May 30, 2017

TO HELL IN A HANDMAID’S BASKET: Veteran Hollywood composer Boris Zelkin has a lengthy essay on Hulu’s new remake of The Handmade’s Tale, starring longtime former Mad Men actress Elisabeth Moss:

While Atwood presents her tale as occurring in the United States, and the buzz surrounding the release of the Hulu series implies that her vision is timely for America today, in truth, the dystopia she posits has a significantly higher chance of becoming reality in Europe. After all, Europe is the place where trust in and over-reliance upon centralized power, declining birthrates, and an appeasement of an unyielding worldview―the one that actually inspired The Handmaid’s Tale―are all threatening quickly to overturn what was once the font of liberalism and birthplace of the enlightenment into a religiously dystopian and morally bankrupt society.

I could understand the impetus to remake the Handmade’s Tale a bit more if a traditional conservative such as Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio was in the White House. But it’s awfully zany to believe a theocracy is just around the corner, when the current president is a rake who declared that dodging STDs while sleeping around was “my personal Vietnam,” and bragged that he could grab models and actresses “by the p***y,” language that would have been perfectly acceptable to the left if his last name was Clinton, Kennedy, Beatty, or Flint, and he had a (D) after it. Not to mention our current First Lady, who had a previous career posing nude as a model and later, in bikini-clad cheesecake shots on the wing of her husband’s private jet.

And note this:

Of the most wretched and evil characters in modern literature, Atwood’s Aunt Lydia places at the top. She is the apologist voice and cheerleader for the Handmaid’s dystopia. When not presiding over the ‘Salvaging’ of women – hanging them in Harvard Square (a mass execution of women in a public place…reminiscent of the Al Qaeda soccer field executions), she’s busy explaining why the women’s oppression isn’t really oppression at all, but a freedom from male oppression. She argues that the new mores and constricting dress are, in fact, a form of freedom:

“Now we walk along the same street, in red pairs, and no man shouts obscenities at us, speaks to us, touches us. No one whistles.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it.” —Aunt Lydia

Lydia argues that with the correct modification of mores and dress the oppressed women are actually freer than they were when they were always worried about the unwelcome sexual advances of men. This distorted narrative, that correct dress and behavior will lead to a freedom from assault is currently being played out in Europe.

In response to the rapes and sexual assaults that occurred in Europe over the New Year’s celebrations and at other times, politicians, many of whom are female and self-described feminists suggested that women, the prospective and actual victims of rape, need to modify their behavior to avoid the rape. These suggested behavior modifications range from walking at arms length from migrants, to walking in pairs (similar to the Handmaids who were always to walk in twos), and to avoiding provocative dress. Most recently a Paris newspaper reported that there are areas of East Paris where women fear to walk alone for fear of being harassed and treated like prostitutes by men. One of the women interviewed states:

There are insults, incessant remarks. The atmosphere is agonizing, to the point of having to modify our movements and our clothes. Some even gave up going out.

What we’re starting to see in Europe is Lydia’s the notion of Freedom From. If a woman wants freedom from assault in today’s Europe she is being told by her female feminist leaders that she must act and dress a certain way.

A decade after being known as Al Gore’s campaign advisor on earth tones and all things alpha-male, and A few years before her spectacular meltdown as an ISIS truther, feminist icon Naomi Wolf was decidedly pro-burka in a piece for the Sydney Morning Herald headlined, “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality:”

She observes, “It is not that Islam suppresses sexuality, but that it embodies a strongly developed sense of its appropriate channelling — toward marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home.” There was “demureness and propriety” outside of the home, “but inside, women were as interested in allure, seduction and pleasure as women anywhere in the world.”

As Robert Spencer wrote in response, “How interesting that the same things that Western feminists have scoffed at for decades — ‘marriage, the bonds that sustain family life, and the attachment that secures a home’ — become warmly appealing when they see them in the Islamic world.”

And then there’s Lydia’s whole “Freedom from” riff.

“Freedom from Fear” was the Newspeak-style cornerstone of how FDR converted the negative rights of the laissez-faire Constitution (or as Lydia would say, those “days of anarchy”) into the big government Leviathan of the New Deal. Or as Orrin Judd of the conservative Brothers Judd Blog and book review site asked in 1999:

Is it possible that the History of the 20th Century can be explained by simple reference to a change in prepositions?  That is the gist of the epiphany that struck me while watching David M. Kennedy on Booknotes (C-SPAN).  He and Brian Lamb were discussing the fact that this book is part of the Oxford History of the United States joining James McPherson’s excellent one-volume history of the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom : The Civil War Era (1988).  Suddenly, the switch from “of Freedom” to “Freedom from”, in the respective titles, struck me as emblematic of the pivotal change of  emphases in the Modern world.  The history of America from Plymouth Rock until the Crash was essentially the story of Man’s struggle for Freedom, but Freedom in a positive sense, Freedom to do things–to worship, to speak, to gather, etc.  Thus, McPherson’s book details the great convulsion of the 19th Century, the Civil War and the struggle to free the slaves–a struggle to expand freedom.  But Kennedy, charting the great 20th Century convulsion,  has it exactly right, the importance of the responses to the Depression by both Hoover and Roosevelt lay in their decision to elevate a negative idea of Freedom, freedom from want, from hunger, from “the vicissitudes of life” above, and against, the traditional American ideal of republican Liberty.  This shift from a government aimed at protecting Freedom to one designed to provide Security is the single most important thing that happened in 20th Century America.

Finally, in a contradiction so big even Newsweek could see it, “there’s something simply too intriguing not to address about Moss’s lifelong devotion to Scientology and her new role as a character who resists accepting a regime’s ideologies and strict governance as status quo:”

In Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred and other fertile women cannot walk alone in the United States; they must abide by the stringent ruling of a far-right regime that has taken over what’s left of the nation. She dreams of what her life could be like if she managed to successfully escape, leaving behind the followers of a religion that often resembles an oppressive and volatile cult. In actuality, she’s complicit in the organization’s control and terror over the country, following along with its rules, partaking in the indoctrination of its newest captured members and killing those deemed immoral.

Of course, Offred’s plight is only fictional: Elisabeth Moss, who plays the protagonist in Hulu’s adaption of the Margaret Atwood novel, doesn’t seem to have any of the same struggles as a Scientologist. A member of the controversial church her entire life, the 34-year-old maintains a quiet relationship with Scientology in the public eye and has avoided the topic entirely along her press tour promoting the new show, which released its fourth episode Wednesday night.

All of which is why, as Charlotte Allen recently noted in the L.A. Times, “We’re Living The Handmaid’s Tale Now, But Not The Way Feminists Think.”

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