The cartoonist fell into a trap I call a "remindsmeof." His comic was clearly about Congress, since President Obama didn't "write" the stimulus package. But the comic reminds the reader of racism and the risk of presidential assassination even though the cartoonist clearly wasn't addressing either topic. That was enough to get him into trouble.
In my early years of cartooning my editor rejected a few Dilbert comics because they were remindsmeofs. I thought it was overprotective and ridiculous. But I've since learned that you can't underestimate the public's ability to find offense where none is written. Now I recognize (usually) when I am about to blunder into a remindsmeof and I edit the comic myself. It saves time and trouble. When I offend, I prefer it to be intentional.
Friends: It's about some young, single friends
The Simpsons: cartoon about a dysfunctional family
Dilbert: Comic about a nerd and his dog
Garfield: About a cat
When you find an exception to the simplicity rule, it often proves the point. For example, Seinfeld was famously "about nothing." That should have been a recipe for failure, and indeed it had poor ratings for the first few dozen shows. I forget the details, but somehow it ran below the radar at the network because it was financed or produced in a different division than usual. That difference allowed it to stay on the air and develop quality, and an audience, while other shows with low ratings came and went.
So here is the key learning. If you are planning to create some business or other form of entertainment, you will need quality at some point to succeed. But what is more important than quality in the beginning is some intangible element that makes your project inherently interesting before anyone has even sampled it. That initial audience will give you the luxury of time to create quality.
I have a twofold test for whether something can obtain instant popularity and thus have time to achieve quality:
1. You must be able to describe it in a few words.
2. When people hear about it, they ask questions.
I saw this at work with my restaurant. We recently started what we call after hours dancing. (See how easily explained it is?) And as soon as we started talking about the idea, everyone had lots of questions. Was it live music or a DJ? What kind of music? What time does it end? Is there a cover charge? And so on. Rarely did anyone say, "That's nice. Good luck with it." Something about the idea makes people curious. And sure enough, it has been a solid success with no advertising, just word of mouth. And this immediate audience has allowed us to improve on it every week. Quality followed popularity.
And the odds that somewhere there is at least one planet inhabited with some version of advanced humans is very high indeed, for there is no rational reason to believe we are the first of what will be thousands to come. It's more likely we are somewhere in the middle of the process.
[Note: Yes, I know all of the individual ideas in this post are borrowed from places such as the old TV show Firefly, Boltzmann's Brains, my own book God's Debris, and more. But you probably haven't seen them all together. I hope.]