I’ve never read The Handmaid’s Tale but I could not miss the recent PR blitz about the Hulu version that has been running on TV nor the fact that the wait list for borrowing the book is in the hundreds (at least in Seattle’s King County library system).
I’m not sure how long Hulu has been developing the series, but the timing couldn’t have been better for folks who feel that this is how the country will end up if Donald Trump has his way. Looking at trends in modern America, many still see our nation poised to become a theocracy.
Published in 1985 during the Ronald Reagan administration, the book was the Hunger Games of the 1980s; a description of a dystopian universe in a future post-cataclysmic America. For those who think this is just a TV series, with zero impact on the news, take a look at this June 13 piece that ran in The Cleveland Plain-Dealer:
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sixteen women dressed as handmaids from the novel and TV series "The Handmaid's Tale" walked the halls of the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday to protest an bill that would restrict abortion here.
The women donned red robes and white bonnets and sat in silence as the Senate Judiciary Committee heard initial testimony on Senate Bill 145.
"The Handmaid's Tale," a Margaret Atwood novel turned Hulu series, takes place in a not-so-distant future where the United States. has become a totalitarian society led by men and plagued by infertility. To solve that problem, child-bearing women are forced to become "handmaids" and birth babies fathered by men leading the regime.
"The handmaids are forced to give birth and, in so many cases, because of all the restrictions on abortion access, women in Ohio and across the country are being forced to give birth," Jaime Miracle, deputy director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio said.
The article did have one reference to an opponent who felt demonstrators “were making a mockery "of the issue, but that was way down in the article.
There seem to be a lot of folks out there who feel The Handmaid’s Tale is alive and well in 2017, despite how the book missed foretelling the future more than it anticipated it. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised at the uncritical reception the film has gotten, but why hasn't anyone -- in news coverage -- talked to people and even cultural critics who believe that it's an unfair parody of traditional Christianity?
Instead, many in the media seem to believe that this is an accurate reflection or reality and that's that. For instance, in the New Yorker:
When Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale” débuted, in April, nearly every review commented on its grotesque timeliness. It’s true that, early on, the Trumpian parallels are hard to miss. It’s a story about a government that exploits fear of Islamic terrorists to crush dissent, then blots out women’s reproductive rights. It’s about fake news, political trauma, the abnormal normalized. There’s a scene that so directly evoked the Women’s March that I had to hit Pause to collect myself. ...
Just in case anyone wonders, the historic Gilead was a mountainous region in present-day Jordan.
In Gilead, men run the state, and women are split into types. Wives, dressed in blue, oversee the home; Marthas, in green, cook and clean; Handmaids, in long red cloaks, with white bonnets that hide their faces, have intercourse once a month, in a ritualized threesome, a state-sanctioned rape. An environmental disaster has caused mass infertility, and Handmaids are the solution -- the regime’s goal is to get women not merely to accept their roles but to embrace them.
The New Republic purports to deliver a message with its piece titled “The Handmaid’s Tale is a Warning to Conservative Women."
Texas is Gilead and Indiana is Gilead and now that Mike Pence is our vice president, the entire country will look more like Gilead, too.
Seriously, folks? I shouldn’t be surprised as the author is a woman who’s made a name for herself trashing the evangelical Christian culture in which she grew up. The author concentrates on Serena Joy, a major character in the book and film who was once a televangelist.
America is rich in Serena Joys. One need look no further for her contemporary counterparts than Michelle Duggar and her daughters; or Paula White, the televangelist who allegedly led Donald Trump to Christ; or his aide Kellyanne Conway, who defends him as a “great boss” to women. The character Atwood invented is an amalgam of Phyllis Schlafly and Tammy Faye Bakker with a dash of Aimee Semple McPherson. The spectacle of the female fundamentalist celebrity is not recent, and she is not an anomaly. Her existence is proof of American fundamentalism’s durability, and a reminder that it could not thrive without the enthusiastic backing of women.
I am guessing editors of the magazine took a vacation when this piece was prepared, as it doesn’t seem possible that any serious publication would run such a one-sided rant.
Is there no desire out there for critical distance or the inclusion of at least one dissenting voice? Were this an attack on the Left, these same publications would be all over it, trying to find balance.
Plus, any conservative woman is going to steer clear of this tirade. Of course we have names for this sort of thing: Kellerism, our moniker for the kind of journalism whereby the media outlet has made up its mind on a certain hot-button issue and there is no legitimate other side to the story.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times tried to bring some reality into the mix by noting that the theocratic nightmare envisioned in 1985 isn’t what took place.
Thus instead of a mass movement of marching Christian soldiers, we have a diffuse quasi-movement of men’s-right’s activists, pickup artists and woman-hating online trolls that’s (sort of) coalescing around the alt-right banner. Instead of a world where old-fashioned religious Puritans are trying to reinstate Leviticus, we have a world where the Puritans’ real cultural heirs, the moralistic post-Protestants of academe, are trying to impose a different, consent-based set of sexual regulations -- while a laddish, bro-ish and, yes, Trump-ish bachelor culture laughs their prudery to scorn.
It is a world, in other words, in which all of the post-sexual-revolution elements that Atwood played with effectively 30 years ago are still swirling, still in flux — but the players that she cast are all playing different parts. .. Meanwhile, religious conservatives are either in full retreat or else playing handmaids (if you will) to a right-wing politics that promises them protection if they toss incense to the sort of Hefnerian figure whom they once condemned. …
I also found this column at spokanefavs.com that noted how the Hulu series took care not to offend anyone in terms of race, but it didn’t have the same sensitivity when it came to religion. The author wrote:
Atwood and Hollywood are a match made in hell. Their cooperative effort proves the truth of the axiom, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Both are sufficiently “familiar” with Christianity and Christians to feel free to show contempt not just to individual Christians but also our faith. Their bias is leaking out of every pore.
I doubt a similar characterization of Islam would have ever been aired on Hulu.
It's a free country and Hulu, Netflix et al. have the right to run what they want. But media folks who say that such a film represents present-day realities shouldn't be taken seriously and don't deserve to be. Do these views -- this rejection of alternative points of view -- bleed over into hard-news reporting?