The decade The Handmaid’s Tale came to life | Daily News


 

The decade The Handmaid’s Tale came to life

As the decade began, there were rea­sons to be optimistic: America had elected its first black president, and despite a global recession just two years earlier, the world hadn’t cascaded into total financial collapse. Obama­care, for all its flaws, was passed, and then came the Iran deal and the Paris climate accords. Sure, there were danger signs: the anger of the tea party, the slow hollowing out of legacy news media, a troubling sense that somehow the bankers got away with it. But then maybe the immediacy of social media gave some hope, at least if you listened to the chatter of the bright young kids in the Bay Area trying to build a new kind of unmediated citizenship.

Maybe every­day celebrity, post-­gatekeeper, would change the world for the better. Some of that happened. But we also ended up with the alt­-right and Donald Trump, inequality, impeachment, and debilitating FOMO. How did we get here? Throughout this week, we will be publishing long talks with six people who helped shape the decade — and were shaped by it — to hear what they’ve learned. Read them all here.

Unofficial epithet

Lady Oracle is both the title of a Margaret Atwood novel (1976, very funny) and the author’s unofficial epithet. Crack open a news source today and you’ll find something that Atwood speculated about a decade or three ago in one of her novels: lab-grown meat, environmental catastrophe, state surveillance, the diminishment of reproductive autonomy, antimicrobial clothes.

Atwood isn’t thrilled about her reputation as a cheerful eschatologist and has pointed out that it rests on a misunderstanding of dystopian fiction, which, she argues, isn’t a prediction of the future, dummies, it’s an interpretation of the present. In other words, If you’re not seeing what I’m seeing, you’re not paying attention. Just as she squirms away from the mantle of prophesy, Atwood rejects ideological labels, most institutional affiliations, and the idea that a writer is necessarily a moral agent. Some labels that do safely apply to her include poet, woodswoman (she grew up in rural northern Quebec), troublemaker, palm reader, student of history, inventor (look up LongPen), stickler for precision, and — on a frigid Monday morning at a hotel with “weird 1970s décor,” in her words — wearer of earrings shaped like mini-ducks.

Earlier this year, Kylie Jenner threw a birthday party with a Handmaid’s TaleAtwood’s 1985 dystopian novel imagines a future theocracy called Gilead where women become reproductive slaves. It became a TV series that premiered in 2017. theme.

Oh, Kylie Jenner. I had to look up who Kylie Jenner was, I’m so old.

What, if anything, did you make of that?

My readers deal with those things. They notice them before I do. I expect that Kylie Jenner heard from some of them along the lines of “We appreciate the thought, but you kind of missed it.” There were some themed tequila. People often do this in a very well-meaning way; they’re not trying to be unpleasant. It has been the occasion when I’ve been speaking somewhere and I will be greeted with Handmaid’s Tale cupcakes because the person doing the catering is such a fan. Will I turn up my nose at such cupcakes? No, I will not. I will not do that.

Will you eat the cupcake?

Pro-choice outfit

That depends on my relationship to sugar at the moment. If I were in a sugar-eating moment, I would certainly eat the cupcake. I have a collection of artifacts: I have LEGO handmaids and commanders made by the children of one of the publicists in London. I’ve got some knitted chickens from a pro-choice outfit in Texas that knits chickens for charity. She made me some themed knitted chickens. First one is called “the Henmaid’s Tale.” It has an outfit. I have a piece of honey-point embroidery done before the embroiderer had read The TestamentsAtwood’s 2019 sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale follows a group of activists attempting to overthrow the government of Gilead. Or even knew about it.

So there are these things that appear, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s people playing in the sandbox. I’m happy to have people playing in the sandbox, although sometimes they get a little off, but that is to be expected. There are people right now writing military histories of Gilead, and I look forward to reading them because I’m not going to do that.

The event of this decade that strikes me as most Gileadean is the Jeffrey Epstein case.The financier, who had ties to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, among many others, was accused of running a sex-trafficking ring that ensnared dozens of underage girls. He committed suicide in jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial. A powerful man with government connections inveigling women into a ring of sexual slavery. I can picture Commander Epstein in the pages of Handmaid.

Global capitalism

Epstein is more of a ’90s story. So in the ’90s, Cold War ends in ’89, and then we’re told, “End of history, and the world is going to go shopping because global capitalism has triumphed.” I think Epstein is more of a Playboy type of story. Whereas Gilead is much more virtuous, puritanical leaders. They know what’s good for you, but behind the scenes, you have this other thing going on, which generally is the case with those kinds of setups.

I have to imagine that there were at least one or two commanders who didn’t subscribe to the lofty ideals.

No, that’s why they have Jezebels. But it’s a behind-the-scenes type of thing. So you quite frequently have, in totalitarianism, [situations] like that. These rules are for everybody else, but we can have our dacha, our imported French wine, we can have our orgies, we can have whatever we want.

It’s just that other people can’t; they have to live virtuously and obey our command. The popes were notorious in the Renaissance, of course. Virtue for everybody else, but they were quite lavish and had mistresses and children they then appointed to church positions. We’d call it abuse of power.

Spray-painting

I’ve heard of it. Upon its publication, some readers saw The Handmaid’s Tale as ominous, and some absorbed it as more fantastical. I don’t know what the ratio was.

It’s divvied up by country. The English basically went, “Jolly-good yarn,” because they couldn’t see this as a possibility for themselves. They had their religious civil war in the 17th century. It’s not that they won’t have a civil war, but it won’t be about that. Canada, in its nervous way, said, “Could it happen here?,” which Canada is always saying about just about everything. The States split in two, with some of them saying, “Don’t be silly. It could never happen here,” and others, particularly on the West Coast, saying, “How long have we got?,” and spray-painting the Venice Beach Wall with THE HANDMAID’S TALE IS ALREADY HERE. So it’s split like that, and guess who won? But we’re not there yet, or you and I would not be having this conversation.

Of course. Following 9/11, The Handmaid’s Tale began to be more generally accepted as augural and you as clairvoyant. Is that a rewarding kind of recognition?

Not particularly. 9/11, but also the 2008 financial meltdown. When people are scared and they think things are falling apart, they get more conservative, and they’re willing to trade civil liberties for somebody taking control. That’s usually how these people get in. They want Mr. Fix-It, and Mr. Fix-It comes with a price. What isn’t rewarding is to have been “right.” If I could trade, I would trade it. But I cannot trade. It’s a false choice. Since I can’t have unchallenged liberal democracy at the moment —

Sort of an “I told you so” with a tear running down your face.

Well, I don’t even go “I told you so,” because it’s not prophecy. It’s a what-if story. That’s what all those kinds of books are. So here’s a blueprint of a house. You have to see the blueprint before you move into the house. Is this the house you want to live in? Take a look around. Are there enough bathrooms? Do you like the wallpaper? But you can change it. It’s still just a blueprint. There’s a very good book by Madeleine Albright called Fascism: A Warning. By “fascism,” she has a pretty broad definition. What she really means is totalitarianism. But she kind of lays it out on a plate. Here’s the warning signs, here’s what you should be watching for, and here’s what they all do. - Vulture


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