Remember When Big Wood Went After Dr. Seuss With A 'Lorax' Parody?
The predictable rightwing meltdown over poor Dr. Seuss being cancelled forever (via Dr. Seuss Enterprises' business decision to no longer print six minor titles that are virtually never among the ones that spring to mind when Ted Geisel's pen name is mentioned) called to mind for me a simpler time, when we didn't ban books (Seuss wasn't banned!) that offended us, but instead engaged them in dialogue, which I'm sure will be news to all the kids in the '70s and '80s who couldn't find Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret in the school library.
OK, now diagram that sentence while I get to my point.
Which is that after two decades of Seuss's 1971 environmental fable The Lorax making innocent children hate logging, an ordinary mom named named Terri Birkett had had enough of all that environmentalist brainwashing. So she took advantage of her everyday knowledge as a mom (and as a manager for a hardwood flooring manufacturer) and wrote her own children's book as a reply to Seuss's little blobby creature, who like all eco-terrorists claimed to speak for the trees. Her little 1995 OH YEAH? to Seuss, titled Truax (GET IT? And not The Truax, which sounds far more natural), has become something of a classic in the copious, disturbing annals of "what the fuck were they thinking?" children's books. Why yes, it is still available online through the good graces of the National Wood Flooring Association. Go take a look! It's nuts!
Where The Lorax presents a narrative of commercial exploitation to get its environmental message across, Truax doesn't bother with a plot at all, so it can get straight to the polemics. The narrator is a sensible whitebread logger named Truax whose magical abilities are limited to spouting just-so refutations of environmentalism, and sawing perfect planks with a chainsaw.
His peaceful tree harvesting is interrupted by a freaky flying equivalent to the Lorax who calls himself the Guardbark, who swoops in and starts haranguing him. And like all liberals everywhere, all Guardbark wants to do is scream talking points instead of listening to reason, or at least to the pro-industry talking points Truax offers. Instead of taking an offered seat on the neat stack of planks, Guardbark throws a tantrum, as environmentalists inevitably do.
"I WON'T take a seat, or LISTEN, or LOOK,"
The Guardbark raved on. He snarled as he shook.
"I'm Guardbark, I tell you, keeper of trees.
Our future, you know, is dependent on these.
You must stop this hacking and whacking and stacking.
You should NOT be here. I MUST send you packing."
He even knocks the neatly stacked wood products all over the place, in the manner of enviro-terrorists like Earth First!
That's literally the last actual action in Truax; the rest is all dialogue, in a very simple structure: Guardbark spouts an easily refuted claim, then Truax calmly refutes it, over and over, like a first-year college essay but with way more than five paragraphs. While the two characters talk a lot, it's perhaps a mistake to call it dialogue, since Guardbark is clearly so wrong (and angry! So angry and unreasonable!). He may appear to be made of wood, but a more honest name might have been StrawMan.
Truax carefully explains that forestry is sustainable, since he plants five tree seeds for each tree he harvests (the word "cutting" appears only once in the 20-page booklet, possibly by mistake, and certainly not "clearcut"). And modern forest management largely eliminated wildfires, so rejoice and be glad! And no, this booklet doesn't want any of your '70s hippie environmental science about fire playing an important role in woodland ecosystems.
Old-growth forests? Nothing to worry about! We have preserves for some old-growth trees — "95 million Acres (to be quite precise / Have been set aside JUST to look nice)." Truax doesn't come right out and say it, but that obviously means it's perfectly OK to
cut down harvest all the rest. And in what feels like a remarkable concession in light of later global warming denial on the Right, Truax helpfully notes that replacing old growth with young trees is really good for the planet!
But if we examine the scientists' rule:
We see that the planet's clean air and its cool
Depend on YOUNG trees in tree-growing school.
That's where they learn how to use C-0-2
To make lots of oxygen. Really, it's true.
Truly the sort of memorable storytelling that has endeared this book to generations of children. We do have to admit, though, that tree teacher is kind of neato. It's Walnutty Cox as Mr. Treepers!
After stacking up one-sided arguments as neatly as a truckload of beautiful and durable hardwood flooring, Birkett goes full anti-environment wackaloon once the topic of endangered species comes up. Just to signal that some bizarre shit's on the way, Truax pauses thoughtfully, as if he's genuinely conflicted, before going full exterminate all the brutes.
That's a tough question. It takes lots of thought
To decide what we ought not do, or we ought.
Would anyone mind if we lost, say, a tick
That carried a germ that made Cuddlebears sick?
Or what about something that's really quite nice
Like the Yellow-Striped Minnow that lives in Lake Zice?
How far will we go? How much will we pay?—
To keep a few minnows from dying away?
Besides, if we never harvested any trees at all, do you want us to live in "houses made of plastic and steel / 'Til the ores run out? — and they will." Well DO YA. PUNK? And before you know it, trees would be everywhere, taking over, and then where would the happy critters that love sun and open space be, hmm? HENNGGHH?
After that triumphant call for showing the damn trees who's boss, Guardbark's resistance vanishes like that of a conifer in a warming climate, and he happily embraces the ideological pine borer beetles of Truax's propaganda. Congratulating Truax on how wisely he's managing the forests, Guardbark soars off, proclaiming he's now convinced "things ARE NOT as bad as they seemed." Today, we assume, he's consulting for Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and explaining the Amazon rainforests need to burn and become grasslands for the sake of economic development.
The wood products industry really had high hopes for Birkett's little polemic, since it was exactly like The Lorax, but with a pro-logging perspective. At least as long as you ignore the little details like The Lorax having a plot and interesting characters, including the Lorax himself, who flies by lifting his own butt, and the narrator, the Once-ler, whose face is never seen, but goes from greedhead industrialist to sadder-but-wiser cautionary tale-teller.
For laughs, check out this glowing promo/review from a 1999 timber industry newsletter, with the not-at-all hubristic headline "Enter, Truax; Exit, Dr. Seuss." The piece calls Truax "wonderfully readable" and exults that the booklet
gives educators and parents an opportunity to set the record straight about forestry issues. It should be read to every elementary school-aged child because the schools and news media tell our youngsters virtually every day — in one way or another — that cutting trees is an environmental evil.
We learn that Birkett was inspired to take action after she "visited a 4-H camp where some college students were using "The Lorax" to preach a liberal environmental message to children," and praises her for providing an alternative to all the green indoctrination in public schools, and from scary websites that use The Lorax to reel kids in, only to link to "such radical environmental groups as Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network."
Birkett herself explains kids need to see the booklet, because
"They get bombarded from cartoons, movies and cereal boxes…that cutting trees is bad." Ironically, she noted, many of the preservationist messages children receive are "right on paper."
Oooh, what hypocrites! Please cue up Matt Bors's "Mister Gotcha" cartoon.
The piece also hilariously insists that when it comes to literary merit, Guardbark is actually a way better character than the Lorax because "he confronts a real logger, not a straw man," and what's more, unlike anyone in The Lorax, he actually gets set straight by superior logic by someone who, unlike Seuss, knows what he's talking about.
That's immediately followed by an unironic list of the fine industry trade groups — "the Hardwood Forest Foundation, the National Oak Flooring Manufacturers Association, the National Wood Flooring Association, and the Northeastern Loggers Association" — who generously donated 200,000 copies of Truax to public schools. They're on a mission from free enterprise, you see:
In order to teach children the truth about environmental issues, you need the right materials, such as publications like "Truax." When children learn about the forest products industry from a book like "Truax," the ideas will take hold, perhaps for the rest of their lives.
Yup, and now nobody remembers that dumb Seuss book at all, unless they saw this 2001 "Daily Show" story about the plucky wood-products industry's brave fight against big-money environmental groups. Or maybe Terri Birkett never wrote another book in her life, as far as we can tell.
For all the industry propaganda, we do have to say some of Truax's illustrations, by Orrin Lundgren (who does have other books to his credit) are kind of terrific, like the tree classroom, and this one gopher or prairie dog who looks completely exhausted by the entire argument.
Bored Truax Rodent is our spirit animal. He can never be cancelled.
[Truax / Building a Library blog / Timber Line / Daily Show]
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.