February 23, 2024

COLUMN: Those pedestals can crack and fall

I need to go tie shopping.

To prevent any kind of “guilty by association” I probably should retire one of my favorite ties and find something else that perfectly matches my Coca-Cola-can red button down dress shirt. That tie is why I bought the shirt. Late last month, the longstanding comic strip “Dilbert” was stopped by many newspapers and the comic strip’s distributor for racially demeaning comments publicly made by creator Scott Adams.

I don’t want to review what Adams said, but it was not good and I can’t find any way he could get out of the heat it caused. I was more sad than mad after hearing what he said.

I have really enjoyed “Dilbert” over the decades. At times, it’s the best therapy I’ve needed for my jobs. Starting in 1989, Adams used the characters to reflect today’s working world. There are characters or scripts I can relate to or say, “That happened last week.”

The script and punchline were spot on many times. Not every day was a home run, but I had enough of his comics to make me feel like I was getting therapy specifically for work. Other than my tie showcasing two of his main characters, I have some “Dilbert” collection books. “Dilbert” is one of the reasons why I subscribe to a certain, daily newspaper that dropped the comic after the news broke. Many other papers followed. Then his distributor. The Creston News Advertiser did not run “Dilbert.” Adams has his own website to show his daily comic.

Do I take the tie and books to a second-hand store to be sold only to face the risk of knowing I owned them? Or do I put them in a box, keep them in the attic so my great-grandchildren will know what entertained me and the Adams story will be history by then?

I gave Adams credit and had him on a pedestal. For as long as he had made those office settings and conversations I thought he was smart and attentive enough to not say what he said. That pedestal crumbled. It didn’t matter to me his critics long before this incident said he was right leaning; he knows how office culture works.

Dilbert and Adams were not alone for me.

The timing is also intriguing. Last weekend, I attended a Garrison Keillor show in Omaha. The tickets were a gift. A longtime listener of his Public Radio skit comedy and music show “Prairie Home Companion,” the show was pulled from the airwaves in 2017 after accusations against Keillor of being inappropriate with a woman staff member. Keillor retired in 2016, but the show continued with another host.

Keillor said he knew the accuser but the moment did not have unwanted motivations and there was no upset feelings between them. It didn’t matter. The pressure continued and increased and the show was pulled from Public Radio stations. He entertained me on most Saturday evenings. In another state I lived, Sunday afternoon rebroadcasts were my partner while I volunteered to clean a portion of my kids’ private school. Good, clever, clean, high-brow comedy is hard to find.

After time away, Keillor has made a comeback of his own with a new performance of stories and song, hence the Omaha show. He still had a following after the radio show was pulled. The venue I attended was not sold out, but there was plenty of people.

Adams’ evidence is more distinct. Accusations Keillor faced can be a bit more gray. Those temptations have no boundaries with gender, age, socio-economic status or political leanings. I’m not saying he did it with wrong intent. I’m not saying he didn’t do it. I wasn’t there. I don’t know. There are men who are inappropriate. There are women who are right and proper. There are women who are deceptive as they consciously play along at first only to revenge attack after it’s all done. There are men who are right and proper. It’s like the legendary UPS delivery driver stories of what they see when house doors open. All those stories are true because it happened somewhere.

There is nothing inherently wrong following and being big fans of entertainers and comic strips. You just have to know when to to say when because people can be disappointing no matter how high we put them and harder to admit when they goof. And you might be stuck being a fan having shown your support proverbially wearing it on your sleeve.

Or in my case, around my neck.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.