I’d like to talk about a pair of characters (doctors) and the concept of evil. Starting in 2007, Phineas and Ferb introduced Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz and his company Doofenshmirtz Evil Incorporated, and in 2008, Joss Whedon produced Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, chronicling Dr. Horrible’s attempts to get into the “Evil League of Evil.” In both works, the doctor is explicitly labeled as “evil,” but each character is so thoroughly fleshed out that you start to wonder whether he really is evil or start to doubt what “evil” really means.
People have been pushing Moby Dick as an allegorical text for almost a century now, and the weird thing is that they can usually support themselves pretty well. No matter what contemporary American culture is like, someone fits nearly wholesale into Ahab and something gets inscribed on the white whale.
For today’s allegorizing, I’m going to start with the American government as Ahab. It stands at the head of the country proselytizing about one of many obsessions, pushing the country seemingly without regard for the desires of the populace. Its white whale is a smörgåsbord of perceived evils—abortion, terrorism, illegal immigration, online piracy, take your pick. This Ahab drives the country across an ideological sea with its mad agenda on its mind. Sure, it does its job to an extent: it passes a bill every so often, ties it to the side of the ship and harvests what it can, but these smaller whales are never anything but tangential. The real journey is the hunt for that one great cause, the monstrous white whale.
Ishmael here would be the student who graduates from college into the American Pequod. He has little power on the ship aside from empathy, though after the ship is (inevitably, cyclically) destroyed, he achieves the status of writer, giving him a greater power than Ahab ever had. Ishmael is the one who gets to vilify or heroize his leaders for the future readers of history. For now, he can only sit back and watch as his Ahab crashes his ship (both Ishmael’s and Ahab’s, really) against a Moby Dick, but when Ahab’s ship sinks and the sea keep rolling, Ishmael returns home to tell the story and begin the whaling anew, next time with a different captain.