I Tried To Figure Out This Garrison Comic So You Don't Have To

By | Tuesday, January 25, 2022 1 comment
Last week, Ben Garrison posted this cartoon on his website. I saw it pop up on Twitter a few days later and, like most Garrison cartoons I see, it didn't make sense. Most of the time, I can sort of figure out what he's trying to say because he's often referring to something that's making national or international news, but this one left me baffled. He's clearly trying to make some comment about Scott Adams (using a decent likeness of Adams to begin with and presenting the comic in a similar fashion to Adams' Dilbert) but I haven't paid much attention to Adams or Dilbert for a several years now, so I had no clue what event(s) might have sparked this or what Garrison might be trying to say. I suspect a number of other folks might be in the same boat and find the proposition of actually delving into the whole thing reprehensible because you'd have to look into both Garrison and Adams, so I've taken this on as something of a public service.

Garrison (per his usual, since his comics rarely make sense on their own) posted a multi-paragraph explanation to accompany his comic. He notes that Adams was "hypnotized by legacy media and corrupt medical experts such as Fauci" and got vaccinated against COVID, but seems to have regrets about it. Garrison claims to not follow Adams any longer but apparently watched a lengthy video Adams posted on Adams' own channel, and describes at least part of it as "a blistering, purple-faced tirade while using extremely foul language—just because some woman on the streaming comment section questioned his wisdom for getting the experimental and grossly under-tested mRNA pokes."

So I headed over to YouTube to see if I can find what Adams said. He evidently does a live stream every morning for about an hour where he talks about... whatever's on his mind that day, I guess. It's often based on whatever news articles he's read recently. Despite regularly getting 20-30,000 viewers on each video (although I don't know how many of those are actually with him live and/or how many watch for the full hour) it's pretty much just a straight monologue. He does regularly stop to ask for confirmations on his assertions, but A) his audience is primarily his fan base already, so it would make sense if a large portion agree with him, and B) he doesn't actually take a tally of any sort and just kind of scans the chat replies for a second or two. My point being that if anyone claims he's engaging the audience, he's not -- it's very much his soapbox and he spends his time sharing his opinions with Yes Men. I pass no judgement on that, by the way; it's his channel, he can do with it what he wants. But it's filled with logical fallacies, including lots of anecdotal evidence, false equivalencies, and some blindingly obvious bandwagon fallacies. Not to mention more than a few racist and sexist remarks.

On January 11, Adams held his session as usual. Most of the video seems pretty par-for-the-course for him, covering a variety of news-releated topics. But in the last two minutes, he reads a comment from a woman named Shelly that accuses him of being "duped by COVID because your friends scared you into trying to save the world." She then said it was time for Adams to apologize and that his fans would accept it. As he finishes reading the comment aloud, Adams then does launch into a profanity-laced minute and a half of insulting Shelly, including calling her a "fucking piece of shit" several times and saying she's a "cunt" whose "family hates your fucking guts." Adams then signs off with the thought that his rant probably would force YouTube to demonitize him to the tune of $1000 "or whatever it is" but adds that it was worth it as he chuckles and turns off the camera.

It's kind of a strange rant, really. The string of profanities Adams hurled at Shelly was way out of proportion to what she said, but while it clearly rankled him, he remained visibly pretty calm. His delivery wasn't agitated at all, and seemed very matter-of-fact -- unchanged from any time during the previous hour. Contrary to Garrison's both verbal and visual depictions, Adams did not get red-faced, he did not wave his arms about, and he made no reference or concession to anti-vaxxers being right. Now, granted, part of a cartoonist's job is to exaggerate reality to emphasize a point, but the only part of Adams' rant that seems reflected in Garrison's comic is the swearing -- although given that Garrison opted to use grawlixes to represent that, it's actually toned down and de-emphsized from what Adams actually said.

I can't find anywhere that Adams apologized in any way. In his video from the next day, an early commenter notes "Shelly was right" which Adams reads aloud and chuckles again, saying "that's funny" before getting to his first topic. But that's the only reference from Adams himself that I can find about the incident.

So if the comic doesn't really reflect what Adams said/did in that specific video, maybe there's some additional context that's worth looking at.

The first panel shows Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President, swinging a watch and holding three hypodermic needles. Fauci's hair here is modified a bit to resemble the boss character from Adams' Dilbert. Presumably, the three needles represent the two doses and one booster shot that make up the COVID vaccine. A fob watch is stereotypically used in putting patients under hypnosis and Adams has claimed he has training as a hypnotist himself. At the beginning of the video I outlined above, he refers to government and media propaganda as a kind of hypnotism. Given that Garrison and others feel Adams has been "duped" about the vaccine, this panel -- the symbolism, the structure, etc. -- actually makes a lot of sense. (I'm making a point of saying that because I generally find Garrison's work just plain bad comics, regardless of what views he holds. That he managed an actually good panel here is worth noting.)

The second panel show Adams hypnotized by Fauci (via the spirals in his eyes, a pretty standard comic trope) and taking the three injections. Except Adams has been pretty clear in multiple other outlets that he refuses to get the booster, so he's only had two shots. The white shirt and tie are used to conflate Adams -- who mostly wears grey t-shirts in his videos -- with his eponymous character, Dilbert. I suspect much of Garrison's audience, and indeed most people, are less familiar with what Adams looks like than Dilbert, so this wardrobe change makes sense. Of course, since Adams and his views on vaccines probably aren't very widely known, it doesn't make sense to make him the subject of one of these comics to begin with, but I suppose it does help with anyone like me who knows Adams but might not immediately recognize a caricature of him without some additional clues.

(As an odd aside, the way Garrison has drawn the tie here, the tie is not wrapped under the shirt collar. As if Adams put the tie on first and put the shirt on over it. The tie functions more like an ascot here. I don't think that's supposed to signify anything; I think it's just Garrison being a lousy artist. Adams' left arm is also drawn REALLY strangely, almost as if Adams' elbow is bending backwards!)

The coffee mug is in reference to Adams' channel, called "Real Coffee with Scott Adams," in which he does generally start by metaphoircally sharing a cup of coffee with his viewers. The picture of the woman in the back seems to be Adams' wife, model Kristina Basham. There's no real reason for her to be included here, but given that Adams has apparently taken some flack for marrying someone literally half his age, I suspect her inclusion in the comic is Garrison trying to say that he disappoves.

Regarding the third panel, I can find nowhere that Adams has turned around to become anti-vaxxer or that he has any regrets about taking the two shots he's gotten. In fact, he devotes a good chunk of a video that came out a week before Garrison's cartoon explaining why he doesn't have any regrets on taking it. He seems to feel the vaccines were over-hyped and under-delivered, but he doesn't express any regret over them.

The final panel shows Adams' other character, Dogbert. I think he's supposed to be talking to Adams, telling him to admit that he was wrong about vaccines. I'm not entirely sure about the cube, though. The inclusion of what I presume to be flies makes me think that it is maybe supposed to be a "flies in amber" reference, but A) amber is not light blue, but... well, amber-colored; B) although I'm sure it could be cut this way, I've never seen amber presented in cube form -- it's usually showcased in a more natural, amorphous manner; C) I don't know why Dogbert is only half-encased in it; and D) I don't understand what the "flies in amber" metaphor is supposed to represent to begin with -- the only thing I can come up with is that it's saying Adams should keep his ideas in perpetual stasis and never change them based on external influences? The light blue coloring could also imply it's a block of ice and the "flies" are supposed to be beads of water starting to melt? The "frozen in place" idea would work the same metaphorically as "flies in amber," though, so my C and D points remain.

Adams responded to this cartoon on Twitter the day it came out, and implied it misrepresents his opinions pointing to a January 6 blog post he made. The post allegedly goes through his pandemic-related "predictions" and judges how accurate he was, but since he provides no sources for either said predictions or evidence of his accuracy, it doesn't really provide much insight other than what he was thinking on the day he wrote it. So while it doesn't do jack for what he initially said it would do, it does sufficiently show that Garrison completely mis-represented him.

Adams made another reference to the cartoon a couple of days later, in a video which he titled "I'm Ready to Take the L on Vaccinations. I Wasn't Convinced Until Today." The video thumbnail even shows him using his thumb and index finger to display an L on his forehead. Here he talked for about 10-15 minutes on how he had changed his mind and felt that the risk of his own personal death due to COVID should not have been a factor in his considering whether or not to get the vaccine, and he made the wrong choice. I'm pretty confident he was trying his hand at ultra-dry sarcasm and was calling out how dumb his critics sounded, but I've heard some really bonkers ideas from him the past few days while researching this, so I'm only maybe 90% sure he was joking.

So to sum up, Adams did indeed swear pretty heavily at and verbally abused an anti-vaxxer as Garrison noted in his explanation. While Shelly is making things worse by refusing to be vaccinated and she also completely misunderstands Adams' opinions on the topic, Adams very much showed himself to be an asshole for responding to her in a such blatantly sexist and downright abusive manner. In response, Garrison made a really bad comic that doesn't actually represent what Adams said, did, or believes and probably wouldn't make sense for nearly anyone reading it unless they also read at least his 700 word explanation. The cartoon is more of a broad personal attack (and not a very good one) against Adams than a commentary or reaction to the incident that ostensibly prompted Garrison to draw the comic in the first place.

To sum up my summing up: Scott Adams and Ben Garrison are both assholes.
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Matt K said...

What did you do in a previous life that resulted in you punishing yourself in this awful fashion?