Call me Ishmael

Yeah, sure, we all know the Seattle Times’ editorialists resentfully and tediously hate Google, but the metaphor they’ve chosen for their latest screed is filled with such delicious, unintentional irony, it is simply irresistible: “Google, the whale to be harpooned.”

Coincidentally, and inspired by a recent PBS documentary, I’m in the midst of reading Moby Dick, but you don’t have to get far into Herman Melville’s great American novel to recognize the parallels. If, as the editorial implies, Google is the leviathan, then that surely makes the Times the doomed whaling ship Pequod, and publisher Frank Blethen the embittered Captain Ahab, tragically bent on hunting down the beast that took his leg.

And I guess, as the chronicler of this tale of self-destruction, you might as well call me Ishmael.

Blethen’s editorial page, which a decade ago defended local Microsoft from calls for a court ordered breakup, now finds itself employing twisted logic to demand the same of Google. Yes, the bulk of Google’s services are free to consumers, the Times admits, but its profit margins from advertising are suspiciously high. And yes, through its automated auction system, advertisers set their own prices, but this too, we’re told, reeks of an abusive monopoly.

And yes, Google is a “mere minnow in the market for all advertising,” but, the Times narrowly insists, “in the market for Internet search advertising — the relevant market — Google is a whale.”

All this bobbing and bouncing… it’s enough to make you sea-sick.

By that same logic, the Times is the monopolistic whale of the Seattle newspaper market, HA is the Pequod, and I am the crazed Captain Ahab, vengefully thrusting my harpoon into the flesh of the thrashing, injured giant. Don’t think, as I sit here sipping my Starbucks, the comparison hasn’t occurred to me… a metaphorical bond between me and Frank, that I’m guessing he would find unsettling, if not unseemly.

But unlike Blethen, I have no five-generation-old family business to sink, and no crew to take down with me, and so whatever the parallels between my obsession and his, his is surely the more tragic. And unlike Blethen, I am arguably an agent of change, rather than its seemingly inevitable victim.

It is instructive to note that despite its later renown, in its day Moby Dick was a critical and popular flop. Melville, who at first believed he had written his masterpiece, died in obscurity, the unfortunate casualty of bad timing, for by the time the novel was published, the once great whaling industry that literally greased the wheels of American expansion was already giving way to the age of petroleum, and quickly fading into the recesses of the popular imagination.

Even had Ahab conquered his nemesis and survived their final encounter, his way of life would not; within a decade or two, a centuries old whaling tradition was all but displaced by oil and coal and the massive industrialization these modern energy sources made possible. Likewise, the Times could live to see hated advertising competitors like Google and Craigslist harpooned by the courts, as it has frequently advocated, and still not survive the relentless tide of progress that is sweeping through its own industry.

So obsessed are the Blethens with the notion that Google is stealing their revenue and undermining journalism as a profession, that they even seem willing to abandon their usual steadfast free market ideology in rhetorical pursuit of their prey, much in the same way that the vengeful Ahab fatefully cast away his Quaker pacifism. And just as Melville himself seemed oblivious to the imminent demise of the whaling industry, even as he enshrined himself as its most famous chronicler, the Blethens just can’t seem to wrap their collective mind around the economic, technological and cultural shifts that are transforming their family business.

In the end, it is not Moby Dick who kills Ahab, but rather his own harpoon, a loop in the rope catching the doomed captain’s neck, and dragging him into the abyss along with the injured whale.

“To the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”

One can almost imagine Captain Blethen yelling Ahab’s famous curse as he thrusts his harpoon… just before he himself is swallowed up by the seas of change.

Comments

  1. 1

    righton spews:

    Another fixation by goldy; to me the Times is irrelevant, was always just another liberal rag, bounded only by the even whackier PI

  2. 2

    Luigi Giovanni spews:

    While you were writing nonsense, a hockey game was in progress. How could you choose to write this rather than watch the hockey game?

  3. 3

    uptown spews:

    Just as Moby Dick was in need of a good editor (way too long), the Seattle Times is in desperate need of leadership.

    @1 – and that’s why you’ll always be yelling from the sidelines

    @2 – multitasking?

  4. 4

    rhp6033 spews:

    Nice anaology, Goldy. But when it comes down to it, desptie the Time’s pompous editorializing that it is really looking out for the interests of everyone in Seattle, the Blethen regime is really only looking out for itself.

    The Times is focusing on Google (because they have all the money), and Craisglist (because they sucked all the classified advertising out of the newspapers by mostly giving it away for free). But their real enemy is the internet – it’s made their business model obsolete. They desperately want to go back to the days some twenty years ago when the internet wasn’t a competitor, and Seattle citizens had to go to the Times for most advertising, news, and opinion. They know they can’t admit that they are really trying to turn the clock back a generation, so they are disguising it in attacks on specific interenet entities – currently Google and Craigslist.

    Note that it’s not just the revenue they crave. It’s being the undisputed arbiter of what is, and what is not, “valid news” in the area. Blethen wants every wanna-be candidate to treck up to Times headquarters and kiss his editorial ass, begging for an endorsement. On the way, the Times will ignore stories which embarrass their annointed ones (like Reichart’s recent admissions), and pounce on trivia against those whom it disfavors (like the dispute over whether or not a candidate’s degree constituted and “economics degree”.

    Along the way, they hope that they can deprive the bloggers like Goldy from the revenue stream they receive via Google Adwords and related advertising, thereby sticking a dagger in the knife of their smaller competitors.

    It’s unlikely the Times can really kill off Google, and I doubt the Blethens are that foolish to believe they could do so. But perhaps they hope to keep barking at them, like an annoying little dog, until Google tires of it and throws them a bone (some revenue) too keep them quite for a while. Personally, if that’s their gambit, I think they are deluded there, as well.

  5. 5

    Daddy Love spews:

    Really, Goldy, you’re Starbuck, recounting the tale of Blethen’s mad, maniacal hatred of what he does not realize has already destroyed him.

  6. 6

    Daddy Love spews:

    Hockey-schmockey.

    The UW women (lat year’s national champions led by last years NCAA Player of the Year pitcher Danielle Lawrie) are playing the NC Tarheels for the regional round of the NCAA championship series. Right now. ESPNU.

    1-0 UW in the bottom of the fourth.

  7. 7

    Broadway Joe spews:

    I’ll take hockey over anything Huskies. Here’s hoping Les Habitants can pull it out and we can have an all-Original Six Finals!

  8. 8

    spews:

    Luigi @2,

    I wrote the bulk of this piece before the Flyers dismantled the Habs 3-0, and then finished it up after the game. Note the posting time.

    And this is far from nonsense. It was the Times who amazingly set up the Moby Dick analogy, and I think I deconstructed it nicely.

  9. 10

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    It’s time to stop Japanese commercial whaling in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary! The U.S. should send a frigate down there to sink the Jap whaling fleet. I guess they didn’t get the message in 1945.

  10. 12

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    Personally, I think Ahab was a crappy boss, and the Pequod’s crew needed a seamen’s union in the worst way. If you want to know what a 19th century laborer’s life was like read Dana’s Two Years Before The Mast.

  11. 13

    righton spews:

    wall st journal, economst, ny times, bbc, couple UK tabloids, ….all i need….seattle times is a joke, as is the pi

  12. 16

    spews:

    “Read another post where I rant at Seattle Times for not hiring me, sheep. Please don’t notice that I don’t have the courage to write about the Democrat teabaggers protesting their government in New Jersey today.”

  13. 17

    proud leftist spews:

    If whaling were permitted in American waters, then Rush Limbaugh surely would catch a harpoon.

  14. 19

    Broadway Joe spews:

    13:

    I go with Auntie Beeb a lot myself. It’s refreshing to read news that’s just news, with the only spin being…… it’s British. After an hour or so of listening to the BBC World service on my XM radio, I suddenly have a craving for mushy peas…..

  15. 20

    Doc Daneeka spews:

    @16,

    “…Democrat teabaggers…”

    Already? I figured the smell of lunacy steaming off that giant pile-‘o-stupid led by Sarah Palin, Roger Ailes, and Rand Paul would eventually blow back. But I didn’t expect to see you Real Americans® repudiating the term until shortly before the November elections, about the time the meaningful poll results take shape.

  16. 21

    Mark1 spews:

    Imagine Captain Blethen making little sailor Goldy walk the plank of “we aren’t offering you a job today but thanks for applying….”

    (splashes….)

    Get over your incessant Times obsession already Goldy, no one gives a shit. Perhaps you and Rodent could carpool to O.C.D. sufferers support group?

    (the search for a good psychiatrist begins….)

    Happy Sunday all!

  17. 23

    Green Thumb spews:

    Well argued, nicely wordsmithed, and under-appreciated. Such is the life of a journalist, licensed or otherwise.

  18. 25

    Pequod Goldy spews:

    Roger @11, AKA Eva Braun, crawled out of the bunker to tell us that Blethen’s Times, like Klake, is a Nazi. That’s why we missed Eva Rabbit last week … all that nuanced commentary foregone.

    But fear not. She’s back. And so’s the Nazi Times:

    We know that before the disaster, President Obama recklessly pushed to expand offshore drilling. We also know that his Interior Department gave British Petroleum’s rig a “categorical exclusion” from environmental scrutiny and, according to The New York Times, “gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf without first getting required (environmental) permits.” Worse, we know that after the spill, the same Interior Department kept issuing “categorical exclusions” for new Gulf oil operations, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar still refuses “to rule out continued use of categorical exclusions,” as the Denver Post reported (heckuva job, Kenny!).

    That’s from Blethen Nazi David Sirota, today.

    So here’s what we’ve got: Eva Rabbit tweaking about her lost love who didn’t crawl out of the bunker. Monomaniacal Goldy tweaking again (always!) about his unrequited love for Fascist Frank. Correctnotbright being told in clear cogent langauge that the Gulf spill is Obama’s tarbaby.

    And here’s what we can expect: Rabbit will keep on with the projectile farting, blowing greenhouse gas out his ass about Hitler because he’s running on empty and because he’s out of bullets.

    Cap’n Goldy will continue to continue trying to work out his hopeless mancrush by wrapping himself in his own harpoon, which is sort of like being whipped over the side by HA’s Hairy Poon.

    And correctnotbright? Totally hopeless. Expect him to persist in the folly of his delusions of regulatory absolutism. Why, he’s so much into regulation that he probably eats bran by the bale.

    But don’t expect Roger, goldy, or correctnotbright to ever hold a Democrat president accountable for Democrat incompetence and failure:

    Undoubtedly, had this been the behavior of a Republican administration, “The Left’s” big environmental organizations would be scheduling D.C. protests and calling for firings, if not criminal charges. Yet, somehow, there are no protests. Somehow, there have been almost no calls for the resignation of Salazar, who oversaw this disaster and who, before that, took $323,000 in campaign contributions from energy interests and backed more offshore drilling as a U.S. senator. Somehow, facing environmental apocalypse, there has been mostly silence from “The Left.”

    Discuss.

    (Come back to bit you = Come back to bite you.

    Reality bites, Goldycrats.)

  19. 27

    goldycrats 4 truth, beauty, and the american way spews:

    don’t let the flattery go to your head, my brother, or we’ll have to go back to calling you names to keep you on your game.

  20. 30

    Mark1 spews:

    It does. Sounds kinda wimpy and girlish. Fits Goldy to a tee, right down to that pre-pubescent screechy voice of his. LOL.