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Atwood book considered more disturbing than war or Grand Theft Auto

January 18th, 2009     by Mir Verburg     Comments

So, this week has seen a flurry of activity centered on one angry father’s desire to keep The Handmaid’s Tale off his son’s high school reading list. Robert Edwards has a problem with Atwood’s novel because he feels that the book depicts scenarios and uses language that is not appropriate in a high school environment.

While trying to get some sense of the novel’s impact on young people, I did a search on YouTube and discovered a pile of school projects devoted to The Handmaid’s Tale. Young people’s own creative exploration of Atwood’s themes do more to explain why the book belongs in school than anything I can say, so I’ll augment this post with media projects from around the globe. They’re interesting, weird, and one in particular is kind of hilarious. All take The Handmaid’s Tale and translate it from Can-Con literary classic to 5-7 minute YouTube specials.

This one is by Alwaysnothin and was posted in Feb 2008. It’s a succinct 3 minute synopsis that makes use of The Bloodhound Gang and Queen among myriad other musical references:

This next one is by fortunecooky7 and is actually one of the few videos I found that was made by a group of girls:

This one is a mash-up of Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale. Edward’s son has been assigned Huxley’s novel set in the dystopic future to replace Atwood’s, so he might appreciate whether the students who made this project did a good job mingling the two visions.

Antonia Zerbisias argues that in today’s socially conservative climate, if the The Handmaid’s Tale is considered “too threatening to have on Grade 12 reading lists” that may be precisely the reason it needs to stay there. I agree with Lady Z. on this one, as would these students from Sweden (I think), who have no problem effectively portraying the scene of Particicution:

This project begins with the premise that someone finding The Handmaid’s Tale in the distant future might take it as fact. These students also explored the concept of particicution, in addition to discussing how the novel explores power and misogyny. My favorite analysis comes at the end when the student playing the teacher says, “When power is scarce, a little bit is tempting.”

Maybe Mr. Edwards should be wondering why he is so determined to prevent the students of an entire school board from reading a book he dislikes for personal reasons.

What puzzles me is that the Toronto District School Board is taking this complaint seriously, as is the Toronto Star, since they have run several articles on the subject over the last week. Why is this reactionary demand from a single parent getting so much attention?

Well, the book is on the reading lists of schools around the world, and the author was born in Toronto. She lived for a while not too far from Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute, the school attended by Mr. Edwards’ son.

I guess what’s really at issue here is why cultural conservatives are gaining so much credibility. Is Atwood’s vision of a future ruled by the patriarchy coming true by inches? Which is why it is so important that the TDSB not strike the book from the curriculum, by dismissing Edwards’ concerns and defending the right of educators to teach critical literature the TDSB will demonstrate that at least in Canada, Gilead is still speculative fiction.

And if you made it this far, you deserve a little something. Here is a hilarious interpretation of The Handmaid’s Tale. In fact, watching this, I can kind of understand Mr. Edwards’ fear. There is so much unintentional mockery here - of the church, of gender stereotypes, of sex-work. I am not sure if the film is a travesty or if it’s an honest expression of how a teen-boy-squad is going to deal with Atwood’s difficult themes. In any case, I enjoyed it, and I kinda think Margaret Atwood would too.

Tags: in my opinion..., media savvy

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