The Handmaid's Tale beyond TV: transmedia storytelling, contemporary feminist activism and social protest
This PhD dissertation explores the online circulation of the television adaptation The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-) created by Bruce Miller and released in 2017 on Hulu. Since its televisual debut, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the 1985 novel of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, has become a viral sensation and been popularised within mainstream feminist culture through its repurposing in global social protest and hashtag activism. The iconography of The Handmaid’s Tale has taken hold in the online sphere and been transformed into a transnational, feminist symbol (Bell, 2018), circulating as a means of political commentary against the alt right agenda. This thesis considers how The Handmaid’s Tale operates as a transmedia phenomenon of #MeToo television and investigates the complex ways in which it engages with the key themes of the fourth wave of feminism, in particular gendered violence. This thesis argues that, as a transmedia object, The Handmaid’s Tale foregrounds the perils and the possibilities of digital feminist activism and popular feminism. After elaborating on the feminist qualities of the TV series, I examine the role of The Handmaid’s Tale beyond television, through an analysis of its repurposing in three different case studies: the Golden Globes ceremony of 2018 which followed the Weinstein sexual abuse charges and the rise of #MeToo as a hashtag activist event; the legislation of the Abortion Bans in Alabama, US in 2019, and lastly, the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing in 2018, following Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault allegations against the now Supreme Court Judge. To trace the significance of The Handmaid’s Tale beyond television, I also look into the controversial cases of misuse and commodification of the imagery, which led to a viral backlash. As such, this research finds that The Handmaid’s Tale has become a powerful meme which is deployed by feminist online publics as a tool for political participation and expression beyond the TV series. This thesis argues that The Handmaid’s Tale has taken on its own affective life within the digital realm. Therefore, The Handmaid’s Tale, beyond the TV screen and within meme culture, works as a visualisation of the cultural anxieties of feminist communities and enables feminist solidarity and resistance. The powerful imagery of The Handmaid’s Tale serves as a point of unification for feminists to bring visibility to issues prominent within the current political landscape, especially in the US – a symbol through which a multitude of feminist concerns could be expressed. However, the perpetuation of the perception of The Handmaid’s Tale as a feminist text is further discussed and challenged in this thesis, as Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and its reappropriation in the online sphere as a feminist symbol represents the popularisation of feminism that comes with shortcomings regarding issues of race and intersectionality in relation to contemporary feminism.
InstitutionAnglia Ruskin University
- Published version