Dagwood Bumstead As Work Place Hero: An Everyman for the Office

Posted by jlubans on September 22, 2010


Dagwood is a much more likeable wage slave than, let’s say Dilbert, that embittered and alienated staffer. In fact, Dagwood fits the Lovable Fool
archetype promoted by Casciaro & Lobo.

And Mr. (Julius) Dithers, is the stereotypical boss applying, as can be seen, a swift and literal motivation to Dagwood’s posterior; a very model of Herzberg’s Kick In The Ass (KITA) boss.
While Dagwood remains cheerfully incompetent – eating and sleeping through much of life – Mr. Dithers is ever on a slow boil, ready to erupt at every perceived incompetence of his minions.
At home it’s a different story where Cora, the Mrs., rules and induces a quaking fear in Julius akin to a trembling Jell-O. To compensate for his domestic pusillanimity, he hounds and abuses his employees, all – in good fun, of course - in mythical cartoon-land.
As Herzberg has it, KITAs are external motivators but not all KITAs are literal, some can be figurative. Indeed most work place policies and structures, e. g time clocks, rules and regs, and performance appraisals are KITAs – things done to employees to keep them in line and in hopes that they will improve.
Dagwood helps demonstrate what’s wrong with the KITA theory of motivation. Yes, there is a short-term effect – Dagwood flies through the office door - and Mr. Dithers experiences some short-term relief. But, in the next Sunday comics, Dagwood is back to his old ways, unperturbed, unchanged and unflappable. And, no doubt, Mr. Dithers, will feel his foot itching for another go - the abusive cycle kicking in.
At home, unlike Dilbert, Dagwood is eminently happy – Blondie, a model wife and cook, nice kids, Daisy, his loving dog, He bowls, but not alone. He car pools to the job. Work is a chore, a bore, something to be avoided, ignored, dilly dallied about.
In the short list of followers first delineated by Kelley,
Dagwood is a survivor. He is too much of an individual to fit Kelley’s sheep/conformist category. And, of course, he is NOT an effective/exemplary follower, that extraordinary individual who enjoys her work and brings much intelligence and energy to it.
I’ve known a few Dagwoods, though they’ve never been as cheerful as Mr. B. Work was not where they wanted to be and they worked all the angles to have as little of it as possible. They were on the job, but not fully there. Whenever nearby, I could feel my inner Mr. Dithers stirring. It was frustrating in two ways. One the job not getting done as well as it could and if we applied a KITA, there was no lasting effect.
You have to ask, what would it take for Dagwood to enjoy his job, what would it take for him to derive as much satisfaction O.T.J. as he gets from building one of his 6 layer sandwiches? Well, for one thing, it’d take a different boss.
Mr. Dithers, in my own taxonomy of bosses (Chapter 12) is not the Benign Bumbler (low insecurity and low competence), nor is he exactly the Radioactive Boss (high insecurity and high competence). No, he is more like the Petty Boss, with high insecurity and perhaps less competence than desirable.
If a new boss insisted it was Dagwood’s responsibility to do a good job, that it was Dagwood’s choice to do just that, then we might see Dagwood begin to derive a greater satisfaction from work. Of course, a KITA – in all its slapstick glory - is a lot more visually gratifying than someone going about doing a great job. And, if work at Dithers & Co. is an unrelenting grind no matter how much we gussy it up, well, then Dagwood is probably doing the best he can.

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