Scott Adams: #Winning or Not?

Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, is at the center of a heated controversy about reverse sexism.

The Internet furor around Dilbert creator Scott Adams’ scathing post about men’s rights is a rubbernecking fascination. It’s a hanging in the town square that you just can’t look away from, and Adams himself keeps the pitchforks sharpened and the torches lit by continuing to shout insults at the very people who are stringing him up. “I just meant to insult those men’s rights idiots! And educate people on how to deal with emotional women. They need to know! I am on Team Men! Why are you angry? You all are whiners! You just don’t understand my writing and you TOOK IT OUT OF CONTEXT!”

As some of his readers have pointed out, he seems to be taking lessons from Charlie Sheen on public relations. The question is, is he #winning or is his reputation going down in flames? As a former cubicle dweller I have found some of Adams’ Dilbert cartoon strips to be humorous and insightful, but I didn’t find his post, Men’s Rights, to be either. The vast majority of readers have been disgusted by it. Some of his followers cheered. My colleague at EcoSalon, Mike Sowden, reads Adams’ blog occasionally and considers him to be sharp and satirical. I think his pompous justifications for his post say as much about Adams as the original post itself. Is Adams being deliberately provocative or just a jerk?

It all began when Adams asked his readers to suggest a topic for him to discuss on his blog, and overwhelmingly, his masses of fans wanted him to weigh in on men’s rights. Presumably they expected him to support their argument that women are to blame for their woes. Instead, Adams thought it would be funny to act like he agreed with their complaints, cast them in a ridiculous light, and then call men’s rights advocates (MRA’s) a bunch of “pussies.” Yes, out of all the insults he could have used, he picked that one, because of course the worst thing you can call a man is…a highly insulting name for a woman. (I am not going to go through the original post paragraph by paragraph. Jezebel, Feministe and The Mary Sue already do that.)

If he had ended his “joke” right there, he would probably only have thoroughly insulted his intended targets, and people would have understood the joke and moved on. For some reason, however, he keeps going – talking about sex with chess queens, being on Team Men, and advising men to deal with women in the same manner as they would deal with demanding children or mentally-challenged people.

Enter the Internet mob. The men’s rights readers are (understandably) furious. And, between setting up the men’s rights gag with incendiary statements about women and the incomprehensible, misogynistic rant after the “gotcha!” – women are furious.

Playing the “feminist” card that all men want to trot out when they feel women are being “emotional” or “oversensitive” is tiresome. No one expects Adams to have a NOW membership, but there is not one positive statement in that post about women, and many offensive ones. When comedians, or bloggers, or comic strip artists denigrate women in the name of humor, they are still denigrating women.

Adams has a right to post whatever he wants on his blog, but it is a public forum. He seems to have forgotten that. Readers also have a right to broadcast their negative opinions on his blog, and their own. The fury might have died down more quickly if Adams himself didn’t first remove the post, and then run all over the blogosphere posting even more insulting comments on every blog that dared to criticize his piece. That must have been exhausting, but I’ve heard self-righteousness can give a person energy.

He whines over and over again that everyone misunderstood him and the people criticizing him have poor reading comprehension skills (read: people that disagree with me are just stupid). I don’t see the disconnect. Adams admits to intending to insult MRA’s. They read the post. They were insulted. It seems to me that they understood it just fine. The language used to make his point was insulting to women. And, if the vast majority of readers misunderstood the point of his post – that’s simply poor writing.

However, for all his claims that it was intended solely for his loyal readers, isn’t that how this all started in the first place? The same readers Adams says have “unusually high reading comprehension level” and “are pretty far along the bell curve toward rational thought, and relatively immune to emotional distortion” – aren’t they the MRA’s who clamored for Adams to address this topic? So, a large number of his special readers support men’s rights, and Adams’ idea of a funny joke was to set them up and then trash them. Interesting strategy.  I don’t recall Copyblogger having a post about this method of building blog readership. Maybe Adams can write a guest post for them.

Despite all of this, Mike assured me that Adams’ other posts really are thought-provoking, so I went ahead and read some. I found them to be interesting, well-thought-out, and written in plain language. His logic was relatively easy to follow. I don’t subscribe to what I feel is his underlying smugness and condescension, but as I read Comparing, I found myself nodding. He made a good point there. But this only refutes his assertion that his post is taken out of context, because Men’s Rights is not interesting, well-thought-out, and does not follow a logical train of thought. Compared with the posts I read, it is simply a disjointed, snotty rant.

For all his talk about context – blog posts should be able to stand alone (although if Adams’ post needs to balance itself by dragging its knuckles on the ground, we understand). It shouldn’t matter where it is reposted or viewed. If the words aren’t changed, the meaning should hold up. If it doesn’t, is that the reader’s fault, or the writer’s?

After some of the back and forth name-calling died down. Adams wrote a new post called I’m a What? to his remaining readers explaining again how everyone except his loyal readers misunderstand him. In it he says he enjoyed the negative attention and deliberately kept it going by posting irritating comments on the sites that were criticizing it.

I don’t believe that. His comments were too defensive and angry. I think he just said that to deny that any of the name-calling and criticism bothered him, but clearly, it did. In subsequent days, he continues to talk about it. He writes a petulant post about coming up with new terms for name-callers (labelasses), and another one about trying to get on Salon to complain about their treatment of his post. If he were as dispassionate as he claimed (versus everyone else being so overemotional), he would let it go.

And then talks about his “whiner fatigue.” Hello, Kettle? This is the Pot. You’re black.

“But I’m [sic] been experiencing a wicked case of “whiner fatigue.” It feels as if everyone in the world is whining about one damn thing or another.  In normal times, I can tune it out. But lately the backdrop has been world class problems on the order of financial meltdowns, tsunamis, nuclear radiation, and bloody revolutions. THOSE are problems. Your thing: Not so much.”

Note to Adams’ readers: Don’t suggest he address any more topics that you care about. You are just a whiner and what happened to those MRA’s might happen to you. He only wants to write about topics he thinks are important. As long as you are happy in his self-absorbed topic world, by all means, keep reading.

Saying over and over again that context is the problem doesn’t make it so, it just makes it an excuse. Adams never does explain what the message is (that 99% of readers seemed to have gotten so wrong). But he does claim to have taken the original post down because “the context changed.” But why bother if it was already out of context on other blogs? He does it for a very good reason.

In taking it down, he also deleted all the negative comments people posted. When he posted this justification, he also reposted the original post – you know, for context. But now, all those “drive by readers” that ruined it in the first place are not coming back, and neither are the readers who left in disgust. Now his explanation and his original post are back up sans any negative comments. All he’s left with from his die-hard fans are the high-fives. Savvy.

You can hear his irritation when he talks about people who reposted his piece, even after he took it down. He scoffs at any intimation that he “doesn’t understand how the Internet works,” but then he claims he didn’t realize that people would be upset by his post. Really?

“I confess that I misjudged the degree of excitement this would generate…I also didn’t predict that critics would reprint the post one component at a time so they could dissect it, which has the fascinating effect of changing the humorous tone to something hideous. Humor requires flow and timing.”

And yet, 98 out of every 100 comments I read seemed to have missed the humorous tone, even when they read the post in its entirety. If he wanted to clear the air, he should have simply stated what he was trying to say. But he never did. Given that he was so intent on mocking the MRA’s, he ends up sounds just like one of them:

“I clearly wasn’t supporting every element of the Feminist movement, and therefore I was presumed an enemy and labeled a misogynist. I was also labeled an asshole, which I have come to understand is a synonym for male.”

What elements of the “feminist movement” was he supporting? Finally, he wraps up with the now-popular non-apology that people use when they want to say, “Hey, I’m not sorry I said it. I meant it. But I’m sorry that you were so overemotional that you were offended by it.”

“To the best of my knowledge, no one who understood the original post and its context was offended by it. But to the women who were offended by their own or someone else’s interpretation of what I wrote, I apologize. To the men who were offended by my mocking of Men’s Rights, you’re still a big bunch of pussies.”

For his part, Mike shakes his head at Adams’ approach. “[His tone] is unnecessarily pompous. He should acknowledge reality. All he has to do is explain what he actually meant, where he was exaggerating, where he was poking fun, and make it all transparent to absolutely everyone. It will be humiliating, but I bet his agent is pleading he do it. Of course, if he can’t do it because what he meant was exactly that insulting to women, then he’s in deep trouble.”

To me, the most unattractive thing to emerge in all of this is Adams’ personality. And I’m talking more about the one you see in his justification, not in the original blog post. The haughtiness, the profound dismissal of anyone else’s feelings or concerns, the self-absorption, the contemptuous labeling and name-calling – with extra special attention to “feminist” and “pussies” multiple times – the condescension, and the complete refusal to admit he could be wrong about something, even if it is just a poorly written post.

Mike believes that Adams is provocative to get people to think, which is the role of a satirist. But he also admits that satirists are, in general, assholes. I say that calling someone a satirist is just an excuse for all of this behavior. I didn’t get the wrong idea about Adams from his post, and I certainly got the right idea about him from his subsequent comments and justifications.

Image: Ol.v!er

Andrea Newell

Andrea Newell is a Michigan-based writer specializing in corporate social responsibility, women’s issues, and the environment.