Handmaid, Pt. II

It’s long, it’s messy, it’s long. My concluding remarks on America Now. Just sort of kidding. 

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from Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Elizabeth Moss as Offred/June

But what I wanted to talk about was Offred or June.

As I expected to hate her. I’m not a big Liz Moss fan. I had almost no liking at all for Peggy on Mad Men, found her annoyingly whiny and too much of a Mary Sue. Which was probably the writer’s doing that but still. And then episodes I did like her and then…it seesawed. But here. I find myself holding my breath on Offred’s fate from scene to scene and I read the damn book. Years ago!

Moss’s character provides the voiceovers. This is June’s tale. This is Offred’s tale.

Of-Fred. I had an actual OMG moment…I realized how those names were arrived at in episode one of this series.

I had either forgotten or not figured it out when I’d read the book and yes, seen the movie made of this, with Natasha Richardson as Offred and Robert Duvall as the commander. The real names of the handmaids are not used! They lose their identity! They get erased! OMG.

Yeah, then you realize…that’s what getting married does, or did. Still does. The wedding industry, after all, wields gigantic power as well as churning out gigantic profits. You, the girl in the marriage equation, erased your name and took on a new one. You have a maiden name.

Tee hee, how cute!

Handmaid’s tale doesn’t include any radically new way we’ve treated females in the course of history, does it?

Tangent. Back now. Offred. Oh.

Her voice is the voice we need. It is our rock, our anchor, in this batshit crazy Gilead, where everything is so stark and harsh and demarcated.

Commanders, the wives, the Marthas, the Eyes, the Aunts, the handmaids…it’s like a rancid layer cake. With the frosting tasting like blood, tears and shit. 

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from Nerd HQ. Making Gilead look nice for the Mexican visiting diplomat. 

June speaks of her days, the dread of that Ceremony, what her life was like before and what her life is like now. We see her oh so careful shuffling through her existence and hear her rebellious, fierce reaction to it all; her thoughts wrap around us like blankets of thorns. We grow uncomfortable. We become witnesses.

Witness to her daily degradations. Witness to the routines her life has become. Witness to Serena’s understandably abusive treatment of Offred/June. Witness to Fred’s pattern of flirting with handmaids too scared and broken at times not to play along with his obvious games.

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Joseph Fiennes as Commander Fred Waterford

Witness to her letting this fragile man win, witness to that ego stroking that most women on the planet have had to do…

Witness to her growing relationship with Nick, the driver, even though we know her husband is still yet alive.

Witness to her friendships with the other handmaids, which is fraught with suspicion and paranoia, as anyone could be a spy in this new reality and that spy could very well get you hanging from the wall down by the river, your body rotting away, some sign nearby stating your crime. We witness how nothing about Offred is important except her uterus.

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from Ms. Magazine. Note the gun-wielding guards…

Nothing else matters. She’s a womb on legs, as the show had one of the wives say. A womb on legs.

I don’t know if it was ever stated why the fertility rates had gone down. [America’s own birth rate has been down the last two years running, by the way…] Oh yes, it was attributed to pollution, for one. Ah. Mm. Do I even need to go there with the current administration? Do I?

The sequence involving Mexico.

Where the diplomat, a woman, refused to help Offred. Because Mexico wanted the breeding potential of the handmaids and was prepared to trade with Gilead to get fertile women…after Offred stood there and told this diplomat, a woman, the truth about her existence after having been forced to lie.

To a room full of people who clearly knew she lied and yet…it was all a show. A show with Offred forced to give a bravura performance or face dire consequences, more than she already endured.

I also wondered why this brand new spanking theocracy didn’t just use in vitro fertilization. Instead of that ghastly monthly rape ritual. No monthly rape ritual, the wives can have their husbands back and handmaids can still be bred like human cattle. And you can feed babies formula from the get go, so, really, no need at all of the vessels after they’d pushed out their sole purpose for being allowed to live at all. Sure, it’s not Biblical. Or whatever that reasoning would be. But why not use modern science and ancient patriarchal oppressive regime stuff in one horrid, lumpy lump?

Offred!

Offred and Nick, the Eye spy.

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from Owl TV. Max Minghella as Nick

Both are victims of this new, awful regime. Nick might seem freer, being, oh, a guy and everything but he’s really not. He’s walking a big tightrope here that could very well end up with him going splat. And by splat I mean being hung by the neck until dead in a very public way. Or shot. We find out he’s there to spy on Fred Waterford, and he admits to Offred that he’s an Eye. Yet, we also see that Nick has more than a professional interest in the oh so carefully controlled handmaid, who can’t quite yet hide how repulsive she finds this entire new system.

I find the characters of Nick and June to be those of survivors cast deep into a prison that can crush them at will at any time. Both driver and handmaid are, after all, interchangeable. Any fertile woman will do, any guy who can drive can sit in that front seat behind the wheel. They are not valuable or unique in Gilead, at all. They are bricks in the wall. Thank me later for that song going endlessly through your head.

Nick and Offred find ways to rebel. Their forbidden affair. It allows them a measure of illusion. A measure of control over their very much regulated and regimented lives. Nick doesn’t betray Waterford, as it would also get Offred taken away. It might also get him into deep doo doo as– why didn’t he report the commander’s behaviors IMMEDIATELY?

There’s no actual mercy for anyone in this world. You could be next in the public execution spectacle, no matter your rank. We see this, over and over and over.

And as the series moves relentlessly onward, we catch glimpses of Nick’s growing feelings for the newest handmaid in the Waterford’s lovely but prisonous abode. And Offred admits she goes to Nick’s room because it feels good.

This is sex she chooses to have. This is sex that’s not about filling her womb with some sort of sacred child. Even though their first time…was under Serena’s hard, watching eyes. As she arranged a far more likely fertile stud for the vessel of God living in her home. Nick’s body is also at the mercy and exploitation of this new order; what would be the consequences if he refused? And he can turn Serena in for this one, but then what? Mm.

Potency.

That manly ideal of rampaging, all-powerful stallion who can run everything all day and fuck everything that moves all night. That toxic notion seems to be rampant in this world.

The manly leaders, praised for their potency, are seldom actually fertile or even able to achieve an erection at times. But these men in charge must be praised incessantly for how potent and hard-dicked they are…while the handmaids are probably fertilized via doctors, drivers and whatever lower down stud the wives can arrange. Or perhaps a handmaid let a doctor or some other male other than their commander use them to get that much-lauded pregnancy up and running.

Again, it’s all about the Big Show here in Gilead.

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Ann Dowd’s Aunt Lydia amidst the rather theatrically clad Handmaids.

Where was I? Oh yes, Offred. I wanted to end this rather long take on a positive note, because America right now is a grim-seeming dystopia in the making.

SPOILER!!

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I find that last episode, where Offred says no to Aunt Lydia ordering Janine stoned by the other handmaids incredibly satisfying. Here is what I want the Resistance, that so-named movement against the Far Right Fuckery, to be like.

And of course win the day and turn everything back to what it once was. I am just as delusional as the next person, thanks.

I want that HEROINE TO RISE trope. I want it. I want it!

You shouldn’t have dressed us like an army…Offred thinks at us. And I go, FUCK YEAH, BABY!

We get to see the actions of a swelling opposition to Gilead’s draconian strangle-hold over its citizens. We see a small act of defiance. We see decency and humanity take forefront over conditioning and fear. We see that in June’s face, her wide blue eyes as clear as open skies full of freedom, hope and strength. Those stones dropping from hands is the act of revolutionaries being born.

Do You Hear the People Sing, from Les Miserables, should be playing in the background!

We get an actual HELL YEAH GIRLFRIEND moment in Moira’s hand wiping the snow from a license plate. We rejoice in June telling off Serena after Serena’s savage tactic in trying to make sure Offred knows her place and her only value. When Serena offers proof positive Offred’s child is yet alive and then threatening that child in bald terms if Offred doesn’t deliver the baby Serena so desperately needs to keep her high status. 

And yet…!!

I haven’t seen the second series yet. I hear it’s…grim. I hear it doesn’t go the way I want it to go…where Gilead gets overturned and it’s all happy ever after, of course.

I find I want my television to not reflect reality. At all. Because. It’s unbearable. It hurts. Because I am being made to feel just as helpless and corralled as Offred, Ofwarren and Ofglen.

Which is probably just me identifying too much with fictional characters created by a writer writing during the big bad Eighties.

Until I look at how others react to Handmaid’s Tale.

And it seems everyone else, oh tee hee, feels much as I do. That it’s a timely series that has arrived just when it needed to.

As All in the Family allowed American audiences to become a bit uncomfortable over accepted norms that were racist, sexist and usually pretty awful…so does  the Handmaid’s Tale allow the audience to see what happens when you allow a religion to take over so completely and impose their set of rules and regulations. We can all agree such a society is bad.

And yet…in real life, people vote for the very thing they find off-putting, bad or evil in a television series.

Restricting or outlawing abortion access.

Going after the poor, the elderly and the disabled.

Going after the LGTBQ community– see Kansas and Oklahoma.

Religious freedom laws.

Oh there are now a plethora of shitlaws that attempt to turn back time. To some time that never really existed, at that. That’s not new or prophetic or original at all.

We here in America have seen this attempt for, well, years now. When the Far Right embraced the Evangelicals way back during Jimmy Carter facing off against the juggernaut that was Ronald Reagan. The Family Values party, one of the more cynical names ever invented by smirking Jesus-shouters ever. In my humble opinion, at least.

The religious righties coldly stepped back, assessed both candidates and put their support with the divorced Hollywood jelly-brained bean, rather than the actual Christian who, to this day, practices his Christianity in open, gentle ways.

It’s about power, as it always was, and not any sort of love for a god or need to see people treated well, fairly and as equals under the law.

It’s about power and that’s what the Handmaid’s Tale gets so frighteningly right. I have to go watch puppies doing cute things now while I’m still allowed access to the internet. Small joke. Tiny one.

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Hunter S. Thompson
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from PetMd. Puppies!

 

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Alice of Oregonlandia

 

So, I’m working on a a sequel to a novel I just finished in December.  Which might be coming out soon, I never know these days. How’s that for vague?? I have about twenty five thousand words for Alice. No idea where it’s going. But it seems to want to go and drag me along behind it. Hurry up hurry up!  So that’s either a good sign or I’m going insane in the membrane. And then I look up and notice my country [the United States of Pre-Civil War II A’Brewin] seems to be exploding in all directions as hard and fast as possible, so I dive  back into my scribbling foray and head off, again, to the shining city on the hill Eighties of Herr Reagan, Dirty Dancing and small town politics. Oh and ghosts, because I’m supposed to be writing about scary things but can’t seem to write anything scarier than the rapid decline of Not-Canada.

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[This is from a protest against the ‘temporary’, did we get a time limit on this ‘temporary’? ban on people coming from several Middle Eastern countries. Here’s the New York Times article on that: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/refugees-detained-at-us-airports-prompting-legal-challenges-to-trumps-immigration-order.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0 ]

See what I mean? And you wonder why other people are defending this who had relatives who came here or who themselves are refugees or recent immigrants or…and then you realize people can justify anything if they try hard enough and want it to be true. Which gives you a case of the cold dead shivers. And makes you want to watch Pixar movies and just wait for the end of it all. So!! Ahem.

I’ll put a bit of Alice in Oregonlandia here, because I’m a shameless huckster now of my own writing, bwha ha ha, ahem, and you can judge me on a first draft effort. Yah? 

  “Because. Mr. Blue is visiting again.”

    My stomach dropped, my skin went cold, I bit my lower lip so hard I nearly severed it. I tasted blood. “Are you shitting me? Why? He always loses when he takes on my mom. Always.” I knew he was about again, but it hadn’t yet been confirmed. That’s why I’d wanted to go to the house and see for myself. Maybe I should call off our Saturday Night Adventure.

     “Maybe he wants his slick girlhog.” Mr. Peepers actually said to me. “Maybe he’s sitting there like a patient toad for a particular slick girlhog.” Those obsidian eyes regarded me moistly. The little gross thing actually did actually love me. And, I was not going to let Mr. Blue scare me. My mom had kicked his ass to the curb, twice now. Didn’t he know to stay away?

     “Oh please, ” I replied, shooing him off my bed so I could sit. He went reluctantly, those little strange feet slapping down, slapping down. Lysette curled up into a little ball of arms and legs. “I’ve seen the horror movies, you freak. Don’t go in the house! And then they go into the house! This is real life, fruitcake. Real life. He’s afraid of girls. I’m supposed to ignore that, Peepers, old friend, ole pal?” I tried to sound tough, to sound smooth and tough and fearless. Because I did not want to go visit that burned down childhood home of mine now. At all. But pride. Pride, man, it’s a bitchkitty.

     Mr. Peepers went to our closet. Lysette and I shared everything, after all. He gave me a look from those awful black eyes of his. Sometimes they had little orange dots in them, as if his eyes were on fire. “That’s what he wants, Missie Alice. He’ll come sniffing out the holes in this house now…JUST YOU WAIT.” The traveler laughed and laughed, slapped his droopy little potbelly and then stalked off into the closet. He had a nest in that house on Clark Boulevard. Where he kept a deck of cards, some socks and other things I made myself forget as soon as he told me. I just like cards, they’re small and slick and pretty, he had admitted one night. I’d wait until mom and my dad were well and truly asleep, not fighting or anything else…and then get up out of bed or off the couch. And play Old Maid with Mr. Peepers or hear stories from the little girls. Rosiecheeks had one story she told–a version of Little Red Riding Hood, where the little girl doesn’t win. The other little girl in that house liked to talk about her doll and the doll’s tongue would come out and try to touch my face. It became a game to not let that tongue touch me. Dirt, what she called herself as she didn’t remember her name at all, would just smile and smile as her doll’s head tried to lick my cheek. It’s not much fun over here, she would complain. It’s not much fun at all. Sometimes the little boys would show themselves, if they weren’t too busy stomping from the back door to mom’s room, over and over. They thought that so funny. Especially if they could get her to wake up and check on the noise.

     But where do you go? I asked Rosiecheeks that once or twice. She didn’t know. Or she didn’t want to tell me. Or she couldn’t tell me. Then, to distract me, she’d go into her version of Little Red Riding Hood, where the little girl dies and no one comes to save her. The wolf licked her blood off the walls and Little Red Riding Hood watched this as she died. That’s where it ended. Every time. The story always started with: A bad little girl in a bright red cloak walked into the forest.

     Why didn’t that little cloaked brat save herself? I never thought to ask that. A wolf is just a big dog. Pick up a stick, fight back.

 

 

Marching Marching Marching

So, today, January 21, 2017, women and men around the world marched. They marched against an orange little man who would be king. They marched against the rolling back of rights so already hard-won and hard-fought by our great-grandmothers, our grandmothers, our mothers. By our great-grandfathers, our grandfathers, our fathers. By people. People, rather like today, who stepped out and kept stepping, kept stepping.

There is a collective amnesia going on, as well. Why are all those women marching, some ask, with a laugh, a shrug. Women already have a bunch of rights. What rights are they losing? LOL, those dumb women, they should stop playing the victim card. They should calm down. Who knew there were so many ugly women unable to get a date on a Friday night? What about men’s rights? What about the pro-life women or the pre-born women?[Yes, I saw that written all over today and yesterday–” the rights of the pre-born women, what about those rights?” Sometimes I think I’m living in some absurd Beckett play or Orwell is playing  mad prank on us from beyond the grave…]

And so many others eye-rolling and snorting at people marching against such a perceived threat to America, to the world. A man who has said, openly, that he grabs pussies, that he kisses women whether they want it or not. That Mexicans are rapists, that Muslims should be registered, that…oh there’s a list. Others have compiled very detailed and awful lists of what this orange man has said. Who then turned around and denied saying it or had his minions say he never said such and such. That this was what he actually meant. To not pay attention to his words, as Kellyanne Conway said, but to feel what he has in his heart. Something like that, some apologetic impossibility we’re supposed to swallow, swallow, swallow.

And the racists that came out of not really hiding at all. They’ve never really hidden, come on. Come on, America. They’ve squatted in plain sight, waiting for their moment. And with Queen Cheeto, they got it. David Duke celebrating openly and gleefully. Cheeto did not denounce him openly or viciously…if he did, it came far too late. Richard Spencer being punched, an openly open about it NeoNazi. Steve Bannon. Breitbart “News”. Oh fuck, there’s a list, a list of white supremacists with access to the POTUS. We’ve been invaded by Hyrda  and people are celebrating MAGA by excluding nearly all the citizens in the USA…The White House site was suspiciously scrubbed of climate change information, LGTB rights pages, healthcare [ACA], civil rights…America First, which was the rallying cry of antisemite Nazi sympathizers right before WWII. Which Bannon, who wrote that Bane-esque speech KNEW VERY WELL. Stephen Miller helped. White males suddenly felt they had a voice again! I just…I just splutter between laughing and weeping, a sort of strangled coughing comes out.

But.

I saw a woman post a very long, obviously copied and borrowed from somewhere else, screed on how real women don’t complain or march or speak out or cause problems or rumble or notice much at all, apparently. Because we already have all the rights, we women, so why are SOME WOMEN being so silly and saying we don’t when Queen Cheeto– I will never call that thing by its name, it’s childish, but hey– hasn’t even done anything yet and hey, he had a woman run his campaign and he…oh there was this indignant little list of how great Queen Cheeto was and how inclusive he was of women and so forth.

And my reaction to that? Mm. Yeah, except all those rights you listed– to have a job, your own bank account, work outside the home, go to school, earn your own money and buy stuff like houses and land and big ticket items, vote, have a voice in elections at all…ALL CAME FROM WOMEN AND MEN MARCHING, SPEAKING OUT AND TRYING TO CHANGE THINGS. Like, oh, they are now. In Los Angeles and Chicago and Portland and Boise and Seattle and Atlanta and New York City and Paris, France and London, England and…all over the world. As someone pointed out, they haven’t seen marches and outcries and such like this since the days of Vietnam. A lot of women seem really embarrassed by this attention other women are yanking toward us as a sex. That’s fine. But we need to remember that our present-day rights are very fragile and can be yanked away and will be yanked away if we are not vigilant. We take them for granted. We don’t remember that we’ve only been voting since 1920 or so. That it was illegal in the sixties to get birth control if you were single. That sexual harassment was okay until almost 1980. That a woman couldn’t have her own bank account, in her name only, until the mid to late seventies. That spousal rape was okay until the 1990’s. Look it up. Obtaining a divorce. Being allowed to keep working after getting married. Abortion rights. The right to have a say over your own body. Barriers in sports, in education, in male-dominated fields…all shattered by women willing to speak up, out and make a fool of themselves if they had to.

These things, banking, voting, birth control, abortion, career, education, holding public office, driving,  and other things!!  were all fought bitterly over [they still are] and if we little ole gals ain’t careful, will be rescinded as neatly and surgically as possible for ‘our own good’. So that women ‘are protected’. So that we women ‘are safe’. Oh the buzzwords and comforting chains offered!

Oh and it’s okay to march if we’re pretty or in some way acceptable, of course. [Note the language cast toward the marchers– ugly bitches, cunts, loud-mouthed twats, dykes, lesbos, professional victims, whiny bloodbags, must all be on the rag, etc. etc.] Language meant to demean, cut down, shame women for wanting anything other than what we’re told we should want. Or that we, allegedly, already have. [And that we should forget how hard-fought those earlier fights had to be to even get a foothold in the door, as it were. Not a few days, but hundreds of years, if not thousands, for women to be treated as human beings. Or…as men get treated without a second thought from anyone.]

I am so glad to see such an outcry. That our great republic is not dead yet nor is decency, compassion and outrage against injustices great or small. I am glad that passion still exists to try and change a wrong. Change is painful and comes at a cost. We’ve forgotten the cost our great-grandmothers and strangers alike paid so long ago. We don’t learn from history. We have to learn the same painful lessons over and over. Those rights we take for granted and get complacent about or ignorant as to just how and why we have those rights today…can be snatched away by pussy-grabbing king wannabes, by dead-eyed zealots who want their version of a murderous, awful god to be our god, too…and they’ll do it to Make America Great Again and make us thank them, on our knees, telling them how great they are, how great they are, how great, how great.

Loyalty was demanded by Queen of the Cheetos. Loyalty. Like I and other Americans are dogs, not citizens.  Fuck you. That’s my answer. Because I live in a society that might wince at my use of a cuss word [ladies shouldn’t cuss, right?] but still appreciates a show of resistance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here in Gracias, Lempira, Honduras

 

 

Hi. Hi, Honduras.

It’s hot here. There are giant cockroaches. And geckos call for mates from my ceiling. Chickens wander by in the early morning cool, peer at me as I peer at them. Wasps buzz against the screened windows, but they seem oddly gentle, not the aggressive American wasps that like to sting and sting, then come back and sting you again. Black wasps that just mind their own beeswax. The road in front of my small pink house is rutted, rocky, a dirt road. A man parks his moto right in front of my door each night– a little three-wheeled vehicle that you can hire to take you from here to there for about ten ‘ limps ‘ as the teacher from Kansas calls Honduran money.

They have the same motos in Bangkok– called tuk-tuks.

Today I will try and buy some fruit, fresh veggies and rice. Possibly get some more dry erase markers for teaching. Practice my bad Spanish on the tolerant people who live here.

It’s quite peaceful here. There are military police everywhere, but that’s apparently common. They walk around in their camo and guns– giant machine gun-looking weapons hanging from straps over their chests. I am not used to seeing military personal walking around as if they are in a war zone.

The teachers at the school are all younger than I am. So I won’t go into that here. But I am old and well seasoned, like leftovers. And they are fresh and green, like a cup of flour not yet mixed into cookie dough.

I’ll leave it there and expand this a bit later.

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