Dilbert creator Scott Adams once described himself as “an early user of the Internet.” Now the Internet is hurting his reputation. For two months, Adams has been taking time off from drawing comic strips about office life to make controversial statements about race and feminism—and even to come to his own defence under an assumed name. Asked by Maclean’s to comment on the online fracas, Adams replied: “Which fracas? Is it the one where I’m an evolution denier, a Holocaust denier, a racist, a misogynist, a troll, or just the biggest douche in the entire world?”
Adams has always used blogging to express his proudly libertarian views. But recently he’s been writing some things that sound worse than just hating government regulation. It began with a post where he said that “the reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently.” When a Republican official sent out a picture portraying President Barack Obama’s parents as monkeys, Adams argued that the incident proved how “non-racist” the official was. And he later wrote that a journalist should admit the “advantages” her career had gotten from being “a brilliant, smoking-hot African-American woman.”
Popular websites jumped on Adams’s gaffes, though he says they weren’t gaffes if you knew what he was really saying: “No one who has read my writing in its proper context, and understood it, is angry at me.” But his attackers might not have had as much ammunition if it hadn’t been for Adams’s attempts to defend himself. After the post about women got him in trouble, he deleted it, causing other blogs to re-post it and accuse him of trying to hide his shame. He also referred to Gawker, a site that has been particularly relentless in making fun of him, as “pure evil” and “Nazi wannabes.”
Adams’s most elaborate attempt to come to his own defence came on the comment site MetaFilter, where he created the pseudonym “Planned Chaos,” who said that Scott Adams was right about everything: “He has a certified genius IQ,” Planned Chaos wrote of Adams, “and that’s hard to hide.”
Though Adams is hardly the first person to praise himself under a fake name (the practice is so familiar it has a name, “sockpuppeting”), he didn’t seem to be very good at it, since he was quickly found out. Josh Millard, a MetaFilter moderator, told Maclean’s “the comments were certainly conspicuously strident,” and that one member “responded to Adams’s first sockpuppet comment with ‘Welcome to Metafilter, Scott!’ ” Science fiction novelist John Scalzi, who blogged about the issue, told Maclean’s Adams made his problems worse: “Not only is his opinion up for consideration, his behaviour is up for consideration. And then he ends up looking foolish on two fronts.”
Adams says some of the anger against him is less about his behaviour and more a “class war” against the rich: “There is a very real sense in the air that anyone who has a degree of success is a thief by definition,” he says, which, in his view, leads to a situation where “celebrities are used by advocates and bottom-feeders as a sort of human kindling.” If Adams is getting bashed online, he thinks it’s because the Internet “allows the unscrupulous to have a bullhorn.” Millard doesn’t buy this, arguing Adams is another celebrity with “an unconsidered belief that because they’ve been successful in some other venture, they’ll be successful at sockpuppetry as well.”
Will this have any effect on Adams’s day job? It might, if it creates the perception that Dilbert—traditionally an apolitical strip—is some kind of libertarian screed. But it might be that the attention for Adams could raise interest in the strip, which no longer has the kind of fame it had in the ’90s. Besides, Millard reminds us that “lots of folks will continue to pin Dilbert strips to their cubicle walls without ever hearing a thing about the whole fiasco.” Adams even says he meant to get people mad at him. “I stoked this phenomenon intentionally in my blog just to get a better look at it. It’s fascinating.” Like his evil character Dogbert, he claims everything is part of his master plan.