From the album ‘Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-insides’ (2018)
From the album ‘Oil Of Every Pearl’s Un-insides’ (2018)
In the epilogue to Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale a group of intellectuals argue whether Offred’s account of Gilead’s brutal theocracy was reliable.
There is no ambiguity in the television adaptation – so far. The viewer is given full omniscience, interspersed with fragmented flashbacks of how Gilead was formed. While this construct is effective in analogously connecting elements of Gilead with present day political idiocy and is an extremely compelling fable, it’s also a potential weakness for the show’s longevity. How long can we endure Offred’s formulaic psychological torture which combines ceremonial rapings, estrangement from her husband exiled in Canada, a forbidden relationship with Nick (the Waterford’s driver), and her seemingly forlorn quest to free herself and her daughter Hannah.
Two seasons in, and thanks to the writing, I’m invested in June Osborne’s struggle. You can only marvel at Elizabeth Moss. Her turn as Offred is a real tour de force, mostly for its physical element. At critical moments her face reveals a gamut of conflicting emotions; anger, satisfaction, remorse, defiance, resignation, fear and depression, sometimes within seconds of the other.
The contaminated Offred, Serena and Fred dynamic is a grim ménage-a-trois of threats, loathing, contempt and above all passive-aggressive manipulation. Offred’s pugnaciousness creates a growing distrust and distance between Serena and Fred, who, as equals, were of a radicalised singular mind and integral in orchestrating Gilead’s formation. Our initial disdain for Serena’s obsession with being a mother, her spiteful jealousy of Offred’s fertility and willing sacrificing of her political influence (she’s forbidden by law from reading and writing) and the freedom of all other women, starts to morph into pity when she is cowed in her attempts to smooth Gilead’s intellectual neutering of women. While she begins to have grave doubts about Gilead’s direction, Fred, in a position of ever-increasing power, thanks entirely to his gender, becomes entirely pre-occupied with displays of cruelty to maintain the domestic patriarchy. It’s June’s indefatigable persistence, focused insubordination and intelligence in resistance, ‘don’t let the bastards grind you down’ she graffittis on the wall before her latest escape attempt, to the manipulations of Fred and Serena, that Fred finds alluring, partly because these single-minded traits remind of him of how Serena used to be.
All of the narrative’s subjects, regardless of their strata, yield to Gilead’s totalitarianism, which combines the absolutism of Nazi Germany’s Endlosung, a Gestapo like militia named ‘Angels’, an Orwellianesque vaporisation of Handmaid’s past identities (nameless, like an unperson), a social hierarchy that’s instituted the kind of reductive misogyny you’d find in Saudi Arabia, a political structure reminiscent of North Korea’s theocratic military dictatorship, The Eyes (who spy on everyone, including Gilead’s elite) are akin to the Stasi, punishments for breaking the laws of god borrow from Stalinism’s cruelty and the Westboro Baptist Church’s loony devoutness justifies anything ‘under his eye’.
This is an absurd mixture, but without fictitious licence it would be impossible to envision such an emphatic collapse of first world values and freedoms as presented in Gilead. It’s not only the scale but the detail of the dystopia (and its cause – wide scale human infertility through pollution) that rubbishes the hypocrisies, apathy and scripted discourse found in contemporary politics that’s seen the rise of Trumps’s America, Putin’s Russia and Brexit. The vogue of right wing anxieties fuelled by a disingenuous demonisation of minority rights encroaching on theirs is a central target here. In Gilead gender traitors (their euphemism for homosexuals), Muslims, Jews and other heretics are hanged on a ‘wall’ Gilead’s citizens are made to pass. Trump’s yet to build his. There’s always an unforeseen price to pay for reversing integration and rights just to realise economic and social ideologies – in Gilead there’s no freedom of speech, no bowling alleys, takeaway pizzas, monster-trucks, golf courses, nightclubs, professional sports, internet (no online porn for you, laddie), television, gambling, cinemas, or bouncy castles. And it begs the question, just what have they done to Las Vegas? The mind boggles – carpet bombed it with copies of the New Testament? Nor are there garish public shows of hedonism, opulence or individuality. So a Trumpian alt-right wet dream it is not.
Regardless, no work of fiction is obligated to be impartial. The visual arts offer, or should offer, a method of examining the nature of politics, culture and social mores, with the diverse and partisan perspectives they contain enriching polemics. June Osborne’s life as Offred and her internal monologues serve as a cautionary allegory which criticises not only the danger of fascist tendencies going unchecked but the state (and intelligence) of moderate resolve as negligent, due to its unwillingness to challenge extremist ideas unless it’s on their terms.
The peculiar nature of surrogacy in Gilead, which ignores the realities of evolutionary biology in favour of warped ideology, is used to question whether children have a biological and psychological need to be with their mothers whenever possible. June betrays her biological instincts with her new-born baby (and endangers her own wellbeing) during an escape attempt at the end of season two. It’s a brilliant (and hopefully) inverted twist on Sophie’s Choice, and is the only likely way of maintaining June’s hopes that she can succeed in freeing both of her daughters from Gilead.
It’s a fleeting moment of choice that betrays a maxim from Aunt Lydia, Gilead’s truest believer, that Gilead’s ‘freedom from choice’ has liberated its citizens from ‘freedom to choose’. Funnily enough this quote reveals more about the modern psyche than it does of Gilead’s repugnant ideology. We would descend into anarchy without the illusion of freedom that consumerist choice provides. The cost of preferring to buy stuff than be altruistic is all too real if we’re prepared to look. While the Handmaid’s Tale plot is arresting, and Gilead cautions at the cost of blitheness and naivety, it’s not prophetic. We watch, and recoil, because it reveals that we know we cannot be trusted to choose correctly.
From the EP ‘Soundboy’s Ashes Get Hacked Up And Spat Out In Disgust’ (2008)
From the album ‘Sleeping Beauty’ (1979)
I’ve never experienced such disinterest on the eve of a World Cup before – and it’s made me wonder why.
I refute that it’s due to Russia hosting it. Yes, there’s good reasons why that should matter; it’s a country riddled with corporate and political corruption, that doesn’t have freedom of the press, the tournament is being cynically used by Putin to stoke nationalism and consolidate his grip on power, has a problem of racist chanting at sporting events (to put it mildly), discriminates against LGBT folk, annexes and invades territories of neighbouring countries and used highly questionable machinations to win the right to stage the tournament. Normally I’d recognise that the English media’s sour grapes were due to their competing bid losing (and recent events in Salisbury have reinvigorated the jingoistic sneering), but then FIFA awarded the 2022 finals to Qatar at the same time. That decision was an epic abortion. Both votes were bent as fuck.
However, for those watching at home, once the matches commence all the recent and ongoing political tensions, and the debate as to whether a country with Russia’s social, political, economic and geopolitical profile should be allowed to host such a prestigious event will fade. In truth most folks aren’t concerned enough about politics, never mind international politics, to take a stand on this, not when they can relax and watch some footie.
My apathy can’t be that Scotland aren’t involved, as we haven’t reached a major tournament finals since 1998 – gulp. It hasn’t anything to do with England’s involvement either. While the ritual of witnessing England’s media and chainmail clad fans rouse themselves into vomit inducing levels of tubthumping delusion, through romanticising ‘66, Agincourt and Normandy, only to fail, often crushingly, allows you to delight in pure schadenfreude, on this occasion most seem to be, to their credit, embracing introspection and bypassing this charade. Clearly the defeat to Iceland two years ago was an epiphany. There’s no talk of winning this or any tournament now. And no wonder, this is the least talented England team of my lifetime. They play a troglodyte, antiquated style of football, a grotesque legacy of the FA pandering to the moronic inverted snobbery of Sunday League marshes and terrace boorishness for decades. As a result most – except the diehard Brexiter, imperialist, royalist, little England middle earthers and bandwagon types – have finally recognised this has resulted in their current place as a footballing irrelevance on the international stage.
For once perception, reason and reality are aligned. It used to be that the World Cup Finals is where you’d witness the greatest concentration of talent. That premise alone gripped you. Because it only happened every four years over a period of six weeks heightened the importance for the players, supporters and the countries participating. It was though a solar eclipse was occurring, and so you didn’t want to miss it. It filled the usual void of a summer sans football. The prospect of a nation’s success, and how the highs and lows of its narrative affected you, was enticing, as it allowed for an outpouring of benign nationalism. There was no reason to feel queasy, or be ashamed at getting pished because your country won a football tournament, or, in Scotland’s case, just won a match.
We know now that international football owed its historical status to archaic club football rules; the European Cup being limited to just the champions of each country, fairer distribution of wealth (and less of it) and a limit on foreign players per team. Now a progressive conflation of lifting the restrictions on the number of foreign players per team (rightfully), added to a boom in television money, the arrival of oligarchs and sovereign wealth funds into club ownership has allowed the biggest clubs to stockpile the world’s best talent.
This and Champions League expansion has rendered many of international football’s previous appeals, mostly based on rarity and exclusivity of quality, as irrelevant or as wholly inferior. Not only has it supplanted its quality, but the narrative flow of the Champions League is ubiquitous, unchecked, running throughout the year, every year.
For international football to compete with the Champions League it must evolve and find ways to become more like it. The proposed expansion to a forty-eight team World Cup in 2026 is not a solution, only a cynical money making enterprise, and further devalues and dilutes international football’s appeal. In this day and age people have choices, waiting every four years for a bloated competition, and in-between be subjected to fragmented, drab and elongated qualifying campaigns and redundant friendlies, doesn’t work.
And so a suggestion – have the World Cup every two years instead four, that means more competitive matches against better opponents. While national teams will always be restricted to picking players from their nation, too often national teams play without synergy or verve that repetition and meaningfulness encourages. Perhaps we’d see World Cup knock-out matches played with more fluency, unburdened by its form of cruelly unique failure: a crushingly catastrophic double whammy of having to wait four years to get another chance (if they get one at all) and letting their country down.
Hopefully my indifference to Russia 2018 will dissipate, and when the knockout stages commence intrigue will have superseded it. But that I feel that way about it is telling – the World Cup finals can no longer live off its name and what we think it promises, it has to deliver on the pitch.