Consider the following, because we can all stand to learn a lesson from Dr Seuss once in a while.
We have become a society of touchy, unhappy, overly sensitive people. Don’t get me wrong, society has always had this issue, but it has taken the events of recent months to really bring to the forefront something that was whispered alluded to in prior months.
When I was in sixth grade, back in what the millenials would call “The Dark Ages” (it was actually 1995, but we also referred to our parents’ generation as such), my teacher asked me to run to the school library to pick up a video he was going to show us. I just said video, and I’m not referring to something on You Tube – may the younger generation that read this not laugh! I didn’t know what I was picking up until the media specialist handed me a copy of The Sneetches, which I remembered from when I was younger. But alas, I realized he was about to show Dr. Seuss to a bunch of 11 and 12 year old kids.
Immediately, we asked him why we were watching a cartoon (oh the horror!), and what benefit it would have. The lesson he was teaching us was about acceptance of others based on differences that make us unique (but since we were in sixth grade, he probably didn’t describe it as such). And after watching the quick twelve minutes of yellow-bellied creatures (some with green stars on their bellies, some without), we all got a better understanding of the message both the teacher (and Dr. Seuss) were trying to impart on young minds.
On the beaches, there were two different types of yellow-bellied Sneetches – a group who had green stars printed on their bellies, and the ones who were so unfotunate not to have stars on their bellies. The green-starred ones had weenie roasts and marshmallow toasts with only their own kind, and sneered upon the ones who did not have stars. The ones without were reduced to shame and exclusion for their “deficit.”
The Sneetches without stars are determined to fit in with the starred ones (who despite the obvious marking, still looked alike). And that’s when a snake oil salesman type named Mr. Sylvester McMonkey McBean arrives on the beaches to offer the Sneetches without stars the Ultimate Solution – a machine that puts stars on the bellies where there once were none. And being desperate for conformity and acceptance, they clamor for the opportunity to access the “Star-On Machine” for three dollars a piece. The result is instant gratification, but for the Starred Ones, this is an atrocity. There is no way they can accept the ones who didn’t originally have stars into their circles, weenie roasts, and marshmallow toasts. They no longer had anyone to sneer at in disdain, so they are offered their Ultimate Solution…removal of their stars in the “Star-Off Machine.”
And because McBean doesn’t hold any kind of prejudice against either side, he lets anyone and everyone through (money talks, you know). And of course, he can drive up the cost due to demand. And if you’ve read the story, you know what eventually happens – the Sneetches run out of money, and Mr. McMonkey McBean takes his wares and leaves the Sneetches to figure all of this out.
The Sneetches learn a lesson despite their obvious flaw – they don’t have to look exactly alike to be accepted by the others. And to celebrate this newfound acceptance, they toast their marshmallow sticks and hold weenie roasts, singing their approvals of each other and their “differences.”
Dr. Seuss wrote this story as a means of satire regarding discrimination between races and cultures, but his inspiration arose from his opposition to antisemitism. And despite McBean’s assumption that you “can’t teach a Sneetch,” it is obvious that teaching is possible. And that is true of society that opens their minds and focuses on what could be positive, and try to strive for that much.
And while this type of approach to acceptance and stopping discrimination seems simplistic in theory, the best and most successful victories are the ones that start off small. The issue is complex in nature, but by demonstrating change on a level that children can understand, there is yet hope that the error of certain ways can be found on the adult level.
The Star-Bellied Sneetches represent the societal oppressors, but also individuals who are easily offended by those who are not like them. To not have a star belly is to be an outcast, not worthy of attention or time. And to want acceptance by conformity, they will not hear of it. They publicly declare that the “others” cannot be them. In our society, we fear cultures and people because of a few ill-intentioned individuals, going so far as to exclude, stereotype, and commit acts of violence (in extreme cases). Unlike thestar-bellied Sneetches and their fear of allowing the ones without stars to join them, there are people who want everyone to adapt to their way of living. That groupthink mentaility is easily as dangerous as exclusion.
Our current culture is that of living on pins and needles (and not just walking on them!). A celebrity dies that we don’t even know, and we move beyond mere shock and surprise to full on freaking out. We’re edgy because someone thinks differently, looks different, isn’t you, isn’t the people you spend time with, and (gasp) doesn’t want to be like you, look like you, and (bigger gasp) they want to call you out on feeling/acting this way. Why? Why is being different so bad? Being different isn’t dangerous, nor is it an atrocity on society. Being different gets a bad rap. It isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, being different is what moves society forward. Forward thinkers who look, act, and think differently are what fuel necessary change. Yes, there are some who are out to cause harm, but that is such a small percentage of all people – labelling a whole group of people based on the actions of that minority.
The things we can or cannot do are all based on assumption. The assumption is that we can’t be taught the lessons of our past, or that we aren’t capable of improving our lives through change. But we can! Even the Sneetches, it was assumed, could not be taught. But they were.
However you feel about taking an optimistic look at what can change, or the message you see when you watch The Sneetches, just take it for what it is (a children’s cartoon based on a fun children’s book), but do take the deeper meaning behind the story as an important lesson.
On a happier note, clicking play will allow you to see what crazy lengths those Sneetches will go to for the sake of being special!
And because I have to say it: “The stars on your bellies are O-U-T OUT!”