Dummy and Dummier

Dilbert's Back, and Guess Why UPN's Got Him

The cultural moment that let the strip pass for incisive was as specific as a snowflake—one of those rare interludes when, in this case thanks to downsizing and NAFTA, suspicion of corporate America was in vogue among nonpinkos. But its avatar was Pat Buchanan, a spokesman not for empowerment but for revanchism. In ways the series's longueurs give you plenty of time to mull, Dilbert's ostensible populism harkens to classic angry-white-male bile. Not only is Dilbert no assembly-line laborer, he's not even a clerk: he's an engineer. Yet the locus of class resentment in this country has traditionally been petit-bourgeois rather than proletarian, one reason its manifestations tend to be reactionary even when the petit bourgeoisie wears a blue collar. Adams's treatment of women adds a vicious physical disgust to his usual scorn, and even on the comics pages—which make prime time look like multiculti heaven—his workplace's all-vanilla cast jumps out at you. The one possible exception is subliminal—the petty tyrant known as "the Pointy-Haired Boss," whose twin horns of kinky black hair, in a strip so short on individuating attributes that each one functions talismanically, keep striking my eye, at least, as suggestively African American. I know, I know: aw, lighten up. Still, I wonder just who Adams thinks is keeping who down.

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