I'm Not Anti-Business, I'm Anti-Idiot - Popular Culture - Criticism and Parody

Criticism and Parody

Media analyst Norman Solomon and cartoonist Tom Tomorrow claim that while Adams' caricatures of corporate culture seem to project empathy for white-collar workers, the satire ultimately plays into the hands of upper corporate management itself. Solomon describes the characters of Dilbert, none of whom occupies a position higher than middle management, as dysfunctional time-wasters whose inefficiencies detract from corporate values like 'productivity' and 'growth', a very favorable outlook for managers. Though Dilbert and his office-mates often find themselves baffled or victimized by the whims of managerial behavior, they never seem to question it openly. Solomon cites the Xerox corporation's use of Dilbert strips and characters in internally distributed 'inspirational' pamphlets:

"Xerox management had recognized what more gullible Dilbert readers did not: Dilbert is an offbeat sugary substance that helps the corporate medicine go down. The Dilbert phenomenon accepts—and perversely eggs on—many negative aspects of corporate existence as unchangeable facets of human nature...As Xerox managers grasped, Dilbert speaks to some very real work experiences while simultaneously eroding inclinations to fight for better working conditions."

Adams responded in the February 2, 1998 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.

In 1997, Tom Vanderbilt wrote in a similar vein in The Baffler magazine:

"Labor unions haven't adopted Dilbert characters as insignia. But corporations in droves have rushed to link themselves with Dilbert. Why? Dilbert mirrors the mass media's crocodile tears for working people—and echoes the ambient noises from Wall Street."

Bill Griffith, in his daily strip Zippy the Pinhead, used his strip as a forum to criticize Adams' artwork as simplistic. Adams responded on May 18, 1998, with a comic strip called Pippy the Ziphead, "cramming as much artwork in as possible so no one will notice there's only one joke... 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 September of the same year, Griffith mocked Adams by mimicking his Pippy the Ziphead creation with a strip showing stiff, Dilbert-like creations in an office setting and one of the characters saying, "I sense a joke was delivered."

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 an emulation of Adams' cartooning style.

In the Family Guy episode "Mr. Griffin Goes to Washington", Peter comments that the business world is funny. The scene then cuts away to a parody of Dilbert, after which Peter remarks, "Well, sometimes the business world is funny."

Dilbert has occasionally been criticized for alleged "insensitivity" and off-color jokes, as documented by Adams in The Joy of Work. One of the most widely-attacked strips involved the Pointy-Haired Boss being saved in an airplane crash because nuns were on board ("You were saved by prayer?" "No, padding. They don't do a lot of aerobics at the nunnery."). The comic was published the same week as the death of Mother Teresa, leading to a huge backlash. His depiction of Elbonia has also drawn criticism from a variety of corners.

In It's Not Funny If I Have to Explain It, Adams recounts having been attacked for the alleged political content of his work, although in the case of one such strip (where oil drilling kills a unicorn) he excuses himself by saying "I just thought the image was funny." In particular, a series of strips in which Dogbert worked as a talk radio host drew criticism from conservatives for his supposed attack on Rush Limbaugh (which Adams denied in Seven Years of Highly Defective People). Earlier strips did engage in a degree of low-key political satire (for instance, a series of strips in 1992 where Dogbert runs for President), but since the early 1990s Adams has mostly focused the strip on corporate issues.

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... 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 ... The strip began as a specific parody of the comic book itself, set loosely within the office structure of Dilbert, with Hörnell doing an emulation of Adams' cartooning style ... The scene then cuts away to a parody of Dilbert, after which Peter remarks, "Well, sometimes the business world is funny." Dilbert has occasionally been criticized for alleged "insensitivity" and off-color ...

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