Seventeen years is a long time for a cartoon to hang on your wall. Or door, now. It's shifted over the years. But that's how I roll. I'm looking at a photo of a woebegone beagle that has been tacked over my desk for at least 30. "Terrifying Effect of Unprofessional Environment" is the caption. No idea if the point was ever conveyed to its intended audience in the decades it was displayed in my office downtown.
That last panel, where the irked reader shifts into false accusations of hating minorities, never really factored into the joke. Now it seems ominous. Oh, I knew Adams had become an increasingly strident right wing asshat. But I try to separate the work from the person. Wagner was a jerk too. So what?
That all blew up last week when the cartoonist went on a tirade in the wake of a poll that purports to show that about half of Black people disagree with the statement, "It's okay to be white." Which itself is fairly meaningless, first because the poll taker, Rasmussen, has a reputation as being biased and inaccurate, presenting questions in a way to shore up right wing talking points. Only a hater or an idiot or both would put any kind of significance on that.
Anyway, the result was Adams being cashiered at hundreds of major newspapers, including, eventually, the Chicago Tribune. Which is not a particular loss to cartooning — "Dilbert" had long passed its sell-by date, particularly after COVID stripped offices of their workers. I can't vouch for how Adams reacted to the pandemic, since I stopped reading it years ago. But if he kept to desk-bound wage slaves sparring with their nincompoop bosses, well, that's like those single "Grin and Bear It" gags the Sun-Times runs where men in fedoras sit at bars and gripe. Times change. I used to love the comics.
I spoke with Adams once, now that I think of it. He did some strip I really liked — not the one above — and I thought I'd try to get the original. I have drawings from everyone from Matt Groening to Bill Mauldin, James Thurber to Mort Walker, Joe Martin to Pat Brady. Somehow, cartoonists seem more approachable — I'd never ask John McPhee for a manuscript page. Maybe because of their association with journalism.
Adams was nice, but explained that he doesn't actually draw "Dilbert," just assembles it on a computer screen from stock images. Which made me shiver, and think of how Charles Schulz dismissed the thought of somebody else lettering his wildly remunerative strip with, "That would be like Arnold Palmer hiring someone to do his putts."
All people are biased, by the way, all people of all colors and religions. Every single one of us, to a greater or lesser degree. A person can recognize that without falling weeping onto a sofa, clutching at oneself, as Adams did. The mistake he and those like him make is that they consider being called out on their biases a form of oppression. They think they're victims, suffering from the category error belief that squelching hate speech violates their First Amendment rights. Which might carry some truth were the government doing it. But there is no amendment to the constitution requiring newspapers to run the cartoons of clueless bigots. I decided 17 years is plenty, gently pulled the cartoon off my door so as not to damage the paint, tore it into small pieces and tossed it in the trash.