BLONDIE, DAGWOOD AND THE NATURE OF PERSONAL POWER
We find a charming illustration of Dagwood utilizing a simple source of personal power below:
These three frames are just the beginning of a very early Blondie comic from 1932 that I found in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. At that time Blondie was depicted as coming from the lower classes who had recently married the wealthy Dagwood Bumstead. Many from his social circle believed Blondie married for money.
I have discussed sources of power quite a bit on this blog. The simple source of power that Dagwood used to get Blondie invited to the party is often referred to as offering a fair exchange. That is, Dagwood offered to give his mother something that she wanted, but only if she gave him what he wanted. She wanted Dagwood to come to her party, he made it clear that he would come, but only if Blondie would also come.
As we will soon see, there are six more panels to this Blondie-Dagwood comic strip. But before we get to them, let’s use the DIG Conflict Model to quickly conceptualize the events that are taking place in the first panels of the comic.
Using “DIG” to Briefly Describe a Conflict
Those who have been following this blog know that when we seek to briefly describe a conflict, the letters in the word DIG help to remind us to look for the three conditions of a conflict–DESIRE, INTERFERENCE and GUILT.
During the first frame, Dagwood clearly desires that Blondie join him at his mother’s party, but interfering with this, his mother indicates she is refusing to invite her. To be a conflict according to the DIG Conflict Model, in addition to a desire and an interfering condition, there has to also be a guilt condition as well.
In the second frame of the comic, Dagwood says to his mother, “Remember, after all she is your daughter-in law.” This suggests that Dagwood believes that his mother is guilty of being wrong for not inviting Blondie.
There are several ways in which this apparent conflict can be resolved. To illustrate some essential points, let’s first look at a couple of examples that do not actually occur in the comic. As we look at these examples, please keep in mind that when we describe resolutions using the DIG Conflict Model, we are instructed to consider not only the short term quality of the resolution, but the long term quality as well.
Here is a different outcome to Dagwood’s conflict with his mother than what we will be seeing in the actual Blondie comic strip. Take special note that this different outcome leads to a couple of post-resolution regrets.
Dagwood talks to his mother and she convinces him that because of the way she was brought up, and because of the way the other party guests might react, she is not wrong in wanting to keep Blondie from attending her party. Dagwood ends up agreeing with his mother and he does not bring Blondie to the party.
From Dagwood’s perspective his conflict with his mother was resolved at the point when he came to believe his mother is not guilty of doing anything wrong when she insists Blondie is not to come to the party. The plan that was used to resolve the conflict was his mother persuading Dagwood that she is right.
Now, let’s look at the quality of this resolution. By resolving the conflict in this way, Dagwood ends up not having his desire to have Blondie join him at the party fulfilled. Because Dagwood wants to do things more with Blondie than his parents, he begins to see them less and less. When he looks for job opportunities he feels little desire to remain close to his parents. One day he sees an opening with the Dithers Company several thousand miles from his parents. He applies and lands the job. When Dagwood and Blondie start having children, his mother begins to wish she had been more accepting of Blondie early in their relationship for Blondie has turned out to be a wonderful wife to her son.
Oh, how Dagwood’s mother regrets antagonizing Blondie during their early marriage. And that’s not all. Dagwood’s mother is often heard wandering around her luxurious home moaning. From time to time she can be heard crying out, “If only I could be closer to my grandchildren! How this would give so much meaning to my life!”
Dagwood also feels that raising children with their grandparents close by would have been a good thing, but he reluctantly feels that, with his mother so rejecting of Blondie, it wouldn’t be a good thing for the children to be exposed to such rejection of their mother on a regular basis. And Dagwood really cares about his mother who has become increasingly depressed over the years. Both he and his mother have some post-resolution regrets about how things have turned out.
Here’s another scenario that according to the DIG Conflict Model would lead to this conflict being resolved, and this one also leads to some post- resolution regret.
Dagwood decides that there is nothing he can do about bringing Blondie to the party, and so he just doesn’t show up. The party comes and goes without his desire being fulfilled. But in time, he forgets about it. When he forgets about it, the conflict has been resolved. As for the quality of this resolution, Dagwood finds that, since the party, he frequently has waves of anger overtaking him. When he is with his mother, he treats her with little respect. This leads to angry outbursts between them. Their quality of life has thus been diminished.
Now let’s look at what actually happens in the 1932 comic.
Dagwood resolves the conflict as follows. In an effort to achieve his desire, he tells his mother that he refuses to come unless Blondie is invited, too. His mother offers a compromise; he can bring Blondie if he promises to keep her in the background. Dagwood doesn’t explicitly say that he agrees with the compromise, but by thanking his mother it appears he has tacitly agreed to her stated terms. The conflict Dagwood was having with his mother is resolved at the point Dagwood realizes his mother will no longer interfere with his desire to bring Blondie to the party.
How about the quality of this resolution? In the short run things look pretty good. Although Blondie expresses some concerns about going to the party because Dagwood’s mother is so against her, Dagwood expresses optimism when he says to Blondie, “Now, don’t worry Darling — in time she’ll learn to love you just as I do!” The comic strip goes on from here to provide us some additional information. When they arrive at the party…
In this scenario Dagwood has used some skill that leads to his specific desire being fulfilled—Blondie gets to go to his mother’s party. He has a related desire as well—that his mother will learn to love Blondie. As things worked out, this desire takes a beating.
Contrasting the Blondie Example with the Pygmalion Example
People who are powerful at achieving their desires tend not only to develop a plan to achieve some obvious desire of a conflict, but they pause to consider how each plan that they consider would impact the achieving of other desires that are associated with the obvious desire. Consider the story of George Bernard Shaw’s great play, Pygmalion, which was later turned into the magnificent musical, My Fair Lady.
Professor Higgins desires to bring her to a party where the upper classes will be in attendance—the royal ball. But the good professor realizes that getting Liza invited is a relatively small problem for him. What he wants additionally is that she is a success at the ball. He and his friend, Colonel Pickering, pause to consider what being a success is.
They decide that to be successful, Liza will have to improve her speech, be able to move gracefully around the ballroom, and to learn to dance as the other ladies do. Once they understand this, both gentlemen devise a rigorous plan involving training for six months before they take Liza to the ball. Although their plan doesn’t come off entirely without hitches, the viewers of the play clearly come away understanding that the thoroughness of the planning and the practicing of the skills were enormously helpful.
Now, what have we learned from these scenarios? First of all, when you try out a plan that has promise to fulfill your desire, you are attempting to increase your power. If your plan is well designed and skillfully carried out, it may succeed in fulfilling your specific desire. However, short term success of a plan to achieve a specific desire might be offset because it ends up interfering with the likelihood that other desires will be fulfilled. Dagwood fulfilled his short term desire of getting Blondie to the party, but by putting her in a situation where she had a large chance of embarrassing his mother, he may have hurt his long-term goal of getting his mother to like Blondie. If you want the quality of your resolution to be high, increasing your power requires that you become skillful at fulfilling desires in the short and long term.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.