A couple years back I seized upon a Moby Dick reference in one Seattle Times anti-Google editorial to explore the analogy to its depths. "If Google is the leviathan," I suggested, "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."
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.
Two years later, Captain Blethen is still thrusting harpoons at Google, and his Pequod continues to sail toward oblivion. The analogy still holds.