A Tale For The Times

By   /   July 8, 2017  /   30 Comments

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WHY IS “THE HANDMAID’S TALE” so bloody scary? The movie was bad enough, but the television series is so chilling I find it hard to watch. And what, exactly, is the raw nerve which the story is touching this (it’s third) time around?

WHY IS “THE HANDMAID’S TALE” so bloody scary? The movie was bad enough, but the television series is so chilling I find it hard to watch. And what, exactly, is the raw nerve which the story is touching this (it’s third) time around?

Obviously, the election of Donald Trump has played a huge role in the resurgence of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopic novel. But, it’s not Trump the man who gives Hulu’s latest rendering of “The Handmaid’s Tale” such terrifying resonance, it’s the sort of voters who made Trump’s presidency possible.

Democracy only works as a political system when we and our neighbours share a common set of values and beliefs. Disagreeing with our fellow citizens over second order issues poses no threat to the tolerance and respect so vital to democracy’s proper functioning – we can all simply agree to differ. But fundamental disagreements: disputes over matters that go to the heart of what we believe our society to represent; over what we consider essential to our sense of personal integrity; these cannot be so easily set aside. The notion that an election might result in the triumph of forces uncompromisingly hostile to our core values leaves us ill-disposed to accept such an outcome.

Casting our minds back to the 2016 US presidential election campaign, it is clear that a huge number of Americans were simply unwilling to accept the election of Hillary Clinton. And when Donald Trump – against all predictions – defeated her, the streets were almost instantly filled with people chanting “Not my President!” Suddenly “agreeing to differ” sounded like the basest treason. Both sides now regarded their opponents as an existential threat to both the American republic and themselves. Overnight their fellow citizens had become “enemies of the people”. GQ’s Keith Olberman now ends his portentous anti-Trump webcasts with the single word: “Resist!”

The injection of “The Handmaid’s Tale” into this highly charged political atmosphere proved to be as alarming as it was timely. For those on the liberal side of the barricades, the series offered a frightening glimpse of what America might look like if the misogynistic, homophobic, racist and religiously maniacal voters who had cheered Trump to the echo suddenly decided to move from shouting angry words to performing angry deeds.

It dawned upon them that if this happened, then they, the liberals, would be powerless to stop them. Did the Police share their values? The National Guard? The Armed Forces? Were they, the advocates of gun control, experienced in the use of firearms? How many liberals had volunteered to serve in Afghanistan and Iraq? With a sickening sense of dread, they realised that if, for whatever reason, the constitutional and moral inhibitions against turning on your fellow citizens fell away, then they would all be as helpless as Offred, the handmaid, in Gilead. (Atwood’s Talibanesque successor regime to what was formerly the United States.)

This sense of dread should be prompting American liberals to ask themselves some very hard questions. Not the least of these should be: what is it about liberal ideals that makes them so intolerable, so threatening, to their conservative neighbours? What is it about freedom and tolerance that frightens people so much that they feel morally justified in extinguishing both.

It is the difficulty we liberals have in coming up with convincing answers to these questions that makes “The Handmaid’s Tale” so frighteningly relevant to our times.


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  1. CLEANGREEN says:

    “Democracy only works as a political system when we and our neighbours share a common set of values and beliefs.”

    Agreed Chris, we are being divided & ruled now by this administration as a key component of their modis operandi’.

    Get rid of this evil NASTY NAT’S LOT!!!!

  2. Siobhan says:

    The election of Trump can be blamed fairly on the Democratic National Committee who put their corrupt, neo liberal, corporate, self interests above the one candidate, Bernie, that most polls showed would win against Trump.
    Infact, apart from the die hard morons who would always vote Trump, there were Trump voters that could have gone with Bernie.
    And for those who say “But Bernie lost”…well he lost for similar reasons that Corbyn lost, and with similarly destructive consequences.

    “The attorneys representing the DNC have previously argued that Sanders supporters knew the primaries were rigged, therefore annulling any potential accountability the DNC may have. In the latest hearing, they doubled down on this argument: “The Court would have to find that people who fervently supported Bernie Sanders and who purportedly didn’t know that this favoritism was going on would have not given to Mr. Sanders, to Senator Sanders, if they had known that there was this purported favoritism.”


    • CLEANGREEN says:









  3. Tiger Mountain says:

    definitely a show of high emotional impact, like the opening scene in “Schindlers List” where nazi soldiers are going house to house, rooting out carefully built hiding places; the possible reality for you, in your own home or neighbourhood, of a violent reactionary force on the loose hits you

    “what is ‘it’?”–decades of daily ideological conditioning to be compliant, to be a good consumer, to be an individual not part of the collective, and a large dose of ‘othering’–beneficiary bashing, poor bashing etc. along with some hardwiring of a certain number of people with a propensity to fear the new, and freedom

    societal breakdown is even more frightening in the digital era, ATMs not working, supermarkets and petrol closed, internet available only to the inner circle, what would you do?

    the NZ version of a reactionary tale would be nasty too, particularly in the provinces, the lodge masters, the cops, the farm boys all know where you non conformists live!

  4. Castro says:

    It is material inequality and relative deprivation that leads to these nightmares; you mean your conservative neighbour living in that car that you peer at from your window while sipping chardonnay?

  5. Keepcalmcarryon says:

    The game is rigged and we all know it.
    How bad will things have to get before people push back, and what do we lose in the meantime, those are the only real questions.
    I’d suggest , due to voter apathy unfortunately things will have to get a lot worse before people wake up. The best we can hope for is some form of retrospective treason law that holds these bastards to account for selling public assets , land and water overseas to benefit the rich at the cost of most of us.

    • Afewknowthetruth says:

      Retrospective treason laws are probably the only thing the self-serving liars in that have been in power over the past several decades have much fear of. Needless to say, such people are utterly despised by all caring people but at this point of time the corporate machine is still able to churn out sufficient propaganda to hide their various and numerous crimes against communities and against the nation.

      I personally believe every community should have a ‘wall of shame’ (something akin to a the so-called roll of honour that list the names of people who died serving the English-speaking sector of the international money-lender empire) on which are listed the names of all the local MPs, mayors, city councilors, council executive officers and opportunists etc. who have lied to the people and have actively promoted the destruction of healthy life in New Zealand whilst promoting the looting, polluting and exploitation of communities and the nation as a whole.

      We can dream.

      In reality we are far more likely to witness an increasingly fascistic police state, in which the poor and powerless are persecuted so the wealthy and well-connected can continue to live opulently at the expense of everyone else….including their own progeny when we consider the dire state of the global environment, which is made worse every day that the corporatized behemoth continues to exist.

  6. Nitrium Nitrium says:

    I’m watching The Handmaid’s Tale at the moment and it looks a lot like the Fundamentalist Christian equivalent of Sharia to me, if you want to take a real-world example – I’m more than a little surprised that the analogy escaped you. The way women are treated in this show is not that far removed to how they are treated by the Taliban or in Saudi Arabia (Wahhabism) RIGHT NOW.

    • I’ve always thought that a better story/movie that predicted our current civilisation was Soylent Green, from 1973 (from Harry Harrison’s sf novel, Make Room, Make Room!).

      It accurately predicted global warming; the death of our oceans; over-population; crumbling infra-structure in cities; the One Percent living in luxury whilst everyone else lived in degradation; and finally, the human race devouring itself.

      By the way, it’s interesting to know that the Wahabist regime in Saudi Arabia is great mates with the Trump Administration. In fact, Trump negotiated a $110 billion arms sale to the Saudis.

      Just what the Middle East needs right now; more lethal weaponry.

      • Tiger Mountain says:

        yeah, “Soylent” is a bit of a classic in so many regards, the recycling humans as food meme popped up again in movie “Snowpiercer” (2013)

  7. countryboy says:

    Great Post.

    I work in an ‘ industry ‘ that involves every kind of personality type. From creative people to laborours and trades people. Men and women are all involved equally and we all swing together to create that which we create under every conceivable condition.
    It was once when I was talking to a lovely fellow about this and that when he revealed that he was devoutly Right Wing which floored me. And at that very moment, our relationship changed. The chilling of the air was palpable and irreversible.
    One of the first sentences out of his now twisted mouth hole was ” Why should I be expected to pick up the bill for those others too lazy to get a job? ” ( I.e. Taxes )
    Sound logic to a Right Winger but to anyone else sounds ignorant and cruel. Particularly ignorant, when all the permutations of why people don’t work, can’t work and when they do, they get fucked over by the same Right Wing ideology that loves to hate on them is taken into consideration.

    ” Why should I …. ” Is a common thread in the Right Wing vocabulary. No idea of nurturing the common person in there. ( And zero comprehension of how much safer and more secure society would be generally if that were so. So, win-win for everybody. ) Plenty of MSM inspiration to shoot and kill them though.
    I think the Right Wing are mentally unsound. I think they’re psychiatrically unwell. Try reasoning with one and see how far you get?

    In my line of work, the smoothest operations are always when harmony and co-operation are fostered. No one can run on 100% all the time and it’s when others step in and lend a hand that makes all the difference. That’s lost entirely on the Right Wing. They will snipe and gossip and piss-take and eye roll and what do they achieve for all that? Nothing. Not one thing for the good of all. Ironically, when they need help it’s as though they’re doing the helper a favour.

    The Trump phenomenon is a glaring example of a simple minded , linear, two dimensional approach to cohabiting and that Trump-esque phenomenon will bring the Earth and all its inhabitants to extinction.

    What’s deeply freaky is the Right Wing determination to dominate at all costs coupled with the technology that can enable them to do so.

    How to curd that? Strictly IMO. Don’t over spend, don’t do debt, sack the Banks, spread the word and call them out and identify them when ever possible. When you spend money on that fabulous technology? You’re perhaps unwittingly $-supporting their military industrial complex sub contractors. Be a Meerkat. Shout and squeak when you see a predator approaching.

    • bert says:

      “What’s deeply freaky is the Right Wing determination to dominate at all costs coupled with the technology that can enable them to do so.”

      That would sum up Mark Richardson, whom always appears to hold himself in some way, that he is so much better than anyone else. It is only through the technology of media that he pushes himself above us common people. He believes he has a right to call those with a socialist view, loopy, when in fact most people who follow him, would see him as a goofball.
      Because of that how can anyone take his hard right wing views with anything but a grain of salt.

  8. The Masked Moa says:

    How idiotic can this deluded nonsense get. People voted for Trump for 2 primary reasons. 1. Its the economy stupid (but Bill didnt dare say this to Hillary) – a large chunk of the american people have had their and their childrens lives destroyed by free market policies rigged to benefit the 1% at the expense of everyone else and had enough of 8 years of manipulations and lies by the Democrats and Obama as their lives only got worse. Want the real truth – the economic devestation wreaked by 8 years of Obama carrying out same policies as Bush lost the election. 2. Corrupt nature of both Demorats and Republicrap parties running the system for their Wall St paymasters. I had an American bouncing up and down on my sofa election night who was a die hard Bernie Sanders voter who donated a large sum of money to his campaign and was angry big time at the corruption of the DNC so voted Trump. Millions simply voted Fuck You and at least Michael Moore got that bit right. But I guess some people dont want the paralells between America and National & Labour to be made obvious by distracting the masses with shadow games.

  9. Nitrium Nitrium says:

    I agree with this sentiment. Trump imo isn’t all that dangerous, although he is obviously a buffoon. He more represents a protest vote from disillusioned voters, as opposed to some kind of radical fundamentalist Christian movement that would have all of us enslaved in a women hating rape culture. As I posted above, we ALREADY have the equivalent of The Handmaiden in our world in the form of Sharia in a number of Muslim countries. An interesting poll among Western based Muslims would be “do you renounce Sharia in favour of Western freedoms?”. I dare say, given that Sharia is one of the cornerstones of the Islamic faith, is that the answer will be a resounding “no”. Have yet to see such a poll conducted – would love to discover I’m 100% wrong on this.

    • Why mention “Sharia Law” specifically? Fundamentalist Christianity can be just as toxic – if not worse. Why worse? Because fundamental “christianity’ is already deeply embedded in our Western culture (witness the attempt by The Brethren to influence the 2005 General Election).

      In the US, fundamentalists have attacked abortion clinics with bombs and shootings.

      Here in New Zealand we have the Destiny Church and it’s influences.

      Fundamentalist religion appears to be a quirk of the human psyche and the deep-seated urge by a sizeable chunk of the population to believe in an Old Testament-style deity. I don’t think any of the three main religions are exempt.

      • kejomu says:

        I think a general term would be ‘ religious fascism’ wouldn’t it ?

      • Cemetery Jones says:

        Respectfully, Frank, we’ve moved on. The Westboro Baptist church? Nobody likes them. They ended up needing police protection from American conservative military veterans who vote Republican after they brought their protests to military funerals. Or in NZ, Destiny Church or the Exclusive Brethren? Yeah, nobody likes them and even Don Brash was embarrassed to be caught trying to use the bretheren to swing marginal electorates a dozen years or so ago.

        Now compare that to the Islamic world; their versions of the Westboro Baptists, or Destiny, or the Brethren are in charge of just about every country in the Islamic world, bar a couple of the Asian Islamic countries which haven’t had the religion all that long and still have too much of their other traditions in play, and a few others like Syria, whose societies have more secularism because they’re more westernised.

        I’m not religious or a Christian, but this “what about muh Christianity” meme looks downright silly when you compare their success in wider society to that of their equivalents in the Islamic world.

      • Nitrium Nitrium says:

        I’m super late in replying, so sorry about that. The key point of difference in The Handmaiden/Sharia and your examples are that these institutions are voluntary with MOST of followers being there entirely by their own choice (obviously infants and children aren’t given this freedom, so it’s still bad).
        In The Handmaiden and in Sharia countries, these religious “ideals” are forced literally from the barrel of a gun upon EVERYONE by a governing force, whether they want it or not, and any critique is often met with a death sentence.
        I’ve often asserted that religion in any way shape or form is a kind of brain damage or mind-control (given that exactly no evidence is presented to validate the claims), but that’s another thing entirely.

  10. frank says:

    think the focus needs to be on the dystopia rather than the merits (or none) of any religion….the act of societal break-down may be dressed up in any form…even Mammon.

  11. mosa says:

    The Democratic party led by Clinton lost because of her arrogance as if she had the right to the presidency she thought she had bought with money from the system her party should be fighting against and all it stands for and that reeks havoc on their constituency.

    Bernie stood for that change and his performance and support in the primaries was so incredible that Clinton had already lost the presidency before the primaries were over.

    Her parties treatment of Sanders has done enormous damage and denied Bernie the chance this time to contest the election and seek a mandate and one i think he could have won.

  12. Debsisdead Debsisdead says:

    When you gonna tell us Russia hacked the dnc Trotter? I realise that what I’m about to say will be about as popular as a fart in an elevator but ‘Handmaids Tale’ is brought to you by the neoliberal Hollywood media whose first venture into slicing and dicing opposition all the better to fight among each other rather that stand solid in resistance to capital, was when a bunch of bourgeois amerikan women changed the struggle for women away from its historic roots of opposing class & capital and into regarding ‘patriarchy’ ie all men, as the enemy.

    Since then resistance has become hopelessly divided – chiefly because the ersatz left have succeeded in recasting the political structure into one of discrete self-interest groups who can easily (and at little cost to corporates) be mollified by asinine feel good statements and apologies for ‘historic wrongs’.
    There would be nothing wrong with Erehwon town council declaring itself as a safe for women, nuke free, LGBTQ space if all humans including the aforementioned, hadn’t suffered from a declining standard of living over the last three decades.

    There have been a lotta words muttered over these times but unfortunately there has been sfa action.

    The fact that we all have been pushed backwards regardless of race gender, sexual orientation or green-ness should tell us that we have been approaching resistance to oppression completely the wrong way.
    Resistance has become a noisy fragmented unco-ordinated mess and the arseholes are laughing up their sleeves at the way a woman’s choice to have a career was turned into a necessity.
    If anything many women have less independence now than 30 years ago because even if a young woman gets on a good career path now, she will not be able to secure a roof over her head without being entangled with a partner who is also on a ‘good career path’.

    Back then the pay was shit but it was enough to secure a home and keep enough tucker in the fridge – even from a shit job. Nowadays it takes two people working their arses off just to nearly stay afloat – and we all know that if things continue the way they are the humans currently standing at about knee height are going to have it much worse than that.

    But keep watching the bulldust on TV – one thing that you should be aware of is that MSNBC the mob currently leading the bulldust on “Hill the Shill was robbed by the Russians” is 100% owned by comcast the gang who have been hiring Clinton’s fundraisers, lobbyists and general sleazebags to get democrat pols behind prez trumpet’s move to toss net neutrality out the window (see https://theintercept.com/2017/06/23/democratic-lobbyists-donald-trump-mottur-podesta-comcast-prudential/ – and no I don’t have much time for the give-ups at the intercept either but this is important)

    Once the moves around net neutrality become real and the pols begin talking out loud about it, ordinary citizens will become aware of exactly how far up the garden path they were led by this ‘russia hacks the world’ bulldust).

    The internet will be split up into strands stuff like netflix or facebook (under the correctly approved algorithm) will run at super high speeds then your site selling geegaws to the masses will run at about half that speed if you pay and as long as you don’t write stuff deemed to be ‘fake news’ such as pointing out your corporate competitor uses child labour or whatever.
    Then lastly crawling along at snails’ pace will be those sites deemed to carry contraversial views maybe fake news or maybe the ‘useful idiots’ as deemed by the anonymous unaccountable group who published their list on the Washington post a few months ago.
    see https://merryjane.com/news/washington-post-pushes-fake-news-blacklist-promoted-by-secretive-organization or see https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/russian-propaganda-effort-helped-spread-fake-news-during-election-experts-say/2016/11/24/793903b6-8a40-4ca9-b712-716af66098fe_story.html?utm_term=.0aded0202fe7 if you want to read the start of the Washington Post climbdown.
    Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon is the current owner of the WaPo as an owner of Amazon Prime how d’ya reckon he feels about ‘net neutrality’.

    Fake news is in the eye of the beholder but all these forces are lining up behind the bullshit to tell us that only they have the correct smell test and any commonality between something being ‘not fake’ and their profits is purely coincidental.

    But none of us have time for that stuff just as we don’t have time for kiwi water supplies becoming more and more polluted – so bad that some towns have to use bottled water.

    We all know the pollution is from the dairy industry but we don’t talk about that- we’re too busy worrying about why the high school in Hicksville Mississippi doesn’t have a third set of toilets for trans folk – that is when we’re not fretting over some nonsense dystopian soap.
    TV is just about all dystopian soap operas nowadays & if you think about it, that is probably because when things don’t turn out to be quite that bad as TV showed us, we will heave a sigh of relief instead of going through our towns with pitchforks & torches hunting out the sociopaths who destroyed our society…

    • andrewmurray says:

      Hey well said and it depresses me that your views are just skipped over for another person to have another crack at how Trump came to be elected…who cares what matters is the ease with which the elite so skilfully use liberal ideals to divide us, to beat us…

  13. Pat O'Dea says:

    “This sense of dread should be prompting American liberals to ask themselves some very hard questions. Not the least of these should be: what is it about liberal ideals that makes them so intolerable, so threatening, to their conservative neighbours? What is it about freedom and tolerance that frightens people so much that they feel morally justified in extinguishing both.”

    Chris Trotter

    Pride comes before a fall. Proverbs 16:18

    I think the answer to your question Chris, is that the liberal ‘establishment’, (in the US, the Democratic Party, and the Liberal media), were at the time more in dread at the rise of the Left, concretised around the figure of Bernie Sanders, and in dread of their loss of legitimacy and established authority, than they were of the Right.
    So certain was the Liberal establishment that a Right wing extremist like Trump was unelectable, that not realising their peril, the Liberal establishment, in both the media and the Democratic Party, felt confident enough to spend a good part of the lead up to the presidential election slating Sanders and the Left. Where they should have been uniting with the Left against Trump.

    The result, the Liberal establishment took their eye off the ball, and spent so much time and energy and political capital to prevent the rise of Bernie Sanders, that they allowed Donald Trump to sneak up the outside in the political gap they created.

    We saw the same sort of thing here by the liberal establishment, (in NZ the Labour Party and the Print Media).

    At the last election, the Labour Party in fear of being outflanked on their Left, gave up their chance to govern to keep Mana out of parliament.

    The election of Mana on a rising support base, (Mana was the only left party to increase its vote), would have given the Left the numbers to form a Labour led government.

    But the electoral success of Mana represented a threat to the establishment and liberal credentials of the Labour Party.
    Mana raised issues around social justice, that would have been a pressure on Labour to go further to the left than they wanted to go in government.
    Instead of getting the numbers for the Left, Labour, and the Liberal establishment in the media spent a huge amount of time and energy and political capital getting Hone Harawira out of parliament. Unlike the Democrats in the US Labour were not sure of their win, but consciously decided to risk a loss to the Right.

    The calculation was made, that the NZ Right is not too shockingly far Right. (Well not as shockingly far Right as the Trump administration has turned out to be). The Labour Party and the Democrats both felt that the threat from their Left was far greater than the threat from their Right. The former thought they could risk a Right wing win, the later thought, a Right wing win was impossible.

  14. Cemetery Jones says:

    I watched this, and while I enjoyed it, I can’t help but feel like the social justice revamp it’s been given for Democrats who still can’t get over losing totally missed the real opportunity.

    Right here, right now, for several years, we have had the emergence of a religious state where women are treated as property and given to men as breeders to reward them for their allegiance to the state. These women may only leave the home with their heads covered and for the purpose of gathering household provisions or attending ceremonial and religious gatherings.

    Yes, I’m talking about the Islamic State, and if the makers of this show had any balls at all they’d have made the reboot themed not on hysterically wishful doom porn for butthurt middle class “I’m with her” liberals, but themed on what’s really being experienced by educated Syrian women of Arab, Yazidi, and Kurdish backgrounds who have actually ended up as sex slaves and warrior-breeders for Islamic hardliners.