Arts & Literature

Art in Paradise: What Would the Lorax Buy?

The selling out of another Seuss classic

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Friday, March 09, 2012

At the beginning of The Lorax, Springfield native Dr. Seuss's 1971 classic, the reader is directed to the reclusive Once-ler to hear the tale of the title character: "He'll tell you, perhaps ... if you're willing to pay." His fee? "[F]ifteen cents and a nail and the shell of a great-great-great-grandfather snail."

In 2012, the value of the Lorax's story has apparently gone up dramatically—and I'm not talking about the $8.75 ticket plus popcorn. The makers of a new animated 3D version of the story, released this month, clearly hope to squeeze more than a few lousy shells from the movie. The movie (like the majority of movies targeted at kids) is the vehicle for a massive web of marketing campaigns, with the Lorax himself hawking the usual movie-tie-in toys as well as promoting brands such as IHOP, Pottery Barn and Whole Foods.

This isn't the first time a beloved Dr. Seuss story has been turned crassly commercial; remember 2000's hideous live-action movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or 2003's The Cat in the Hat (which a New York Times reviewer called "a vulgar, uninspired lump of poisoned eye candy")? But there's something especially appalling about the whoring of the Lorax, given the original story's message of conservation and anti-consumerism.

The Lorax, as any self-respecting kindergartner could tell you, speaks for the trees—the Truffula Trees, which the Once-ler begins chopping down in order to knit their tufts into amorphous sorta-garments called Thneeds. "Sir! You are crazy with greed," the Lorax chastises the Once-ler. "There is no one on earth who would buy that fool Thneed."

But, alas, there are plenty of consumers eager to buy Thneeds, and before long, the Once-ler builds a factory and chops down all the Truffula Trees, depriving the native Brown Bar-ba-loots of their main food source and giving them a terrible case of gastrointestinal "crummies."

"You poor stupid guy!" the smug Once-ler tells the Lorax. "You never can tell what some people will buy."

*

That message has not been lost on the profit-minded folks behind the Lorax movie. They're counting on eager consumers to gobble up Truffula Chip pancakes and Seventh Generation's "green" diapers and all sorts of goods because of clever marketing tie-ins with the movie. And let's be clear about just whom those tie-ins are pitched to: kids, the wearers of diapers and eaters of sugary pancakes, who hold an impressive sway over household spending due to an expertly employed strategy of whining, nagging and guilt-tripping.

Enter the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, those champions of kids' rights to be kids. The Boston-based nonprofit has launched a "Save the Lorax!" campaign, urging parents to read the book, to "see the movie if you must," but to absolutely "tell the corporations that have kidnapped the Lorax you want nothing to do with" the products they're pushing.

"It is both cynical and hypocritical to use a beloved children's story with a prescient environmental message to sell kids on consumption," CCFC Director Susan Linn said in an announcement of the effort. "The Lorax that so many of us know and love would never immerse children in the false corporate narrative that we can consume our way to everything, from happiness to sustainability."

Among the many things being marketed via the Lorax is—ironically and insultingly—Mazda's CX-5 SUV. (Let's face it, the Lorax would drive an electric car, if not take public transit.) In support of CCFC's campaign, Catherine Lutz and Anne Fernandez, co-authors of Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives, note, "[T]he real poke in the eye of this ad campaign is its deceptive message to children and their parents that buying an SUV can save the planet from the environmental destruction that auto manufacturing, auto emissions, and auto sprawl has wrought."

CCFC's website (www.commercialfreechildhood.org) has a petition parents can sign vowing to "shun all Lorax-themed merchandise and promotions," which will be sent to the companies involved. "If that notoriously reclusive Lorax ever agreed to appear in a film, he would say a resounding 'NO' to any commercial tie-ins," CCFC says. "He would help children curb their consumption instead of promoting a slew of 'greener' products. He would tell corporations to stop bombarding kids with materialistic messages."

In other words, the Lorax would get a terrible case of crummies in the tummy if he were to see what's being done in his name by those crazy with greed.

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