The media message is Hulu’s 2017 adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, a near-future dystopia where women are forced into reproductive slavery to bear the children of the elite, The Handmaid’s Tale is transmitted through the medium of television and online streaming. The network Hulu is the sender of this message while the directors, writers, producers, and actors also assist to create this message so it can be transmitted through the medium of TV. The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale was broadcast in Australia on the 6th of July 2017 through SBS’s streaming service, three months after its debut in America. Due to its overwhelming popularity in the US, The Handmaid’s Tale quickly became highly anticipated, breaking streaming records on SBS on-demand. The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale is a culturally significant media message as it focuses on women’s rights and political extremism major topics that are relevant in society today.
The Handmaids Tale was originally published as a book by Margaret Atwood in 1985, and has received many accolades such as the Arthur C. Clarke Award. The book was then adapted into a film in 1990 directed by Volker Schlondorff and then into an opera by Poul Ruders in 2000. The Handmaid’s Tale has now gone into its third adaption and has become an even greater success all over the world. It is uncommon for a work to be revived almost every decade, yet the Handmaid’s Tale longevity reflects its continued relevance in society.
Margaret Atwood, when writing the Handmaid’s Tale was careful to include ‘nothing that did not have a historical antecedent or a modern point of comparison’ (Mead, 2017). Because of Atwoods intent of only using events that had already occurred, ‘the idea that an extreme system such as Gilead’s could never happen in a developed, contemporary society loses credibility’ (Redder, 2017).
The Handmaid’s Tale ‘finds its relevance in today’s resurgence of efforts to control or limit women’s reproductive rights and freedom’ (Saranya, 2019). There are many injustices perpetrated by Gilead, and a central theme in the show is women’s reproductive rights. In Gilead women have strict roles in society, women of a healthy reproductive age are enslaved to elite couples who are unable to conceive to bear their children. Once the healthy babies are born, the babies are taken from the handmaid’s and raised by the wives of the men who the handmaid’s are systematically raped by.
Although the story is fiction the ‘underlying themes will be very familiar to women and girls around the world’ (Samarasekera, 2015). Its worth remembering that similar practices of taking children from their mothers, occurred in many wester nations just a few decades ago. In australia as recent as the seventies, indigenous children were stole from their homes and fostered out to white families or placed in religious institutions. (Dray, 2019)
‘The handmaid’s tale has become a popular culture symbol for resistance, as fans have linked the series’ fictionalized dystopian society to the very real onslaught of women’s reproductive rights in policymaking’ (Marghitu, 2018). Reproductive rights is something women around the worls are still fighting for today, this is seen in america where the government has repealed the female-centric affordable care act and funding to planned parenthood has been cut. Also in Australia, in some states, it is still a criminal offence for women to access abortions.
The series also shows the objectification of women, through the commanders wife Serena Joy. Towards the end of the season we come to know that Serena is the main creator of the reigeme, she wrote the books and is the brains behind her husbands rise to power. The show captures Serenas downfall from an Interllectual and influential women to a wife who is only their to represent her husbands status (Redder, 2017).
Hulus the Handmaid’s Tale, presents the subject of women’s rights where the identity of women has been taken away. Eradicating people’s identity is an effective way of controlling people and populations, and in the Handmaid’s Tale women are denied their identity. Women are stripped of their identity after having their names taken from them and then renamed after the commander whose house she is stationed at, she must then only be known as his name. This new name ‘signifies her submissive position in the social order… no longer a person but a biological offering’ (Gibson, 2018) the women’s humanity is then reduced to her reproductive ability. This idea of stripping people of their identity is not science fiction, Nazi Germany eradicated the identity of Jewish people by labelling them with a yellow star and then tattooing numbers on their arms. In modern day Australia, there have been reports of officers calling asylum seekers as young as twelve by boat ID numbers instead of their name (Gibson, 2018).
In modern society, there are many populist far-right movements gaining momentum around the world, due to the ‘disenchantment with liberal values that have failed to deliver equal opportunity’ (Gibson, 2018). These far-right movements rise to power through inciting fear and hatred about issues like overpopulation, competiton for jobs, the LGBTI community and immigrants. In the Handmaid’s tale marginalized groups are either publicly killed or sent to the ‘colonies’ where they will die from radioactive poisoning. This process of ‘social cleansing’ involves eradicating the ‘unwomen’ and ‘unmen’ – lesbians, gay men, feminists and doctors who perform abortions – while preserving fertile women and heterosexual men (Gibson, 2018).
The handmaid’s tale also finds itself in popular culture as Women have been seen at womens rights protests wearing the distinctive red robe and white bonnet, the handmaid’s uniform. Women have also been seen with signs saying ‘make atwood fiction again’ at protests and rallies around the world. Signifying the reach the message of the show has had to women across the world.
The Handmaid’s Tale is a cautionary message concerning real-world regimes rising from the ashes of failed democracies. It encourages us to reflect upon the advancements made in the area of human rights and to wrestle with our own complicity, beliefs and power structures that make this kind of exploitation seem possible, and as noted by hilary Clinton in her presidential campaign “I am not saying this dystopian future is around the corner, but this show has prompted important conversations about women’s rights and autonomy” (Serrao, 2017). The reason the Handmaid’s Tale has such a significant media message is because the misogyny that is in the core of the story is still right here with us today.