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I’m Tempted To Stop Acting Randomly
posted December 13, 2010

imageCreator: Scott Adams
Publishing Information: Andrews McMeel, softcover, 128 pages, 2010, $12.99
Ordering Numbers: 9780740778063 (ISBN13), 0740778064 (ISBN10)

My last office job -- by which I mean the last time I worked anywhere with a cubicle -- came 12 years ago, a mid-summer temporary stint necessary to fund a forced transition between Seattle apartments while I was waiting for my first, modest freelance checks to start rolling in. My experience was not Dilbert-ian. There were few technical people and almost no contact with the level of management devoted to the belief system and code words that make an office go. I even liked some aspects of the job, including the discovery that all those office buildings downtown is where they hid the city's young women during daytime hours. Still, there's something familiar in Dilbert two which even I with my limited exposure can relate: the stale atmosphere, the forced interactions that at best help fend off boredom and the startling idiocy of a significant minority of the workers. If I had made a life in offices, if I had chosen to spend 45 hours a week in places where I might have turned 30 without the ability to grant myself permission to go to the bathroom, I might not look at Dilbert as a curiosity executed with at-times ruthless skill. I might look on it as a necessity, something to clutch onto, a potent mirror of absurdity that as a requirement for getting through the day I held up in front of my daily routine like a Van Helsing bears a cross. It's not inconceivable that it would be my favorite comic strip.

In this book's introduction, Adams points out how lucky he was not to have other people digging into office politics and culture at or even around the same time as he launched his strip. I think this is true; Adams did benefit from having this field to himself. On the other hand, certainly by now Adams has put on display such an admirably consistent tone and a go-to, dependable skill when it comes digging up new takes on the nearly endless well of misery and absurdity that is his chosen subject matter that we can safely say luck only took him so far. You can debate Adams' design sense -- the sheer visual ugliness of it versus how simple and easy it is to parse -- and pick at some of the obscure second jokes that he slides into the margins of certain dailies that suffuse what should be a straight-forward punchline with an unwelcome whiff of mystery. You can even have a go at his work for not being skillful to a degree that suits you -- not funny enough, not attractive enough, not worth reading more than once. There's no denying Adams knows his milieu and has destroyed forever any thought of investing such places with a basic seriousness and with unquestioned value. The success of Dilbert as a comic will likely only become apparent when he's finally done, but the way he's punched the modern office and its soul-destroying elements right in the balls with the fury of 1,000,000 hammers, that we can appreciate right now.