What Is “The Lorax” Trying Tell Us?

He speaks for the trees.

By now you might have seen or heard Lou Dobbs’ rant against The Lorax . If you have not, here is the video and a textual excerpt.

“Hollywood is once again trying to indoctrinate our children.” So intones Lou Dobbs in the clip below from his show on the Fox Business Network, flagged by the Observer and other publications. Possibly alluding to the roundly mocked discussion of the Muppets back in December—which prompted Kermit and, especially, Miss Piggy to punch back at Fox News last month—Dobbs then lumps The Secret World of Arietty and The Lorax together as two new films that are “plainly demonizing the so-called 1 percent and espousing the virtue of green energy policies, come what may.” Source

I am not clear how one can reasonably claim The Lorax is a “left-wing agenda” movie. It speaks to the dangers of extreme industrialization. It speaks to conservation of resources. It speaks to appreciating the aesthetics of the natural world. Independent of political rhetoric it is neither a Left or Right position: it is a rational one. Has the need to divide and conquer superseded civil discourse once again? What is wrong with any of these ideas?

This story is particularly close to my heart as it was one read very early to my children and to their classmates during my service as a “reading dad”. With the movie slated to hit the market this Friday, both my 12-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son are excited to see how it has been translated. Neither of these individuals has grown into a tree hugging enemy of the state. Rather, and this more speaks to my son than daughter simply due to maturity, they both have a respect for the delicate balance of environmentalism with progress. More importantly they understand these concepts independent of partisan ideology. In other words, the philosophical position stands on its own merits.

Yet in an ironic twist it appears the message is bothersome for some in that its message is not strong enough. Writes Mother Jones, a left-wing blog:

Now people are having a (rather justified) heart attack about the fact that The Lorax is now being used to cross-promote a new SUV. Earlier this week, Mazda announced that it has partnered with Universal Pictures to promote the new “‘Seuss-ifed’ 2013 Mazda CX-5 crossover SUV.” The cross-promotion includes commercials with a cartoon version of the car driving through a valley of Truffula trees. The ads claim that the car is “Truffula tree friendly” –whatever that’s supposed to mean, given that the car is a standard fuel-injection-engine SUV. Sure, it’s apparently better than other SUVs on the market. But not that good.  Source

Do you get the feeling many of the people are missing the point? A children’s story is being seen as some form of indoctrination and as an avenue to for political advertising. Seems to be an example of adults over thinking a topic. Nothing is being demonized.

If the intent of Dr. Seuss was inherently political he was very clever in hiding the Republican or Democrat merchandise the Lorax was sporting on his body or in his house. Considering how the book ends, with the focus on “Unless” we may find that what is actually missing is the caring. Unless we all care about honest conversations related to the pros and cons of decisions that will both benefit and harm the environment and humanity we may find ourselves in the washing machine of agenda driven diatribes. There is no perfect decision in which nothing is unscathed. All we can ask is that we act through a mantra of concern and responsibility. Maybe all the Lorax really wanted was that we find way to not alienate people, making them our enemies.

Professor Heinz Insu Fenkl writes a thought-provoking piece regarding how we should interpret this story. You can find it here but I will include a taste of what you will find.

The rhetoric of the story’s surface requires no explication — its moral is explicit and self-contained. So much so, in fact, that some readers respond to the motif of the tree cutting and forget that that particular form of exploitation is part of the underlying theme, which Seuss characterized as “antipollution and antigreed,” not merely anti-logging.

But there’s something special about The Lorax’s rhetoric. With the figure of the “smallish” and strangely ineffectual, paternal Lorax, Seuss evokes a powerful sense of pathos, nostalgia, and guilt — which is probably why proponents of the timber industry have tried to ban the book in at least three states. According to Gary Ball, in an article in the newsletter available on the Mendocino Environmental Center’s Web site, some pro-logging and anti-environmental groups like those associated with the deceptively named Wise Use Movement (WUM) “have even gone to the extreme of creating a community uproar in order to ban . . . The Lorax, from elementary schools’ reading lists. Led by the owners of Baily’s, the logger equipment merchants . . . WUM adherents packed a number of heated school board meetings resulting in The Lorax being removed from the mandatory reading list in public schools.”

In the end you will decide what the purpose is based on how you view the intent of either Dr. Seuss, Hollywood or both. The hope is that the critical eye is fair in its observation of the prism as well as the refraction.


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