National Post

It’s all in the timing

- Dustin Parkes

The early reviews for The Handmaid’s Tale, the miniseries adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel, have been almost synonymous in praising one specific aspect: its timeliness.

Two vocal minorities are viewing the present political climate in the United States in different ways. One perspectiv­e believes that we have strayed from specific values that had previously led us to achieve greatness, and the other suggests that we have halted the social progress of our recent history and are moving backwards to ignorance.

It’s into this environmen­t that The Handmaid’s Tale – a dystopian speculativ­e fiction that envisions a world in which a totalitari­an theocracy has overthrown the United States government, and among other things, removed women’s rights – enters. Considerin­g that U.S. Vice President Mike Pence recently cast a rare tiebreakin­g vote in the Senate to let states deny federal grants to Planned Parenthood, you don’t have to strain too much to understand where critics are making the connection.

Of course, the miniseries went into developmen­t long before Donald Trump was elected, and furthermor­e, the source material was written by Atwood in the early 1980s in response to the Reagan administra­tion. While it’s impossible to doubt the relevance of The Handmaid’s Tale; its timeliness in 2017 wasn’t necessaril­y intentiona­l.

This raises interestin­g questions about how we consume and create art in times of repression – supposed or otherwise. I’m thinking of two things that occurred in the weeks following Trump’s election: 1) Sales of Atwood’s novel and George Orwell’s 1984 went through the roof; and 2) Artists with an opportunit­y – Lady Gaga performing in the Super Bowl Half-time Show and George Saunders with his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo – were criticized for not using their respective platforms to take an overt stance against Trump. Our impulse to seek solace in art when our understand­ing of right and wrong is threatened is wellproven. However, it seems that the most effective form of this art isn’t one that tackles the subject explicitly, but rather indirectly through allegory and metaphor. This creates a more lasting work; one for which meaning can be inferred not only by an audience at the time of its creation, but by future readers and viewers as well.

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