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on September 6, 2001
About three years ago, I bought a Dilbert-a-day desk calendar. Every day I ripped aside the previous day to reveal today's comic. It was great up until around August or so, when I realized that Dilbert was still stuck in his cubicle, and so was I, and I couldn't stand the thought of having my nose rubbed in it every day for the next four months.
I threw the calendar away.
In "The Trouble with Dilbert," Solomon professes to have "cracked the code" of Dilbert comics, revealing that Dilbert is actually intended to keep workers complacent. This hurt Scott Adams' feelings, as Norman was accusing him of acting in the best interests of everything he stood against. Who's right? Both of them.
If one considers the entire body of Dilbert comics as one very large text, then it may seem significant that the protagonist (Dilbert) does not evolve as a character. By all rights, a protagonist should be affected by their experiences, and if they steadfastly remain constant, then one must assume there's a good reason for it. The most facile conclusion one might reach is that the character hasn't changed because the character likes things just the way they are.
One might then take the extra step, add a dollop of good old-fashioned paranoia, and assume that Scott Adams intends Dilbert to serve as an example. To subliminally assert that "Things are just fine" would indeed, make Scott Adams a tool. Quite a loathsome tool, to boot, because he's clever enough to disguise this message in what seems (to the uncritical eye) to be a scathing daily condemnation of corporate politics and practices.
But here's where things fall apart: Dilbert does not evolve because he is a character IN A COMIC STRIP. I don't say this to mean "it's too trivial to analyze" - that's simply not true. I say this because a standard convention of the art form known as the comic strip is that its characters do not evolve.
If comics were expected to behave like proper literary texts, then Garfield would have been put to sleep years ago, after suffering from incontinence, arthritis, deafness, cataracts, and kidney disease (not necessarily in that order). Jeffy would be a card-carrying member of the AARP, and Andy Capp would be either incarcerated for spousal abuse or knifed to death in his sleep, take your pick.
Dilbert caught on quick and big because it says funny things about familiar situations. Cubicle-dwellers (like myself) were hooked on Dilbert after that first shock of recognition; the "Oh my god, that's EXACTLY what it's like here!"
Recognition provides comfort, and Dilbert reassures most people that they're not the only ones made miserable by corporate life. In short, Dilbert feels your pain.
Scott Adams feels your pain, too. He's put in his cubicle hours, and honed his insight and humor to a keen edge through years of personal experience. Scott Adams knows just what it's like, and he wants you to feel better. His job is to coax a laugh out of millions of people every day (and he gets paid rather well for it, to boot).
I've almost entirely switched from Dilbert comics to Scott Adams books. Adams has written several books - BOOK books, not just collections of comic strips - which serve as roadmaps to cubicle life, complete with helpful tour suggestions. I have gradually molded my work life into a perfect expression of Adams Fu (translates as "The Way of Adams"), gleaned primarily from "The Joy of Work," which is one of my favorites.
In his books, Adams essentially advocates screwing the company any way you can. A full third of "The Joy of Work" is devoted to various strategies you can use to buy yourself free time at the office. I can whole-heartedly attest to the efficacy of these strategies, as I use several of them in conjunction to buy myself roughly four hours of free time every day. At Adams' suggestion, I have studiously put this time to good use; for example, I'm currently using my free time to write this very essay.
If one considers Dilbert in the full context of Scott Adams, then no, Dilbert is not a tool of the corporate elite. And yet I don't read Dilbert anymore. I just can't; even the occasionally half-glimpsed Dilbert comic makes me want to curl up on the bathroom floor and cry.
If I could take over Scott Adams' brain (and drawing hand), I would create a story arc wherein Dilbert escapes corporate life once and for all. He strikes out on his own and carves a new niche for himself. Several years pass, and one day he returns to his old office to taunt Pointy-Haired Boss. Maybe Dilbert (no longer shackled by notions of corporate propriety or threats of political retaliation) drops his pants and moons the PHB in front of the entire staff. Maybe he sets fire to the building (a la Stephen Root in "Office Space"). I haven't exactly worked that part out yet.
I suspect that part of the reason Scott Adams was blindsided by the Solomon's accusation is that the scenario I just spun out is, essentially, the story of Scott Adams' real life. Adams started drawing from his cubicle, and ten years later - presto! - he's king of his own empire. Safely insulated within the happy life he's built for himself, Adams can well afford to look back at cubicle life and laugh.
Me, not so much.
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on December 5, 2000
First off, let's get this straight: I would consider myself something of a socialist, or at least VERY liberal. I voted for Ralph Nader. And I believe that in some ways, Mr. Solomon is correct. HOWEVER, criticizing a comic is a pretty silly way to go about it. Especially when most of the time, he uses quotes that are taken out of context of what Mr. Adams REALLY meant to say. I think it's pretty silly to think that anyone is "in favor" of corporate downsizing...especially someone who has worked in the corporate world for as long as Scott Adams did. It begs the question: How long has Mr. Solomon worked in the corporate world? Perhaps instead of slandering cartoons that anyone, socialist or not, would normally consider funny, he should go write some angry letters to the editor over at the Daily Worker. Maybe they'll be more responsive. But I doubt it.
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on May 19, 2002
Several years ago there was a British lecturer who, in order to win a competition for the most boring lecturer of the year, wrote -and delivered- a Marxist analysis of a fairly ordinary joke about a coconut. The lecture went on for several highly tedious hours.
Mr Solomon's "attack" on Dilbert and Scott Adams reminds me of that lecture.
Mr Solomon makes an error common to many so-called media critics. They over-value their own importance and fail to identify terrible faults in themselves. Whilst, mysteriously, being able to see minor (or imaginary) faults in others.
Mr Solomon further attacks Scott Adams for making money from his intellectual properties. Mr Solomon's attack on Mr Adams would, therefore, only be valid if he criticises from the position of a man who writes entirely for free.
Unless Mr Solomon does work for financial reward?
In that case it would be very easy to dismiss Mr Solomon as a self-serving hypocrit and to ignore anything else he has to say on any subject.
For people night suspect that "once a self-serving hypocrit..." But that would be an unfair attack on Mr Solomon,would it not? Almost in the same way that Mr Solomon made an unfair attack on Mr Adams.
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on March 12, 2000
In "The Trouble with Dilbert," Norman Solomon seeks to expose the supposedly distressing truths behind the popular comic strip character, Dilbert. In this review, I'd like to expose some distressing truths about Solomon's "book." First off, it's hardly a "book" anyway; at barely 100 pages, if one were to remove all the various cartoons, lengthy quotations from assorted media pundits (including an entire chapter by another writer!), and Solomon's constant repeating of the same few points over and over, all that would be left would barely constitute a short magazine article. Working through the repetitive and pretentiously written text, it becomes clear that Solomon holds the Dilbert comic strip (and especially its creator, Scott Adams) in contempt, mainly because the strip doesn't go as far as Solomon would like it to in trashing C.E.O's and traditional corporate structure. Solomon considers Adams a traitor for giving frustrated workers a mere outlet for their anger rather than producing a "call to arms" for them to unite and overthrow the system as it exists. Ironically, Solomon never offers any concrete ideas on just how this should be done at any point in his book either; what comes across most powerfully is bitterness and jealousy that Adams has achieved the widespread acclaim and popularity that has eluded Solomon so far. Solomon's posturing and holier-than-thou attitude wear thin, and his claims that Adams is some sort of "double agent" for C.E.O's border on self-parody. Scott Adams is happy making money off Dilbert and freely admits it; he's not trying to change the world. This is unacceptable to Solomon, and one can only wonder which other comic strips he'll go after next ("Garfield Revealed"?). Additionally, I noticed no mention anywhere in "The Trouble With Dilbert" of Solomon intending to donate his profits (shudder!) from this book to help any downtrodden, downsized workers he claims to be so deeply concerned about. Of course, Norman Solomon has the right to say whatever he wants. And maybe if he came up with something more intelligent to say, and did so in a more entertaining manner, he'd achieve some of the fame and influence that he begrudges Scott Adams for having already earned.
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on September 11, 1998
This guy is taking this WAY too seriously. It's a comic, for crying out loud! He also ignores the fact that not only does he make fun of Dilbert, but Scott Adams also makes fun of management, about 5x as hard. Why else would he go into Dilbert's cubicle and look around and then say, oblivious to what is really happening, and then say "Try identifing the problem and then solving it." He doesn't look at the fact that he critisizes downsizing; he doesn't promote it. Scott Adams get his material from the experience he has when he, too, worked in a cubicle. This guy doesn't know what he is talking about. Avoid this book, lighten up, and go read the funnies. You'll be glad you did. END
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on May 8, 2000
First off, I agree with a lot of the author's opinions of "Dilbert" and its creator. But this book is pretty poor. Its crimes:
1) IT CRITIQUES THE STRIP ONLY INDIRECTLY. Most of the author's arguments discuss only the strip in general or on the cartoonist's views from his non-strip books. I only recall one direct "quote" of a Dilbert strip in the whole book.
2) WEAK ARGUMENTS. One of the books central arguments, for instance, is that the strip never attacks owners, just upper management in the form of the "Pointy Haired Boss." Now, anyone who reads the strip knows that the Boss can be anything from a lowly supervisor to the CEO depending on the gag. And besides that, I can think of several strips off the top of my head that directly attacked stupid, unfair owners.
3) IT'S A THIN, THIN POLEMIC. Readers will note the author is far more interested in talking politics than Dilbert itself. In fact, I suspect that he simply centered the book around Dilbert simply to attract attention and sell more copies, meaning he's guilty of the same shameless marketing he accuses Addams of.
4) IT'S FUNNY AS A CRUTCH! A good critic of humor should at least convey the idea that he understands humor. But this guy is as dry as plain toast. You walk away wondering if he even has a concept of humor.
Now for the good points: 1) an okay intro by cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, who IS funny; 2) a guest chapter by a humorist who isn't funny here, but who does seem to understand the strip; and 3) a good concluding chapter that turns out to be all that the author really has to say about the whole thing.
I don't usually go into this much detail, but I read this book just to fulfill a promise, and it was one of the harder promises I kept in my life.
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on September 18, 1999
Writing as one who "gets" Dilbert (read unwitting Zombified pawn of Scott Adams), I find that Norman Solomon's argument derives from a classic case of the strawman technique: he starts with faulty perceptions or characterizations of what "Dilbert" is or ought to be about, and then shoots them down. Some of the more egregious examples: 1. A satirist has a moral obligation to become a revolutionary; thus, one cannot rightly poke fun at the corporation without seeking to overthrow all corporations. 2. In order to be truly sympathetic to the plight of cubicle-dwellers, Scott Adams must uncritically support them and universally oppose the evil corporation. 3. There is something inherently evil about a cartoonist condoning commercial tie-ins and spinoffs. (For the record, I wish Bill Watterson HAD licensed Calvin & Hobbes because a)then I could have a Spaceman Spiff T-shirt, b) I could give my boy a stuffed Hobbes, and c) maybe I wouldn't have to see Calvins on pickup trucks either peeing on [other truck manufacturer logo] or on his knees praying.) 4. Shame, SHAME, on Intel for forcing its employees to read anti-Intel websites on their own hardware and on their own time. There must be something in the constitution protecting an employee's right to trash the company while on the clock. 5. A company cannot have a policy of empowerment that is not a sham. 6. An innovator or inventor who develops something of value for a corporation is supporting evil, and a worker who seeks to accomplish something at work is propping up the evil system. 7. There's something evil about national defense. In what way is GE a "nasty" defense contractor? I thought they made jet engines. 8. I'd like to see a definition of "corporate raider" that applies to Warren Buffet, the consummate investor. Thankfully I got this one at the library.
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on September 5, 1999
Oh no, Scott Adams wants to make money off the "Dilbert" comic strip? Heaven forbid! After all, it's only his intellectual property! Apparently Normon Solomon wants to make money off of Dilbert as well. This book makes far too many personal attacks on Scott Adams himself, which have no place in a well-constructed argument. I suppose that makes it even more appropriate for this book to have a foreword with a cartoon by Dan Perkins -- better known as Tom Tomorrow -- who is also notorious for his out-of-context quotes and slanderous "ad hominem" attacks.
Solomon and Tomorrow seem to be upset that Dilbert makes fun of management, but doesn't fully promote their communist ideals. Why, Scott Adams -- shame on him -- has money! He must be evil! I don't think that the intention of Dilbert is to advocate a revolution; all it's doing is satirizing the typical office workplace. It's amazing how well Dilbert can apply to the feeble-mindedness of corporate and school administration. While Dilbert may not be "the hero of the working man", it does make him laugh, while Solomon's "Trouble With Dilbert" and Tomorrow's "This Modern World" comic strip leave him thinking there is something terribly wrong with capitalism.
Dr. Solomon, I'm sorry that Scott Adams does not agree with the Marxist view you feel he should be promoting. You'll note that Dilbert has never quit his job. He's still a part of this evil "corporate machine" you seem to be fighting (this was actually the basis of an episode of "Newsradio", which featured an appearance by Scott Adams himself). If that's what Dilbert were truly about, he would quit his job and write books and cartoons about how people are making the rope that will hang themselves. But he doesn't. He stays where he is, does his job, and makes money. Sure, he may complain about the upper management getting a salary increase while he's stuck with a wage freeze, but so do many people. Would you also criticize Hanna-Barbara for not making Fred Flintstone spout communist rhetoric? After all, when's the last time Mr. Slate cut him any slack?
I'm certainly glad I read this book at a library rather than wasting my money buying it. I would encourage everyone instead to buy Scott Adams' "The Joy Of Work", and pay special attention to the chapter entitled "The Trouble With Norman".
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on February 14, 1999
This book is almost as funny as "Dilbert" itself. The difference is, "Dilbert" is funny on purpose.
"Dilbert" IS just a cartoon. Any thinking person knows not to take it seriously. It is funny because it contains situations that its readers have experienced -- like the "Bohemian Rhapsody" scene in "Wayne's World," where we suddenly realize how silly we must have looked banging our heads to Queen. It's the humor of the familiar, as opposed to the humor of the inherently absurd.
Solomon's basic premise is essentially that corporate bigwigs are sooooo much smarter and more devious than us that, without his help, we'd never notice if they tried to pull something, as long as they remember to include a Dilbert strip or two to make the bitter pill easier to swallow. My premise, on the other hand, is that anyone who fails to notice they're being shafted because they've been distracted by a CARTOON richly deserves whatever they get. It is never your employer's job to watch out for you; it is YOUR job to watch out for you.
I don't think I'm ever going to be able to stand to read a Tom Tomorrow strip again, either. Not that "This Modern World" doesn't have its own agenda; I mean, the guy voted for Ralph Nader in the last election.
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on October 26, 1998
I would have rated this less than one star if I could.
The book comes across like a bad term paper written by a student who's picked the wrong hypothesis and now grasping at threads and straws to support his theory, quoting everyone from Ralph Nader to Jimi Hendrix.
Portions of the book take perfectly logical comments made by Scott Adams in the course of interviews and try to sensationalize them. For example if a group of corporate employees is no longer needed or doing unnecessary tasks Scott Adams would support "downsizing" in that case. It would appear that the authors believe that in this case the employees should still be kept on and probably in the same (unneeded) capacity too. Sensational heading for this topic "Dilbert's creator, Scott Adams, actually favors downsizing." At other times the author takes tongue and cheek comments made by Adams way to seriously.
In other sections of the book the author comes across as jealous and whiny. It would appear that the author believes that cartoonists shouldn't license their work to appear on magnets, mugs or the like, nor horror of horrors corporate handbooks (Xerox). Corporations should allow their employees to read anti-company material on company time and if they don't Dilbert should take up the worker's cause (I refer here to the fact that Intel blocked access to an anti-Intel web site on their corporate network - page 32-33).
I'm reminded of a story told by author Wayne Dyer: when he was in college as part of a test he was asked to read and interpret a poem. He did so, but his professor told him his interpretation was incorrect.
Later that semester Dyer had the good fortune to run into the poet who had written that poem a decade or two ago. Dyer told him what had happened and the poet in turn told Dyer that his intrepretation was right on the mark.
Dyer, all excited went to see the professor and mentioned meeting the poet and what the poet had said. The professor's comment? "He's wrong. He doesn't know how to interpret his own poetry either."
I guess if you become successful enough you'll be hit by a frivolous lawsuit or in this case a frivilous book. It's very rare that I feel like purchasing a book was a waste of my money - but I feel this book was both a waste of my time and my money.
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