Recent Comments

stair landing with windows
Sharon Lauricella

The bricolage of MC Hammer, Offred, and Simple Minds is brilliant in Rosemary’s post and Debbie’s response here. As I watched Ep2, I found the Simple Minds track somewhat confusing and rather misplaced, though as soon as the “new” Ofglen showed her face, and the track came to an abrupt standstill, it made perfect sense. We’ve all had that moment of optimism and a glimmer of hope shattered, a door slammed in our faces, shocking news, terrifying results, disappointment — it is inherent to the human experience.

I think the common sentiment in these posts, and in THT itself, is that our vivid participation in historic reference and culture is essential. As scholars, viewers, and social justice seekers, how do we participate in ways that, as Debbie articulates, better shape a future? One positive outcome - and a good start - is that we have found one another and have the opportunity to create community and space for this discourse.

stair landing with windows
Deborah James

Your post evokes the concept of bricolage, the construction of art/literature from a diverse range of ‘things.’ As you note, Atwood’s writing reveals “the inherent connections among historical record, contemporary actual, and future potential,” and demands active viewing with the promise of disquieting and new understanding. Thus, your comparison between MC Hammer and Margaret Atwood, is both timely and timeless.

This bricolage of here, there, now and then, offers up something familiar (a historic reference, a turn of phrase, an image, a song), loose threads of experience which encourage (demand?) that we rethink, watch, and reconsider. Therefore, rendering this adapted series both uncomfortably knowable and at the same time, new. For example, in this narrative familiar images and sounds are juxtaposed with disturbing results. In the closing scene of S1Ep2 the 1985 Simple Minds pop song, “Don’t You Forget About Me (best known for closing the GenX movie, The Breakfast Club), renders the moment when Offred’s hope turns to shock and dismay, as immeasurably dehumanizing.

Unlike the book, I would also argue that Atwood’s trip back and forth across time and human experience in this adaptation, demands a reconsideration of every single cultural moment as a potential clue to how we might better shape a future.

Handmaid's bonnet
Sharon Lauricella

Certainly THT, its production, paid subscriptions, and paid actors, are problematic in neoliberal context. I did see Gail Dines’s piece, and agree that our culture “uses” women and adulterated “fempowerment” for consumption and profit, and that’s just bad news. However, I think the messages in the THT series are a slap in the face in terms of the necessity to wake up naysayers or even those who think that they are immune to the need for women’s issues. Why do we need feminism? We need it because of the very notion that THT is even a series, and the concepts are manifesting before our eyes given the current political climate. Our culture is a mediated one: the best way to get the message out is to use broadcast. Unfortunately, the irony is that we ride the coattails of the very system that produced this problem in the first place. And to your point, Debbie, it’s a hijacking, so Hulu and our hegemonic culture are absolutely not off the hook. Still, I have hope, and look forward to addressing this on Thursday.

Sarah Arnold

It would certainly be interesting to assess the different responses to concerns that are equally felt in the UK and Ireland. And your comment points to another issue pertaining to temporality- that of different release windows across nations and territories. It was just announced in UK magazine Radio Times that a UK release for The Handmaid’s Tale has been secured with a broadcaster and this implies that it would be scheduled weekly on mainstream television (although many have found ways to watch it already). I’m eager to see the type of engagement (or not) this results in and to assess whether there is a difference in how and when audiences discuss the show. Certainly, audiences in the UK and Ireland are eager to see The Handmaid’s Tale and are watching how the show has been received. In Ireland, for example, we’re in the midst of some important debates about, and looking towards a forthcoming referendum on, reproductive rights so I’m curious to see how different release strategies and, indeed, different national contexts produce consistent or more localised readings.

Deborah James

As I read your post, Sarah, I cannot help but agree with you on the limits and shaping power of binge-watching. Sharon, the pause and reflect as a practice of meaning-making, is also well taken. It also occurs to me that part of the viewing audience read the book - first, when it was released in the 1980s and during the intervening years. As the daughter of a high school English teacher in Canada, I know that this book was never far from the classroom.

Many, if we assume book sales translate into books read, may have read the book in anticipation of the series. How might this longer-term immersion in the narrative influence our watching experience? I can only speak to my own experience, at this moment. While anticipating the show, rereading the book, and thinking about how the story impacted me back in the early 1990’s (Walking down Queen St in Toronto thinking of Offred, stopping in front of the Horseshoe Tavern, deciding in that moment to give up bankcards for cash. To this day, I still keep a stash in the event of…?). For me, watching all three initial episodes in succession has added a layer of visual and aural texture to my experience (sound in particular - the scratchy sound of the hand-held military radios has become a bit of an unwelcome ear worm) and deepened my understanding of the text, connecting it to contemporary events in unexpected ways.

However, portioning out the remainder of S1 on a weekly basis, allows for deeper and wider engagement with the text. Time will allow different audiences to learn of the show, opportunities to watch, time to think, decode then, share interpretations through more personal networks, outside of the mass media. As THT is released to new audiences outside of the U.S.(hope springs eternal), there might be opportunities to engage in meaningful discussions across borders and culture as a result of a week by week episode release.

Handmaid's bonnet
Deborah James

A colleague of mine (Ellie Walsh) passed along a recent blog post by Gail Dines accessed here http://www.feministcurrent.com/2017/05/01/the-handmaids-tale-offers-a-terrifying-warning-but-hijacking-feminism-just-as-dangerous/

Dines compares ‘made for women, by women’ porn with Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Here, women’s humanity, sexuality, trust of one another and ‘traditional societal norms’ are explored in two media texts to reveal the power of neoliberal ideology that “rebrands the sex industry as female sexual empowerment.” Given that porn is one of the most lucrative businesses in the world, there is no getting away from women’s porn as a servant to a capitalist framework constructed for the consumption of women. Yet, I cannot let Hulu so easily off the hook. While espousing the danger of allowing the take-over of an oppressive state, albeit via a fictional story, we are still consuming women’s humiliation, degradation and sexuality for visual pleasure and entertainment along with noticeably gender targeted commercials (Feeling depressed ladies, there is a pill for that.). We paid our subscription fee to watch and join those ‘in the know,’ after significant paid and free media promotion. Therefore, I would argue, THT is also a bit of a hijacking. This is commercial media that would not have been made if it did not promise (And, deliver? Remains to be determined.) economic returns.

Sarah Arnold

That’s a great point about having the capacity to pause and reflect. The Handmaid’s Tale certainly allows for such comparisons and readings to be made. Even though some of the makers have downplayed direct association with the current socio-political landscape, the show nonetheless clearly lends itself to such.

In terms of durationality, I feel there are certain shows that lend themselves to unscheduled or binge viewing and others that benefit from staggered delivery such as an episode a week. Given the topicality of the show, I feel that it would benefit from being firmly embedded in the ongoing ‘present-ness’ of these same issues and concerns as they materialise in wider media. And as shows become more detached from those fixed regimes of schedules and ‘mass viewing’ they might also feel less attached to the world that they seem to reflect.

Sharon Lauricella

I agree that the the binge watch can interrupt the opportunity to engage in (terrifying!) comparison of what we see on the show and what we see on the news.

I watched the first three episodes in anticipation of this discussion, and given unforeseen circumstances, watched them alone. I think that even if I had the choice, I would have stopped when I did so that I could view the series with my partner (I certainly won’t watch the rest alone!). We could have pressed pause and said, “That’s just like [insert current event]”. Further, I’d have had somewhere safe to bury my face when Ofglen and her partner were separated.

The shared experience of the audience and ritualistic viewing can also apply to your helpful address of the option to binge or not.

Handmaid's bonnet
Sharon Lauricella

The gaze… How powerful that the male gaze, which normally objectifies the woman, is in these scenes sad and, as you say, replaced with dread. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the male gaze would come to mean understanding situations that for women are filled with dread and anxiety rather than serving to mask the female space as exclusively pleasureable/pleasuring?