CSotD: Dancing on Dilbert’s Grave

Yesterday’s F Minus (AMS) is clearly coincidental, given that it was not only written and drawn but printed and sitting in newspaper mailrooms well before Scott Adams immolated himself last week.

But it’s a good summary of the story nonetheless, given the number of people rushing to proclaim that they never liked the sumbitch or his stupid comic strip, now that he’s been dropped by nearly all the newspapers that carried him, as well as his syndicate, which should be the coup de grace for Dilbert.

Technically, BTW, he could self-syndicate the strip, and given the response of some rightwing sources, he’d likely find a few willing clients, either because they agreed with his vision, or because they wanted to own the libs or both.

But my guess is that he’s ready to move on.

Reaction to Adams’ fall from grace and the death of Dilbert carries a whiff of Aesop’s fable of the dying lion, in which first the bold, then the lesser animals crowd around the once mighty beast to take swipes at him as he fades away.

Not, mind you, that Adams possessed a lot of personal majesty, but, then, there are plenty of artists whose behavior does not bear close examination: Byron was described as “mad, bad and dangerous to know” by one of several abused ex-lovers, and, on a more immediately relevant level, cartoonist Al Capp was an appalling individual who did well to die before the “Me Too” era.

Still, in the fable, the lion doesn’t mind being assaulted by the ox and the boar, but feels insulted when the ass gives his dying body a kick, and, similarly, while Adams deserves all the bad-mouthing he gets for his outrageous personal beliefs, some of the people lining up to declare that they never liked Dilbert are holding up more of a mirror than a spyglass.

As it happens, Dilbert debuted in 1989, shortly before I got into middle management, and maybe it was so specialized that you had to have been there. Still, its popularity shows that it was far more than a niche product.

By 2007, I had risen beyond middle management, and when the above strip appeared, I was not only editor of a small newspaper but interim publisher, putting me very much in the shoes of the Pointy Haired Boss, though I hope I handled things a little better.

Still, we were such a tiny staff that anyone going on vacation — however well-earned — nearly ground the place to a halt, and I had this strip up on my bulletin board.

But that was after years of having PHB idiocy rain down on my poor head. I could tell genuine stories that would demonstrate beyond debate the truth of both Adams’ original vision and the Peter Principle, which Wikipedia explains:

People — mostly Millennials, I think — say the movie Office Space did it better, but Office Space was focused on low-level employees, not middle management.

It also had the advantage of being a one-and-done. Like many comic strips and TV shows, Dilbert outlived its freshness of concept and drifted off into staleness and irrelevancy.

Which, in the current world of comic strips, wouldn’t have doomed it. Staleness becomes familiarity and there is a sizeable market for strips that tell the same jokes for years on end, passed along to new artists who simply fill the template readers have come to expect.

What doomed Dilbert was that Adams, like Al Capp before him, let his increasingly antisocial personal views appear in the strip. The focus on management foibles had long since gone stale and the new material was off-topic and not just conservative — a lot of strips are conservative — but openly offensive.

Lord Byron managed to compartmentalize his art and his personal life, the message being that you should read his poetry but for god’s sake don’t date him.

Adams did not, and not only did his politics infiltrate his work, but he posted more extreme views on a blog that gained its audience through his identification as the creator of Dilbert, further linking his outrageous racism and misogyny with the strip.

Note that I still object to bowdlerizing Roald Dahl: Either publish what he wrote or stop publishing what he wrote.

Ditto with Scott Adams, but, even if you disagree, you can’t simply swap words in a three or four panel comic strip. You’re either on the bus or off the bus.

Deb Milbrath lays it out in plain terms: His latest declaration of overt racism made it impossible for either the newspapers or his syndicate to pretend not to notice.

Was he angling to retire? Is it a sign of some deeper distress?

He’s got enough money to live out his life on an island, if he’d like, or, with the help of his new BFF, Elon Musk, he could parlay this into becoming a hero of the growing racist fringe.

Perhaps. But cutting Adams and Dilbert loose was the only responsible decision, despite the predictable objections of those who hate cancel-culture but endorsed the cancellation of the Dixie Chix and Colin Kaepernick, and who are currently attempting to cancel GenZ voters.

I was sorry to see most of the cancellations come from Corporate Headquarters, rather than from individual newspapers.

It’s confirmation that most local papers have ceased to be local. When USA Today first appeared, we jokingly dubbed it the “McPaper,” but that has stopped being funny.

However, I was very pleased to see that the Washington Post’s initial coverage of the debacle has, as I write this, drawn over 16,000 comments.

The Pointy Headed Bosses at Corporate may not realize it, but people care about comics.

Cartoonists will just have to deal with the growing fact that people no longer care about newspapers.

It seems that today’s Mt. Pleasant (Tribune) is testament to the difficulty of getting a new strip off the ground. I haven’t seen an announcement, but tomorrow is the last day of the month and, three weeks ago, DD Degg suggested potential bad news for the two-year-old strip.

Between newspaper chains dictating cutbacks in comics, editors ignoring a page they assign to the backshop, and the continued domination of zombie strips whose creators have long since retired or died, it’s hard for a new strip to survive.

The vast majority of cartoonists live on royalties, and while that’s a sweet ride for the major strips, it doesn’t pay the rent for the minor ones.

Did I mention the importance of subscribing to GoComics and ComicsKingdom yesterday, and of supporting a Patreon or two?

Well, I just did again.

Though, as Arlo and Janis (AMS) point out, nothing lasts forever.

Certainly not if you leave it up to the PHBs at Corporate.

22 thoughts on “CSotD: Dancing on Dilbert’s Grave

  1. Good commentary. It is unfortunate that Adams couldn’t examine his own issues through the Dilbert strip. It would be great right now to have some Dilbert commentary on a person who goes Twitter nuts and starts alienating all his co-workers.

  2. Sorry to see Mt. Pleasant go. If local editors had say any more in what comics appear on their pages, it would have been a nice fit for the newspaper here, since we have an actual village named Mt. Pleasant. (I once drew a cartoon joking about the first explorer to climb its fifteen-foot peak.)

  3. Adams must have already lived on that island or in a bubble. But djt has made it ok to be a public racist, at least for some.

  4. Good one today, even-tempered and well-considered. I know you read my thoughts on Adams, including that this has been a long time coming. Unsurprising and maybe overdue. My thinking has changed just a shade since yesterday, seeing Andrews McMeel’s call as more a business decision than an ethical or moral one. Newspaper editors don’t want trouble from the comics page. They’ll expect and take angry calls and letters from news, features, even sports reporting, but comics is the one page whose content they don’t edit and can safely ignore. Usually. Then along comes Adams, and it’s so much easier for an editor to replace his strip than deal with it.

    As I metaphorized to a friend who’s a working engineer, if a subcontractor of his did something wildly unprofessional that made him look bad in front of a client, he’d drop that sub in a heartbeat no matter how kindly or forgiving he felt about him personally. Adams is a subcontractor who made his syndicate look bad in front of its clients, i.e., newspaper editors. He shouldn’t be surprised, and indeed it seems he isn’t, based on the Daily Cartoonist post next door to this one. Apparently we’ve all fallen for his genius-level trolling and he’s got us right where he wants us now. I’m OK with that.

  5. The Mt. Pleasant page at GoComics did have an announcement about the strip ending tomorrow in today’s installment. I have posted it below.

    Yes, unfortunately, this is the end here. We began Mt. Pleasant two years ago in what was already a challenging newspaper market, with very limited space available for new comics. We knew it would be difficult, and while we have had some success, we don’t see the newspaper market improving — quite the opposite. So, we regret that we’re ending Mt. Pleasant as a daily comic feature, but hope to revisit these characters and this world in another format. We sincerely appreciate all the love and support you have shown us here! — Rick and Kent

  6. Great commentary and I enjoyed reading it.
    The biggest takeaway for me in this whole episode is the danger of going down a rabbit hole. It doesn’t matter if one leans left or right, confirmation bias is a real thing. Listening to one point of view only contributes to eventually being unable to discern that not everyone feels the same way. Constantly listening to this echo led him to believe a disputed poll created by trolls. Didn’t he think for ONE moment it might be full of crap? Adams’ video was a textbook example of someone missing their critical thinking skills in that moment, believing doom was right around the corner, feeling so threatened and yet still so amazingly confident that what he was suggesting was THE best solution.

  7. I discovered Mt Pleasant not that long ago and am sorry to see it go ! Hopefully reruns ?

    Back when I was still teaching, and co-workers said they didn’t understand Dilbert, I pointed out that they should think of the pointy-haired boss as our principal and the others as teachers. “Ah !” they said.

  8. Way to go characterizing the Potato state prohibiting using student IDs for voting as “attempting to cancel Gen-Z voters”. A slightly better take — “cancelling lazy voters”.

    And with that distortion of reality, it’s clear what your political agenda is, to anyone paying attention.

    Of course, that perfectly illustrates the problem with the media — giving us interpretations of current events that may be completely skewed, knowing that the majority of people (including other news organizations) will never turn to primary sources to know what objective reality is.

    It’s important to realize that Scott Adams is being cancelled because the media has characterized him as “racist”. All nuance in what he said gets reduced to a single label, so the media can act as judge, jury and executioner on one’s character.

    It’s fine to be outraged by what Scott Adams said, but one should be more outraged by news media that no longer even attempts to portray objective reality, yet gets to decide what’s fit for public consumption. Modern journalists are sleazier than lawyers.

    1. He’s being put out because of his own idiocy. It’s really simple. He should get vaccinated for it.

      1. Looking at objective reality, no one wants to cancel lazy voters. Parties send out cars and vans to get lazy voters to the polls. However, Republican supporters and Trump supporters skew older, so Republican political strategists see advantage in discouraging Gen-Zers.

    2. 1) Calling it “canceling lazy voters” would still be a distortion, just one that you happen to like.

      2) Adams is the living example of the phrase “if you find yourself always surrounded by a**holes, maybe the a**hole is you”.

  9. I admit to liking Dilbert, perhaps 20 years or more ago. I think the beginning of the end for me was when I subscribed to Adams’s newsletter. This was before he became bat-crap crazy, but I found him unpleasant and arrogant. He was actively soliciting ideas for the strip, but said (approximately), “Don’t try to make it funny. Just tell me the situation and I’ll make it funny.”

    I unsubscribed from his newsletter, and when I started reading the comics online, I never bothered to add his strip to my list of favorites.

    1. 30 years ago Dilbert was excellent, scoring in the top ten in the misnamed “1st Annual Internet Comic Strip Poll” run on rec.arts.comics.strips and rec.arts.comics.misc in 1994. (The strip was available daily as a binary post to the subscription-only Clarinet Usenet feed, which was widely available on college systems.) IMO Adams went crazy faster than the humor went stale, but neither is worth the time today.

  10. Just an FYI: Claytoonz/Clay Jones has now rec’d a 30-day ban from FB for his Dilbert editorial comic . . . go to his site and increase his clicks; you won’t be sorry!

    1. The art never improved in the 30 year history of the strip, staying at a steady “one”. The humor, at its peak, was consistently in the 9-10 range. It hasn’t been that funny for a long, long time mostly staying at the 5-6 mark but with occasional arcs much funnier. But like all long-running legacy strips, it wasn’t anywhere near the glory days. The fact that it was still in so many papers reflects not on the quality of the strip but in the general laziness of the people who control a paper’s content as well as the typical reader. Old habits die hard and it is easier to keep running the strip that has long jumped the shark than to find a replacement. Of course, the field isn’t exactly teeming with talent these days.

  11. I really enjoyed Dilbert. I once was a high tech middle manager, and also a high tech grunt. Dilbert captured the ridiculous culture that evolves in the large high tech companies. I never saw signs of racism in Dilbert. I strongly condemn racism, but I’m not sure that cancelling Dilbert helps. I hope Scott Adams takes a long look at his prejudices and corrects them, but sadly it seems too late for those who enjoyed watching Dilbert.

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