by Scott Adams
The cartoons of Scott Adams became popular in the downsizing decade of the 1990s. This particular book was originally published in 1992, and focuses much more on the cosmic sarcasm and interaction between Dilbert and his dog, Dogbert. Most people associate Dilbert with a coterie of office workers and the foibles of office life that many who have worked a white collar job back then identify with. [Some mistakenly think Dilbert was the inspiration for Office Space, but that movie was based on a character Milton created by Mike Judge.]
So how do you review a book of cartoons?
First, let’s ask about the general condition of political humor and satire these days. When I was a young adult, primetime in the 1970s newspaper cartoons were still in vogue. We had Peanuts, in Detroit Guindon was popular, I remember Cathy, Arlo and Janis, many others, then into the 1980s, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, The Far Side by Gary Larson. And those are only off the top of my head, ones I tried to read regularly, real time. It was great. Then there was television talk-show humor, Johnny Carson, and cerebral ones like Dick Cavett, who often did political stuff.
But if I had to pick a political humorist that symbolizes my own primetime era of the 70s and 80s, it would be Mark Russell, who performed his monologue accompanied by playing a few notes on the piano. He would sing parodies like this one to the tune of “Chattanooga Choo-Choo: “Pardon me, boys / Are you the cats who shot Ceausescu / You made my day / The way you blew him away.” And he would politely skewer whoever was in the White House, e.g.
- (On Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial) “Here is what I think will happen with the impeachment. I believe President Clinton will get off… Let me rephrase that.”
- (On Dan Quayle:) A reporter once asked vice-president Quayle, ‘What would you do if you were suddenly thrust into the office of the presidency?’ Quayle’s answer: ‘I would say a prayer.’ (pregnant pause) OH-H-H, WOULDN’T WE ALL, MY FRIENDS??”
Russell and several others are still working the political circuit, though not nearly so conspicuously. The problem is the subject matter has become too grim. It probably started in the late 1980s with George H.W. Bush, then through the 1990s with Bill Clinton. How does one deal humorously with the government’s murder of Vicki Weaver and her son at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in August of 1992, or the fiery federal massacre of 74 men, women, and children at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, April 19, 1993? And into the 2000s, it becomes increasingly difficult to find humor with the crimes of Bush-II/Cheney-I—9/11 complicity and culpability, warrantless invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, torture and civilian slaughter as high-level policy. With Obama continuing these war crimes, then compounding them with complete evisceration of US economic freedom.
How does one lampoon or gently poke fun at personnel of the US government, After Ronnie (AR, 1980-1988)? [Indeed, for those who truly were aware what was happening in the Reagan administration—especially the black op stuff such as American complicity/culpability in shooting down civilian airliner KAL 007 in the Sea of Japan—or the high crimes of the drug war (no pun intended), there was little to laugh about there either. Good thing for the humorists that the Gipper was represented as a harmless old man by his handlers.]
Well, that’s all I’m trying to say in this rather long aside. Today it’s almost impossible to poke fun at the government, because it’s like finding something comical about genocide. It’s considered bad taste. [Remember the movie, The Producers? “Springtime for Hitler and Germany.”] But in the 1990s, when Scott Adams and Dilbert were coming of age, it was much easier for us to blank out the truth behind the headlines, ignore the menacing cauldron brewing under the corporate-state. [Hey, the people—well mostly thanks to the moral acquiescence of the pampered and pandered intelligentsia—got over the CIA’s assassination of JFK in a relative heartbeat, thanks to mass media propaganda and diversion.]
This early Dilbert is a good read. A fun read. The 1990s were a relatively affluent time, at least compared with the present. Most middle-class persons could find work that was reasonably productive, by which I mean work that didn’t involve taking care of sick-or-old people or building weapons systems. It was also a decade when the “global corporation” began to “extract value” worldwide in earnest, when the average salary of a Fortune 500 CEO was, like, a million times the salary of Joe Slabotnik on the shop floor. The mechanisms of wealth transfer were hidden away and integrated with the needs of American empire and military machinery. But I remember having money then, surviving layoffs, because there were still productive jobs, especially if you were willing to work contract.
And these jobs were increasingly based on information technology (IT), which parallels Scott Adams’ work life. Dilbert is based on a former boss of his at a large bank in San Francisco. In this Postpone Meetings book, Dilbert and Dogbert typically have a conversation, with Dilbert describing a problem or offering an observation and Dogbert giving the punchline. I’m going to scan in one of my favorite cartoons from the book here, which is probably not strictly speaking allowed, but I figure the “fair use” approach applies… especially because it links to Amazon for the book sale.
All right, so this one doesn’t have anything to do with office life. But I just think it’s a riot: “We accidentally ruined your shirts—so we added a little glue and wrapped them around a stick.” So captures the twisted customer service ethic, eh? I can read these—I note about six that really tickle my funny bone—and completely forget about the reasons political humor or social humor has such a hard time of it nowadays. And that’s actually what Dilbert represents, more social humor. A fitting respite to help us keep our sanity, particularly those of us who get all wrapped up in liberty and justice. Thanks, Scott.
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