The end of 2017 is nigh. And with it, the top ten lists, the retrospectives, the predictions. Rather than the Top Books Published in 2017 or the Best Films of the Year or anything like this, here’s my list of opinions, ideas, and arguments that I have not already written about in 2017 and would like to make sure I write about before the year is up and they become potentially irrelevant.
So, here we go.
The Literature Takes
One. Are we living in Vonnegut’s unfinished final novel?
I’ve already written about how painfully the current world resembles a Vonnegut novel. But as nuclear war ticks closer, metaphors invade real life, and madmen in decline occupy the highest positions of power, it’s worth wondering if we might simply be living in Vonnegut’s world.
According to his book A Man Without a Country, Vonnegut had an unfinished novel at the end of his life, a novel with little-to-no prospect of ever being finished. He called it If God Were Alive Today and describes it as
“…about Gil Berman, thirty-six years my junior, a standup comedian at the end of the world. It is about making jokes while we are killing all the fish in the ocean, and touching off the last chunks or drops or whiffs of fossil fuel. But it will not let itself be finished.”
It’s the season of Die Hard. The season of “Die Hard is the best Christmas movie.” Or, at the very least, “did you know Die Hard is a Christmas movie.”
Die Hard is, inarguably, a Christmas Movie. This is an accepted reality in our zeitgeist. Many have argued for it, with the majority of the arguments tracing their roots back to a simple Cracked article from 2009.
But what troubles me is that, lost in the shuffle of this omnipresent conversationis that its sequel, Die Hard 2, is everything that Die Hard is and more. More Christmas movie. More ’90s action movie. More Die Hard. Hence the subtitle, Die Harder.
It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big Moby-Dick fan. Or, if it was a secret to you, then this might be the first thing you’ve read by me. Which is cool, if that’s the case (thanks!).
Anyway, in honor of Moby-Dick‘s 166th birthday, here are nine reasons that you finally need to read it. Now.
Ishmael is an extraordinarily funny narrator.
You’ve probably heard a lot of reasons to read Moby-Dick in your life. Great American novel and foundation of all literature and a genuine masterpiece and so on. But something that seems to be often lost in its recommendations is that it’s a genuine laugh riot.
Oddly enough, I’ve noticed a trend in which readers of Moby-Dick find it funny, yet think that the humor is something they’re discovering for the first time, like this listicle of all the sperm references and this thread in the /r/mobydick subreddit.
The reality is that, yes, Ishmael is a very funny narrator and Moby-Dick is a very funny book. As pointed out in this NPR article, it’s a good idea to read it looking for humor and “see almost immediately that Melville’s tongue couldn’t have been more in his cheek.” And yes, you’re not imagining it: there really are tons of phallus jokes, with the entire 95th chapter dedicated to “a very strange, enigmatical object” which is none other than a whale’s penis.
Ishmael is a wise and thoughtful and oddly progressive narrator.
He’s not just funny, of course. He’s also wise and poignant, with enigmatic, zenlike musings including:
“It is not down in any map any map; true places never are.”
“Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.”
“Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”
It’s that third one that has sparked endless conversation, centered around the relationship between the “heathen” Queequeg and his bedmate Ishmael. Of course, the line above isn’t the only reference to the depths and threads of their relationship. Throughout the entire book, Ishmael and Queequeg form an intimate bond, to the extent that Moby-Dick has been considered the first depiction of same-sex marriage in American literature.
I cannot recall where the prompt originated, but in either late 2016 or early 2017 I rewrote several classic poems to be about Donald Trump. I rediscovered them recently and could not think of a reason not to share them.
I don’t know that much more context is needed here. I would recommend reading the original poems before reading this reboots.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The eagle cannot hear the eagler;
Things fall apart; the party cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed pride is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The left lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of E Pluribus Unum
Troubles my sight: somewhere in lands of Florida,
A shape with lion’s rage and the hair of a dying man,
A gaze fierce and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its small hands, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant and angry.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That four years of carnage
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Washington to be born?
The internet loves a good fan theory. The trouble is, the phrase “fan theory” has started to go the way of words like content or hipster or artisan or any of the other words whose definitions are so vague, so all encompassing, that they have very little meaning at this point.
“Fan theory” is currently used as a descriptor for the following things:
A prediction for an upcoming storyline
Analysis of a character’s motivations
Analysis of a storyline
The dissection of a trailer and conclusions drawn from moments in said trailer
Explanation of subtext, predicated on the explainer failing to recognize subtext.
Recognition of dramatic irony or a plot turn before the reveal
None of the above should be considered fan theories, in the opinion of this blogger.
So then, you may ask, what the heck qualifies as a fan theory?
It was the best of Alien films, it was the worst of Alien films, it was the sequel to Prometheus, it was the prequel to Alien, it was the story of David, it was the story of Lucifer, it had an awesome ending, it had the worst ending ever — in short, Alien: Covenant was so much like the entire Alien series that many of its audiences and critics have insisted on discussing it in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Immediately, let’s note that Alien: Covenant could never accurately be considered the best or the worst Alien film. The only contenders for best Alien film are the original Ridley Scott masterpiece and Aliens, the James Cameron action sequel. The worst, depending on who you ask, is the third or the fourth installment, or, if you’re considering them as contenders, the Alien vs Predator movies.
Rather than discuss the film as a whole – as there are many critics whose job it is to review films in depth, and many armchair critics whose hobby is the same – I’d like to focus on one small aspect of Alien: Covenant that I think was missed by many of its viewers. The film was derided by various bloggers, commenters, and critics as having an “obvious twist ending.” As you know, based on the headline of this article, my argument is that this should not be called either a twist ending or an obvious twist ending.
I’ve also waited long enough to write this so that a) no one is talking about Alien: Covenant anymore b) I’ve had enough time to consider it to know that this is how I feel, and c) we know how well the film did at the box office (not quite $250 million on a nearly $100 million budget, so not awesome.)
First, let’s recap the Alien: Covenant ending, before debating its flaws and strengths
Game of Thrones is Not Sacred. It’s Grateful Dead Fan Fiction
The first episode of the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones sparked a multitude of reactions, but perhaps none more virulent and hysterical than how certain GOT fans responded when Ed Sheeran appeared onscreen. The response was so rabid that some speculated Sheeran had deleted his Twitter account in response to the hatred (Sheeran has since denied it, stating “Why the hell would I worry what people thought about that. It’s clearly fuckin’ awesome.”)
I made my opinion very clear, via a tweet declaring:
If Ed Sheeran's cameo on Game of Thrones upset you, then you are the problem. Not him.
Now, regardless of why Sheeran temporarily deleted his account, it does not change the fact that some Game of Thrones fans really, really hated seeing him on the screen. A top post in the /r/GameofThrones subreddit declared that his cameo had “ruined the Realism (sic).” Others mocked him with YouTube videos, angry tweets, and scornful recaps. Among the responses I received – in response to my “Ed Sheeran isn’t the problem” tweet were people telling me that they “hate him” and that cameos by Beyonce and John Legend would be next.
There are a few good points about why the Ed Sheeran cameo is nothing to be upset about, but I’ve already seen all but one of them already effectively made. These arguments include:
Sheeran is recognizable, yes, but aren’t many of the other actors in the show also recognizable?
Sheeran was cast as a singer with a beautiful voice. Doesn’t it make sense to have a singer with a beautiful voice play a singer with a beautiful voice?
Why are all of you putting so much energy into hating a complete stranger?
But none of these are the articles I’ve come to write.
Or at least, it eventually will be known as Moon Landing Week. For now, we know that this upcoming Thursday (July 20th) is the 48th anniversary of the Moon Landing… or perhaps we don’t. Perhaps you just learned that now.
In honor of this year’s Moon Landing Day, here are ten things you can do to celebrate.
Listen to JFK’s Space Speech at Rice University
In September of 1962, with little over a year to live, John F. Kennedy, gave a speech where he reimagined the history of humankind into a 50 year span, and told us what we could accomplish before midnight during these condensed five decades.
He tells us, in this speech, that space has the potential to be “a sea of peace” or a “new terrifying theater of war.” He also reminds his audience that sometimes the right thing is the difficult one:
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
We could dwell at length on the lessons in this speech, the similarities and contradictions between that moment in America and this one. Regardless, it’s something listen to and consider on this Moon Landing Day.
We find ourselves in the midst of another summer and with it, an endless brigade of sequels, prequels, reboots, requels, and the ongoing march of extended cinematic universes. A new Mummy. A fifth Transformers. A new Baywatch. A third installment in the third imagining of Planet of the Apes. A third actor playing Spider-Man in the last decade. A sequel to the Alien prequel. Another damn King Arthur. Another three Marvel shows on Netflix springing up for every new Marvel film, perpetual menaces likes heads of the hydra.
And while the tastemakers and critics bemoan this ongoing onslaught of tired ideas and bloated franchises, it’s worth pausing and reminding ourselves that there is nothing novel about this. This lack of new ideas is not new. Sure, 2017 is bloated with stories and characters lacking originality, but so was 2016, 2007, 1997, and 1597.
If you’re really looking for someone to blame for these endless reboots and expanding cinematic universes, it’s not Michael Bay or Vin Diesel. Blame the real culprits: William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and all the other writers throughout history who did the same thing we’re seeing today on the screen.
So, dear reader, it’s time for you to sit back, hold your rebuttal until the end, and consider the following list of explaining how the current “lack of originality” is neither original, nor a problem.
Sequels Upon Sequels Upon Prequels Upon Sequels are Nothing New
Surely you’re familiar with The Three Musketeers, the swashbuckling adventure novel by Alexandre Dumas. Perhaps you’ve read it, or perhaps you’re seen one of its screen adaptations, of which there have been many.
But here are a few things you might not know about The Three Musketeers and Dumas:
The Three Musketeers has two sequels by Dumas, Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne.
The Vicomte de Bragelonne is often published as three different books instead of one as it’s extremely long, meaning that The Three Musketeers effectively has four sequels.
The third part of the third Three Musketeers book is the famous The Man in the Iron Mask.
All of these novels were originally published in serialized form, being released in installments over time. The Three Musketeers took four months to be released, much like a television show is released today.
The Count of Monte Cristo, another novel by Dumas, was originally serialized in 18 parts and ran for over two years.
When each of these novels were released in English, they were also serialized, often seeing competing versions and abridgments being released at the same time.
Of course, Dumas invented neither the sequel nor the serial. The following authors also followed their novels with sequels that followed the same characters and cashed in on the popularity:
Lewis Carroll, after releasing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, followed it up with a sequel, Through the Looking Glass, six years later. He then wrote The Hunting of the Snark, an epic poem published in 1876 that features a few characters and creatures from Through the Looking Glass.
Leo Tolstoy might be famous of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, but his first published novel was Childhood, which launched him into popularity. He wrote two sequels to the novel, called Boyhood and Youth.
The famous novel we know today as Little Women by Louisa May Alcott was initially two different novels, called Little Women (1868) and its sequel, Good Wives (1869). Not stopping there, Alcott published another two sequels, Little Men and Jo’s Boys.
Sherlock Holmes might be one of the most ubiquitously adapted characters today, which certainly wouldn’t be the case if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hadn’t cranked out sixty sequels to his 1887 success A Study in Scarlet.
Literary sequels to great works continued into the 20th century, including Joseph Heller writing a sequel to Catch-22 and Johns Cheever and Updike writing a few sequels of their own.