comment about proggies losing it when it is pointed out that all or parts of their accepted narrative is false before I read your post, and there you are, exemplifying it. It's absolutely textbook.

        There are places in the Aleutian chain where you can see other rocks controlled by the Rooskies, so what she said was (technically) correct.

      4. "The fact that you would even reach to defend a bimbo with a 90 IQ who was almost a heartbeat from the nuclear football is telling."

        OK, how do you know that her IQ is 90? Do you actually have any evidence other than badly written comedy routines? Is there, in fact, anything about the Left's take on Palin that doesn't originate in the Left's echo chamber?

        Would she have been a horrible Vice President? Possibly. I know of no evidence that she would have been one tenth as embarrassing as the idiot who occupies the position now. Or, for that matter as embarrassing as the nitwit who is actually President.

    2. Within the proggie mind, when there is a battle between their "narrative" and reality/facts/truth, they will default to the narrative every time.

      The more significant the error, the more blatant the misinterpretation, the more quickly they will reiterate the erroneous narrative.

      When it's most glaring is when they become most hysterical.

    3. You need to find better friends and acquaintances. Or at least smarter ones.

  20. There is a new book coming out that the right better ban before it's too late!

    It's called The Innovators by Walter Issacson......

    And it involves the true story of the rise of our modern computers, the internet and all the other stuff. I heard the Fresh Air interview about it and also know many of the people involved....

    Well, firstly, a BIG BAD collaboration, according to history and issacson, is responsible for all this great technology!

    Leftie Hippie Socialists from the Left Coast.

    The 4th part was corporations - however, they only brought it to market and ran with it after the hippies and gubment and academia came up with it.

    He tells a story of how clueless AT&T was - the internet guys came up with the packet network and AT&T swore it would not work. They put together a 2 hours presentation with experts about how it would not work. They showed it to the guys making the internet - and after two hours, said to them "see, it won't work". The guy said "yes it will". And, of course, it did.

    He also details how gubment funded AT&T invention of the transistor and original computers, etc.

    He say that, left to corporations, the internet would NEVER have been open and decentralized the way it is. It was no accident because all the original leftists and progs were about "power to the people".

    I suggest ALL libertarians buy this book

    OK, it's out already.

    1. "dear gubmint,

      Thank you for my iphone
      Thank you for my internet
      Thank you for the food we eat
      Thank you for the roads
      Thank you for the trees
      Thank you for the air

      Gubmint, can you please bring me a pony for Christmas?

      In Obama's name, Amen"

      1. All hail gubmint! When do the virgin sacrifices begin?

        1. 8:30 tonight at my place. Don't forget, it's BYOB.

    2. Someone appears to have missed the point of Eisenhower's farewell address.

    3. I can't tell whether you're being sarcastic or not, but your summary is utter bullsh*t.

      Oh, AT&T was a big evil corporation alright, and they controlled communications--thanks to government-granted monopolies and barriers to entry. When those came down and private companies could compete, the Internet took off. Things started off with modems and thousands of small ISPs across the country, then Netscape, then tons of other Internet companies.

      There was government funding, almost all of it from the DoD and bound up with military contractors; not a lot of "leftists and progs" working in that environment. In fact, the view that speech and software should be free is not a "leftist and progs" viewpoint, it is a quintessentially libertarian viewpoint.

      Many of us were Democratic leaning back then, both because Republicans were socially conservative war mongers and Democrats were more liberal. These days, Democrats have turned into a proto-fascist crony capitalist club, and many of us want nothing to do with "leftists and progs" anymore.

  21. As far as hoaxers go, Walker, you're no Mencken. But you're yet young; there's still a chance for you to perpetrate the Great Libertarian Hoax.

    Whatever its final character, it should probably have something to do with a libertarian/TP conspiracy to ban Mencken's works from public schools and libraries.

  22. No means no, Sam I Am.

  23. It takes a really perverted person to think "Sam I am" is about homos.

  24. it is sad that the only reason this article was written and published was to pervert a children's story. Reason is getting to be as bad as HuffPo and Slate.

  25. gay-hating Grundy

    What is "Grundy" in this context? Is there an etymology? Google is no help.

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