March 1, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Scott Adams and why capitalism kneels before a bigger god
You’d think the customer would always be right.
Scott Adams makes something people have liked enough to buy and sell to other people. He has known from the beginning there are no guarantees. The minute people stop liking what he’s making, or stop liking him who makes it, well, that’s the end. It’s a free market, after all. Supply meets demand, but when demand falls, suppliers fall – unless suppliers adjust.
Scott Adams seems incapable of adjusting. That may be due to age. He’s 65. He’s been drawing the “Dilbert” comic strip since the mid-1990s. His aesthetic is equally aged. Irony was a hot commodity three decades ago. Irony seems almost quaint by today’s earnest standards. Failure to adjust to market tastes says more about Scott Adams than his clients, which include the Post, the LA Times, the Plain Dealer and hundreds more dailies. It’s America, after all. If anyone is always right in this country, it’s the customer.
Irony, of course, is not why Adams’ buyers are suddenly pulling out. Irony is merely a means by which to illustrate what’s happening to Adams outside the normal and immovable frame of understanding. This frame has somehow made Scott Adams, the merchant of something, into a victim while newspapers nationwide, the customers of the merchant of something, are made into villains. Turns out capitalism kneels before a bigger god.
Open the frame some more
Last week, Adams posted, in Eugene Robinson’s words, “a disgustingly racist rant on YouTube, among other things claiming that Black Americans collectively are ‘a hate group.’” By the weekend, Robinson reported, hundreds of newspapers that carried his strip for decades dropped him. That includes his syndicate, Andrews McMeel Universal. And that concludes Scott Adams. There is no “Dilbert” without syndication, at least not to the national scale needed to underwrite a lifestyle Adams is accustomed to after 30 years.
Unfortunately, Robinson gives credence, in his latest opinion piece, to the frame of understanding that has brought capitalism’s iffy reputation into greater iffiness. He said Scott Adams has every “right to advise white people to ‘get the hell away from Black people’ – just as the media companies that published Adams’ work have the right to get the hell away from him.”
The point for Robinson is freedom of speech and association cut many ways, and he’s not wrong. But sticking to this frame of understanding seems to lose something we’d benefit from seeing if we’d open the frame some more.
The business of America
What is Adams really saying when he said: “My publisher for non-‘Dilbert’ books has canceled my upcoming book and the entire backlist. Still no disagreement about my point of view. My book agent canceled me too.”
For one thing, he’s saying that’s my ass.
For another, he’s saying he’s entitled to a counterpoint. He’s saying the degree to which he’s “canceled” should be proportional to the degree to which such a counterpoint successfully persuades him he’s a racist putz.
I’m inferring, obviously, but that’s an awesome statement from a man who makes stuff for people to buy and sell to other people, the proceeds of which have underwritten a comfy lifestyle for 30 years. It’s almost like capitalism is not the force that gives meaning to America and Americans. It’s almost like capitalism itself is forced into meaning something that hides something else.
What something? It can be found in the “massive disagreement about his ‘point of view,’” Robinson wrote, “which is a noxious stew of anti-Black bias, white nationalism and MAGA grievance-mongering.” In brief, white power.
White power is the force that gives meaning to America and Americans. It is a force casting a shadow on capitalism itself. If that were not the case, Adams might be expected to say whoa my bad! He might be expected to adjust to the dynamic tastes of a dynamic marketplace where no one has a right to a handout, where everyone is expected to carry their own weight, where rugged individual-y individuals, when facing hardship and the feeling of everyone being against them, ruggedly pull up their bootstraps (whatever those are) and get on with the business of America, which is doing business.
Not in Scott Adams’ world
But all of the above is ridiculous. All of the above does not apply to a white man no matter how bad the wound in his foot. All of the above, I mean the ridiculousness of it, is why we can’t talk about a racist putz as a racist as well as a putz but instead a representative in good faith of a legitimate view in the debate over free speech, giving the class-act treatment to the class clown.
We’d understand Adams for what he is if white power were not the force giving meaning to America and Americans. We’d understand Adams’ behavior as his, completely, not anyone else’s. We’d understand his losses are his own damn fault. We’d say, well, you know what they say, the customer is always right. Not in Scott Adams’ world. Not in the world white power created.
Here, we wonder if a racist putz is getting “canceled.”
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.