‘Dilbert’ Creator Lands Himself Waist Deep In the Big Muddy
A couple of months ago, the comic strip “Dilbert” gave readers a long cameo from a character named Dave.
Dave was black. He had been hired by the strip’s office manager, the Pointy-Haired Boss, to satisfy a diversity quota.
Only problem was, Dave announced that he identified as white. So not only did he undercut the Pointy-Haired Boss’s diversity plan, but “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams got to satirize the recent move toward letting people self-identify.
It was cleverly done, which was no surprise, since “Dilbert” has been one of the most consistently perceptive and amusing strips of the last three decades. Adams lampoons the absurdities of corporate life and corporate culture, from the exasperated Dilbert, the angry Alice and the clueless Asok to the world-class goof-off Wally.
While Adams has regularly targeted what he sees as the excesses of political correctness and wokeness, the strip has never felt like a screed. Its tone has run toward wry and bemused, and the whole premise of the strip correctly suggests Adams does not, for one thing, worship unchained capitalism.
That’s why the Adams events of the past week have seemed so puzzling.
Adams also hosts a podcast, Real Coffee With Scott Adams, which takes a more overtly conservative political tone. In riffing on the news, he often finds Donald Trump brilliant while liberals and the mainstream media are painted as somewhere between tiresome and dangerous.
This past week, he waded into more controversial waters.
Specifically, Adams blasted off from a Rasmussen Report poll that asked the question, “Is it okay to be white?”
To most people, that might read at first like a ridiculous question, because who could think it’s “not okay” to be whatever color you were born? It’s not like the color of a sweater, where you can exchange it for something different.
Unfortunately, the phrase “It’s okay to be white” has a more unsettling recent history. It was put out in 2017 on the site 4Chan, then adopted and widely circulated by groups that included white supremacists and also, presumably, less extreme folks who simply felt white people in general were being overly stigmatized on the issue of racism.
The Rasmussen poll showed that 26% of black respondents said “No” and 21% said they were not sure.
One suspects that at least some of those respondents were rejecting the implications of the slogan as it has been recently invoked.
Whatever the case, Adams said his takeaway is that black people have become “a hate group” that white people should avoid.
“The best advice I would give to white people is to get the hell away from black people,” he said. “Just get the f — — away. Wherever you have to go, just get away.”
He added that he had already done so, moving to a neighborhood “with a very low black population.”
After this podcast Adams got support from Elon Musk, who said the media that was once racist toward blacks is now racist toward whites and Asians.
Other responses were less supportive. Hundreds of newspapers cancelled “Dilbert,” including the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the USA Today network and others.
“By Monday,” Adams said, he expected “zero” newspapers to carry “Dilbert,” adding that this would deprive him of his livelihood. While he probably won’t need a GoFundMe, since he has earned an estimated $60 million-plus from “Dilbert” over the years, his response also suggested money was not his primary concern.
Adams spoke up loudly last year when a small chain of papers stopped carrying “Dilbert” in their print editions, mostly relegating it to online publication. This was the “woke” media practicing cancel culture, he said, and while the complaint didn’t get a lot of traction then, this time there’s a whole lot of cancellation going on.
Newspaper executives who dropped the strip said they didn’t want their papers associated with Adams’s racial comments.
Adams responded Saturday by saying they were deliberately misinterpreting his comments, that it was all a big deal about nothing. He was being cancelled, he said, for something “that nobody disagreed with.”
All he was saying, he explained in a tweet, is “Avoid any group that doesn’t respect you. Does anyone think that’s bad advice?”
He amplified this by saying he was following “The Mike Pence Rule,” which is that Pence would never have dinner alone with a woman who was not his wife.
In Pence’s case, Adams explained, that meant he could never be accused of inappropriate conduct because he never put himself in a position to commit any. Adams’s application of that principle is that if white people have no contact with black people, they can’t be accused of racism.
It’s a bizarre analogy, a bizarre argument and mostly a puzzlement. “Dilbert” works so well because of its perception, Adams’s eye for nuance. He can distill the absurdity of wide-ranging attitudes and behaviors into three or four sharply focused comic strip panels.
This podcast lacked any of that. It came across as an exercise in anger, coincidentally surfacing at the same time U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was saying Americans should give up on ever getting along and just “divorce.”
“Dilbert” is smart. This podcast was dumb.