Positive Attitude, the latest Dilbert book
|Current status / schedule||Running|
|Launch date||April 16, 1989|
|Syndicate(s)||United Feature Syndicate|
|Publisher(s)||Andrews McMeel Publishing|
Dilbert (first published April 16, 1989) is an American comic strip written and drawn by Scott Adams. Dilbert is known for its satirical humor about a white-collar, micromanaged office, featuring the engineer Dilbert as the title character. The strip has spawned several books, an animated television series, a computer game, and hundreds of Dilbert-themed merchandise items. Adams has also received the National Cartoonist Society Reuben Award and Newspaper Comic Strip Award in 1997 for his work on the strip. Dilbert appears in 2000 newspapers worldwide in 65 countries and 25 languages.
The comic strip originally revolved around the engineer Dilbert and his "pet" dog Dogbert in their home. Many plots revolved around Dilbert's engineer nature or his bizarre inventions. These alternate with plots based on Dogbert's megalomaniacal ambitions. Later, the location of most of the action moved to Dilbert's workplace at a large technology company, and the strip started to satirize technology workplace and company issues. The comic strip's popular success is attributable to its workplace setting and themes, which are familiar to a large and appreciative audience; Adams admits that switching the setting from Dilbert's home to his office was "when the strip really started to take off."
Dilbert portrays corporate culture as a Kafkaesque world of bureaucracy for its own sake and office politics that stand in the way of productivity, where employees' skills and efforts are not rewarded, and busy work is praised. Much of the humor emerges as the audience sees the characters making obviously ridiculous decisions that are natural reactions to mismanagement.
Themes explored include:
- Engineers' personal traits
- Idiosyncrasy of style
- Hopelessness in dating
- Attraction to tools and technological products
- Incompetent and sadistic management
- Scheduling without reference to reality
- Failure to reward success or penalize laziness
- Penalizing employees for failures caused by bad management
- Failure to improve others' morale, lowering it instead
- Failure to communicate objectives
- Handling of projects doomed to failure or cancellation
- Sadistic HR policies with flimsy (or purely evil) rationale
- Corporate bureaucracy
- ISO audits
- Budgeting, accounting, payroll and financial advisors
- Stupidity of the general public
- Susceptibility to advertising
- Susceptibility to peer pressure
- Susceptibility to flattery
- Gullibility in the face of obvious scams
- Fourth World countries and outsourcing (Elbonia)
Dilbert in popular culture
The popularity of the comic strip within the corporate sector has led to the Dilbert character being used in many business magazines and publications (he has made several appearances on the cover of Fortune).
The Toronto Star (in reruns), The Globe and Mail, Montreal’s La Presse, the Florida Times Union, the Indianapolis Star, the Providence Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Brisbane Courier Mail, the Windsor Star, and San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications, run the comic in their business section rather than in the regular comics section, similar to the way in which Doonesbury is often carried in the editorial section due to its pointed commentary.
Criticism and parody
Norman Solomon believes the strip is insufficiently critical of top managers and disrespectful of ordinary working people (The Trouble with Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh, Common Courage Press, 1997). The idea that white-collar workers might be in need of more respect contrasts with a common belief that white collar career is a free choice, but downsizing and some of the pressures on Dilbert have been predicted in the 1970s by Harry Braverman (Labor and Monopoly Capital, Monthly Review Press, 1998 being the most recent re-issue). Dealing with those pressures would require Dilbert to be more blue-collar in terms of strife over his work process, but in Dilbert the boss can be lampooned but has to be obeyed. Solomon’s argument followed a similar one made by his cover artist Tom Tomorrow in his weekly comic strip This Modern World. Adams responded in the 2/2/98 strip and in his book The Joy of Work, simply by restating Solomon’s argument, apparently suggesting that it was absurd and required no rebuttal.
Peter Drucker and C. Wright Mills both pointed out the paradox on which the strip is based but does not address: Dilbert, Wally, Alice and the rest of the gang compete with each other while trying to produce a collective product. The strip satirizes the victims of this double bind. Solomon’s concern is that it reconciles people to their fate and does not show them a way out.
Bill Griffith, in his daily strip Zippy the Pinhead, used his strip as a forum to criticize Adams' artwork as simplistic. Adams again responded on 5/18/98, this time having Dogbert create a comic strip called Pippy the Ziphead, “cramming as much artwork in as possible so no one will notice there’s only one joke...[and] it’s on the reader.” Dilbert notes that the strip is “nothing but a clown with a small head who says random things” and Dogbert responds that he is “maintaining his artistic integrity by creating a comic that no one will enjoy.”
In the late 1990s, an amateur cartoonist named Karl Hörnell began submitting a comic strip parodying both Dilbert and the Image Comics series The Savage Dragon to Dragon creator Erik Larsen. This soon became a regular feature in the Savage Dragon comic book, titled The Savage Dragonbert and Hitler’s Brainbert (“Hitler’s Brainbert” being both a loose parody of Dogbert as well as the Savage Dragon villain identified as Adolf Hitler’s disembodied, superpowered brain). The strip began as a specific parody of the comic book itself, set loosely within the office structure of 'Dilbert', with Hörnell doing a skillful emulation of Adams' cartooning style. It later evolved into commentary on the comics industry in general, with much the same take as Adams has on corporate structure. The strip’s final appearance in The Savage Dragon was in issue #99, cover-dated May 2002; it was collected in its entirety later that same year in Savage Dragonbert: Full Frontal Nerdity.
A parody by Tristan Farnon, creator of Leisure Town, was entitled “The Dilbert Hole” and was a savage mockery of Dilbert. The parody spread virally; sites had trouble hosting the comic during the height of its popularity, as United Feature Syndicate and its lawyers clamped down on it due to its obscenity-laced dialogue and use of the original Dilbert art. The strip appeared on Rotten.com, amongst other well-known sites.
Terms invented by Adams in relation to the strip, and sometimes used by fans in describing their own office environments, include “Induhvidual.” This term is based on an American English slang expression “ duh!” The conscious misspelling of individual as induhvidual is a pejorative term for people who are not in the DNRC ( Dogbert's New Ruling Class). Its coining is explained in Dilbert Newsletter #6.
The strip has also popularized the usage of the terms “ cow-orker”, “ splendsmartful”, and PHB. The word “frooglepoopillion” is occasionally used for an extremely large number, a word coined by the marketing department at the company where Dilbert works, in a strip where it was revealed that the company owed so much money that no word existed to describe the number.
Some fans have used “Dilbertian” or “Dilbertesque” to analogize situations in real life to those in the comic strip.
In 1997, Scott Adams masqueraded as a management consultant to Logitech executives (as Ray Mebert), with the cooperation of the company’s vice-chairman. He acted in much the way he portrays management consultants in the comic strip, with an arrogant manner and bizarre suggestions, such as comparing mission statements to broccoli soup. He convinced the executives to replace their existing mission statement for their New Ventures Group, “to provide Logitech with profitable growth and related new business areas,” with “to scout profitable growth opportunities in relationships, both internally and externally, in emerging, mission-inclusive markets, and explore new paradigms and then filter and communicate and evangelize the findings.”
To demonstrate what can be achieved with the most mundane objects if planned correctly and imaginatively, Adams has worked with companies to develop “dream” products for Dilbert and company. In 2001, he collaborated with design company IDEO to come up with the “perfect cubicle”, a fitting creation since many of the Dilbert strips make fun of the standard cubicle desk and the environment it creates. The result was both whimsical and practical.
This project was followed in 2004 with designs for Dilbert’s Ultimate House (abbreviated as DUH). An energy-efficient building was the result, designed to prevent many of the little niggles that seem to creep into a normal building. For instance, to save time spent buying and decorating a Christmas tree every year, the house has a large (yet unapparent) closet adjacent to the living room where the tree can be stored from year to year.
In addition to the National Cartoonists Society Reuben Awards won by Adams, the Dilbert strip has received a variety of other awards. Adams was named best international comic strip artist of 1995 in the Adamson Awards given by the Swedish Academy of Comic Art.
Dilbert was named the best syndicated strip of 1997 in the Harvey Awards and won the Max & Moritz Prize as best international comic strip for 1998. In the Squiddy Awards, Dilbert was named the best daily strip of 1996 and 1997, and the best comic strip of 1998 and 2000. The strip also won the Zombie Award as the best comics strip of 1996 and 1997, and the 1997 Good Taste Award as the best strip of 1996.
"Drunken Lemurs" case
In October 2007 the Catfish Bend Casino in Burlington, Iowa, notified its staff that the casino was closing and they were going to be laid off. Seven-year employee David Steward then posted on a bulletin board a Dilbert strip that compared management decisions to those of "drunken lemurs". The casino called this "very offensive"; they identified him from a surveillance tape, fired him, and tried to prevent him from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. However, in December 2007 an administrative law judge ruled that he would receive benefits as his action was not intentional misbehavior. Scott Adams said it might be the first confirmed case of an employee being fired for posting a Dilbert cartoon. On February 20th 2008 the first of a series of Dilbert strips showed Wally being caught posting a comic strip "which compares managers to drunken lemurs".