“Nothing makes me more nervous than people who say, ‘It can’t happen here.’ Anything can happen anywhere, given the right circumstances.” — Margaret Atwood from a 2015 lecture to West Point cadets
From my trusty corner and a little bit knackered, I find the inspiration to commit these random thoughts to a page. I recently started watching 'The Handmaid's Tale'. When the series was announced, I picked up the book reveling in my new found recovery
and got stuck in. I wasn't disappointed, there is such a beauty in Margaret Atwood's words, I feel like a person who has been confronted with rich blood splatter on a stark white canvas, noticing the beauty of the patterns in the carnage.
Eventually bathing in the glow of having read the book before watching the series, I watched Gilead, Offred and Ofglen materialise before my eyes and was not disappointed. I find myself having to prepare to watch it because event though I have a rough idea of the destination,the journey is marvellous, terrifying and completely new to me. I watch it knowing that Margaret Atwood said that the ideas that she wrote about were not a complete fiction because these things have already happened at some point to women throughout the world, either historically or currently.
So when faced with an article entitled, "Don't overinterpret 'The Handmaid's Tale" I of course chose to dive in. Essentially the article is saying that while the series so far is good, the premise presented is implausible. The Christian fundamentalism of Gilead hasn't happened anywhere, even in places we think of in terms of extensive breeches of human rights and the mistreatment of women, these places are not totalitarian regimes, a construct like Gilead has never existed so I guess that's alright then. No need to panic dear, it'as just a tale, a story so you know pass the popcorn and lets hope Season 2.What's the harm?
"No, Texas is not Gilead; it’s a state where people are peacefully and democratically expressing social conservatism.And as for the nation, Americans did just elect the most secular president perhaps in the country’s history." So why am I writing this?
Because I think the author may have missed the target and hit the tree. I have watched countless episodes of Star Trek, sometimes willingly and I marvelled at the things that were firmly cast as Science Fiction. I am watching as they become Science Fact. One bleeds into another with the simplest word, "What if?" I concede that the kind of religious fervour that is ascribed to Christianity in the novel almost aligns conservatism with totalitarianism and that in these times, it doesn't fit but by the same token, there was no previous model of the Holocaust.
Humanity is innovative, especially in our own destruction so why think that a shift like this would follow some kind of 'Totalitarianism for Dummies' handbook. Look around right now. Fear is the order of the day and that cunning Jedi was really onto something with his little note about Fear being the path to the darkside. I'm not comforted by the assertion of the article, I'm alarmed by it.
Offred herself in both the book and the series, speaks of how we sleepwalked into this. Gilead was in progress while other folks comforted themselves that things could not get worse. I visited the Holocaust Museum in Berlin a few years back and there were points when I had to sit and weep at the pieces of history that surrounded me. There were so many things that struck to the heart of me but I remember a letter that was never sent.
The sender was trying to reassure the relative that there was no need to run away, that although rumours had begun to trickle, that things were not right that this would not last, that normality would return and they would not leave Germany because surely it couldn't get worse. I lost count of the amount of times I read that letter. The wind was knocked out of me as I realised that the author was wrong and that so much worse was yet to come.
Journalists are body slammed for asking political questions and deemed enemies of the state, in Turkey and Russia they are arrested and killed.Discrimination in terms of wages for women are upheld under a new administration, reproductive rights are in question in the US. Officers murder black brown and poor alike and walk free. Police cover ups, Presidents who order the deaths of 9,000 people suspected of involvement in drugs and a Prime Minister seeking a full mandate only to wind up losing a majority and courting a right wing Coalition of Chaos herself....I would say that you couldn't make this up but..that would be bollocks wouldn't it.
Everyday I see something or read something that makes me think of V for Vendetta or Handmaid or Stepford. Because the moral is that is why we cannot wrap ourselves in cotton wool saying the mantra that it won't happen here. If anything, looking back we can see how it could happen anywhere. It actually already has, just under different titles, clauses, laws..
So while you may tell me not to over-interpret this story, I will keep manning the watchtower. I will keep looking at the signs and portents because the road to this nightmare is paved with such good intentions. We know this story, we have the guides, we have to keep watch and keep going...nolite te bastardes carborundorum.