“I would not eat them here or there
I would not eat them anywhere.
I would not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them Sam I Am.”
Ah, yes. Dr. Seuss. Many of us have grown up reading and hearing his stories. Green Eggs and Ham no doubt chief among them all. Did you know that his stories were designed to teach vocabulary words?
Knowing this original intention, as a boy, would have ruined the whole experience for me.
The stories captured my imagination. First, they taught vocabulary, and second, they crafted tales of a whimsical nature; tales spun from a robust and fruitful imagination. They were also instructive.
Most, if not all, of Seuss’ stories repeat a few dozen words that children need to know to effectively communicate with and connect to the larger world. They taught us, in other words, about reality.
From the Whimsical to the Nonsensical
Today’s culture doesn’t seem too terribly concerned with passing on – to the next generation – deeply meaningful words that provide significant connection to reality and the larger world around us.
For example, I recall an evening at the dinner table that reminds me of the books I read as a child, books such as Green Eggs and Ham. The terms we used at dinner that night, however, actually removed us from reality rather than helping us connect with reality. We have in other words, moved from the whimsical to the nonsensical. This gravitation toward disorder will likely be the undoing of us all!
The context of our conversation: gathered at the table were my wife and three children, my mother and father-in-law, and my niece and nephews. Our conversation (which took place about four years ago) was not as much whimsical – in vintage Dr. Seuss fashion – as it was nonsensical in a distinctly modern way.
I will relay the conversation in ‘script’ fashion:
Jacob: “Dad, you have a Hulu account . . . you are paying for it monthly. It is a waste of money. It’s like Netflix, only sorrier.”
Dad: “I have a what paying when to whom?”
Hayla: “No, you mean a Vudu account. That is good. Keep it. They have good movies.”
Mom: “(who obviously gets this more than I do): No, we don’t pay per month, only per movie. But don’t you mean a Zune account??”
Father-in-Law: “Huh? I haven’t understood one word of this conversation.”
Dad: “Wait a second . . . we have a Hulu, Vudu and a . . . Zune account? Who got all these accounts for us . . . what is Zune? I thought he was a character from the Wrath of Kahn.”
Jacob: “Dad, I got them . . . err . . . I mean you got them . . . remember when you let me have your credit card number . . .??”
Mom: “Biz!!!!!” You did what with our credit card number?”
Luke: “Hold on. I will Google Zune from my Droid to see if it is better than Vudu or Hulu.”
Dad: “You shouldn’t be able to ‘google’ anything. Life was easier when there was only Netflix! Someone google Zune to find out if he was a character in The Wrath of Kahn.”
Luke: “Dad, Google shows nothing about Zune, I will check Bing . . .”
Father-in-Law: “Pass the potatoes . . . no need to Google that.”
Mom: “Biz, You gave our teenager our credit card number?!?!?”
Dad: “Errr . . . I don’t remember giving anyone my credit card number . . . . Hold up a second! I don’t want a Hulu account, whatever that is . . .”
Niece: “Uncle Biz, Hulu is like Skype only better”
All Kids In Unison: “NOOOOOO, that is Oovoo. Oovoo is like Skype, not Hulu . . .”
Father-in-Law: “Someone pass the Tylenol.”
Mom: “Honey, hand over the credit cards!”
Jacob: “Here ya go mom. I have dad’s card. So, Dad. Here’s the deal: Oovoo is better than Skype and not at all like Hulu. We like Netflix. We could probably get rid of Hulu and keep Vudu because it is a pay-go-service. We should discard Zune, totally. By the way, there are no matches on Google or Bing for the Wrath of Kahn and Zune. May I be excused? My buddy in Orlando just Facebooked me about playing Skyrim with some kids from Eastern Europe.”
Father-in-Law: “Finally; some words I understand.”
Jacob: “You understand Facebook??”
Father In Law: “No. Eastern Europe.”
When the dust settled that night I looked at my wife and said, “I feel like I just entered a parallel universe. One that is a cross between Dr. Seuss and Alice In Wonderland.”
She laughed a bit. Then she asked for the rest of my credit cards.
From Communal Connection to Individualistic Expression
Back to my Dr. Seuss analogy. Dr. Seuss, in his imaginative style, utilized known language to teach simple vocabulary through rhyme and rhythm. The combination of simple and meaningful vocabulary with rhyme and rhythm proved to be a powerful force. His imaginative style helped young people utilize words and sounds, with which they were familiar, to make a significant connection with the adult world and, thereby, with reality.†
These days we use nonsensical words with no contextual meaning in thoroughly normative ways. As such, we break down the meaning between words and reality and thereby aid the collapse of reality itself. If Dr. Seuss were writing stories today, based on our family dinner conversation (which I confess is by no means normative), it might look something like this:
I would not hulu in a boat
I will not vudu on a float
Nor would I oovoo in a moat,
wearing a coat.
clearing my throat.
Try as I might – I cannot skype
I might indeed bing, if I were a king.
Okay . . . not quite a Seussian tale.
Where Seuss’ stories were whimsical, ours have become nonsensical. The difference between whimsical and nonsensical is vast. Dr. Seuss’ tales connected us, in imaginative and meaningful ways, to the larger community around us! The stories helped us, as children, to begin crucial reality formation and contributed to culture shaping in a way so that we intuitively understood that we were a part of something much larger than ourselves.
This something larger requires a language that we need to know and to which we can add our own unique qualities.
Today’s tales are more about individualistic expression than they are communal connection. As such, our framework of reality has all but disappeared. We are no longer able to engage in deeply meaningful ways over a long period of time because we don’t inhabit or experience language in a way that aids that experience. Rather, language is, slowly but surely, devolving to such a degree that the experience of community is filled with strife, conflict and angst.
Terms such as love and care once carried the weightiness of responsibility and sacrifice. To love, we learned in earlier times, was not so much about us as it was about the other. Today, it seems love can mean any number of things, but typically its force and focus is as self-centered as it is self-absorbed. New realities like confusion, heartache, strife and conflict ensue. Eventually we just isolate ourselves in a protective shell and deftly navigate a world in which we are both simultaneously present and absent.
Consider Mike Metzger’s excellent piece on DoggieHeadTilt this week. In the piece he notes how Facebook has changed the term ‘friend’ so that we don’t understand what the word means anymore. As such we don’t – actually cannot – experience the beauty of friendship once tasted early and often in life!
Other words that have lost their meaning would be,
- “Like” – no explanation necessary.
- “Trolling” – fishermen know what this word means. Youngsters have no idea.
- “Epic” – when everything is epic, nothing is.
Modern culture has done to words what porn has done to sex: completely detaching them from original meaning and morphing them into a distorted half-bred cousin that no one really knows what to do with.
Indeed, I would love a plate of green eggs and ham, about now!
I wonder what Dr. Seuss would say and what stories he’d write today?
My hope is that the generation coming behind us will recognize the void we have left them and produce a few vital and vibrant voices that help us connect words to reality in such a way that we experience life as it’s meant to be lived.
In short: I am hoping for a few Dr. Seuss’ to emerge and reshape the culture and community in which we live!
Disrupting To Renew
Green Eggs and Ham, http://youtu.be/Y-OPnBz6ctU