That’s what I’m scared of, that what The Handmaid’s Tale proposes is true; that having to survive the incomprehensible will slowly, incrementally, insidiously, become reality.

That can’t happen, right?

But then again, I was almost convinced that Trump couldn’t win. Almost.  I knew it was statistically possible. I doubted it, but I knew it was possible. Statistically. Statistically! Statistics matter, right?

And that was before I knew about the Russian ratfucking of the election.  Or the duplicity of a FOX-induced electorate. Or the sheer depravity of Trump, or his minions, or his handlers, or those complicit in putting him in power – and here I’m thinking of Mitch McConnell, the most talented and depraved politician of my time.  Horrible people, doing horrible things.

But back to Gilead.handmaids-tale-future

I’ve only seen the first three episodes of the Hulu interpretation of The Handmaid’s Tale.  I got to the end of the third episode, not too long after it was released, and had to quit.  I was totally, thoroughly, at my very core, freaked out.  And I had read the book, two or three times. I knew what was coming.  Each time I revisited the story, its observations, lessons, its vantage points taught me something new about the perspective of religious extremists, and about surviving that extremism, about surviving catastrophic failure of a society. And I’d remind myself that in that fictionalized future, as in the world around me, not all survive.

So I knew where the story was going when Hulu released their version; I wasn’t surprised by its cruelty.  But I couldn’t keep watching.  It was the Spring of  2017.  The horror of the Trump administration was obvious from the outset, but it kept getting worse.  I had a need for escapism, not an extrapolation of what was going on around me.  I remember watching a lot of My Little Pony with the grandkid, and some other lighthearted Netflix binge-watching.  I could barely deal with the New Cruelty, as Wonkette,com continues to term it, let alone some horrifying futuristic fiction.

But it’s been a while now.  I haven’t stopped being outraged, but the wounds aren’t quite so raw.  From afar, I watch people chatter about The Handmaid’s Tale.  I know it has relevance.  It has resonance.  I know I “should” watch it, according to some inner voice that tells me to listen to the tale-tellers, the story makers, who react to what’s happening around all of us.  The story is old – originally published in the mid-80s – but it’s captured the attention of people now,  in this time, in this context.  And that matters.  The story has new relevance, and there’s a reason why.  I sense it, want to explore it, want to be in sync with others around me.  And still feel the reluctance.

The second season is out.  I suspect that this miniseries has taken liberties with the story that Margaret Atwood conceived; still, it’s probably in line with her original ideas.  I feel some need to “catch up,” to keep pace, to see where Hulu, of all corporations, has chosen to take this story about female oppression, debasement, and ultimate resistance.  I feel like I “should” watch it, like it should shore me up, but I’m frightened.  I don’t want to go there,  don’t want to “live,” in my mind’s eye, in Gilead.  I don’t want my country, my society, my communities, to go there.  It’s too close, too possible.

What a horrifying world, that I should feel that gap narrowing.

I have to include here a memory I can’t shake, from many many years ago.

I was in a small academic study group at The Evergreen State College, and The Handmaid’s Tale was an assigned reading.  Another student told me she found the book “pedantic” and too preachy. I took great offense at this; I saw in it some of the same themes found in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four, where the social control mechanisms are a combination of ginning up hate and fear, and killing off – sometimes literally – any opposition in action or thought.  In the Republic of Gilead, you survived by keeping your head down, by playing along, by actually believing if that’s what it took.  It was a particularly female perspective, and I found that refreshing, if depressing.

But my friend found the story preachy, and pedantic, and a lesson everyone should already have learned.  I was pissed – why do people think everyone else should have already figured out what they are hip to? why do people denigrate others telling the stories they need to tell?  I snapped at her, “Fuck off!” and have felt bad ever since.

In retrospect, I see what she saw: a tale laid out to make a point. But it is more than that, and I still think Atwood’s tale has relevance, maybe too much relevance.  And so I fight with myself, like doing a homework assignment, or some chore that I resist even while I know in the end I will find it rewarding, to get myself to pick the series back up, and see what this new generation, some 30 years after it’s original publication, does with Atwood’s story.

But still, I’m scared. Sitting through a story is sometimes harder than one would think.

 

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