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Art imitates life


If you're not watching "The Handmaid's Tale" on Hulu, you should be, if your heart can stand it.

Based on the 1985 book by Margaret Atwood, it's the story of a woman living in a nightmare America where religious zealots have seized control of the government, suspended the Constitution and installed an authoritarian, isolationist theocracy. The few women who are still fertile have been forced into life as Handmaids, red-clad slaves who exist only to bear children for the leaders.

It's terrifying stuff, bucko, the plot salted heavily and knowingly with dog whistles to our current perma-anxiety about the unknowable future, which seems to hang over the head of every citizen of The Divided States of Trumpmurica like a 10-ton chunk of jagged concrete at the end of a fraying rope. Who, after all, has any idea where the hell we'll all be this time next year? On our way to a wave election that will put Congress in the hands of saner, kinder and less complicit heads, let's hope. A boy can dream, can't he?

Spouse, who has been a female citizen of this country since the days when men routinely received raucous huzzahs and backslapping for behavior toward women that would land them up in the jailhouse in 2017, can't watch "The Handmaid's Tale," if that tells you anything. She can't even listen to her Dear Husband describe the basic storylines over the dinner table, waving us on with the tines of her fork to less troubling topics whenever we bring it up. It's a measure of the age we find ourselves in that dystopian fantasy feels too close for comfort to 21st century reality. That's especially so for folks who aren't white heterosexual middle-class penis pilots like Yours Truly. Recently, Spouse agreed without a hint of a smile when Her Loving Man joked darkly that there are likely more than a few members of the Arkansas Legislature who would be hunky-munky-dory with the Christo-fascist good ol' boys club depicted in the show. All the libtard snowflakes silenced and pushed underground? The King James Bible literally replacing the code of secular law (buttressed, no doubt, by a granite copy of the Ten Commandments on the lawn of the state Capitol, just in case some didn't get the message)? Uppity women stripped of their jobs and bank accounts, reduced to nameless baby incubators, kitchen help or the ornamental wives of the Marlboro Men who run the country with their vision of God at their side? If you're of a Leviticus mindset, what's not to love?

It ain't quite "The Handmaid's Tale" around here yet, but damned if it doesn't feel like it would only take another 9/11 and one God-haunted phone call between Pat Robertson and a pants-pissingly terrified El Presidente Naranja to get us there. At one point in the show, a character whose only reason for existence is to receive and grow the seed of a stranger inside her body says — resignedly, almost offhandedly — that in her previous life, she was once a professor of cellular biology and happily married to a woman. It's a moment that's real and close enough to make a thinking person's blood run cold with icy possibility.

Scary show, kids. Scarier than any horror flick The Observer has caught at the cinema in the past 10 years, anyway. Then again, America is kind of a scary place these days, as we wind our way through this 4-year spook house. Movies, books and TV are where society works out our fears and anxieties. And when reality makes "House of Cards" look like "Joanie Loves Chachi," you've gotta go very, very dark to try and exorcise our collective demons.

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