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To continue last week's column: I did take the plunge. I have watched a number of episodes of The Handmaid's Tale.

I'd rather be that mouse in An American Tail.

At least things got upbeat for Fievel Mousekewitz, the lead character in the latter — a 1980s animated movie about a rodent who escaped Imperial Russian oppression in the Ukraine to seek freedom in the United States but who had to go through some stuff even after landing on these shores.

The Handmaid's Tale, a series on streaming-service Hulu, is based on a 1985 book that must have been based on a recurring nightmare by its author, Margaret Atwood. The show is well filmed, but the plot is just what I called it in last week's column ... a train wreck that keeps on giving. An added warning: It's not for those who would restrict their TV/movie watching to G- or PG-rated content.

The show displays the sorry plight of the women in a section of America renamed Gilead, formed after Civil War 2.0. Gilead is a society driven by warped fundamentalist religious fanaticism, one in which women and their rights have been given a setback of, oh, a millennium or two. The men who run this world went for the jugular on rendering women powerless — having them fired from their 9-to-5 jobs, freezing their bank accounts, and taking away their right to own property or even read. Misbehavior brings some creatively brutal consequences. As a descendant of black American slaves, I was already cringing like crazy at the thought of this made-up paradise; online pieces have accused the show of appropriating the historic suffering of black slaves, especially female slaves, in America ... and ignoring the the racial "elephants in the room" dynamics.

In Gilead, the women are divvied up into classes highlighted by the Handmaids, the few fertile women in a world where fertility has just about gone bye-bye. Handmaids are assigned to Commanders, the head dudes in charge, and their infertile wives — classified as, well, Wives — in order to provide them with children. Handmaids must endure sex with these men in an event referred to as a "ceremony."

The series centers on Offred (Elizabeth Moss), whose name was June in the world before, but now has her master's first name forced on her to show she is "Of Fred" — the tight-faced Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes). Fred's wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) is desperate for a baby she can't have, so there you have it. Also personally cringe-worthy for me: Offred and Serena Joy bear jobs that hit close to home. The former was an editor and the latter a writer.

One of the most obvious indications of the sad order of things: the issue of fashion. In Gilead, the male muckety-mucks get to walk around in these boss suits, looking like ... well, bosses. Women are relegated to cult clothes whose color indicates their status.

I'm not just talking about the handmaids, who must wear drab blood-red dresses (yes, in Gilead, even the color red is made to be drab) and white head coverings that look like they've been stolen from an Amish family's backyard clothesline. When these women go outside, they cover their dresses with red capes and their heads with huge white bonnets that look like a cross between The Flying Nun's headgear (for those old enough to remember the late 1960s Sally Field sitcom) and one of those cones they put around dogs' heads for healing purposes. On their feet they wear brown socks and shoes best described as hip-hop boots meet The Beverly Hillbillies. The Wives don't fare much better; they get to dress more fashionably but can only be attired in blue/turquoise/teal. The Aunts, who train and oversee the handmaids, wear brown. Marthas, who make like Martha in the New Testament and keep the home tidy and the food cooked, wear green, complete with nunlike veils. The Econowives, the hardworking spouses of the broke, low-ranking guys, wear gray.

The Commanders wear black, but again, they at least get to dress nattily. The women only get to wear black in mourning as in days of yore. No Little Black Dresses. Worse, no black attire available for slimming purposes.

But then, even the less restrictive fictional societies of the future always seem to go for the fashions. In those that are repressive, fashion choice, along with education, is perceived as detriments to those in power. The women suffer the brunt of this, running around clad either in depressing pseudo-military uniforms or Snuggies. I'm sure there's a dystopian storyline somewhere in which fashion designers are executed.

Even if one were allowed to dress in various-hued clothing by Versace, Dolce & Gabbana or Arkansas' own Korto Momolu, it still wouldn't be much fun to be a Handmaid or a Martha. But when it comes to an at-a-glance look at how bleak such a society as Gilead is for its most vulnerable subjects, nothing drives the point home quicker than its attire.


Style on 02/17/2019

Print Headline: LET'S TALK: This 'Tale' is not for the stylish


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  • Foghorn
    February 17, 2019 at 11:34 a.m.

    What an incredibly stupid, offputting completely tone deaf take on Atwood’s work.