Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dilbert: Satiric Commentary on White Collar America

If you have ever felt that your boss was completely incompetent or that most policies implemented in your workplace seem to exist only to frustrate you, then you know the pains of Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip. These little pictorials encapsulate all-too-common feelings of the modern worker: loathing, bemusement, and acceptance. While some strips seem too implausible to seriously entertain, even their essence is close enough to reality that nearly everyone can empathize with at least one of the characters’ workplace plights.

Although earning multiple degrees in economics, Scott Adams decided that he had had enough of corporate America after working over ten years at various levels of management. While its insipid idiosyncrasies drained him, its incredulous ironies inspired him to create one of the longest-running cartoon strips in history. His creativity lies in the fact that he earnestly exposes workplace problems as humorous but still worthy of serious contemplation.
Yet, Mr. Adams did not suddenly wake up one day and decide to be a satirist. Ever since he was a child, he enjoyed creating comic strips. He dabbled with them from childhood through high school. It was only because he was rejected from art school that he decided to major in economics, but he continued making comic strips in his free time. Hinting at his future career change, Mr. Adams related that he often inserted his homemade comic strips into presentations to make business meetings more enjoyable. With Russ et al. (1999) surely agreeing, Mr. Adams’ youthful creative tendencies appeared to have stuck with him into maturity.
Mr. Adams did not seriously consider becoming a full time cartoonist until his experiences at the Pacific Bell Telecommunications Company. The people he met there were so cartoonishly unreal that they provided the basis for many of his iconic characters like Wally, the lazy, apathetic bald man. Mr. Adams began submitting his Dilbert strips to local newspapers while still working fulltime. He woke up at four a.m. every morning simply to get everything done in a day.

To sacrifice so much of his time and energy for what begets only a morning chuckle, Mr. Adams must hold a strong, internal commitment to his passion. In fact, he acknowledged that it was only his intrinsic motivation that kept him burning the candle at both ends both before and after his royalty checks began filtering in through the mail every month. His first check was for a measly $368.62. When he could finally live off the royalties, though, he quit his regular job to peruse his ideal life as a fulltime cartoonist.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, Mr. Adams appears to have sublimated his contentious yet inappropriate feelings towards his coworkers and workplace policies into the socially acceptable medium of lighthearted, but pointed, comic strips. This method offers a sincere but critical commentary on what he perceives to be wrong with the workplace. But, Mr. Adams’ ideas are not just an individual’s critique that is valued by a select few; his satire has spawned a TV show based on the strips, generated new business philosophies, and even coined several words. By far, his term Confusopoly (sellers purposefully giving consumers confusing information to make buying certain products easier) captures his greater impact on the world beyond a good laugh. Anytime individuals buy a cellphone, sellers give them large tracts of information that are mostly meaningless. This incomprehensibility serves to draw consumers to plans based on emotional factors like the name of the product (ie: phones called Shine or Chocolate) because they cannot comprehend the important technological factors, which sellers exploit for higher profitability.
Scott Adams offers us a sobering laugh at American white-collar culture. His creative doodles unwittingly draw us in—only to wallop us with distasteful truths of corporate (mis)management, the deleterious effects of jumping on industry trends, the peculiarities of our coworkers, and what—if any—meaning we can find in our own lives by operating within such a bumbling system. To these philosophical dilemmas, Mr. Adams offers us some answers: we can become droning workaholics, drink ludicrous amounts of coffee, or we can laugh at our own absurdity and carry on as best we can.
Visit these websites for more information about Scott Adams or Dilbert:
·         http://www.dilbert.com/ (Daily Dilbert uploads)
·         http://dilbert.com/blog (Scott Adam’s personal blog)
·         http://www.npr.org/2013/10/21/236207605/scott-adams-explains-how-to-fail-at-almost-everything-except-dilbert (An interview with Scott Adams on his success and failures)

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