The Handmaid’s Tale: Gender, Genre, Adaptation
A two-day symposium
Charles Hastings Building
University of Worcester
30 September – 1 October 2017
Saturday, 30 September, Charles Hastings Building, Room 2003
09:30 – 10:00: Welcome
10:00 – 12:00: Panel 1: TV Studies, Chair:
Julia Havas, “’See Netflix? We have one too!’: Identity Politics as Branding Strategy in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale”
Scott Henderson, “Feminism Meets Neo-Liberalism: The Complex Quality Television Narratives of Top of the Lake and The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Chloe Harrison, “Reading Offred on Screen: A Cognitive Stylistic and Multimodal Analysis of Hulu’s Adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale.
12:00 – 13:00: Lunch
13:00 – 15:00: Panel 2: Sound & Language, Chair:
Leanne Weston, “Sound Affects: Music and Meaning in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Deirdre Flynn, “’… and I did not speak out’: The Importance of Silence in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Silvia Storti, “The Re(d)Dress of Thought: Language in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
15:00 – 15:30: Coffee Break
15:30 – 17:30: Panel 3: Adaptation
David Sweeney, “’I wish this story were different. I wish it were more civilized’: A Comparative Analysis of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Ballad of Halo Jones”.
Gil Jamieson, “’Maybe boredom is erotic’: The Portrayal of Sex in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Donna Peberdy, “’You can’t help what you feel, but you can help how you behave’: Sex, Performance and Touch in The Handmaid’s Tale”
Sunday, 1 October, Charles Hastings Building G009
10:00 – 12:00: Panel 4: Race
Indiana Seresin, “Red, White, and Black: The Handmaid’s Tale as Aesthetic Fantasy”.
Meghan Gilbert-Hickey, “Nostalgia, Colorblindness, and the Idealized Mother in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale”.
Miranda Green-Barteet, “Power & Race: Colorblind Ideology in The Handmaid’s Tale”.
12:00 – 13:00: Lunch
13:00 – 15:00: Panel 5: Alternative Approaches
Pamela Flanagan, “The Handmaid’s Tale: The Subtlety of Gender in the Interior”.
Gaurika Kapoor, “[Awaiting title]”
15:00 – 15:30: Coffee Break
15:30 – 17:30: Panel 6: Politics
Kirsten Stoddart, “The Thin Red Veil: The Handmaid’s Tale as a call-to-arms by Women Writers”.
Linnie Blake, “A Bourgeois Liberal Paradise Lost: The Handmaid’s Tale”.
Linnie Blake, “A Bourgeois Liberal Paradise Lost: The Handmaid’s Tale”.
Since its broadcast, Hulu’s ten-part series The Handmaid’s Tale, has prompted furious debate in the media (from the pages of international broadsheets to Twitter) that has echoed contemporary divisions in United States society in the months following the election of Donald Trump. For whilst liberals, ostensibly committed to tolerance, social justice and human rights (including women’s reproductive rights) have raged against the President’s hostility to same, the conservative lobby have sneered at the series’ ‘fake news’: there being ‘no faker news than the notion that America is on the precipice of a Puritan patriarchy under President Donald Trump.’ And whilst some commentators, following Atwood, have nuanced such readings with reference to totalitarian regimes, from the Soviet Bloc to contemporary Islamist theocracies, the readings of the series I have read have singularly failed to proffer a radical critique of United States itself, specifically the escalating inequalities of the last thirty years at the hands of neoliberal capitalism.
Across the series, in other words, frequent wistful flashbacks return us to a paradisiac world in which our middle-class white heroine was blessed to possess a white collar job in the arts, an apartment and a car. Like the target audience, she is socially liberal (her partner and best friend are black – the latter a lesbian – and her child is of mixed heritage). She is not affluent but neither is she poor and she inhabits a United States in which there is no evidence of the ongoing oppression, economic marginalization and material deprivation of entire groups (such as the African American population or working class inhabitants of the post-industrial belt) or the catastrophic exportation of freedom American-style at the hands of its neo-imperialistic war machine. It is an exercise, I will argue, in the ongoing naturalization of the neoliberal status quo whereby any alternative is viewed as either impossibly idealistic (witness Bernie Sanders) or potentially cataclysmic (witness Gilead).
Pamela Flanagan, “The Handmaid’s Tale: The Subtlety of Gender in the Interior”.
The adaption of a favourite novel onto the small screen is often met with trepidation and excitement, none more so than Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. How can this dystopian world translate from our imaginations to resonate into a shared aesthetic interpretation of the world inhabited by the citizens of The Republic of Gilead?
The paper will focus on the representation of the interiors of Hulu’s TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale where a synthesis of historical interior styles create backdrops that are layered with inherent tension and meaning. The narrative occupies a peculiar and confusing time warp of a by-gone era located in the near future leaving the viewer historically disorientated. The threshold of the home as a symbol of a safe boundary is challenged through the controlled domestic world with rooms becoming holding chambers for the next ominous ritual. The interiors the women, both Handmaids and Wives, encounter represent a system of patriarchal controls and checks within the domestic and public spaces they occupy.
The hierarchy of the inhabitants of the house is represented through the decoration and furnishings of the rooms; the grandiose ornate Master bedroom in contrast to the Maid’s room that is devoid of any sense of intimacy conveying the erosion of identity through the austere decor. Through an analysis of the interiors I will seek to dissect the subtlety of the room sets and their meaning through the observation of space and social relations. The rooms within the home become contested spaces and characters of contradiction manifesting in the spatial choreography and occupation, decoration, materiality and colour palettes of the interior composition.
Deirdre Flynn, “’… and I did not speak out’: the importance of silence in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Each week the importance of silence is highlighted in The Handmaid’s Tale. Speaking up, and staying quiet are all vital to the success of Gilead. Enforcing, and using, silence gives the regime a power, and helps them to maintain that dominance. Like Pastor Niemöller’s speech, there is no one left to speak for June and in the end she must speak for herself. However, making the choice to speak is precarious, and June must choose where and when to break her silence carefully.
In episode 4, 5 & 6 speaking out, or remaining silent plays an important role in establishing and maintaining the power of Gilead. The directors of these episodes have both chosen to highlight silence through the characters of Luke, Emily (ofStephen) and June (ofGlen).
This paper will focus on four specific scenes from these three episodes and the role silence plays in the expansion of Gilead.
It also highlights how the medium of TV allows for a deeper and different analysis how the role of silence helps to maintain the authority and control of oppressive regimes. In comparison to the novel, silence, or the absence of speech can be much more powerful on screen. In the TV adaptation characters speak much more than in the novel, so therefore we need to pay attention when they are silent.
Meghan Gilbert-Hickey, “Nostalgia, Colorblindness, and the Idealized Mother in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale”
Intersectional dystopian fiction and films push boundaries and interrogate both the vexed present and future potentialities. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) argues for women’s reproductive freedom; however, the novel simultaneously demonstrates nostalgia for the essentialized primacy of motherhood. The most dystopian aspect of protagonist Offred’s incredibly dystopian existence is that her young daughter was forcibly taken from her. Likewise, Serena Joy and other wealthy but barren wives (all of whom are white) so desperately yearn for children that they participate in the enslavement of reproductive women like Offred. In this novel, the longing for the essentialized mother/child bond is central to the text. However, Atwood doesn’t ask the reader to interrogate the impulse: while the loss of reproductive autonomy is positioned as a key component of the classed, misogynist dystopia, the nostalgia for essentialized motherhood—idealized white, middle class maternity, in which mothers bake bread, save locks of hair, and serve meals in bed to ailing children (47, 64, 109)—remains relatively uninterrogated, as it is exhibited by women in each class and position.
Hulu’s 2017 series adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale gestures toward complicating the novel’s stance on classed white maternity by presenting a racially diverse cast. However, it fails to account for the racialized lived experiences of its black and brown characters. In operating within the framework of colorblindness and simultaneously assuming racialized tropes of womanhood, it unconsciously reproduces structural racism, particularly regarding idealized motherhood. The proposed paper will use race as a lens through which to examine maternity in the miniseries and to argue that, more than 35 years after The Handmaid’s Tale was published, Western beliefs and assumptions about intersectional motherhood have progressed little.
Miranda A. Green-Barteet, “Power and Race: Colorblind Ideology in The Handmaid’s Tale”
Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale recently has been adapted into critically acclaimed television series. The series both faithfully portrays the events of Atwood’s novel while developing new story lines and characters. The series, however, differs in a key way from the book: the series relies on a diverse cast, implying that Gilead is welcoming of racial and ethnical diversity, whereas the novel envisions Gilead as a white supremacist nation. In fact, Atwood mentions people of color only once in the novel, stating that “the Children of Ham,” a term historically used to describe individuals of African descent, have been resettled to the Dakotas (Atwood 14). In forcibly removing African Americans out of Gilead, Atwood alludes to numerous 19th-century events that attempted to secure the racial purity of the United States, including American Colonization Society and Cherokee Removal. Atwood thus draws on historical precedent for establishing a white supremacist nation, even as she elides the experiences of people of color, particularly the violence endured by enslaved African American women, in other ways. In contrast, the series ignores race altogether, implicitly suggesting that employing a diverse cast ensures that Gilead is not racist.
In this paper, I examine the series’ colorblind ideology, specifically interrogating the claims of Bruce Miller, the series’ creator. In various interviews, Miller has explained the foregrounding the book’s focus on fertility, arguing that fertility was more important than allusions to white supremacy. He explains the decision by stating, “what’s the difference between making a TV show about racists and making a racist TV show?” (TV Line). While this question is valid, it contradicts a salient fact of the show: race is never mentioned. In creating a colorblind Gilead, Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale suggests that we exist in a post-racial society, one in which race no longer matters and all women, regardless of race, are oppressed equally. The series then misses a unique opportunity to challenge racial power dynamics in the U.S. by considering the ways in which people of color have been—and continue to be—used in the service of shoring up a white supremacist society.
Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Press, 1998.
Mitovich, Matt. “Handmaid’s Tale Series EP Explains Removal of White Supremacy.”
TV Line, 7 Jan. 2017, http://tvline.com/2017/01/07/the-handmaids-tale-hulu- series-black-moira/, accessed 13 Jun. 2017.
Chloe Harrison, “Reading Offred on Screen”: A Cognitive Stylistic and Multimodal Analysis of Hulu’s Adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale”.
Stylistics is the study of linguistic patterns in texts; the exploration and consideration of the relationship between linguistic choice and literary interpretation. At the core of stylistics is the idea that language choices directly impact upon the way that readers perceive and understand what they read. Recently, stylistics has taken a cognitive turn, and ‘cognitive stylistics’ has emerged as a progressive field of research that offers a renewed focus on readerly or audience interpretation by drawing on ideas from cognitive science, cognitive psychology and cognitive linguistics (Stockwell 2002). Although these cognitive linguistic concepts are being applied in the investigation of literary texts, their application to TV, film and screen has been more limited, as stylisticians are instead favouring frameworks from pragmatics and sociolinguistics for such analyses (Toolan 2014: 459).
This study aims to address this gap, while following the methodology outlined by McIntyre (2008). In his paper on ‘Integrating multimodal analysis and the stylistics of drama’, McIntyre identifies the benefits of Kress and van Leeuwen’s ground-breaking (1996) Grammar of Visual Design framework, but suggests that a study of both multimodal and linguistic choices – and the connections between the two – works more holistically to account for the stylistic structures of film, drama and TV.
Drawing on a range of data from across The Handmaid’s Tale series adaptation, including voiceover transcripts and key scenes and sequences, this study provides a combined multimodal and cognitive stylistic analysis in order to explore exactly how viewers are positioned in relation to Offred’s perspective, and, consequently, how they are invited to experience and conceptualise her world-view. In particular, this study considers thematic representations of constraint and restraint, and how an audience experiences both limited and comparatively more unrestricted focalisations throughout the narrative.
Kress, G. and van Leeuwen, T. (1996) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge.
McIntyre, D. (2008) Integrating multimodal analysis and the stylistics of drama: A multimodal perspective on Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Language and Literature 17 (4): 309–334.
Stockwell, P. (2002) Cognitive Poetics: An Introduction. London: Routledge.
Toolan, M. (2014) Stylistics and film. In M. Burke (ed) The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics. London: Routledge, pp. 455–470.
Julia Havas, “’See Netflix? We have one too!’: Identity politics as branding strategy in Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale”
The massive popular and critical success of Netflix’s flagship series Orange Is the New Black (2013-) has positioned the company in American cultural imagination not only as a reformer of television culture but also as a nurturer of socially conscious and politically driven original programming. A lively academic debate has emerged around the phenomenon engaging with the repercussions of the series’ and Netflix’s strategic mobilisation of identity politics, from textual analysis (McHugh 2015) to the company’s contradictory promotional campaigns around the series (DeCarvalho and Cox 2016) to the ways in which the programme taps into discourses around race as a claim to brand “authenticity” (Farr 2016). Unsurprisingly, this primary feature of the “Netflix effect” (Matrix 2014, McDonald and Smith-Rowsey 2016) has influenced competing streaming platforms Amazon Prime and Hulu’s development of their own original content, in that discourses of identity politics play a crucial role in the production and promotion of their respective prestige serial programming.
This paper investigates how Hulu’s commissioning and launch of The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-) is governed by efforts to emulate Netflix’s success with Orange, also considering that the company at the same time strives to differentiate its brand from the rival’s on the online streaming market. I examine promotional and paratextual material, distribution methods, genre and textual features, and the series’ popular reception to trace these parallel processes of emulation and differentiation. As I argue, the prominence of gender politics and especially the transparent evocation of the Trump administration’s cultural and political atmosphere both help maintain the series’ novelty value in the “Peak TV” era, while also aligning it with digital television’s existing marketing strategies.
Scott Henderson, “Feminism meets Neo-Liberalism: The complex quality television narratives of Top of the Lake and The Handmaid’s Tale”
The central thematic concerns of The Handmaid’s Tale, both the Atwood novel, and the recent television adaptation, are made very clear. Certainly, the critique of patriarchal capitalism has led to much of the popular response to the recent series as representing a rebuke to the Trump/Pence administration, despite the production preceding this era, and the source material’s development three decades earlier. This possible ease of reading does not make the show any less potent in its message, nor any less correct about the issues it raises. It does however point to the potential limitations within quality television and its function within a neo-liberal era. The on-demand nature of streaming services seems itself to be an inherently neo-liberal product, where the individual consumer is given far greater control of their choices and of their viewing experience. It is, in essence, a product of the precise system that The Handmaid’s Tale critiques.
In this paper, I wish to contrast the ways in which Top of the Lake and The Handmaid’s Tale employ the structures and expectations of ‘quality television’. Where The Handmaid’s Tale adheres to these expectations, Top of the Lake challenges them and offers a critique of ‘quality television’ and the broader neo-liberal culture of which it is part. It is not a big leap to consider ‘quality tv’ as another form of patriarchal discourse. Aniko Imre makes this point in addressing the rise of quality television. She aligns this rise with the emergence of neoliberalism in the 1980s: “The subsequent depoliticization of feminism has been fostered by its popular co-optation into consumer culture, much of which has taken place on and through television. This points to a more profound connection between postconvergence television and postfeminist culture.” The switch to quality tv is a means of “disavowing television’s feminine melodramatic aesthetic”.
In contrasting Top of the Lake and The Handmaid’s Tale I want to explore the relation between form and content and consider whether a truly feminist tale can be told via this emerging dominant mode of narrative television.
Gill Jamieson, “’Maybe boredom is erotic’: the portrayal of sex in The Handmaid’s Tale”
In his introduction to The Handmaid’s Tale, Harold Bloom describes it as a ‘Gothic dystopia’ and a ‘salutary warning to keep our Puritanism mostly in the past’. The institutionalisation of sex and the elimination of pleasure from the sex act through the carefully choreographed state-sanctioned monthly ritual of the Ceremony resonate on multiple levels in ways that go beyond the purely procreative. Fundamentally, the Ceremony enacts a form of domestic violence (rape, with the collusion of the wife in restraining the victim), a public act of humiliation without any semblance of intimacy or eroticism. In many respects, the television adaptation of these scenes could be considered a triumph, eschewing the titillation and dubious representation of sexual violence that often blights television dramatizations. However, despite the critical acclaim, Emily Nussbaum’s review of the series in The New Yorker (22 May, 2017) ominously observes:
A television show, especially one that intends to run many seasons, can’t bore. And so, inevitably, the stakes are raised. The characters of Serena Joy and the Commander are played by sexy actors, expanding the potential for love triangles.
Nussbaum could well be right: the ‘sexing up’ of the material either through casting or the choreography of the sex scenes to build tension, apprehension and anticipation in the audience, is a familiar problem faced through the adaptation process. Arguably, there is even more at stake in adaptations of The Handmaid’s Tale as the narrative positions sex at the heart of the political allegory: avoiding a treatment that sensationalizes the material is desirable but not necessarily inevitable. This paper will therefore explore the portrayal of sex in the television dramatization of Atwood’s novel to ascertain the extent to which the portrayal compromises the moral framework of the novel: can television eschew populism and the desire for a gripping story to effectively convey the subversiveness of the novel?
In response to the rise of right wing politics and the subsequent chipping away of women’s (reproductive and other) rights, feminism has recently regained a new type of mass popularity. Social media has given it a platform which is far-reaching and instantaneous, leading to a calling out culture where ignorance is not an excuse and is certainly not bliss. Into this milieu comes the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, whose premiere was watched by more Hulu viewers than any other debut on the streaming service and which is engaging with its audience on multiple media platforms. This audience engagement has led to discussions about the show, including its racial dynamics and portrayal of sexuality, which has added an element of intersectional feminism to the work.
The show also expands upon the source material, containing extra scenes and storylines not included in Atwood’s book, but which fit well within the universe she created and bring the text up to date. Along with narrative elements that highlight issues such as female genital mutilation, character development has been advanced with protagonist Offred posited as a far more self-determined and rebellious character than she appears in the book, the exploration of Ofglen’s backstory and sexuality and the fresh dimension added to Serena Joy, which outlines both her complicity in creating this society and the fragility of her position. These additions not only question the power dynamics of this male-led society but also create a sense of hope for the viewer, who can see the potential for revolution against this patriarchal dystopia. In my paper, I will discuss how this approach both furthers the feminist agenda of the book, by updating it (in terrifying ways) to our present day, adding elements of intersectionality and laying down a foundation for more feminist works to follow, due to its commercial success.
Donna Peberdy, “’You can’t help what you feel, but you can help how you behave’: Sex, Performance and Touch in The Handmaid’s Tale”
Episode 5 of The Handmaid’s Tale – “Faithful” – depicts four sexual encounters involving our protagonist and Handmaid, Offred (Elizabeth Moss): the monthly ‘ceremony’ and state-sanctioned rape that involves Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Wife, Serena (Yvonne Strahovski); a flashback to her relationship with her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle), prior to the totalitarian regime of Gilead is established; and two sexual encounters with the Commander’s driver, Nick (Max Minghella), one initiated and observed by Serena and the other initiated by Offred. Through these four sexual encounters, the series establishes and questions numerous distinctions, between rape and consensual sex, intimacy and remoteness, tactility and distance, corporeality and disembodiment, memory and presence. This paper explores the distinctions in relation to the performance of sex within and beyond this key episode, focusing on how the haptic, and touch in particular, becomes a crucial part of what Offred must navigate as a Handmaid.
Indiana Seresin, “Red, White, and Black: The Handmaid’s Tale as Aesthetic Fantasy”
This paper examines a collection by the experimental high fashion label Vaquera, which was produced in collaboration with Hulu to mark the release of the 2017 television adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. The collection—which was presented via a performance rather than a traditional runway show—mirrors the red, white, and black color scheme of the TV series, incorporating explicit symbolic references to the show’s plot and to historical instances of violent oppression and resistance. Rather than trivializing the political message of The Handmaid’s Tale, the collaboration in fact coherently highlights the extent to which The Handmaid’s Tale constitutes a timely fantasy of white female victimhood and non-complicity in a Christofascist regime.
The Handmaid’s Tale can be read as a slave narrative that does not acknowledge itself as such. As a number of critics have argued, it is a text that transposes the historical lived experience of enslaved African Americans into a speculative fate for white women, while disregarding the anti-blackness at the foundation of modernity. I turn to Afropessimist scholarship on the afterlife of slavery, utilizing Frank B. Wilderson’s Red White and Black: Cinema and The Structure of U.S. Antagonisms (2010) to analyze the unspoken racial symbolism within the Vaquera collection and TV adaptation’s shared aesthetic scheme. Wilderson’s argument that socially engaged cinema is “speechless in the face of gratuitous violence” is equally applicable to the aesthetic intervention of The Handmaid’s Tale and Vaquera collection, described by the series’ costume director, Ann Crabtree, as “a way to shout without saying anything.” The transposition of The Handmaid’s Tale into a high fashion context underscores the contemporary fetishization of political struggle within consumer culture; more importantly, it exemplifies a nostalgic and ahistorical investment in the fantasy that white women would be the primary victims of an American fundamentalist theocracy.
Kirsten Stoddart, “The Thin Red Veil: The Handmaid’s Tale as a call-to-arms by women writers”
In 2017 Hulu’s much-anticipated The Handmaid’s Tale became a startlingly relatable drama series, prompting a social media buzz, including Handmaid satire like Buzzfeed’s Handmen video. Even more significantly, parallels have been drawn between the story of the series (updated to reflect a recognisable 2010s world) and the current political climate, particularly in Trump’s America. As a consequence, Atwood’s 1984 novel has seen a surge in sales, and #TheHandmaidsTale is trending on social media. Moving beyond its canonical status as a novel, the 2017 version of The Handmaid’s Tale is unique in another, important way: it is a scripted drama series almost entirely written by women. Only two men appear in the writing credits for The Handmaid’s Tale; one is Bruce Miller, who is the creator and ‘showrunner’ of the series, and the other is Eric Tuchman, a successful television scribe who wrote just one episode of the 10-strong series. Ultimately, however, it is agreed that The Handmaid’s Tale, although presenting a dystopian future that would affect all Americans, is, in essence, a woman’s story, and a story for women, which is reflected by the (rare) dominance of women on the writers’ credits. This paper explores the 2017 drama series as a call-to-arms for women; a story told by a majority female writing team, using modern updates to the original story to allow the audience to personally identify more with the subject matter. Using both social media references and trade publications, I will examine the reflective reactions of real-life audiences to the series, and explore the possibility of the writers’ intention to incite politico-social discourse by women engaging with mainstream pop culture.
Silvia Storti, “The Re(d)Dress of Thought: Language in The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Much like the use of language is key in Atwood’s novel, so it is used to great effect in the TV adaptation. The disunity of the voice-over with the spoken dialogue is as striking as the visuals the show has already been praised for by the media. It has been said that The Handmaid’s Tale may serve as a companion volume to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and the TV series gives us an embodiment of what living under the rule of “thoughtcrime” and “doublethink” might look like. ‘Someone is always watching,’ Offred thinks in the show, and indeed we the audience act as Big Brother. More to the point, Gileadean linguistic transactions are the ultimate form of repression: language and freedom of expression, much like women, are made into commodities. Voice-over narration in TV and film is often seen as an expositional crutch that unskilled screenwriters rely upon, a shortcut to information. I will discuss how in The Handmaid’s Tale, most of what makes up the visual side of the show could be regarded as Gilead’s own way of saying “what you see is what you get”, whereas Offred’s biting narration is a lifeline to the viewer. In the novel, Atwood re-invents Descartes when Offred says, ‘I tell, therefore you are’, relinquishing her identity for the sake of posterity. Conversely, in the TV show, her name is quite explicitly given as June. I argue that this inner strength, broadcast to us through her inner monologue, is what allows this vision of the future to appear bleak, but not hopeless.
David Sweeney, “’I wish this story were different: I wish it were more civilized”.
When I first read The Handmaid’s Tale as an undergraduate in 1989 I was struck by the similarity of its epilogue to the prologue to Book 2 of the sci-fi comic books series The Ballad of Halo Jones written by Alan Moore (serialised in the British anthology comic 2000AD). I initially assumed that Moore had imitated Atwood but on checking the publication dates I discovered that the instalment of Halo Jones had been published in February of 1985, the same year as the novel saw print. Had Atwood, in fact, been influenced by Moore?
Given the proximity of publication dates, probably not. But the point is, my assumption that the novel must have influenced the comic came not only from Moore’s reputation for ‘borrowing’ from other writers but also (if not more so) from a perceived ‘hierarchy of texts’ in which comics – and their creators – have a lowly cultural status relative to novels and their writers, and therefore any influence is likely to ‘trickle down’ from above. In this paper I will discuss the relative cultural status of Atwood’s novel as a modern literary classic, and its Hulu TV adaptation as a part of the current ‘Golden Age’ of television, comparing and contrasting both with the status of Halo Jones as a text and of Alan Moore as a writer, and touching too on Atwood’s own work in the comics medium, including her forthcoming (at the time of writing) graphic novel adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale. In doing so, I will explore, with reference to Atwood’s assertion that she writes ‘speculative fiction’ rather than sci-fi, notions of genre, taste, authorship and readership, and their relationship to gender and social class.
Leanne Weston, “Sound Affects: Music and Meaning in The Handmaid’s Tale”.
This paper explores the role of found or known music within the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale (2017). It focuses upon the centrality of popular music within the series, and the expressive and affective functions it fulfils that are inherently televisual, and also distinct from that of Adam Taylor’s original score. I am particularly interested in how the series builds its soundtrack, and the implications of these choices upon narrative, characterisation, and identification. Does the presence of particular and familiar songs in the series detract from, or enhance the narrative, due to the accumulated meaning (Holdsworth, 2011) they gather through their repeated (re)appearance in popular culture?
Following Faye Woods (2013), Anahid Kassabian (2001), and Ian Garwood (2003; 2006), I will consider how the work of music supervisor Michael Perlmutter and the ways in which popular music contributes to narrative and structural meaning within the adaptation, and if the presence of such music is reflective of continued wider trends in contemporary serial drama. I will illustrate how songs are used to articulate and elucidate Offred’s experience through analysis of several sequences across the series. In each case, the positioning of, lyrical content and themes within, the songs used also maintain several important spatiotemporal links – chiefly the link between the past and the present – that serve to expand the audiences’ understanding of and identification with Offred and the world she now inhabits, while underlining the prescience of Atwood’s novel in our current climate.
Through the use of popular music and the medium of television, the surreal dystopian vision depicted in The Handmaid’s Tale is brought closer than ever. The soundtrack brings the series’ themes into uncomfortable focus, providing another layer of meaning and interaction for the audience that extends far beyond listening to a familiar song transposed into a new context.
Linnie Blake is Reader in Gothic Literature and Film and Head of the Manchester Centre for Gothic Studies. Her most recent publication, co-edited with Agnieszka Soltysik Monnet, is Neoliberal Gothic: International Gothic In the Neoliberal Age (MUP, 2017).
Paul Elliott gained his PhD from the University of Essex in 2009. His first book, Hitchcock and the Cinema of Sensations, was published by IB Tauris in 2012. This was followed up with the publication of Guattari Reframed in 2013 and Studying the British Crime Film (Auteur) in 2014. It was whilst studying British cinema that the author developed an interest in documentary and the avant garde. Aside from publishing chapters and articles on British cinema and realism, he has recently given papers on Jean Luc Godard’s documentaries, the portrait film and slow documentaries. Paul Elliott currently teaches at the University of Worcester where he designed and delivers a course on documentary cinema. He also teaches British and New Wave cinema.
Pam Flanagan is a Full time lecturer within the Interior Design department at the Glasgow School of Art teaching on both Undergraduate and Postgraduate programmes. Pam is interested how the evolution of Interior Design has manifested within our everyday encounters of the built environment. Interior Designer fosters an interdisciplinary approach that can challenge the boundaries of art and design via spatial installations that confront the contemporary commentary of the thresholds of interior design. She is also interested in the phenomenology, sensory and ephemeral qualities of constructed and re-appropriated spaces in which we occupy and how these are represented within narratives of film and TV.
Deirdre Flynn is a Teaching Fellow in the School of English, Drama and Film at University College Dublin. She has worked at the Moore Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and Mary Immaculate College, University of Limerick. She has lectured at Undergraduate and Postgraduate level in English Literature, and Drama and Theatre Studies. She worked professionally as a journalist for a number of years and is the Network Chair of Sibeal, the postgraduate and Early Career Network for Feminist and Gender Studies.
Meghan Gilbert-Hickey is an Assistant Professor of English at Guttman Community College, a part of the City University of New York. Her recent and forthcoming essay-length publications focus on intersectionality in contemporary young adult dystopias. Along with a colleague, she is editing a collection of essays, Raced Bodies, Erased Lives, solicited by the University Press of Mississippi, via the Children’s Literature Association Publication Advisory Board, that interrogates the impulse to prioritize conversations about gender and class, while deflecting attention away from rich work on race geared toward a young adult readership. She is also at work on a single-author manuscript, tentatively titled The Hetero-Nuclear Imperative, that examines intersectional maternity in YA dystopian fiction.
Miranda Green-Barteet is an Assistant Professor at the University of Western Ontario where she is joint appointed in the Department of Women’s Studies and the Department of English and Writing Studies. Her research interests include 19th-century American women writers, African American literature, gender theory, race theory, and Young Adult lit. She is specifically interested in the many ways girlhood is constructed and how these constructions affect, inspire, and challenge real girls. Her anthology, Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction, which she co-edited with Sara Day and Amy Montz, was published in 2014. She has also published on Harriet Jacobs, Harriet Wilson, and Sarah Pogson.
Chloe Harrison is a Lecturer in Stylistics and early career researcher at Coventry University. Her research interests include cognitive poetics, reader response, contemporary and postmodern fiction, and the exploration of Cognitive Grammar for stylistic application. Her monograph Cognitive Grammar in Contemporary Fiction was recently published by John Benjamins, and alongside other projects she is currently working on a collaborative re-reading study (with Dr Louise Nuttall, University of Huddersfield) which explores readers’ attentional responses to the Margaret Atwood short story ‘The Freeze-Dried Groom’.
Julia Havas has recently completed her funded PhD research in the School of Arts, Media and American Studies at the University of East Anglia. Her project investigated the ways in which feminism is represented on contemporary American “quality” television by analysing four female-centred programmes. A specific concern of her work is the relationship between discourses of cultural value, aesthetics, and the politics of representation on American television. She is a contributor to the edited collection Hysterical! Women in American Comedy.
Scott Henderson is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film at Brock University. He is also the Executive Director and co-founder of the Popular Culture Association of Canada. His research focuses on issues of identity and representation in popular culture and he is currently investigating the changing nature of music scenes within post-industrial cities, including St. Etienne, France, Hamilton, Ontario, and Glasgow, Scotland. He has published work on Canadian film and television, youth culture, film and popular music, British cinema, and Canadian radio policy.
Gill Jamieson teaches Filmmaking & Screenwriting at the University of the West of Scotland. Her research interests include British & North American television drama, celebrity culture & identity, crime narratives and literary adaptations on-screen.
Mikel J. Koven is Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Worcester. His books include La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film (2006), Film, Folklore & Urban Legends (2008), and Blaxploitation Films (2010).
Donna Peberdy is a Senior Lecturer in Film and Television at Southampton Solent University. She is the author of Masculinity and Film Performance: Male Angst in Contemporary American Cinema (2011) and co-editor of Tainted Love: Screening Sexual Perversion (2017). She has published writing on acting and performance in contemporary US film and television, film noir, transnational cinema, voice and vocal performance, the performance of sex and sexuality, bipolar masculinity and celebrity autoerotic asphyxiation. She is particularly interested in the relationship between screen acting and the performance of identity. Donna also blogs from time to time at Improv: Reflections on Screen Acting and Performance.
Indiana Seresin is a postgraduate student in English at the University of Cambridge. She holds a BA from Harvard University with highest honors in Comparative Literature and Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Her research interests include feminist and queer theory, African American studies, 20th and 21st century literature, science fiction, and utopian/dystopian studies. She is currently working on a study of experimental kinship formation as depicted in the life writing of Samuel R. Delany, and a collaborative project about feminism and heterosexuality with the writer Jessa Crispin. Her research at Cambridge is funded by a Newton Scholarship.
Kirsten Stoddart is an Australian-born writer, production manager and postgraduate researcher at the School of Arts and Media at the University of Salford. She has an MA in Scriptwriting from Bath Spa University, and has worked in film and television production since 2004. Kirsten’s PhD research focus is the effect of the rising production of original content for Subscription Video on Demand services on the employment of women writers for television. Her broader research interests include gender, media production and women’s employment in creative media.
Silvia Storti is in the third year of her PhD at Kingston University London. Her research looks at the figure of the villain in fairy-tale literature, focusing on what impact cultural changes have had on the perception of the villains and how literary and cinematic retellings have adapted to reflect those changes. Her thesis aims to be a socio-cultural analysis of the villain through the concept of the Other, with the research building on the work began at the University of Nottingham as part of the MA on Viking and Anglo-Saxon Studies, aiming to bridge the gap between fairy-tale studies and medievalism. Currently, she is working on the fairy tales of Bluebeard, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty, in their various iterations, with a particular focus on the adaptations penned by Anne Thackeray and Angela Carter.
David Sweeney is a lecturer in Design History and Theory at the Glasgow School of Art specialising in popular culture.
Leanne Weston is in the second year of her PhD at the University of Warwick, working on memory and materiality in music television. Her current research interests include the use of popular music in film and television, fans and fan cultures, stardom and performance, film and television aesthetics, and the representation of gender in popular culture. During her time as a contributor to the criticism website Cine Outsider, she wrote extensively on a wide range of cinema and television. More recently, she authored the DVD booklet for Woody Allen’s Radio Days. Alongside her research, she continues to explore the connections between popular music and visual culture.
 Brent Bozell, ‘The Fake News of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, Town Hall. May 12, 2017. https://townhall.com/columnists/brentbozell/2017/05/12/the-fake-news-of-the-handmaids-tale-n2325721