The Hulu original drama The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 best-seller, follows Offred (skillfully played by Elisabeth Moss), a twenty-something millennial wife and mother with a successful career. Offred is dismissed from her job, “freed” of her money and property, and ultimately enslaved as a handmaiden when a puritanical group overthrows the United States government.
The story takes place in Gilead, a dystopian America in which all forms of our Constitutional republic have been abolished in favor of strict adherence to Old Testament law. The propaganda pedaled by the puritanical authority is that America had become so “sinful” – engaging in pollution, drugs, extramarital and homosexual sex, abortion, etc. – that God cursed most women with infertility, causing the slowing birth rate to grind to a near halt. Therefore, any fertile women must be rounded up and used as breeding stock, or handmaidens (after the biblical story of Rachel and her handmaid, Bilhah), to provide wealthy powerful families with children.
The show portrays the fundamentalist ruling regime as right-wing, religious fanatics. The story is an example of what happens whenever any ideologically-driven group gains absolute power. Too much of anything is not a good thing. Or, in the words of Commander Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes), “Better never means better for everyone.” A society ruled entirely by any group – religious fundamentalists, extreme right-wing nationalists, or militant progressive liberals – is not desirable for any other than those in power. Just ask anyone who survived Stalin’s Soviet Union or Hitler’s Germany.
It is no coincidence that Hulu released this show on the week of President Trump’s 100th day in office. The story is obviously not about Donald Trump or any particular current players on the political stage. However, any American who has seen the mainstream media in action knows it is meant as a warning against the Trump administration and against conservatives and Christians, in general. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Margaret Atwood said as much:
“I think had Hillary been elected, you would have had a reaction to it more like, look at an alternative reality that might have happened. Whereas now you’re getting: this might actually happen. Not in quite the same way, not with the same outfits, and probably they will not be able to shut down women reading. But the rollback of rights might well happen.”
However, the show is more of a warning for the conservative, the Christian and the libertarian. Never has there been a time in the history of this country where freedom of speech has been threatened as it is today. I am (thankfully) not in college anymore, but I imagine that for conservative college students, the furtive, stolen conversations between Offred and Ofglen resemble their own hallway interactions – lest they be overheard espousing forbidden ideas and labeled a “racist,” “homophobe,” or “sexist.”
In The Handmaid’s Tale, we find out that the regime rounded up and disposed of college professors. Why? Because ideas are powerful. Language is powerful. And language is at the core of the threat posed by militant progressive elites. Words are now being policed, and anyone who dares to defy the political correctness “police” will pay a hefty price. People have lost their jobs, been expelled from school, and been publicly harassed for even alleged instances of this. What happened to the concept of protecting someone’s right to espouse their ideas at all costs – even those that you are opposed to – because yours could be the next to be suppressed?
“Now I am awake to the world. I was asleep before; that’s how we let it happen.” — Offred
In a moment of reflection Offred compares the gradual changes, the seemingly innocuous, even sensible “precautions” that the government took on the road to enacting martial law and creating “Gilead” to the way you boil a frog, gradually heating the water so it doesn’t realize that it is getting closer and closer to death. Perhaps this show will serve as a wake-up call to any and all who truly care about freedom of speech, thought and expression. For this is not a conservative cause or a liberal cause, it is an American cause, and one that we must all take up if we are to live freely.