There’s a classic scene in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure in which our hero falls off his bike in a spectacular fashion in front of a bunch of kids. Instead of lying there in misery and shame, he quickly gets up, dusts himself off, and says, somewhat less than convincingly, “I meant to do that.” If you’ve never seen the movie, or simply want to relive the moment, here it is.
It’s perhaps the oldest, crudest, and most utterly transparent strategy ever invented to recover from an embarrassing mishap: we either pretend that nothing happened, or that whatever did happen was all part of our super seekret master plan all along. We’re not the only animals that do this. Cats do it. Birds do it. Even drunk squirrels do it.
Now we can add Scott Adams to the list. Recently, as regular readers of this blog will be aware, the Dilbert mastermind caused a bit of a contretemps on the internets by posting a blog entry showing such a complete lack of thought or common sense, and so patronizingly misogynistic, that it managed to offend Men’s Rights Activists and feminists alike. Adams managed to make himself look like an even bigger idiot by pulling the blog post down in what seems to have been a futile attempt to make the controversy go away, only to find it reposted on an assortment of sites; some have begun to wonder if he actually understands how the internet works. (Things posted generally cannot be unposted.)
I wrote about the whole embarrassing spectacle here, and when I posted a version of that piece here on Feministe — as many of you know all too well — Adams showed up to defend himself– badly – by insisting that his critics were too dumb and/or emotional to understand his oh-so-subtle argument. He then insisted, puzzlingly, that we actually weren’t his critics at all: “You’re angry,” he wrote, “but I’ll bet every one of you agrees with me.” Naturally, this did not advance his cause.“Mr. Adams,” wrote Sheelzebub, speaking for many, “thank you so much for coming back here and entertaining us with your special brand of epic fail.”
But rather than letting this whole thing die, Adams has come back with even more detailed, and even more transparently ludicrous and contradictory, explanations as to why he wrote the post in the first place, why he subsequently deleted it, and why he decided to defend himself in such an obtuse manner on Feministe and (apparently) elsewhere. The whole embarrassing spectacle wasn’t an embarrassing spectacle at all: He totally MEANT TO DO IT. As Laurie sarcastically summed up his new claims in the comments here, the whole thing was apparently “a form of sophisticated performance art,” and the controversy it generated was all “part of Adams’s master plan in the first place. He’s pulling all the strings. BWAHAHAHAHA!”
So let’s try to make some sense of his explanations.
Adams wrote the original post, he says, in a deliberate attempt to send the Men’s Rightsers into a frenzy:
I thought it would be funny to embrace the Men’s Rights viewpoint in the beginning of the piece and get those guys all lathered up before dismissing their entire membership as a “bunch of pussies.”
This part of Adams’ explanation actually rings true. Originally, you may recall, Adams decided to let his readers pick the topic of his next blog post for him. When he saw “men’s rights” jump to the top of the poll results, he knew, as he put it, that “the fix was in. Activists had mobilized their minions to trick me into giving their cause some free publicity.”
This is in fact true: MRAs on Reddit, and perhaps elsewhere, did indeed flood his site to vote for their pet issue.
And so, even though he agrees with some of the Men’s Rights agenda, Adams says he’s been suffering from a “wicked case of ‘whiner fatigue.’” In a world full of “financial meltdowns, tsunamis, nuclear radiation, and bloody revolutions,” complaining about men having to open doors doesn’t seem like such a big damn deal.
So far, so good. But it’s about here, as he gets into his decision to take the post down, that Adams’ explanations go completely off the rails. Indeed, he’s got two distinct, and almost completely contradictory, explanations for why he took the post down.
First, he says he deleted the post, even though he knew people would repost it, as a sort of “meta joke” apparently designed to rile up feminists and garner even more attention. As he explains, somewhat less-than-lucidly:
A few people appreciated the meta-joke of removing the post. If you didn’t get it, read the deleted post, consider the feminist backlash, then think about the fact that I took down my post and ran away.
And to those of you who triumphantly scrounged up a copy of the deleted piece from Google’s cache, republished it, and crowed that I don’t understand how the Internet worked, I would politely suggest that perhaps I do.
Adams goes on to suggest that the seemingly obtuse and arrogant comments he left on Feministe (and, apparently, elsewhere), were part of the same Puckish strategy of provocation:
I was enjoying all of the negative attention on Twitter and wondered how I could keep it going. So I left some comments on several Feminist blogs, mostly questioning the reading comprehension of people who believed I had insulted them. That kept things frothy for about a day.
But, he says, this wasn’t the whole story. And so he sets forth his second explanation for why he took down the original post:
I didn’t take down the piece just because I thought doing so would be funny, or because I wanted attention. Those were bonuses. The main reason is that when a lot of drive-by readers saw the piece, and they didn’t know the context of this blog, it changed the message of the post to something unintended. As a writer, unintended messages are unbearable.
You might notice that this new explanation does not so much complement but completely contradict his earlier explanation: in the first scenario, Adams portrays himself as a “meta joker,” a deliberate provocateur, trying to rile up readers outside of his normal audience with a puckish prank.
In the second scenario he portrays himself as a writer deeply concerned about being misunderstood, and troubled that his words were being misinterpreted by “drive-by readers” outside of his normal audience, a situation he describes as “unbearable.”
In other words, after telling us that he pulled down the post in an effort to rile people up and garner even more attention, he tells us he that he really didn’t like the extra attention his words were getting, and that he pulled down the post in an attempt to cut the discussion off. As he puts it:
Men thought I was attacking men, and women thought I was attacking women. The message changed when the context changed. I saw that developing, so I took down the post.
There is, of course, a simple way for us to cut through this confusion: to recognize that Adams’ talk about “meta-jokes” is almost certainly utter bullshit.
My theory as to what actually happened is much more straightforward, and fairly similar to Adams’ second explanation: Adams wrote a post designed to rile up MRAs, and it did. But once the discussion spilled over beyond the relatively safe confines of his own blog, with its sympathetic – or is that sycophantic? – audience, he had second thoughts, and in a moment of peevishness he took the post down, hoping the whole thing would just go away. It didn’t.
Then the whole debate got a second wind after feminists, myself included, noticed his post, and noticed that it happened to be crammed full of patronizingly misogynistic bullshit. Unable to simply wish away the criticism, Adams waded into the fray. Unwilling to, or simply incapable of, either justifying his original post or apologizing for it in front of an audience of non-adoring non-fans, Adams simply asserted that none of his detractors understood what he really meant. So far, he has not given us any explanation as to what this might be.
Instead, in his post as in the discussion on Feministe, he simply repeats his assertion that those who have criticized his post are too emotional or invested in the issues to truly “get it.” The culmination of this line of, er, “reasoning” is this bit of passive-aggressive fuckery at the end of his post:
To the best of my knowledge, no one who understood the original post and its context was offended by it. But to the women who were offended by their own or someone else’s interpretation of what I wrote, I apologize.
This sounds like it would be his last word on the subject. No such luck. Like a terrier worrying a bone, Adams still hasn’t quite let this one go. He’s weighed in on Men’s Rights on his blog again yesterday. And when Salon ran a couple of articles on the controversy earlier this week, including an interesting interview with Men’s Studies doyen Michael Kimmel, Adams urged his
minions readers to rush over and defend him in the comments against the “the poorly informed [who] are in full unibation mode over their shared hallucinations of my Men’s Rights post.”
“Unibation?” Apparently they speak a different kind of English up Scott Adams’ ass.