Dilbert, RIP?

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, has been canceled:

More newspapers say they are dropping the “Dilbert” comic strip after creator Scott Adams this week advised white people to “get the f–k away” from Black people.

Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the US, has announced it will no longer run the workplace comic “effective immediately” over remarks Adams, 65, made on his online show “Real Coffee with Scott Adams.”
The Cleveland Plain Dealer also said it’s cutting ties with Adams following his “racist rant,” as well as the Washington Post.

Adams himself says that soon, it may be possible to read Dilbert only on his own personal web site. This is the YouTube video podcast that triggered the storm, beginning at around the 13 minute mark:

Adams’ comments have been described as a “racist rant,” but his tone is not ranting. The Rasmussen poll he responds to is here. This is the relevant language:

72% of Americans agree, including 58% who Strongly Agree, with the statement, “It’s OK to be white” – a slogan that originated on the 4chan Internet forum and has been labeled “hate speech.” Twelve percent (12%) disagree with the “OK to be white” slogan, while 17% are not sure.
Eighty-one percent (81%) of whites, 53% of blacks and 58% of other minorities at least somewhat agree with the statement “It’s OK to be white.”

So in this survey, 47 percent of blacks didn’t subscribe to the idea that it is OK to be white. That is the number that Adams picked up on. He didn’t mention it, but 42 percent of other minorities didn’t necessarily think whiteness is OK, either.

I think it is indisputable that the 47 percent of blacks (as well as others) who don’t think it is OK to be white are racists; or, more accurately, expressed a racist opinion in this particular poll. Is it racist to react negatively to racism? Or, as in this case, to over-react to racism?

In his video podcast, Adams certainly does over-react. He calls blacks a “hate group” and recommends that whites simply stay away from them. He says he is going to “back off” on helping Black America, since it “doesn’t seem like it pays off.” Weirdly, he says that he has been identifying as black for some time, but now is going to stop doing so. I assume that is some kind of joke, but I don’t get it.

I disagree with, and disapprove of, some of the things that Adams said, although I don’t think anything he said was as extreme as “It’s not OK to be white.” No one seems to have a problem with that particular bit of racism.

If you are interested in pursuing this further, you can check out Adams’ Twitter feed, where he defends himself and, among other things, has posted a two-hour interview that he did, following his cancellation, with a black host. Time being short, I haven’t watched it.

To me, the more basic issue is whether newspapers should cancel Dilbert based on something that has nothing to do with Dilbert. Dilbert often mocks liberal pretensions–for example, in a recent bit where a black employee “identifies” as white and thereby deprives his employer of the benefit of employing him. Such iconoclasm might be the real reason why papers like the Washington Post want to get rid of the strip, but it is not at issue here.

The question whether an artist should be canceled (or shunned, or ignored) on account of opinions or behavior not relating to his or her art is one that comes up over and over. Generally, the consensus has been that no, an artist should not be so canceled.

For example, Frida Kahlo was a Communist, something infinitely worse than whatever wrongthink can be attributed to Scott Adams. Should her paintings therefore be banned from art museums? They haven’t been. Dashiell Hammett, too, was a Communist, so should Sam Spade be banished? Should The Maltese Falcon never again be screened on late-night television? Paul Gauguin abandoned his family to seek gratification of various kinds in Polynesia. Should museums sell off his iconic paintings? Jean-Luc Godard was a Marxist and a Maoist who eventually gave up his commercial career to make Communist propaganda films. (I sat through one once. Trust me, you don’t want to do it.) So, should we cancel films like Breathless, Contempt and Masculine, Feminine? (On further consideration, that last movie may be cancellable on other grounds.) Closer to home, I think Maren Morris’s publicly expressed political opinions are reprehensible. Should I therefore pressure country music stations to stop playing her music? Should they go along with any such pressure?

Through history, awful people have often created excellent art. Staying in the world of comic strips, it seems that Al Capp was, in fact, a pretty terrible human being–much worse than Scott Adams, on any sane evaluation. So, is Lil Abner destined for the dustbin?

We could go on and on. The point is that, in my view, if a newspaper is going to cancel a comic strip, it should be based on something within the four walls of that strip. Or, at a minimum, on some obviously horrific behavior by the creator, like committing a murder. Adams’ over-reacting to the racist views of others, however poorly-judged and ill-advised that reaction might be, does not, in my opinion, rise anywhere near that level.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.