WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Cautionary tales

No sooner do I gripe about too much video on the ‘net than I up and recommend one for you to watch. It’s a nine-minute clip from Bill Moyers’ 2006 interview with Margaret Atwood, discussing her speculative dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and for whatever reason it seems especially relevant right now.

Luckily, if you don’t want to watch the clip, there’s a transcript at the link above. I will say this, though: the way Atwood speaks makes it worth your while to watch the video.

I remember when The Handmaid’s Tale came out, and I eagerly read it with a kind of muted anxiety, thinking, sure, this kind of thing could happen here, but probably not in my lifetime. It was the Reagan era, and evangelical preachers were all over my TV — many of them later disgraced. But their movement didn’t subside. And their values were co-opted by the hard right in a way that produced a solid voting bloc, especially in the South and West: God, guns, n’ gays, right? Now it’s all been consolidated in the Trump administration, with a bona fide true believer waiting in the VP jump seat and a friendly Supreme Court shaping up that could help turn this big boat around on a course for 1693. You know, the good ol’ days.

By the way, Atwood explains that she had a rule in the writing of the book, that she wouldn’t put anything in it that human societies haven’t already done. Chilling, no?

I don’t think anything like the novel is imminent. We still have a legal process, the Bill of Rights, a general respect for personal liberty. But sprinkle in a domestic terrorist attack, a new war, ramped-up tensions with Russia or China and you can imagine the tenor of the times changing but quick.

As Atwood says in the interview, “When societies come under stress these kinds of things happen.”

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9 comments on “Cautionary tales

  1. islandeditions
    April 17, 2017

    Thanks for finding this and posting the link! (I’m not a big Atwood fan, and especially do not like hearing her voice. But what she has “predicted” through writing this book certainly does interest me. I’ll read the transcript …)

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 17, 2017

      Somehow her voice seemed just right for this kind of scary message. And she throws in some awkward smiles and laughs too …

    • Audrey Driscoll
      April 18, 2017

      As a fellow Canadian, I’ll second that. Atwood is a Canlit goddess, but I haven’t read all of her books, and although I did like some of ’em, I found this one sort of heavily didactic. And that voice… One of my former colleagues used to do a pretty good impression of her. 🙂

      • Kevin Brennan
        April 19, 2017

        That’s a minute specialty: doing impressions of Margaret Atwood! Life of the party.

        Maybe heavily didactic is part and parcel of the political dystopia genre. Things have to be really bad, so the social message comes through loud and clear.

      • Audrey Driscoll
        April 19, 2017

        More than other genres, the author has to inject enough interest and entertainment value along with the serious message. Could be people are more receptive to the message at times, though — like the one we’re in now.

  2. pinklightsabre
    April 17, 2017

    That’s one of those books I read and enjoyed but don’t really remember. She seems like a very cool cat though. WordPress just featured a link to her blog today I think, and apparently she’s an illustrator too.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 17, 2017

      I haven’t read much of her stuff, but that one sticks with me. I wouldn’t fare well in that society …

  3. kingmidget
    April 17, 2017

    I read the book a month or two ago. It is fiction — a version of a future I don’t consider to be remotely possible, but I certainly get how the current state of affairs in this country could give one pause.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 18, 2017

      Definitely fiction, and she calls it speculative. But as she said, it’s speculative on the basis of things societies have done in the past, so though it might not be possible as she imagines it, there are elements that could fall into place, like harassment of different faiths (Muslim? Sikh?), intimidation of journalists, etc. Heck, it looks like abortion rights are pretty much doomed. What’s next, birth control?

      Books like this, I think, really serve to keep us from getting too complacent.

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2017 by in Et alia, Writing and tagged , .
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