The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump

Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.

I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.

“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”

While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.

If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.  

A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:

Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?

Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

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“The world needs bad men,” from True Detective‘s third episode.

The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.

This is not a specific argument I’ve seen much of, unsurprisingly. It’s easy to assume that True Detective didn’t have a major following among Trump voters, particularly when one  compares one recent study on regional television viewership demographics with the breakdown of voter demographics in the 2016 election.

However, Huckabee isn’t the only pundit to notice that Trump’s appeal is not being a traditional hero, but being the scoundrel on your side.

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If you don’t recall, this is the character to whom Huckabee compares Trump.

You can take a look at some of the headlines to see that this has been thoroughly explored, including a) Trump and the rise of the anti-hero from CNN b) President Trump: America chooses an anti-hero from Yahoo c) The Anti-Hero Candidacy of Donald Trump from Huffington Post d) The Donald Rises: Why Republicans Want an Anti-Hero in 2016 from The Week ad e) Trump’s success as an antihero relies on the power of reality TV and drama over reality from The LA Times

At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored. 

What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.

Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.

And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.

But, before I move forward with this argument, it’s important to pause and discuss what we talk about when we talk about anti-heroes. Continue reading “The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump”

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In the Midst of Nothingness: a Conversation about Fargo and Waiting for Godot

This is the fourth piece of an ongoing conversation about Fargo (the television show and the film) and its homages, inspirations, characters, and the world it builds. There is no prerequisite to read the previous parts of the conversation in order to read this. You can either jump in right here or start at the beginning.  

D. F. Lovett

I’d like to circle back to something we talked about previously. Earlier in our conversation, you said:

“Waiting for Dutch” [the premier of Fargo‘s second season] is the night that everything really changes for the Blumquists, and the collection of ways those characters seem inspired by the main characters of Waiting for Godot is easily my favorite piece of Fargo I’ve known of so far.

I’m not sure if I see how the Blumquists connect to Godot. I certainly see the connection between Blumquist and O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” characters (as a sidenote, I re-read that story on Christmas and was moved by how beautiful it is.) As I noted earlier in our conversation, I also see the Blumquists as being the Macbeths, which I look forward to discussing further.

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Kirsten Dunst as Peggy Blumquist in Fargo.

Is it that Peggy is waiting for something, somehow, to rescue her, from what she does not know? Up until Peggy Blumquist [Kirsten Dunst’s character in Fargo’s second season] , the characters in Fargo have some very basic motivations: money, justice, power, or survival. Each of the three Fargo narratives has a law enforcer dedicated to a higher cause (Gunderson in the film and Solversons in the two seasons). Each Fargo installment has desperate characters determined to find wealth or power, often by doing terrible things. And as the narratives escalate, everyone is ultimately either trying to survive, trying to kill, or trying to end the violence.

But then there’s Peggy. She’s seeking something beyond these things. She wants to escape her life, but not in the flailing, violent ways of Lester Nygaard or Jerry Lundergaard. She also isn’t necessarily unhappy. She loves her husband and works to both build a life with him but undermine it at the same time. Taking birth control while promising him children, spending their money on self-help classes while making other plans for the money with her husband, killing a man in a hit-and-run then driving home to make supper.

And every time she takes a step in one way to escape this quiet Minnesotan life, she does something new to maintain the status quo. She cannot decide whether to leave or to wait.

Is this your train of thought on how Fargo’s second season was inspired by Beckett’s masterpiece?

Zach Ellin

You’re right on the money regarding Peggy and her hopes to “self-actualize” through the Lifespring seminar as a similarity to Waiting for Godot. The way she talks about it and fixates on it is pretty much identical to how Vladimir, the more talkative of the main pair from Waiting for Godot, sees the arrival of Godot. There’s no clear reason she wants to go apart from her boss urging her, but she’s still convinced it will solve ALL her and Ed’s problem. So that’s one facet of it. And everything people have said about Peggy being “insane” or unstable and so on is also an accurate way of describing Vladimir.

Then there’s Ed Blumquist [Jesse Plemons], who acts more like Estragon from the play. Estragon is also “waiting for Godot,” but unlike Vladimir, he doesn’t seem to even believe in Godot, and definitely doesn’t understand what Vladimir expects to happen if he shows up. The boy in the play who tells Vladimir that Godot is coming doesn’t speak to Estragon at all. But Estragon nonetheless feels attached, or tied, to Vladimir throughout the play. So that’s pretty much Ed’s view on the Lifespring seminar as well. He’s very skeptical of it but he’s not leaving Peggy. And somehow this crazy confluence of events leads him to drive her out in the direction of Sioux Falls and her seminar anyway.

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Jesse Plemons as Ed Blumquist.

Continue reading “In the Midst of Nothingness: a Conversation about Fargo and Waiting for Godot”

Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.

Consider the misquote. It lies in that same realm as citing fake news or reading only the headline. Misquoting is certainly nothing new, but the internet allows a fake quote to be retweeted a thousand times before the truth has even clicked send.

I’ve written about this before, of course. In the summer of 2015, I wrote a blog post called Six Things Hemingway Never Said, in which I listed a series of fake, inaccurate, misappropriated, or apocryphal Hemingway quotes and their origins.

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“Live. Laugh. Love”

Since then, of course, it has only gotten worse. Consider the following list of quotes, provided by Google when one searches for ernest hemingway quotes:

screen-shot-2017-01-08-at-12-21-40-pmI won’t catalogue all of these, but let’s say that they range from context-free to paraphrased to nonsense. The seventh is a misquote of a line he said during a famous article by Dorothy Parker in The New Yorker, while the last one on the list sounds like the social media status update of a moody teen.

Why do we misquote?

What is it about the internet and misquoting? What drives one to repeat something that someone else said without bothering to make sure that person said it?  Why would you put something on your Facebook wall, why tweet it, why make it into a cute photo for Instagram without confirming that, yes, it’s a real quote? Continue reading “Stop Misquoting Leonard Cohen and Ernest Hemingway. Start Listening and Reading.”

It’s the Way You’re Unfriendly: A Conversation About Fargo and Minnesota and Fargo

This is the third piece of an ongoing conversation about Fargo (the television show and the film) and its homages, inspirations, characters, and the world it builds. You can either jump in right here or start at the beginning.  

D. F. Lovett

At this point, we might be ready to move past the Lewis Carroll analysis. Not that I’m bored of it – I could talk endlessly about Alice, the Jabberwocky, the Bandersnatch, and more – but there is so much yet to cover.

I’d like to return to something you said earlier in our conversation:

Only Fargo has used the built-in audience’s expectations against them, almost maliciously, to such wonderful effect. When we meet Lester and we meet Molly, we think we have a very clear idea of where things are headed. But Malvo seems to have walked in from literally another universe, and everyone proves to differ from the characters inspiring them in some surprising ways. The story is written not as an imitation of what came before, but with a deep understanding of it.

There’s another layer to this that you haven’t touched on much, and it’s that the original Coen Brothers’ Fargo film did this by setting the film in Minnesota and the Dakotas. I’m from Minnesota and live here still, although I’ve always lived in the Twin Cities area, which you don’t see much of in the two seasons so far, although there was more of Minneapolis and its suburbs in the film.

Anyway, my point is that Minnesota is known for many things, but rarely is it known for being a setting for violence, tales of organized crime, and conspiracies of murder. These installments in the Fargo narrative – if you choose to look at them that way, as installments in a larger narrative (whether the films and the series are canonical with one another or not) – each begin with one set of expectations and then subvert and explore them.

And to tie this in with our conversation about Milligan: he delivers a piece of observation on what makes Minnesotans Minnesotan, when Lou Solverson refers to Minnesotans (and his father-in-law, in particular) as friendly.

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Ted Danson as Hank Larsson in Fargo’s second season

Milligan responds: “Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. You’re so polite about it. Like you’re doing me a favor.”

Zach Ellin

That’s an astute observation about the movie—and you could say many of the Coens’ films—subverting the laid-out expectations. As for my impression of Minnesota… talking with Minnesota Public Radio (who puts out good stuff about the show online) Noah Hawley said that he’s not so much trying to recreate the Minnesota or the Fargo that actually exists but the setting that was created on screen by the Coens. That’s sort of how I look at it first and foremost, before any of the rest. I’ve actually never been to Minnesota. Overall I imagine it as like the rest of the Midwest, but maybe a bit less easily excitable (see the colors on a recent map for evidence of this). Continue reading “It’s the Way You’re Unfriendly: A Conversation About Fargo and Minnesota and Fargo”

Why This Website Displays No Ads

You may wonder—or perhaps you may not—why this blog displays no ads. Nothing encouraging you to go to other sites, nothing in this margins, nothing at the bottom of the page. You will not be nudged toward fantasy sports, discount shopping, weight loss remedies, or ways to make extra money by working at home. I do not have an “Around the Web” section. The only pop-up is something encouraging you to subscribe to my email list.

Now, I’m not saying this to congratulate myself, or to tell you how lucky you are. I’m telling you this because I want you, dear reader, to buy my books. Continue reading “Why This Website Displays No Ads”

Beware the Jabberwock: A Conversation About Fargo and the Art of the Homage

Say what you want about the impending year 2017, but there is one thing we know it will bring us: a new season of Fargo, the quasi-anthology television masterpiece from Noah Hawley and FX.

A few months ago, I reached out to blogger and Fargo (the show, not the place) super fan Zach Ellin to see if he would be interested in conversing about what exactly makes Fargo so good, including literary references, fan theories, politics, and more.

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Zach writes a blog called Blue Ox Talks, where he explores the world of Fargo, investigating motifs, comparing the television show and the films of the Coens, and interviewing the cast of Fargo, including an enlightening conversation with Zahn McClarnon of Season Two.

The first of our conversation appears below. Over the next several weeks, we will continue to publish installments of the conversation.  Continue reading “Beware the Jabberwock: A Conversation About Fargo and the Art of the Homage”

Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)

I’ve received a number of questions about The Moonborn: or, Moby-Dick on the Moon, my novel that came out on Monday, November 14th. While I love getting questions about it, I decided to put together this list for people who might have questions and would like an easy answer.

Note that there are no spoilers, other than in a very general sense.

Is it really about Moby-Dick on the Moon?

Yes. With robots instead of whales. However, you may find that it’s slightly more metafictional than your standard dark and gritty reboot. Or you may not.

Do I need to read Moby-Dick first?

In my opinion, no. The narrator of The Moonborn hasn’t even read Moby-Dick. But I would like to think that you’ll find yourself wanting to read Moby-Dick after The Moonborn.

How do you think Herman Melville would feel about all this?

Flattered, I hope. By the effort, at the very least. Continue reading “Twelve Questions and Answers About The Moonborn (with No Spoilers)”

In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations

Happy Birthday, Moby-Dick!

Not the whale, but the book. 165 years ago today, Herman Melville’s epic novel was published in America for the first time. (A different version of it had come out in England one month earlier, but today is accepted as the anniversary of the version the world knows).

In honor of this anniversary, I think it’s worth taking a moment to look at the books, movies, music, and more that we have as a result of Moby-Dick‘s legacy.

Leviathan ’99 by Ray Bradbury

“The doomed crew of a starship follows their blind, mad captain on a quest into deepest space to joust with destiny, eternity, and God Himself . . .”

leviathan-99

Sound familiar? This novella—collected alongside “Somewhere a Band is Playing” in Bradbury’s Now and Forever—is an unapologetic retelling of Moby-Dick. It’s also sci-fi, set in space, like one or two other works on this list.

Note that this isn’t only a book, but has also been a radio production and a playContinue reading “In Honor of Moby-Dick’s 165th Birthday, the 10 Best Moby-Dick Homages, Adaptations, and Celebrations”

The Beginner’s Guide to Kurt Vonnegut: How to Finally Start Reading Vonnegut’s Novels

There has never been a better time to start reading Kurt Vonnegut. To begin with, today is his 94th birthday. Second, we appear to be living inside one of his novels, with an egocentric billionaire slouching toward the White House, the National Anthem at the center of controversy, and our entire existence increasingly descending into a parody of itself (for more on all of this, see my article What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?)

But where to begin? The first Vonnegut novel was published over six decades ago. In the next fifty years of his life, he wrote another thirteen novels, hundreds of short stories and essays, one play, and created a series of paintings and drawings.

I’m here to tell you where to start, and how. You should read Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, if you haven’t already. Should you read all of them? That depends. But you should at least read one of them. (Note: this blog post originally began as something I wrote for the /r/truebooks subreddit, for people looking to read more Vonnegut and not sure where to start.)

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One of many.

In order to give you some guidance in determining a reading order for his lists, I’ve divided his novels into three tiers:

  • Tier One: The novels to start with. His masterpieces. Or, if you’re only going to read one or two of his novels, choose one from this list.
  • Tier Two: The ones to read after you’ve burned through the first tier. Not that these are worse, but they are perhaps less accessible, or won’t make as much sense unless you’ve read the others first.
  • Tier Three: The novels that are either very bizarre, very meta-fictional, less novels than thought experiments, or the ones that expect you to have a greater understanding of who Vonnegut is before tackling.

Make sense? Let’s begin:

Which Vonnegut Novel to Read First?

So you want to read a Vonnegut novel, but not sure which one? I recommend beginning with one of these four:

Cat’s Cradle (1963)

I consider this to be the first (chronologically) of his best novels. It’s also a great introduction to Vonnegut, and it’s easy-to-read, through his use of short chapters and fast pacing. Opens with a Moby-Dick reference, explores religion, science, war, and the apocalypse, and includes some very fun characters. Continue reading “The Beginner’s Guide to Kurt Vonnegut: How to Finally Start Reading Vonnegut’s Novels”

What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?

Or, When Did We Start Living in a Fictional Satire?

I’ve compared recent events—and, in particular, this presidential election—to many things: Armageddon, Alien, every Batman story, and almost every ’90s action movie.

But there is one painful metaphor that I have not explored: the 2016 election appears to have been written by writer and satirist Kurt Vonnegut.

I first started pondering the question of did Vonnegut write our current political climate this spring, when my aunt (a librarian) pointed out to me how much Donald Trump resembles a Vonnegut character.

I soon googled trump vonnegut and was surprised not to see more about it. I found a handful of articles, but none that fully explored the extent to which the candidate Donald Trump seems to have sprung straight from a Vonnegut novel. Nor did anyone mention the extent to which this entire election resembles a Vonnegut-penned narrative and universe.

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The classic cover of Vonnegut’s masterpiece.

Listen:

America has become a Kurt Vonnegut novel.  Continue reading “What Would Kurt Vonnegut Say About the 2016 Election?”