The Handmaid's Tale (2017) or Hulu's Major Investment in Great Storytelling

The Handmaid's Tale (2017) or Hulu's Major Investment in Great Storytelling

Ángeles Martínez-García (University of Seville, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3119-8.ch004

Abstract

Hulu knew what they were doing when they bet on the underlying story of The Handmaid's Tale (2017-), which manifests the importance of storytelling in the creation of modern myths. The series directly appeals to the human need for identity, belonging, and redemption. Based on Margaret Atwood's novel of the same name, The Handmaid's Tale is a depiction of a dystopian society, characterised by an absence of rights and freedoms. It has become a chilling political commentary focusing attention on the control of women's fertility, the objectification of women, religious fanaticism, women's roles in the persecution of other women in a patriarchal system, the persecution of homosexuality, and hyper-vigilance.
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Introduction

The Handmaid's Tale (2017-) was the surprise hit of the 2017 Emmys; it won four prizes, including the award for best dramatic series. The series enjoyed equal success at the Golden Globes, where it was awarded two prizes, one for best series of the year. Hulu thus became the first streaming platform to obtain this type of recognition, putting it ahead of other streaming giants such as Netflix and HBO, which began as favourites in the industry. The Handmaid´s Tale is a series consisting of sixty-minute episodes, and it is an adaptation of the homonymous novel written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood in 1985, which depicts a dystopian future. The story is feminist in its view and spells out the possible consequences of a future theocratic state, where women are portrayed as the primary victims of religious extremism.

The Handmaid´s Tale was Hulu's biggest gamble in 2017. The platform, which competes for a hyperpersonalized user experience model, was founded in 2007 by NBC and Fox. Later Disney and Warner joined as major shareholders, thereby making Hulu the property of four giants in the entertainment industry. The premiere of the series has caused the perception of the Hulu brand to change; it is seen as a kind of subversive platform, which by today’s standards in the recent past had a certain traditional television outlook with no intentions of global expansion. It was therefore never perceived as a threat, until now.

The main objective of this chapter is to reflect on how Hulu was able to take a chance on the story at the heart of the series, which highlights the importance of storytelling in the recovery of long-distance mythemes through the subgenus of dystopia. The Handmaid´s Tale directly appeals to the human need for identity, belonging and redemption.

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Background

The genre of dystopia updates mythical themes by placing them in the field of an alternative future. The dictionary defines dystopia as a “An imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic”. Inevitably, the genre depicts a situation of human alienation. To understand dystopia, it’s necessary to examine its origin, which is the concept of utopia, a term coined by Sir Thomas More in his work by the same name in 1516. In this work, the author imagines a fictional society whose foundations are the political and philosophical ideals of the classical world and Christianity. It is an idealized society based on the common good and characterized by peaceful coexistence. Its opposite, the word dystopia, was coined in 1747, although it was not used prolifically until well into the twentieth century (Sargent, 2013). The use of the term grew over time, as people began to understand that all technological, political and social progress also has a dark side.

However, as time passed progress began to show its downside, feeding the sinister sceneries of technological and scientific transgression: dystopias, negative or corrupted utopias. If longings and hopes are the matters of utopia, dystopia represents fears and worries. If the former promised a kingdom of freedom and self-fulfilment through the use of reason, in the latter the dreams of reason will give birth to the monsters of oppression and alienation (Marzábal, 2009, p. 123).

It is precisely the twentieth century, that period of time in which rationality and barbarism go hand in hand, shining a light on a moment of uncertainty in which the possibility of a disastrous end is just around the corner. As Sargent, one of the most prominent authors in the study of dystopia, points out, the 20th century has been aptly named the “dystopian century” (2013, p. 10) and the 21st century is not much more encouraging.

The dystopian story begins in the here and now, meaning that no precise explanation is given as to how things became the way they are. It is presented as something that has happened as the result of some human actions, while not necessarily spelling it out in detail. Sargent (2013) speaks of an increase in dystopian stories that have a grounding in Christianity, The Handmaid´s Tale is a clear example of one, and refers to these kinds of dystopian stories as “jeremiads”, in reference to the prophet Jeremiah of the Old Testament who accuses people of losing confidence in God.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Feminism: Current of thought that is based on the recognition of rights for women that have traditionally been reserved for men, trying to suppress gender inequality.

Hypervigilance: A state in which the priority is to detect possible threats, which results in greater irritability of the subjects.

Hulu: American platform of audiovisual content on demand belonging to Hulu LLC, Walt Disney Company, NBC Universal and Warner Media.

Redemption: Being freed from painful or aggravating circumstances through an action.

Storytelling: The action of recounting a story to connect with an audience through the message that is being transmitted.

Identity: Set of features and defining characteristics of a person or thing that allows it/them to be distinguished from the rest.

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