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'The Cat in the Hat' movie:
More Innocence Lost

December 9, 2003

Theodor Suess Geisel, better known as 'Dr. Suess,' wrote and illustrated about 45 children's books during his lifetime. Some of them were just fun. Others brought important messages with them. For example, "The Sneetches" is a moral tale about how external differences don't make anyone better or worse than anyone else. In a similar vein, "What Was I Afraid Of?" teaches children not to automatically be afraid of others just because they are different.

One thing all Dr. Suess books teach kids, though, is better reading skills. One of his earliest and most beloved books was written in response to a published report in the 1950s about how children were having trouble developing their reading skills because the books they had to read were boring. "The Cat in the Hat" contains about 225 essential words for early reading development, and has helped millions of young people - including this writer - learn to read better since its publication in 1957.

In short, Dr. Suess stories have been loved by children for about half a century. Just as importantly, they have also been trusted by parents. Anything with the name 'Dr. Suess' on it could be assumed to be safe for kids, without a second thought.

Dr. Suess died in 1991, and he must be spinning in his grave these days, because on November 21, 2003, his pen name ceased to be automatically safe and positive. It was on that day that the movie version of 'The Cat in the Hat' made its national debut at theaters. What Ted Geisel had written as a fun story to help kids learn how to read has been corrupted by Hollywood into a film that is unapologetically vulgar. The book taught kids how to recognize words. The movie is teaching them how to recognize suggestive phrases.

Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I like the idea that there should be some things that are sacred, and some acts that just aren't done - and if such acts ARE done, those who do them are universally condemned for it. For example, here in America, a country that was founded on (among other things) religious freedom, Christianity used to be one of those things. Even those who disagreed with what particular Christians might be doing at a given time showed respect for the religion itself, and the God and Savior that people belonging to that religion worshipped. Nowadays blasphemous movies like 'The Last Temptation of Christ' are made without shame, and obscene works of 'art' demeaning Jesus and Mary are not only displayed without apology but funded by our tax dollars. There is some protest of these things, but not enough to stop them. Christianity is no longer considered sacred by all or even most.

When it comes to kids, though, you would think there would be SOME things that virtually EVERYONE would consider off limits, some areas where basic innocence could be preserved; but more and more that is ceasing to be the case. Educators in more and more places are pushing for sex education in lower and lower grades, as far down as kindergarten. TV stopped being safe years ago: even the few good programs for young children are often polluted by offensive commercials and promos for adult-oriented shows.

For a long time, Dr. Suess was a refuge from all that. When parents saw that name, they knew they didn't have to worry about inappropriate content. Thanks to the new movie, that era too has ended. Even the name 'Dr. Suess' on a book isn't necessarily completely safe anymore, because a 'novelization' of the movie has been published, illustrated in the Suess manner and reminding the young children who saw the film of some of the new things they learned.

Of course, the original Dr. Suess works will always be there for parents to share with their young children; but thanks to this new movie, the name 'Dr. Suess' has been removed from the rapidly vanishing list of things that are automatically safe for kids. Discernment is now required, and that's a terrible shame. It's yet another symptom of the decay of standards and morals in society, both in America and throughout the free world. We all are worse off for this, whether we always realize it or not.

The situation reminds me of what happened in the Christmas movie, "It's A Wonderful Life." George Bailey was horrified at what had happened to his home town, but in a way he was lucky. Those of us who believe there should be some rules that are never bent and some lines that are never crossed are having to watch Bedford Falls turn into Pottersville one small step at a time. I think that is a much more painful thing to see.

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