On Dilbert, Part One.

Today I walked into the teacher’s lounge, and was surprised to see one of my former students sitting at the table. He had been a senior during my first year at Paxon, and now here he was substituting at his alma mater. This moment marked two firsts for me: he was the first of my former students to get a college degree (that I know of, anyway), and this was the first of my former students to become one of my coworkers—even if only temporarily. It was… odd.

When flipping through the newspaper, I’ll occasionally glance at the comics. That’s partly because they aren’t that funny and partly because my favorite comics (Bloom CountyCalvin and HobbesThe Far Side) haven’t been in the papers for years. One of the few comics left that I enjoy reading is Dilbert—but even then, there’s less than a 50% chance that it will be funny on any given day.

People in white-collar workplaces used to talk about Dilbert quite often, usually in the context of the comic resembling real life a little too closely—or someone would bring up one of Scott Adams’ many books full of amusing commentary on modern office culture. But no matter who was talking about the comic, I noticed that nine times out of ten, that person would always conclude by saying, “Yeah, Dilbert’s funny, but to truly appreciate it, you really have to be a ___________,” and the blank would be filled in with the speaker’s occupation. In other words, only he (or she) or people like him (…or her) could grasp the deeper subtext of the cartoon.

So one day, many years ago, I was sitting in my apartment in Clemson with four buddies: two engineers (one worked in a shipyard, the other worked in a “regular” office environment), a computer programmer, and a philosophy major who worked at a coffee shop and a gas station.

The subject of Dilbert came up, and I made my observation that everyone who reads it thinks that he (or she) and he alone (or she alo—you get the idea) is uniquely qualified to trulyunderstand it.

Immediately, the shipyard engineer said, “Well, you really have to be an engineer to get it.”

The office engineer followed with, “No, it’s really aimed at people who work in a modern office environment”—such as his—“The stuff in that comic happens every day where I work.”

The programmer followed with, “Actually, it’s really geared towards programmers; after all, the character toys with computers all day.”

The philosophy major turned to me and said, “You were exactly right.”

I think that every person has a tendency to think that something about him is unique; this uniqueness sets him apart from the rest of humanity and it creates a sense of entitlement. In this case, we have a comic strip that touches people in such a way that many people feel it truly belongs to them and them alone. (“Them alone”? I’ll have to consult a grammatician.) We’ll go from there next time.

12 Responses to “On Dilbert, Part One.”

  1. aabrock Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 9:02 AM

It just so happened that last night I was cleaning the house and stumbled upon a xeroxed copy of a chapter in the book “The Dilbert Principle”. I had made a copy of this chapter (entitled “Engineers, Scientists, Programmers, and Other Odd People” ) because when I read it I was amazed at how closely Adams’ description of said ‘odd people’ resembled me. I actually gave the chapter to my wife and said she should read it if she wanted to see what I was like in my early 20s. But then she hates Dilbert.

To re-inforce your point, I think that everyone can identify with Dilbert because EVERYONE has had a clueless, idiotic boss at some point.

  1. ticklemeelmo Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 7:52 PM

“Them alone” is grammatically correct. “Them” refers to the
“people” staed earlier. “Them” is a plural subject pronoun that takes the place of the plural noun “people” I’m kind of a grammar freak. I find it frightening how our language is being reaped and pillaged by people of all ages who can’t even SPELL “grammar” correctly ( gramer, grammer, etc). Not to mention those who don’t use apostrophes properly (”childrens’ books” was a recent example I found in the paper), can’t differentiate between “good” and “well” (”I did sooo good on Mr. V’s last test- I got a 75!!!), and finally, people who misuse plurality ( “Each person has thier own way of doing things.” actually, this brings me to ANTOHER point about “their” “there” and “they’re” but I’m too busy to rant on like that). If you are remotley interested is the destruction of our language i would reccomend “Eats Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss. It’s a little too british to be read for more than about 10 minutes at a time but it is very witty and funny. Well my comment has gone on long enough. i should change my name somehow now that you already know who i am… tickle me elmo..what was I on?

  1. VDV Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 8:30 PM

I shall award the title of Master Grammatician to whomever identifies the most spelling and/or grammatical errors in Ticklemeelmo’s comment.

  1. ticklemeelmo Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 9:03 PM

Hey, Mr V, care to take a look at you own post, say maybe… paragraph five? I didn’t want to bring that up because i didn’t see the point of getting into a grammar war with you but you HAD to go and say it. didn’t you? You couldn’t STAND for an intelligent post from one of your students. God forbid you have a student who can leave an itelligentpost! Oh lordy lordy!!! Yeah, I’m not perfect (and neither is my keyboard) and I DO misspell things or forget to press shift beofer an “I” but when I i want to post something on a site that I CARE about I tend to glance over it for errors. good DAY sir

  1. ImNotAStalker Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 9:19 PM

You forgot to capitalize “Good” in your last sentence.
Or add punctuation.

  1. ticklemeelmo Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 9:23 PM

I’ll go ahead and correct my last post… save you all the trouble

in order: you=your;i=I; itelligent=intelligent; beofer=before; I i=I.

I am now ashamed…

  1. VDV Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 9:24 PM

I’ll never deny that I make mistakes, but did you seriously threaten a grammar war? Are you kidding me? That is the sort of threat up with which I shall not put! I split infinitives at will and end sentences with prepositions like there’s no tomorrow. Who’s gonna stop me? You? Pah.

I can stand intelligent posts from my students; I just can’t stand my students themselves. For example, former student “Andrew Jackson” wrote my all-time favorite comment: “What the hell’s Congress?”

The title’s still out there.

  1. ticklemeelmo Says:
    October 25th, 2006 at 9:31 PM

I DID thouroughly enjoy that comment. It pains me to say it but…you win Mr. V. for now. I WILL win back my dignity. I will proofread my posts and take this site seriously, and I WILL catch your mistakes but I must say I am very impressed with your grammatical prowess, much more so than say, the Florida Times Union. Anyway, I will now have to subsist on your public appology on tuesday untill I can find another suitable sourse to rebuild my shattered pride.

  1. aabrock Says:
    October 26th, 2006 at 1:51 PM

Dilbert-related article…can’t believe I hadn’t heard of his problem until now.

  1. Doctor Hmnahmna Says:
    October 28th, 2006 at 8:50 AM

What were we talking about again?

  1. Andrew Jackson Says:
    October 31st, 2006 at 1:38 AM

All the cartoonists should be rounded up and dueled. And you don’t have to be a Kentuckian to appreciate that.

Hold fast,
Andy J.

  1. twink Says:
    December 6th, 2006 at 7:05 PM

I think Lordy Lordy should be capitalized too.