Falling Way, WAY Down
The calculated self-immolation of Scott Adams.
Several years ago, Dilbert creator Scott Adams told his YouTube audience that his adult stepson (from an earlier marriage) had died of a Fentanyl overdose. Halfway through explaining those circumstances, Scott’s voice began to break, after which he composed himself.
I’ve thought of this moment from time to time whenever Adams, a cartoonist who I have sparred with in the past, has irritated his way into the news. It was a rare show of genuine humanity from a man whose political diatribes (which he delivers daily over the Internet) typically lack any human kindness.
Whether he is dismissing people who have died in brutal circumstances, such as George Floyd or Trayvon Martin, or is fantasizing about dropping MOABs on whichever nation has rankled him that day, or is simply calling one of his female viewers a “cunt”, Scott Adams’ meanness and lack of empathy is stunningly pronounced. This is especially surprising considering the sensitivity a person must possess to write a successful humor comic strip. It is why I was both moved and surprised to see Scott tearing up on camera over his personal tragedy that day. Had I not seen that with my own eyes, I think I would be justified in calling Scott Adams a sociopath.
Last week, Scott released a YouTube screed where he used the results of a sleazy, click-baiting Rasmussen poll as an excuse to say definitively that whites should not live near blacks. The complete context of his comments notwithstanding (Scott is big on camouflaging his opinions in logical gobbledygook that he thinks makes his true sentiments invisible), it was the final straw for his newspaper clients, some of whom began dropping him months ago over Dilbert’s increasingly political story lines, but who have otherwise stuck with Adams through thick and thin for years while he has courted the alt-right with one bouquet of roses after another.
If you have been following Scott’s trajectory as a conservative demi-guru for any length of time, you will have seen his “downfall” coming for a while. Scott’s dismissive attitude towards Dilbert qua Dilbert is barely disguised, and what is happening now is a final gambit to retire the Dilbert strip from newspapers in such a way that the scandal will serve as a booster rocket to launch Adams out of his position as a mid-tier conservative influencer — merely the “Dilbert Guy” — and into the realm of someone like Jordan Peterson, who enjoys the kind of tweedy, high-toned right wing status that has thus far eluded Adams.
Scott Adams became Internet famous during Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign (and subsequent victory) as perhaps the most intelligent defender of the boorish president’s weird moves and moods. The fact that Adams was also known for a comic strip that pitted a nerdy working man against an oafish boss who was the very avatar of Trump was just the perfect, paradoxical hook to give Adams a second career as an online conservative personality. Through this, Adams built a YouTube and Twitter audience that made him the bête noire of the liberal left and a minor darling for conservatives, even landing him an Oval Office visit with Donald Trump himself.
Following Trump’s defeat, however, much of the gas left Adams’ balloon. Although he maintained a strong social media audience, his meal ticket was no longer there to piss off the straights. Scott was back to being the Dilbert Guy, but now with a glistening patina of fascist sympathies.
Scott appeared to have decided that the world of Internet celebrity was where he wanted to spend his golden years, and he began making increasingly brazen (even pathetic) moves to up his clout as an adjunct member of the “Intellectual Dark Web”, those alt-right adjacent scholarly right-wingers who are thought of as more refined than the Tucker Carlsons and Steven Crowders which the lumpen GOP consume.
Thus Scott began to increasingly pitch his message to Q-Anon cranks, J-Sixers and anti-vaxxers, all while portraying himself as some sage grandmaster of 4-D chess. What eluded Scott, however, was that final reputation-smashing move that would prove his bona fides to a conservative audience that only considers you blooded if you have been “cancelled” for your Spartan resolve in the face of anti-free speech Persians. Too safe and calculating for his own good, Scott could not bring himself to say just the right words that would earn him a liberal media drone strike.
Finally, with no cards left to play, and with his clients still not willing to cancel him en masse, Scott Adams finally had to press down on the “racism” button hard enough to break his thumb. Now he at last has the golden coin honored at the Continental Hotel for people like Roseanne, Kanye, Ezra and all the other professional assassins of their own reputations.
It is almost incredible that it took this long for Scott to get himself dropped from the funny pages, considering all the bombs he set off along the way. Scott was a dedicated bootlicker for disgraced congressman Steve King (whose racist tirades made even the GOP blush), he once spent several months pushing a callous effort to brand the Charlottesville neo-Nazi riot as a “hoax” in a self-confessed publicity stunt, and in recent months, Scott became so frustrated with his non-entity status in the wider conservative world that he attempted to bait famously Trump-loving political cartoonist Ben Garrison into an online feud, threatening to sue him for defamation over a jab (about “the Jab”) that Garrison had taken at him. (When, after a week, Garrison still refused to swallow the bait, Scott quietly abandoned his effort.)
But will even this suicide attack on his own legacy get Scott Adams what he wants most? His contrived downfall stinks of effort, and only Scott’s most cloddish followers will believe that hedidn’t get exactly what he had coming to him. Also, Scott has willingly destroyed his best gimmick, that of being the country’s most controversial newspaper cartoonist. That’s like Jordan Peterson getting a voice coach! If Scott‘s’ rancid takes are not tied to him being “the Dilbert Guy”, then what is he except a low-energy Abe Simpson? Will CPAC or the Daily Wire or Turning Point USA really be beating a path to the door of this un-charismatic Boomer?
However, I am most interested in this controversy from the point of view of a cartoonist. Right now, Scott Adams’ detractors probably think that his biggest sin is against black people. In fact, the group he has shown the most disdain for are the fans of Dilbert, those people who for decades tuned into Adams’ world for fifteen seconds a day of office comedy, not for a two-hour-long screed. The contemptible disregard Adams has shown for the fans of his work, the way he has chosen to be bounced out of newspapers like a drunk falling off of a bar stool, truly sickens me.
Yet even this is not as bad as the disdain Adams has shown for his own creation. The character of Dilbert was a bit like Jerry Seinfeld: A fixture of the 90s, a commentator on the everyday absurdities in his field of expertise. Now, Dilbert departs the stage like Michael Richards, screaming the N-word at his audience. What a goddamn embarrassment.
Scott Adams’ tearful memorial for his stepson proves that he has a heart inside him somewhere, and I’d like to remember that, because everything he has done recently proves that his heart no longer beats for the fans of his cartoon.
Jason Yungbluth writes comic books, including one called Weapon Brown.