Handmaid’s Tale Inoculates Viewers from Responsibility for Real Atrocities

By Rachel Wagner (November 18, 2019)

The Haidmaid’s Tale television series producer Warren Littlefield says that Offred’s story “presents a chilling vision into an increasingly likely potential future.”

I suggest that this insistence on relevance is more indicative of a desire to *be* predictive, to believe that media like The Handmaid’s Tale can tell us something about the world and where it is headed—that order is possible. We want prediction. The more uncanny The Handmaid’s Tale seems, the easier it is to believe a television show will help us out of this mess. That it conveniently inoculates viewers from responsibility for the atrocities it references is part of its intense appeal.

The prophecy is parochial: it is for Americans, but only some Americans. It is about localized fear, not about heightening awareness about suffering around the world. It’s about how totalitarianism may come home to roost—not about the ways that Americans may have ignored it or allowed it to take root elsewhere. It’s about how painful it would *be* to become enslaved, not about the legacy of American slavery and its impact on people living right now. It’s about white guilt, but unattractively translated into a kind of performative ritual of vicarious suffering, made all the easier for being sanitized within the screen and only enacted in the safety of clumsily crafted red dresses that signal an incomplete kind of “wokeness.” It’s the “me” generation seeing the only way to process guilt as a spectacle of re-enactment without responsibility for owning the original cause or ongoing pain of the actual victims right around us.

The kind of thrill that Atwood and her crew experience when they see the show as “predictive” or “realistic” is that they have successfully translated some of the pain so many are experiencing in the world today into a more palatable format that exchanges responsibility for trauma into performed victimization and requires, as a result, only “resistance” without any of the complexities of shared blame.

Inclusion Isn’t a Free-for-all for Bigotry: Exclusionary Feminisms and the Alt-Right

By Rachel Wagner (January 15, 2019)

In one of my groups, there’s a discussion going on about whether or not it’s “exclusionary” to ban TERF and SWERF views (presumed “feminist” views that exclude trans-women and women who engage in sex work). Those “radical feminists” who wish to exclude trans women and sex workers from feminist spaces are upset that they’ve been told their exclusionary views aren’t welcome. And in response, they confuse the rejection of their exclusionary opinions with their being unwelcome as people. That is, they claim they aren’t welcome as human beings when in fact, it’s their exclusive views that aren’t welcome. Continue reading “Inclusion Isn’t a Free-for-all for Bigotry: Exclusionary Feminisms and the Alt-Right”

The Wall is a Symbol of Isolation and Racism

By Rachel Wagner (January 8, 2019)

Has anyone else noticed that Trump only talks about one issue at a time, like for months?

For a while it was Hillary. For a while North Korea. Healthcare for a while. There were others.

Now it’s nothing but wall wall wall. This successive “single issue” approach is likely intended to just keep us fighting with one another. It’s a well-known divisive tactic, to reduce all difference down to one oversimplified thing and people feel compelled to yay or nay and define their opponents based on that.

The truth is, many of us are OK with the wall we have. We don’t oppose walls in principle, though they would depict us that way. What we oppose is rank racism and indifference to the poor and a lack of responsibility for past damaging foreign policy. But they’ve pushed us to to holler “no wall!” And then they flip around and say we don’t care about security at all because we want “no wall” which of course isn’t true for most people. They are “for” the wall, which means what exactly?

I think for them it’s purely a symbol of isolationism and generalized racism. And Trump, or perhaps his handlers (because I think he does listen to the likes of Hannity) laugh while we battle over a symbol that means different things to each of us and fight with one another.