9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday

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.

Admittedly, not all of it is funny. The cover page is a little dull.

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.

Of course, there are many stories and subplots in Moby-Dick, but the liberal Ishmael (and his partner Queequeg) is a constant reason to keep reading. Continue reading “9 Reasons to Start Reading Moby-Dick on its 166th Birthday”

What References, Depictions, and Themes Should We Anticipate in Fargo’s Season 3?

While this blog’s last Fargo article gave you a list of ways to get hyped for the forthcoming third season, it didn’t go very deep into what we’ve seen in Fargo so far and what we can expect in the third season.

The following is some of what I expect to see in this upcoming third season. Of course, I do not know for certain what to expect. I have not seen it yet. But this is some of what I hope to see, based on what we’ve seen before.

Innovative and realistic depictions of Minnesotans

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. This is arguably because of misunderstandings and stereotypes in the media. As noted in my previous blog post on the matter, there are plenty of violent moments in Minnesota’s history but Fargo seems to be one of the few mainstream fictional works interested in this ugly history.

Fargo‘s second season also contains one of my favorite descriptions of the typical Minnesotan male. It occurs when protagonist Lou Solverson first comes face-to-face with Mike Milligan, one of the many violent main characters in the story. Lou learns that Mike met Hank, his father-in-law, earlier that day, and refers to Lou (and Minnesotans in general) as friendly.

Ted Danson as Hank Larsson in the second season. 

Milligan disagrees with this assessment, offering one of my favorite summations of so-called Minnesota nice:

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

Perhaps the media will never really get Minnesota right, largely because it just isn’t depicted enough. But Fargo does so much better than most of its predecessors. Let’s anticipate more of such in its upcoming season.  Continue reading “What References, Depictions, and Themes Should We Anticipate in Fargo’s Season 3?”

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.

“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.

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”

Happy Black Friday 2015 from David Foster Wallace

A week ago yesterday – on Wednesday, November 25 – I came across a deal on Amazon: a free digital download of the SD version of the David Foster Wallace biopic The End of the Tour.

This movie.

The deal materialized as part of Black Friday Week, the manic celebration of capitalism that has eclipsed Thanksgiving during the final week of November.

The odd thing was that it was being advertised as “Buy Movie SD Free,” a concept that’s hard to wrap your head around. You can buy this movie, to keep, digitally, Standard Definition (SD) for free.

But part of what makes it stranger is the idea of David Foster Wallace’s life being sold, for free, as a build-up to the biggest sales day of the year. Continue reading “Happy Black Friday 2015 from David Foster Wallace”

How Has This Not Happened Yet: Natalie Portman in a Sequel to The Professional

This is another guest post, the second in the new guest author series. This post is authored by Russ Ball, a haiku writer and film fan.

Okay, film fans. There’s something we need to talk about: the universe owes us a debt.

There are things that are simply supposed to happen.  When you place bread in a toaster, you expect toast.  When Natalie Portman establishes herself as an A-list celebrity and Hollywood finally starts making movies with strong female protagonists, we are supposed to get a sequel to Leon: the Professional.

Great poster, great film,
Great poster, great film,

I know you’ve seen The Professional (as it was released in the United States). But allow me to refresh your memory anyway:

Natalie Portman made her feature film debut in 1994 as “Mathilda” a 12 year old girl who befriends a lonely hitman (Jean Reno, aka the really cool French guy from Mission Impossible and Ronin) after the death of her family at the hands of a corrupt DEA agent (Gary Oldman, aka Commissioner Sirius Gordon-Black).  The movie saw a few different releases, as some of the vibes between Portman and Reno were deemed too ‘Lolita-ish’ for middle America.  The film is fantastic.  Go watch it (again).  Right now.  I’ll wait.  Here’s the trailer:

The rest of this depends on you knowing the movie, so seriously go watch it.

Back?  Yeah, it’s great, right?  So here’s what needs to happen.  

Natalie Portman returns in Mathilda: The Professional II.

Hear me out.

Mathilda, having been orphaned first by her sleazy parents and again by her adopted killer father figure grows up to be an assassin too. Because obviously.  Consider that part montage-d, probably during the opening credits.

It's not like the idea of her playing an assassin is a stretch.
It’s not like the idea of her playing an assassin is a stretch.

Now, she’s blown through Leon’s cash, having traveled the world as a mercenary of sorts.  Her traumatic childhood made it difficult to settle down.  She’s beholden (as a #1 badass hitwoman) to the same mob that controlled Leon – a mob now headed by Mafioso Tony’s son – let’s call him James. He’s gonna inevitably be played by Gioavanni Ribsi, so actually let’s just call him Ribsi.

This guy is just really good at playing bad guys. But other people who could play this role include Casey Affleck, David Schwimmer, etc.
This guy is just really good at playing bad guys. But other people who could play this role include Casey Affleck, David Schwimmer, etc.

At a mob gathering where she’s been hired to provide security, she meets Tommy, the 8 year old autistic nephew of Bad Guy Ribsi.  Tommy has an uncanny ability to recite any conversation he’s ever heard.

Do you see where this is going yet?

  • Mafia party gets raided by DEA (including head DEA Agent Willem Defeo)
  • Firefight breaks out – Tommy’s father & mother get killed.
  • Mathilda saves little Tommy,

Turns out he’s heard some interesting conversations about Uncle Giovanni Ribsi, regarding some backroom deals with a corrupt DEA agent.

Ribsi, in an effort to get into politics, has staged the raid to cut ties with anyone who could smudge his reputation (like Matilda). He’s made a deal with the DEA to lock down the drug trade, giving Agent McCorruption (Willem Defoe, really) some of the action.

Tommy doesn’t understand what he has heard, but can recite it all.  

Also, he’s a hacker. 

Mathilda and Tommy find themselves on the run from the bad guys.

Mathilda, remembering all too well her times with Leon, decides to help Tommy avenge his parents.

There would be a scene identical to this.
There would be a scene identical to this.


Things to consider:

  • Since Jurassic Park, everyone has enjoyed hacker kids saving the day. Maybe an Edward Snowden cameo?
  • Natalie Portman.
  • Many gun battles
  • Visiting Leon’s grave.  Sad part. 
  • Also, if you don’t recall, she planted a tree at the end of the original film. They go visit that tree too. Second sad part. (Edit: it’s actually a houseplant. Okay, so maybe the houseplant is still in the ground and they visit it?)
  • Also, Tommy’s eight – and eight year olds are funny.
  • Lots of ‘lets uncover the awesome stash of guns’ bits, where the eight year old pulls out a heavy one and almost drops it.  You’ll laugh.
  • Could be an on-the-run exotic travel movie.  Let’s say Capri because I want to go there.
  • Maybe when they go to visit the tree (or houseplant) from the first movie, that’s where one of the shoot-outs is.
  • So many feels – revenge, loss, bonding, Natalie Portman.
  • This simply must happen.  Natalie, this part was the part you were born for.  
  • It ends with Natalie dying, and in a few decades we can get the third installment in the trilogy.

Universe, we’re waiting.

Guest Post: The Five Most Haunting Films to Watch This Halloween

The following is written by guest blogger McLong, as part of a new guest writer series in which we will be featuring various writers:

As children, we overloaded on candy. Now we overload on horror movies. All of them: the good, the bad, the gory.

I’m a poster child of desensitized America, unscathed by what an average movie goer would deem horrific. It takes a lot to freak me out, afraid to have the lights off and go to the bathroom by myself. In the moment of viewing, the demonic possessions take my breath away, but, five minutes later, I’ve forgotten it and moved onto the next plot point.

But some horror resonates.  These are the movies that haunt me during the day, whether sitting in a cubicle or on a walk or at the grocery store. The ones where, watching the credits ascend, you’re unsure how you’ll ever live a normal life again.

These five films are each horrific in a different way, but these are for those of you with a high tolerance, looking for a soul-rattling watch,

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)


Sure, getting pregnant with the devil’s baby is scary. But what’s really terrifying in this film is the complete lack of control that Mia Farrow’s Rosemary has over her life. She’s drugged by her neighbors and raped by her husband, who justifies it with “but you’re ovulating, baby.” As if that doesn’t happen ever month? He then dictates every step of the pregnancy, including insisting on the devil-worshiping doctor of his choice. It’s the misogyny in Polanski’s masterpiece that haunts you longer than the idea of mothering the spawn of Satan.

The Ring (2002)

A contemporary horror movie that confines itself to a PG-13 rating is a rare and intriguing film, as they can’t rely on heavy violence or gore to rattle their audience. But the really great ones work within the limits of PG-13 and still burn images into your head, like The Ring‘s infamous murder tape and its random clips: a finger going through a nail, a horse’s eye, centipedes, maggots, an upside down chair, and that chill-inducing static (that irritates anyone who has ever had a television) at the end.

The story might be erratic, but the images within the film are positively frightful. Ambiguity can hurt a story but, in this case, the viewers are haunted by the questions they have, mulling over a sick family who killed each other, their pets, and ultimately themselves.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

This movie tells the story of aliens waging a quiet biological warfare, unlike the aggressive invasions we’ve become accustomed to. What begins as a woman picking a pretty flower for her boyfriend results in an intense shift of human life. The main characters find themselves in a strange world where those closest to them seem slightly off. The horror comes from the intense paranoia of not being able to trust your loved ones and the sadness of losing them forever to a new creepy alien society. It becomes a chase reminiscent of Lord of the Flies, making the viewer ask: is it worth it to stay awake? or should I let go and fall asleep to join everyone else? 

The protagonist... for now...
The protagonist… for now…

And then there is the ending. The final scene is ingrained in my mind and just won’t go away. That face, that shock, that scream…

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)

I know: I praised The Ring for its subtlety and ability to work within a PG-13 movie, and then I put an R-rated gore fest remake on this list?

This guy.
No, not the one with McConaughey in it.

But does it get more brutal than this re-imagining of the horror classic? What is it about hillbillies acting like they have nothing to lose? Is anything scarier than a murderer with no fear of consequence? Unlike the original, this version opens with a disturbing suicide that sets the tone for the rest of the movie. We’ve seen suicides on screen many times before, but this one and its level of violence and intensity is unparalleled. And as this film goes on, it becomes hard to have any optimism for the traumatized potential survivors, our hope dwindling as each character is picked off in a seriously gruesome fashion.

Eraserhead (1977)

Mention this movie to anyone who has seen it and watch the blood drain from their faces. And I’m not even sure if it’s technically a horror film.

“a dream of dark and troubling things.”

Eraserhead is declared a ‘surrealist body horror’ film, whatever that means.  Basically it’s trippy and messed up and you have no idea what is going on but you want it to stop. The actual plot is the story of Henry Spencer, the women he is involved with, and the bizarre child that results from their relationship. The film has the ability to be disturbing on a level which has never been explored in film before. I only recommend this movie to people seeking a sadistic challenge and a new scream to infect their nightmares.    

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