Change—terrifying change in society—can happen quickly. It rarely happens as quickly as we imagine.
Margaret Atwood’s 1985 speculative fiction classic The Handmaid’s Tale has just aired its eighth episode of a Hulu television adaptation. Previously turned into a clunky Canadian movie in 1990, this new version is beautifully shot, well-cast, and stars Mad Men’s Elizabeth Moss who easily carries the role of a shrewd, frightened and wry woman, concealing fury and a determination to survive the theocracy she finds herself in. Moss plays Offred nee June, the eponymous woman whose narration states she “once had another name–but it’s forbidden.” She’s had a child before. She’s presumably fertile. Her husband was previously married, so their union doesn’t count in this new world, and she has been become birthing chattel.
The marketers behind Hulu’s new miniseries, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” must be geniuses. A remake of the classic 1985 dystopian novel, the show has generated lots of free press comparing the theocratic right-wing dictatorship in the story to President Trump’s administration.
Writing for The Los Angeles Times, Charlotte Ann reports that she’s “lost count” of the number of articles that describe the series as “timely”:
Here’s just a short list of print and online outlets where the T-word appears in connection with the re-creation of Atwood’s fictional America turned into a grim theocracy called Gilead that treats women like breeding cattle: the Hollywood Reporter, the Washington Post, the Guardian, Mother Jones, Harper’s Bazaar, the Daily Beast, Bustle, NPR, and CNN. The 77-year-old Atwood herself chimed in, telling the Los Angeles Times’ Patt Morrison: “We’re no longer making fiction — we’re making a documentary.”
This past week Liz Wolfe, Managing Editor of Young Voices, wrote in the Washington Examiner that Fox News has a looming demographic problem, and they aren’t making it any better by attacking Kendrick Lamar and criminal justice reform. Stephen and Liz discuss Fox’s messaging problem, Millennial news habits and also what the exit of Bill O’ Reilly means for the future of Fox News.
Commenting on the events of the Academy Awards last month, Amanda Petrusich writes in The New Yorker an ambiguous column about the commercial phenomenon and success of Justin Timberlake. Timberlake opened the ceremony with a performance of “Can’t Stop the Feeling!” from the animated movie Trolls. Petrusich runs through the highlights of Timberlake’s career and observes that “[t]hese days, we have mostly divested ourselves of any notion that art and profit are inherently at odds, or that work made in service of consumerism is fundamentally compromised….Timberlake might be, at present, our most expressly and unapologetically commercial artist.”
The notion that art and profit are inherently incompatible is inconsistent with the historical record, and this is exactly why Timberlake is as omnipresent in the entertainment industry as he is. He consistently delivers a product that consumers enjoy and are willing to buy.
According to Petrusich, Timberlake’s career has been shaped by corporate and commercial designs. He began his career with “The Mickey Mouse Club” and then joined the band N’Sync, a group “designed primarily to make money.” He recorded a jingle that was widely used by McDonald’s for advertising in the early 2000s. He has also “had a fashion line, a record label, restaurants, a golf course, and a minority stake in the Memphis Grizzlies; he cheerfully endorses many products, including a fragrance, a car, and Sony electronics. In 2012, he hosted a corporate meeting for Walmart shareholders.” All the while, his solo albums have sold almost 30 million records worldwide.
The amalgamation of Timberlake’s talent, public persona, and commercial presence has turned out to be a winning combo for him. Much like the corporations and businesses he has acted as spokesperson for, his products create value for listeners (and moviegoers), which is why they are willing to depart with their earned income to purchase them.
Donald Trump is going to wish he didn’t make alternative rock great again.
Throughout its existence, the alternative rock genre has been one of the ultimate checks on authority and abuses of power. Punk rockers like The Clash and The Sex Pistols mainstreamed ideas of anarchy and anti-authoritarianism in the 1970s and 1980s. As Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie argue in their book The Declaration of Independents, Vaclav Havel, the leader of the Velvet Revolution against Czech communism in 1989, was inspired by the music of the Velvet Underground. During the administration of President George W. Bush, Green Day was one of the leading anti-war voices.
Sadly, over the last eight years, alternative rock lost some of its anti-authority edge while Barack Obama was in office. The band Muse is one of the few exceptions, releasing three albums during the Obama years, two of which —The Resistance in 2009 and Drones in 2015 — are remarkably anti-authority. Drones was a particularly strong album in its blasting of the military-industrial complex, but that’s commonplace from Muse regardless of who the world’s leaders are.
But Donald Trump’s candidacy prompted alternative rockers, such as the Scottish band Franz Ferdinand, to release songs and music videos that blatantly call out Donald Trump and his penchant for illiberal authoritarianism.