The recent launch of the Hulu Handmaid’s Tale mini-series has drawn us back to the trappings of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian science fiction novel, but we didn’t have far to go. All the emotions and rhetoric of the last 6 months has both enlivened the feminist movement, but also dashed so many hopes. It is, quite possibly, the perfect storm and the blockbuster-inspiring time to launch such a remake. Time (and ratings) will soon tell…

Quite a Ruckus…

In true controversial form, though, the mini-series has already set off a frenzied firestorm. Social media has been all aflutter.

Yes, it’s based on a banned book, so you’d expect some blow-back for any new release, but you’ll also see that there are issues addressed in the book (and the mini-series) that are scarily relevant and intrinsically personal. You’ve probably seen and read about some of the recent debate(s).

You’d probably have to be living in a cave (without access to social media to have not heard anything). But, to put it mildly, there’s a seething undercurrent of hurt feelings and aghast onlookers. Most of it has to do with personal impressions of the novel, but it’s also been tied up with the current political discourse, and also the feminist alliances of those famous celebs.

What Debate?

We want the mini-series to succeed, right? But there’s this duality of approaches or world views, which seem diametrically opposed with one another.

There’s the “feminist” side, which may see Handmaid’s Tale as both a cautionary tale and a symbolic call-to-arms. Perhaps it’s: “Stand up and do something, or this will happen to you!”

On the stark opposite has arisen the “humanity” side of the debate, where the actresses have claimed that the mini-series (and perhaps even, indirectly, the book) is not so much a feminist work, but a statement about the human condition. After all, in the new Trump era, the feeling that we are treated like inferior human beings is pervasive.

Is it much of a leap to think we could become a Gilead society, where one class is relegated to a sub-human status? Of course, as Margaret Atwood says in her New York Times article: “Anything could happen anywhere, given the circumstances.” Coming from a WWII-childhood, nothing seemed impossible.

What Now?

Perhaps we should really be looking somewhere in between. We can’t forget the human dimension particularly in this time of upheaval, with the daily infusion of human-rights debacles, but neither can be forget that Atwood’s story terrorized us with its vision of women-as-rape-victims. So, while we can examine the evolution of the novel, and its many adaptations, it’s impossible to forget that Offred is part of a dystopian fable, meant to inspire fear, loathing and reflection. We can’t rely on wishful thinking, neither should we expect a future without hope.

As Atwood says, “In the wake of the recent American election, fears and anxieties proliferate.” That’s perfect for the proliferation of dystopian science fiction, but it’s a good time to check in on our perceptions, make sure we know what’s going on, and contribute to the debates AND the discussions both in the US and around the world.

And, still we write.


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