Dagwood Should Be Fat, Sick and Impoverished

By all logic, the comic strip character Dagwood should be fat, sick and impoverished due to his gluttonous eating, sedentary habits, and automobile-dependent lifestyle. Blondie should worry about his high blood pressure and clogged arteries [...]

Read Time: 2 minutes

May 4, 2011, 1:06 PM PDT

By Todd Litman


By all logic, the comic strip character Dagwood should be fat, sick and impoverished due to his gluttonous eating, sedentary habits, and automobile-dependent lifestyle. Blondie should worry about his high blood pressure and clogged arteries, and the Bumsteads should struggle to bear rising automobile expenses. Yet they are all thin, healthy and financially secure, protected from all consequences of indulgent consumerism. 

Good literature challenges our assumptions. Comics such as Blondie play it safe by validating rather than questioning conventional values. A fat, sick and impoverished Dagwood could still be funny, while challenging readers' assumptions about what constitutes a normal and desirable lifestyle.

This is a planning issue because conventional comics often portray automobile-dependent suburban development as an ideal, and ignore or ridicule alternatives. Early strips showed Dagwood racing for buses (see image below), but the Bumsteads now live in a sprawled neighborhood, drive everywhere (to be fair, Dagwood carpools to work), shop at malls, never walk or bicycle for transportation, consider public transit the butt of jokes, and chauffeur their children in mini-vans.

This strip from 1948 showed Dagwood and Herb racing for a bus.

 

Other comic worlds express different values. I particularly appreciate Calvin's Father, who among many positive attributes (a dry sense of humor and a love of the outdoors) was a bicycle enthusiast. Cartoonist Bill Watterson had the good sense to retire the strip rather than let it grow stale, an example that some other cartoonists should follow.

 

Calvin's Dad was a bicycle enthusiast.

 

Television seems more progressive. Although many television shows portray suburban families, some of the most popular (e.g., Seinfeld, Friends, Sex In The City, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, etc.) celebrate the pleasures of urban living, including diverse and interesting neighbors, nearby shops and restaurants, and unexpected sidewalk encounters.

Comic and sitcoms reflect the id of society, what Freud described as "the dark, inaccessible part of our personality...filled with energy reaching it from the instincts." A fat, sick and impoverished Dagwood would more accurately reflect the dark soul of modern consumerism. 


Todd Litman

Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems.

BART Train

Inclusive Prosperity: No Displacement Necessary

Recent analysis identifies nearly 200 U.S. neighborhoods that have achieved the highly-sought-after goal of increasing the prosperity of residents without displacing the existing community.

September 15, 2022 - Brookings

Green Healthy Community

Making Healthy Places

The editors of the book "Making Healthy Places," recently published in a second edition by Island Press, discuss the intersections of public health and planning, including key concepts such as green gentrification, health impact assessments, and AI.

September 18, 2022 - Laurie Mazur

Aerial view of homes west of downtown Chicago, Illinois

Chicago ADUs Concentrated in More Affluent Neighborhoods

An analysis of city-issued permits shows that homeowners in gentrified wards are building accessory dwelling units at much higher rates than those in less well-off communities.

September 18, 2022 - Chicago Sun-Times

Portland Transit

Promoting Diversity in Transit Leadership

Latinos in Transit works to connect and empower people of color to increase diversity in management roles at transit agencies.

September 25 - Smart Cities Dive

Screenshot of gameplay window with popup: "Error. Can't build in NIMBYville!"

A NIMBY Simulator Pokes Fun at All-Too-Real Issues

A classic game gets a sardonic update for the modern world.

September 25 - Bloomberg Culture

A rendering of a proposed development, with apartment buildings and neighborhood-serving retail.

Tempe’s Car-Free Developers Headed to Atlanta

Culdesac, developer of a massive no-parking multi-family development in Arizona, is headed to Georgia.

September 25 - Reporter Newspapers

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.