It’s been a long time since I’ve written an opiniony blog but this is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about and have developed strong feelings about. It’s also probably not a coincidence that my uterus is doing a cleanse with all the bells and whistles which doesn’t normally happen because of my IUD and in the past I’d work out all my opinions on my uterus schedule. But that’s not important and it’s not necessary for anyone to know. But now you do. Spoilers(ish) but only if you haven’t watched any popular tv for 3 years.
To be straight up, I’ve only watched the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale and only stopped because I was busy and wanted postpone watching until I had the time to really watch. I’ve read 7-8 Margaret Atwood novels and am very familiar with the plot of The Handmaid’s Tale.
My problem with the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale stems from my overall problem with TV adaptations in general. Books progress through plots, climax, and end. You can literally feel the progression of a book as you turn pages and feel the imminent final chapters with your thumb. A book is a complete package. TV is not. TV is dynamic and responsive to viewership, and employs huge crews, writers, and actors who like having jobs and all that disincentivizes the show from ever ending, which pushes the writers to come up with new material that still must somehow fit the plot of the book.
The way writers have chosen to do this is to maximize shock and brutality. It’s clear in The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Orange is the New Black. Do you know what actually happens in the Orange is the New Black memoir written by Piper Kerman? She goes to prison, doesn’t like the food, meets a transwoman, and is out after like, 5 months and marries Larry who is actually a super good guy. Meanwhile in the show, sociopath guards are brutalizing helpless women, torturing them mentally and physically.
Although I haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale, I keep up enough to know what’s going on and it sounds like it’s going down a very similar path. Viewers are baited with a light at the end of the tunnel and ultimate redemption, but in the meantime the female characters are physically and mentally abused, raped, and tortured.
While some of this happens in the book, my concern is how common this is on TV, especially for female viewers. My larger concern is that these shows are blanketed with a feminist label so that people can forgive themselves by being entertained by it (even though Atwood has historically been unwilling to associate with a feminist label for her work.) I think that people want to believe they’re doing some good by participating in viewership because of the political and cultural themes and criticisms within the show, making watching itself a political action. I believe that this is false and makes people forget that this is entertainment written by people who need to turn a 311 page book into a multi-season program and need to keep upping the ante to maintain strong number and will do so at the expense of their female characters.
I had the same problem with Game of Thrones when they started to deviate from the book plots in order to stuff some extra seasons in there before George gets back to us with TWOW. I stopped watching for 3 years after the episode in which Sansa was raped because I could not longer reason with myself on why I would want to watch a show that is so gratuitous with violence against women, particularly when it does not further the plot.
My other concern (brought to my attention by this tweet) is that TV encourages viewers to empathize with the villains of the show, manipulating and manufacturing feelings in the viewers that they should not be made to feel. OITNB did this with Coates after he raped Doggett AND with Baxter Bailey after he killed Poussey. Writers are trying to create personal conflict for viewers and encourage them to sympathize with truly evil people. One could argue that viewers have the responsibility to challenge their own views but it ignores the question of why the writers want you to feel something for the villains in the first place.
Ultimately, I’m sick of shows using feminist language and marketing to get away with extreme and graphic violence towards women in entertainment. I think The Handmaid’s Tale could have made an excellent mini series if it had just stuck to the book, which is how I feel about most TV adaptations. I think American TV in general could benefit if shows had 3-4 seasons on average rather than 8+. Actually, I think all TV should be like Jane the Virgin which is the actual best feminist show on TV right now and is entering it’s fifth and final season this fall. It’s bright and original which allows the plots and drama to flow without emotionally exhausting the watcher. Can’t recommend it enough but I digress.
Of course would never judge anyone else for watching THT and am happy to entertain conversations about it, but THT, OITNB, and even Anne with an E are permanently off my “to watch” list. Women are brutalized enough in real life, I don’t need it in my living room.