Underpants made news headlines, and some people are not happy.
The headlines had nothing to do with a debate over the merits of boxers or briefs, nor was the topic a lingerie catalogue or the airing of dirty laundry. Instead, this was about the decision to stop publishing a children’s book by Dav Pilkey, the author of the Captain Underpants series.
On March 31, Pilkey announced he and publisher Scholastic would no longer publish his 2010 graphic novel, The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung Fu Cavemen from the Future. The reason for the decision had to do with racial stereotypes Pilkey said were harmful to Asian people.
“I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism are harmful to everyone. I apologize, and I pledge to do better,” Pilkey said.
This was an unusual move for Pilkey. His Captain Underpants books, rife with potty humour and characters such as Professor Pippy Pee-Pee Poopypants, Frankenbooger, Doctor Nappy Diaper and Turbo Toilet 2000, have come under fire many times.
Some schools have banned the series for insensitivity, offensive language, encouraging disruptive behaviour and more.
Until now, Pilkey has not removed any of his books. His wacky potty humour is still on the shelves.
The announcement is not the first time a decision has been made to stop publishing books because of content issues. In early March, 2021, Dr. Seuss Enterprises announced it would no longer publish six of the Dr. Seuss titles because of racist and insensitive imagery.
“These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong,” read a statement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises.
Pilkey’s approach went further than the Dr. Seuss Enterprises approach.
“My publisher, Scholastic, has stepped forward to share my responsibility and together we are ceasing all further publication of The Adventures of Ook and Gluk, Kung Fu Cavemen from the Future, and actively working to remove existing copies from retail and library shelves,” Pilkey’s statement read.
The apology and the decision to stop publishing the books have not been well received by all. Some pundits have said the move is an example of “cancel culture” – ostracizing someone for questionable or controversial statements or behaviour. However, in the case of this decision, the “cancel culture” criticism falls flat.
While an online petition had been circulating about this book, the decision to stop publication was announced by the author and the publisher. It did not come from a third-party source.
Besides, Pilkey is no stranger to controversy. Over the past two decades, his works have been some of the most challenged children’s books. Despite past criticisms, Pilkey has unapologetically continued to provide his offbeat stories for young readers.
Why would an author choose to withdraw a book from the shelves now, especially after ignoring critics in the past?
The Adventures of Ook and Gluk was published just 11 years ago, in 2010. Have society’s values changed that much during this time frame?
Perhaps society did not change as much as Pilkey’s personal values and standards.
Sometimes, a change of attitude or opinion comes with a deep regret for past words or actions as well as the need for an apology and a promise to do better.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.