Why You Should Read The Handmaid’s Tale: A Timely Animated Introduction

Prophe­cies are real­ly about now. In sci­ence fic­tion it’s always about now. What else could it be about? There is no future. There are many pos­si­bil­i­ties, but we do not know which one we are going to have.

Mar­garet Atwood

There is no need to explain why Mar­garet Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone from read­ing like a warn­ing of the near-future to an alle­go­ry of the present after the U.S. Supreme Court’s rul­ing in Dobbs v. Jack­son Women’s Health Orga­ni­za­tion. Atwood’s sto­ry revolves around the fic­tion­al Repub­lic of Gilead, which takes over the U.S. after a fer­til­i­ty cri­sis dec­i­mates the pop­u­la­tion. Overnight, the fun­da­men­tal­ist Chris­t­ian theoc­ra­cy divides women into two broad class­es – Hand­maids: chat­tel who per­form the labor of forced birth through forced con­cep­tion; and the infer­tile who prop up the patri­ar­chal rul­ing class as wives, over­seers, or slave labor in the pol­lut­ed “colonies.”

It’s a bleak tale, a sto­ry far less about hero­ism than the TV series based on the book would have viewers–who haven’t read it–believe. (The 5th sea­son, slat­ed for this July, seems to have been delayed until Sep­tem­ber with­out expla­na­tion.) Why should we read The Hand­maid­’s Tale? Because it is not only a work of dystopi­an futur­ism, but also a nar­ra­tivized account of what has already hap­pened to women around the world through­out his­to­ry to the present. The nov­el is a prism through which to view the ways women have been oppressed through repro­duc­tive slav­ery with­out the sci-fi sce­nario of a pre­cip­i­tous loss of human fer­til­i­ty.

As Atwood has explained, “when I wrote The Hand­maid­’s Tale, noth­ing went into it that had not hap­pened in real life some­where at some time.” Some of the worst offens­es were not well-known. “Female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion was tak­ing place,” says Atwood, “but if I had put it in 1985 [when the nov­el was writ­ten] prob­a­bly peo­ple wouldn’t have known what I was talk­ing about. They do now.” But we can still choose to over­look the infor­ma­tion. “Ignor­ing isn’t the same as igno­rance,” Atwood says in the nov­el, “you have to work at it.” The quote opens the 2018 TED-Ed les­son by Nao­mi Mer­cer above on Atwood’s book, walk­ing us through its sources in his­to­ry.

The Hand­maid­’s Tale, the les­son points out, is an exam­ple of “Spec­u­la­tive Fic­tion,” a form of writ­ing con­cerned with “pos­si­ble futures.” This theme unites both utopi­an and dystopi­an nov­els. Atwood’s books trade in the lat­ter, but any read­er of the genre will tell you how quick­ly a more per­fect fic­tion­al union becomes a night­mare. The Cana­di­an writer has offered this lit­er­ary inevitabil­i­ty as an expla­na­tion for the mul­ti­ple crises of Amer­i­can democ­ra­cy:

The real rea­son peo­ple expect so much of Amer­i­ca in mod­ern times is that it set out to be a utopia. That didn’t last very long. Nathaniel Hawthorne nailed it when he said the first thing they did when they got to Amer­i­ca was build a scaf­fold and a prison.

What Atwood does­n’t men­tion, as many crit­ics have point­ed out, are the slave pens and auc­tion hous­es, or the fact that Gilead close­ly resem­bles the slave-hold­ing Amer­i­can South in its theo­crat­ic patri­ar­chal Chris­t­ian hier­ar­chy and ulti­mate con­trol of wom­en’s bod­ies. And yet, the nov­el com­plete­ly side­steps race by hav­ing the Repub­lic of Gilead ship all of the coun­try’s Black peo­ple to the Mid­west (pre­sum­ably for forced labor). They are nev­er heard from again by the read­er.

This tac­tic has seemed irre­spon­si­ble to many crit­ics, as has the show’s side­step­ping through col­or­blind cast­ing, and the wear­ing of red cloaks and white bon­nets in imi­ta­tion of the book and show as a means of protest. “When we rely too heav­i­ly on ‘The Hand­maid­’s Tale,’ which ignores the pres­ence of race and racism,” says activist Ali­cia Sanchez Gill, “it real­ly dehu­man­izes and dis­miss­es our col­lec­tive expe­ri­ences of repro­duc­tive trau­ma.” Atwood’s “pos­si­ble future” pil­lages slav­ery’s past and con­ve­nient­ly gets rid of its descen­dants.

The trau­ma Gill ref­er­ences includes rape and forced birth, as well as the forced ster­il­iza­tions of the eugen­ics move­ment, car­ried out with the impri­matur of the Supreme Court (and con­tin­u­ing in recent cas­es). Kel­li Midg­ley, who found­ed Hand­maids Army DC, offers one expla­na­tion for using The Hand­maid­’s Tale as a protest sym­bol. Though she agrees to leave the cos­tumes at home if asked by orga­niz­ers, she says “we are try­ing to reach a broad­er audi­ence for peo­ple who need this mes­sage. We don’t need to tell Black women that their rights are endan­gered. They always have been.”

Maybe a new mes­sage after Dobbs v. Jack­son Wom­en’s Health Orga­ni­za­tion is that an assault on any­one’s rights threat­ens every­one. Or as Atwood wrote in a Cana­di­an Globe and Mail op-ed in 2018, “depriv­ing women of con­tra­cep­tive infor­ma­tion, repro­duc­tive rights, a liv­ing wage, and pre­na­tal and mater­nal care – as some states in the US want to do – is prac­ti­cal­ly a death sen­tence, and is a con­tra­ven­tion of basic human rights. But Gilead, being total­i­tar­i­an, does not respect uni­ver­sal human rights.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­garet Atwood Releas­es an Unburn­able Edi­tion of The Handmaid’s Tale, to Sup­port Free­dom of Expres­sion

Pret­ty Much Pop #10 Exam­ines Mar­garet Atwood’s Night­mare Vision: The Handmaid’s Tale

Hear Mar­garet Atwood’s Sto­ry “Stone Mat­tress,” Read by Author A. M. Homes 

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Mama Cass and John Denver Sing a Lovely Duet of “Leaving On a Jet Plane” (1972)

My issue is that it’s all very well to sit back and com­plain but when it’s your coun­try you have a respon­si­bil­i­ty. — Cass Elliot

What could be more heav­en­ly than Cass Elliot of The Mamas & The Papas and singer-song­writer John Den­ver har­mo­niz­ing on Denver’s “Leav­ing on a Jet Plane,” a tune many con­ceived of as a protest to the Viet­nam War, owing large­ly to folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary’s cov­er ver­sion.

Maybe some vot­er reg­is­tra­tion added to the mix?

Before break­ing into their duet on the late night TV musi­cal vari­ety show The Mid­night Spe­cial, Den­ver invit­ed Mama Cass to share a few words on her efforts to get out the vote in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion year:

I’ve been trav­el­ing around the coun­try for the past year or so, talk­ing on a lot of col­lege cam­pus­es and try­ing to find out exact­ly what peo­ple are think­ing, and the thing that’s impressed me the most is, there is still in this coun­try, believe it or not, after all the talk, a tremen­dous amount of apa­thy on the part of peo­ple who maybe don’t like the way things are going and maybe want to change it, but don’t do any­thing about it, y’know?

It was August 19, 1972. The war in Viet­nam and the upcom­ing con­test between Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon and his Demo­c­ra­t­ic chal­lenger George McGov­ern were the top sto­ries. June’s Water­gate break in was a mount­ing con­cern.

Ear­li­er in the day, the New York Times report­ed that “Sen­a­tor George McGov­ern expects (South Viet­namese) Pres­i­dent Nguyễn Văn Thiệu and his “cohorts” to flee Saigon into exile and a Com­mu­nist-dom­i­nat­ed coali­tion to take con­trol of South Viet­nam if Mr. McGov­ern is elect­ed Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States on Nov. 7.”

Cass Elliot, a McGov­ern sup­port­er, had become much more vocal about her polit­i­cal activism fol­low­ing the 1968 break up of The Mamas & The Papas, as in this inter­view with Rolling Stone:

I think every­body who has a brain should get involved in pol­i­tics.  Work­ing with­in. Not crit­i­ciz­ing it from the out­side.  Become an active par­tic­i­pant, no mat­ter how fee­ble you think the effort is.  I saw in the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­ven­tion in Chica­go that there were more peo­ple inter­est­ed in what I was inter­est­ed in than I believed pos­si­ble.  It made me want to work.  It made me feel my opin­ion and ideas were not futile, that there would be room in an orga­nized move­ment of pol­i­tics for me to voice myself. 

She remained diplo­mat­ic on the Mid­night Spe­cial, telling view­ers that “I don’t think it’s so impor­tant who you vote for, you vote for who you believe in, but the impor­tant thing is to vote,” though it’s hard to imag­ine that any­one tun­ing in from home would mis­take her for a Nixon gal.

Ear­li­er in the year she had ush­ered at the Four For McGov­ern fundrais­ing con­cert at the LA Forum, was in the audi­ence at Madi­son Square War­ren Beatty’s Togeth­er for McGov­ern con­cert Gar­den, and attend­ed a par­ty Amer­i­cans Abroad for McGov­ern held in Lon­don.

Short­ly after the elec­tion (SPOILER: Her man lost), dur­ing an appear­ance on The Mike Dou­glas Show, above, she inti­mat­ed that she might be open to a career shift:

 I think I would like to be a Sen­a­tor or some­thing in twen­ty years.  I don’t think I real­ly know enough yet. I’m just 30 now and I would­n’t even be eli­gi­ble to run for office for anoth­er five years.  But I have a lot of feel­ings about things.  I know the way I would like to see things for this coun­try and in my trav­els, when I talk to peo­ple, every­body wants pret­ty much the same thing:  peace, enough jobs, no pover­ty and good edu­ca­tion.  And I’ve learned a lot.  It’s fun­ny.  So many peo­ple in show busi­ness go into pol­i­tics, and I used to say ‘What the heck do they know about it?’  But when you trav­el around, you real­ly do get to feel–not to be cliche–the pulse of the coun­try and what peo­ple want.  I’m con­cerned and it’s not good to be uncon­cerned and just sit there.

Lis­ten­ing to her dis­cuss Water­gate dur­ing her final vis­it to The Mike Dou­glas Show, short­ly before her 1974 death, real­ly makes us wish she was still here with us.

What we wouldn’t give to hear this out­spo­ken polit­i­cal observer’s take on the sit­u­a­tion our coun­try now finds itself in, espe­cial­ly with anoth­er five decades of expe­ri­ence under her belt.

Per­haps there’s an alter­nate uni­verse in which Cass Elliot is Pres­i­dent.

If you haven’t yet reg­is­tered to vote, now would be a great time to do so. It may not be too late to par­tic­i­pate in your state’s pri­ma­ry elec­tions. You know that’s what Cass would have want­ed.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Tom Jones Per­forms “Long Time Gone” with Cros­by, Stills, Nash & Young–and Blows the Band & Audi­ence Away (1969)

Joni Mitchell Sings an Aching­ly Pret­ty Ver­sion of “Both Sides Now” on the Mama Cass TV Show (1969)

Janis Joplin & Tom Jones Bring the House Down in an Unlike­ly Duet of “Raise Your Hand” (1969)

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Machiavelli’s The Prince Explained in an Illustrated Film

Nic­colò Machi­avel­li lived in a time before the inter­net, before radio and tele­vi­sion, before drones and weapons of mass destruc­tion. Thus one nat­u­ral­ly ques­tions the rel­e­vance of his polit­i­cal the­o­ries to the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Yet in dis­cus­sions about the dynam­ics of pow­er, no name has endured as long as Machi­avel­li’s. His rep­u­ta­tion as a the­o­rist rests most­ly on his 1532 trea­tise Il Principe, or The Prince, in which he pio­neered a way of ana­lyz­ing pow­er as it was actu­al­ly wield­ed, not as peo­ple would have liked it to be. How, he asked, does a ruler — a prince — attain his posi­tion in a state, and even more impor­tant­ly, how does he main­tain it?

You can hear Machi­avel­li’s answers to these ques­tions explained, and see them illus­trat­ed, in the 43-minute video above. It breaks The Prince down into sev­en parts sum­ma­riz­ing as many of the book’s main points, includ­ing “Do not be neu­tral,” “Destroy, do not would,” and “Be feared.”

These com­mand­ments would seem to align with Machi­avel­li’s pop­u­lar image as an apol­o­gist, even an advo­cate, for bru­tal and repres­sive forms of rule. But his enter­prise has less to do with offer­ing advice than with describ­ing how real fig­ures of pow­er, princes and oth­er­wise, had amassed and retained that pow­er.

The video comes from Eudai­mo­nia, a Youtube chan­nel that has also fea­tured sim­i­lar­ly ani­mat­ed exege­ses of Sto­icism and Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. Its cre­ator makes these ancient sources of knowl­edge acces­si­ble with not just his car­toon­ish illus­tra­tions, but also his inclu­sion of illu­mi­nat­ing exam­ples from more recent his­to­ry. In the case of The Prince, these come from eras like the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, World War II, and even our own time of instant glob­al com­mu­ni­ca­tion, atten­tion-hun­gry media, and a seem­ing­ly weak polit­i­cal class. In much of the world, we live in a time much less nasty and brutish than Machi­avel­li’s. But look­ing at the effec­tive­ness (or lack there­of) of our own lead­ers, we have to admit that the prin­ci­ples of The Prince may not have gone out of effect.

To delve deep­er into the world of Machi­avel­li, you can watch a BBC doc­u­men­tary on the Renais­sance polit­i­cal the­o­rist below.

Relat­ed con­tent:

What Does “Machi­avel­lian” Real­ly Mean?: An Ani­mat­ed Les­son

How Machi­avel­li Real­ly Thought We Should Use Pow­er: Two Ani­mat­ed Videos Pro­vide an Intro­duc­tion

Salman Rushdie: Machiavelli’s Bad Rap

Intro­duc­tion to Polit­i­cal Phi­los­o­phy: A Free Yale Course

Allan Bloom’s Lec­tures on Machi­avel­li (Boston Col­lege, 1983)

6 Polit­i­cal The­o­rists Intro­duced in Ani­mat­ed “School of Life” Videos: Marx, Smith, Rawls & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


The Rolling Stones Play a Gig in Communist Warsaw and a Riot Ensues (1967)

My Name is called Dis­tur­bance.… – “Street Fight­ing Man”

More than two decades before Ger­man band the Scor­pi­ons blew their alleged­ly CIA-penned “Wind of Change” over the end of the Cold War; before the “hard rock Wood­stock” in Moscow; before Bruce Spring­steen rocked East Berlin and rang the “Chimes of Free­dom,” anoth­er band took the stage behind the Iron Cur­tain: one not par­tic­u­lar­ly well-known at the time for mak­ing geopo­lit­i­cal state­ments.

In 1967, the Rolling Stones record­ed and released Between the But­tons and major hits “Ruby Tues­day” and “Let’s Spend the Night Togeth­er.” They tried to com­pete with the Bea­t­les with stabs at psy­che­delia on Their Satan­ic Majesties Request. They did­n’t record what is some­times con­sid­ered their most polit­i­cal song, “Street Fight­ing Man,” for anoth­er two years, and that song — with its options of street fight­ing or singing for a rock and roll band — has nev­er been mis­tak­en for a peace anthem.

It was­n’t peace the band court­ed in their orig­i­nal plan to play Moscow. “They start­ed toy­ing with the idea of per­form­ing in Moscow and becom­ing the most con­tro­ver­sial rock band to play on the oth­er side of the Iron Cur­tain,” writes Woj­ciech Olek­si­ak at Culture.pl. “Both the Sovi­et Union and the UK denied their requests. How is it, Olek­si­ak asks, “that in 1967 — the mid­dle of the Cold War — Mick, Kei­th, Bri­an, Bill, and Char­lie came to Poland and per­formed in War­saw, at a huge hall known for being tra­di­tion­al­ly used for the Com­mu­nist Par­ty’s ple­nary con­gress­es?” You’ll find the answer in the video at the top from Band­splain­ing.

Just above, see footage of the con­cert itself, culled from news­reel footage and TV broad­casts. The uploader has done us the kind­ness of putting time­stamps in the video for the three songs shown here:

00:00 — Paint It Black

00:43 — 19th Ner­vous Break­down

01:06 — (I Can’t Get No) Sat­is­fac­tion

The Stones were “by no means the first west­ern group to play in com­mu­nist Poland,” writes Pol­ish musi­cian and jour­nal­ist Paweł Brodowsky, who was in the audi­ence. “By that time I had already seen The Ani­mals, The Hol­lies, Lulu, and Cliff Richard and the Shad­ows.” It did­n’t hurt that Władysław Jakubows­ki, the deputy direc­tor of Pagart — “a state-owned con­cert agency,” writes Sam Kemp at Far Out — “had some sym­pa­thy for Poland’s young music fans” (just as Gor­bachev would in the time of glas­nost). None of the oth­er acts caused any­thing like the chaos that would ensue when the Stones came to War­saw.

Bands allowed into the coun­try came from a list of names Jakubows­ki col­lect­ed from young Pol­ish jour­nal­ists. How Jakubows­ki achieved the required per­mis­sions from his high­er-ups is some­thing of a mys­tery, Olek­siek writes. Why the deputy direc­tor let the Stones into the coun­try even more so. Their rep­u­ta­tion for destruc­tion pre­ced­ed them: “He must have heard about The Rolling Stones’ wreck­ing of the Olympia, the most famous con­cert hall in Paris. He was a close friend of Bruno Coqua­trix, its direc­tor.” At any rate, the War­saw con­cert turned into a riot. The band could not be blamed, entire­ly.

Hear­ing about the Stones’ arrival, thou­sands of young fans lined up for tick­ets. “What most of them did­n’t know,” Kemp writes, “was that the bulk of them had already been reserved for com­mu­nist par­ty mem­bers and their fam­i­lies.” The hall was also packed beyond capac­i­ty, “with fans hang­ing off the edge of bal­conies.” Police fought to keep fans away from the stage and the seat­ed crowds of dour bureau­crats. Richards and Jag­ger antag­o­nized the cops with obscen­i­ties, mak­ing tick­et­less fans who’d breached the doors even more rabid.

Out­side, as you can see in the short Pol­ish doc­u­men­tary above, a full-blown riot with tear gas and dogs had bro­ken out. This was a time when riots seemed to break out every­where. (Mick Jag­ger has cit­ed the Paris upris­ings of 1968 as a source for “Street Fight­ing Man.”) But at the end of the six­ties, few oth­er bands could boast not only of play­ing the com­mu­nist East­ern Bloc, but of inspir­ing may­hem from the stage on both sides of the Cold War lines.

And yet, this is not the end of the sto­ry. The Stones returned to War­saw over fifty years lat­er, in 2018, this time with a point­ed polit­i­cal state­ment made at the behest of Lech Wałęsa, in oppo­si­tion to a rule lim­it­ing the age of judges to 65. “I am too old to be a judge but not too old to sing,” Jag­ger shout­ed in Pol­ish from the stage. He then launched into the band’s first song on the setlist. And, yes, it was my favorite and maybe yours too: “Street Fight­ing Man.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sto­ry of the Rolling Stones: A Selec­tion of Doc­u­men­taries on the Quin­tes­sen­tial Rock-and-Roll Band

A Char­lie Watts-Cen­tric View of the Rolling Stones: Watch Mar­tin Scorsese’s Footage of Char­lie & the Band Per­form­ing “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “All Down the Line”

The Rolling Stones Jam with Mud­dy Waters for the First and Only Time at Chicago’s Leg­endary Checker­board Lounge (1981)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Helen Keller Was a “Firebrand” Socialist (or How History Whitewashed Her Political Life)

We expect that his­to­ries of famous fig­ures will prune their lives, sand down rough edges, rewrite and revise awk­ward and incon­ve­nient facts. What we may not expect – at least in the U.S. – is that decades of a famous person’s life will be redact­ed from the record. This is essen­tial­ly what hap­pened, how­ev­er, to the biog­ra­phy of Helen Keller even before her death in 1968. Per­haps the main offend­er remains play­wright William Gibson’s 1957 The Mir­a­cle Work­er, adapt­ed from the 1903 auto­bi­og­ra­phy she wrote at 23. Osten­si­bly about Keller, the sto­ry cen­ters instead, begin­ning with its title, on her teacher, Anne Sul­li­van.

The play (and 1962 film with Anne Ban­croft and Pat­ty Duke repris­ing their stage parts), por­trays Keller as a child, a role she was per­pet­u­al­ly assigned by her crit­ics through­out her adult life. She authored and pub­lished 14 books and dozens of essays dur­ing her 87 years, deliv­ered hun­dreds of speech­es, and main­tained a friend­ship and cor­re­spon­dence with many impor­tant fig­ures of the day. But in addi­tion to the usu­al sex­ism, she had to con­tend with those who thought her dis­abil­i­ty ren­dered her unfit to express opin­ions on mat­ters such as pol­i­tics. They asked that she “con­fine my activ­i­ties to social ser­vice and the blind,” she wrote in a sar­don­ic reply.

Keller’s polit­i­cal vision was writ­ten off as “a Utopi­an dream, and one who seri­ous­ly con­tem­plates its real­iza­tion indeed must be deaf, dumb, and blind.” What did she see in her mind that made crit­ics rush to belit­tle her? An end to war and Jim Crow; wom­en’s suf­frage, labor rights; an end to pover­ty and the pre­ventable child­hood ill­ness­es it engen­dered.… In a word, Helen Keller was a social­ist — and a pub­licly com­mit­ted one. “That we know so lit­tle of her avowed social­ism is aston­ish­ing, because she was an extro­vert­ed fire­brand who deliv­ered hun­dreds of rad­i­cal speech­es dur­ing” — writes Eileen Jones at Jacobin, quot­ing the 2020 doc­u­men­tary Her Social­ist Smile — “ ‘a fifty-year run on the lec­ture cir­cuit.’ ”

Keller pub­lished fre­quent arti­cles on the new­ly formed Sovi­et Union, Eugene Debs and the IWW (includ­ing “Why I Became an IWW” in 1916), and “Why Men Need Woman Suf­frage” (in 1913). “Turn­ing the yel­low­ing pages of rad­i­cal news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines from 1910 to the ear­ly 1920’s,” writes his­to­ri­an Philip Fon­er in an intro­duc­tion to her col­lect­ed social­ist writ­ings, “one fre­quent­ly finds the name Helen Keller beneath speech­es, arti­cles, and let­ters deal­ing with major social ques­tions of the era. The vision which runs through most of these writ­ings is the vision of social­ism.”

Mark Twain may have been the first to call Anne Sul­li­van a “mir­a­cle work­er” and Keller “a mir­a­cle,” but he treat­ed Keller “not as a freak,” she wrote, but as an equal and shared many of her views. He helped fund her edu­ca­tion at Rad­cliffe Col­lege (then a part of Har­vard ) and encour­aged her to speak and pub­lish. Keller joined the social­ist par­ty at age 29, in 1909, and in 1912, she pub­lished an arti­cle in The New York Call titled “How I Became a Social­ist.” The answer, she writes: “by read­ing.” As would be the case through­out her life, Keller felt the need to take a defen­sive pos­ture: crit­ics had accused John and Anne Macy (for­mer­ly Sul­li­van) of cor­rupt­ing her, to which she replied that she nei­ther shared Mr. Macy’s pro­pa­gan­dis­tic vari­ety of Marx­ism nor did Mrs. Macy share either of their views.

Keller’s polit­i­cal writ­ing is now wide­ly avail­able thanks to the inter­net, and can no longer be sup­pressed by edu­ca­tors who want to use her child­hood and dis­abil­i­ty but ignore most of her adult life. Even stu­dents watch­ing the PBS Amer­i­can Mas­ters doc­u­men­tary Becom­ing Helen Keller (see clip at the top) will learn that, gasp, yes, she was a social­ist. Dig deep­er, and they’ll find her views were unique and sig­nif­i­cant to the U.S. left: Kei­th Rosen­thal writes at Inter­na­tion­al Social­ist Review:

She was a seri­ous polit­i­cal thinker who made impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions in the fields of social­ist the­o­ry and prac­tice.… [S]he was a pio­neer in point­ing the way toward a Marx­ist under­stand­ing of dis­abil­i­ty oppres­sion and liberation—this real­i­ty has been over­looked and cen­sored. The mytho­log­i­cal Helen Keller that we are famil­iar with has apt­ly been described as a sort of “plas­ter saint;” a hol­low, emp­ty ves­sel who is lit­tle more than an apo­lit­i­cal sym­bol for per­se­ver­ance and per­son­al tri­umph.

Get to know the real Helen Keller — or a seri­ous­ly over­looked (at least) side of her life — in her polit­i­cal writ­ings herehere, and here and watch a video intro­duc­tion to her pol­i­tics by His­tor­i­cal­ly Fan­tas­tic fur­ther up.

via Jacobin

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A New Mas­sive Helen Keller Archive Gets Launched: Take a Dig­i­tal Look at Her Pho­tos, Let­ters, Speech­es, Polit­i­cal Writ­ings & More

Watch Helen Keller & Teacher Annie Sul­li­van Demon­strate How Helen Learned to Speak (1930)

Mark Twain & Helen Keller’s Spe­cial Friend­ship: He Treat­ed Me Not as a Freak, But as a Per­son Deal­ing with Great Dif­fi­cul­ties

Helen Keller Writes a Let­ter to Nazi Stu­dents Before They Burn Her Book: “His­to­ry Has Taught You Noth­ing If You Think You Can Kill Ideas” (1933)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

When Orson Welles Became a Speech & Joke Writer for Franklin Delano Roosevelt

As some­one who had mas­tered radio, film, and stage at such a young age, it shouldn’t be a sur­prise that Orson Welles once flirt­ed with the idea of run­ning for office. It nev­er hap­pened, but Welles got pret­ty close in 1944 by ghost-writ­ing speech­es for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s re-elec­tion cam­paign. This in-depth arti­cle at Smith­son­ian by Erick Trick­ey goes into greater detail about this mix of enter­tain­ment and pol­i­tics, and shows how both have always influ­enced each oth­er.

In the final four months of 1944, Amer­i­ca was still at war with Japan and Ger­many, and Roo­sevelt was seek­ing an unprece­dent­ed fourth term to bring the war to a close. Roosevelt’s Repub­li­can chal­lenger Thomas Dewey ques­tioned the ail­ing president’s sta­mi­na and well­ness for the job, along with accu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion and incom­pe­tence.

Welles was still Hollywood’s gold­en boy, with a career that had tak­en off dur­ing Roosevelt’s sec­ond term with his infa­mous War of the Worlds radio play, pick­ing up on America’s pre-war para­noia. It had con­tin­ued through 1941’s Cit­i­zen Kane and its thin­ly veiled attack on William Ran­dolph Hearst and oth­er oli­garchs. Welles’ voice car­ried author­i­ty and grav­i­tas. He was also mar­ried to Rita Hay­worth at the time, and enjoy­ing the upside of Hol­ly­wood suc­cess.

Roo­sevelt engaged the left-wing Welles in the last month of the cam­paign and soon the actor was trav­el­ing the coun­try and deliv­er­ing speech­es at ral­lies for FDR. In one stop he called Repub­li­cans “the par­ti­sans of priv­i­lege, the cham­pi­ons of monop­oly, the old oppo­nents of lib­er­ty, the deter­mined adver­saries of the small busi­ness and the small farm.”

Welles also sup­plied ideas and jokes for FDR’s speech­es. When Dewey and oth­er Repub­li­cans attacked FDR’s dog Fala, Welles’ penned this: “Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my fam­i­ly doesn’t resent attacks — but Fala does resent them. You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scot­tie, as soon as he learned that the Repub­li­can fic­tion writ­ers, in Con­gress and out, had con­coct­ed a sto­ry that I had left him behind on the Aleut­ian Islands and had sent a destroy­er back to find him — at a cost to the tax­pay­ers of 2 or 3 or 8 or $20 mil­lion — his Scotch soul was furi­ous. He has not been the same dog since.”

The Amer­i­can pub­lic seemed to agree that going after a pet was a bit too much. The nation­al­ly broad­cast speech turned FDR’s for­tunes around. And at FDR’s final ral­ly at Fen­way Park in Boston, the pres­i­dent intro­duced both Welles (“The Dra­mat­ic Voice”) and Frank Sina­tra (“The Voice”). Welles spoke out against GOP elit­ism: “By free enter­prise they want exclu­sive right to free­dom. They are stu­pid enough to think that a few can enjoy pros­per­i­ty at the expense of the rest.”

Days lat­er, FDR won 53 per­cent of the pop­u­lar vote and took the elec­toral col­lege, 432–99. In one sense though, Dewey’s attacks on FDR’s health were found­ed: Roo­sevelt died five months lat­er on April 12, 1945.

FDR had writ­ten to Welles to thank him for the ral­ly, but also wrote about that April’s meet­ing of the Unit­ed Nations. The man had the weight of the free world upon his shoul­ders, and Welles felt it. The artist wrote a eulo­gy for FDR for the New York Post:

Des­per­ate­ly we need his courage and his skill and wis­dom and his great heart. He moved ahead of us show­ing a way into the future. If we lose that way, or fall beside it, we have lost him indeed. Our tears would mock him who nev­er wept except when he could do no more than weep. If we despair. because he’s gone — he who stood against despair — he had as well nev­er have lived, he who lived so great­ly.

You can read it online here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Orson Welles’ Icon­ic War of the Worlds Broad­cast (1938)

Rare Video Shows FDR Walk­ing: Filmed at the 1937 All-Star Game

When Amer­i­can Financiers and Busi­ness Lead­ers Plot­ted to Over­throw Franklin D. Roo­sevelt and Install a Fas­cist Gov­ern­ment in the U.S. (1933)

Lis­ten to Eight Inter­views of Orson Welles by Film­mak­er Peter Bog­danovich (RIP)

The Hearts of Age: Orson Welles’ Sur­re­al­ist First Film (1934)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

The History of Birth Control: From Alligator Dung to The Pill

The his­to­ry of birth con­trol is almost as old as the his­to­ry of the wheel.

Pes­saries dat­ing to Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt pro­vide the launch­ing pad for doc­u­men­tar­i­an Lind­say Hol­i­day’s overview of birth con­trol through­out the ages and around the world.

Holiday’s His­to­ry Tea Time series fre­quent­ly delves into women’s his­to­ry, and her pledge to donate a por­tion of the above video’s ad rev­enue to Pathfind­er Inter­na­tional serves as reminder that there are parts of the world where women still lack access to afford­able, effec­tive, and safe means of con­tra­cep­tion.

One goal of the World Health Organization’s End­ing Pre­ventable Mater­nal Mor­tal­i­ty ini­tia­tive is for 65% of women to be able to make informed and empow­ered deci­sions regard­ing sex­u­al rela­tions, con­tra­cep­tive use, and their repro­duc­tive health by 2025.

As Hol­i­day points out, expense, social stig­ma, and reli­gious edicts have impact­ed ease of access to birth con­trol for cen­turies.

The fur­ther back you go, you can be cer­tain that some meth­ods advo­cat­ed by mid­wives and med­i­cine women have been lost to his­to­ry, owing to unrecord­ed oral tra­di­tion and the sen­si­tive nature of the infor­ma­tion.

Hol­i­day still man­ages to truf­fle up a fas­ci­nat­ing array of prac­tices and prod­ucts that were thought — often erro­neous­ly — to ward off unwant­ed preg­nan­cy.

Some that worked and con­tin­ue to work to vary­ing degrees, include bar­ri­er meth­ods, con­doms, and more recent­ly the IUD and The Pill.

Def­i­nite­ly NOT rec­om­mend­ed: with­draw­al, hold­ing your breath dur­ing inter­course, a post-coital sneez­ing reg­i­men, douch­ing with Lysol or Coca-Cola, tox­ic cock­tails of lead, mer­cury or cop­per salt, any­thing involv­ing alli­ga­tor dung, and slug­ging back water that’s been used to wash a corpse.

As for sil­phi­um, an herb that like­ly did have some sort of sper­mi­ci­dal prop­er­ties, we’ll nev­er know for sure. By 1 CE, demand out­stripped sup­ply of this rem­e­dy, even­tu­al­ly wip­ing it off the face of the earth despite increas­ing­ly astro­nom­i­cal prices. Fun fact: sil­phi­um was also used to treat sore throat, snakebite, scor­pi­on stings, mange, gout, quin­sy, epilep­sy, and anal warts

The his­to­ry of birth con­trol can be con­sid­ered a semi-secret part of the his­to­ry of pros­ti­tu­tion, fem­i­nism, the mil­i­tary, obscen­i­ty laws, sex edu­ca­tion and atti­tudes toward pub­lic health.

From Mar­garet Sanger and the 60,000 women exe­cut­ed as witch­es in the 16th and 17th cen­turies, to econ­o­mist Thomas Malthus’ 1798 Essay on the Prin­ci­ple of Pop­u­la­tion and leg­endary adven­tur­er Gia­co­mo Casano­va’s satin rib­bon-trimmed jim­my hat, this episode of His­to­ry Tea Time with Lind­say Hol­i­day touch­es on it all.

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Birth Con­trol Hand­book: The Under­ground Stu­dent Pub­li­ca­tion That Let Women Take Con­trol of Their Bod­ies (1968)

I’m Just a Pill: A School­house Rock Clas­sic Gets Reimag­ined to Defend Repro­duc­tive Rights in 2017

The Sto­ry Of Men­stru­a­tion: Watch Walt Disney’s Sex Ed Film from 1946

Can We Still Consume the Work of Disgraced Artists — Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #119


Come­di­an Genevieve Joy, philosopher/NY Times enter­tain­ment writer Lawrence Ware, and nov­el­ist Sarahlyn Bruck join your host Mark Lin­sen­may­er to dis­cuss how we as spec­ta­tors deal with enter­tain­ers like R. Kel­ly, Michael Jack­son, Woody Allen, et al. We all watched W. Kamau Bel­l’s Show­time doc­u­men­tary We Need to Talk About Cos­by, so most of our dis­cus­sion is around that.

None of us seem able to sep­a­rate the art from the artist, but this varies by art form, how much of the per­son­’s per­son­al­i­ty and val­ues went into the art, and the specifics of the alleged crimes or bad behav­ior. Cos­by presents such a dra­mat­ic, unam­bigu­ous case because he was so uni­ver­sal­ly beloved, and vital­ly impor­tant to the black com­mu­ni­ty, yet his crimes were so numer­ous, heinous, well doc­u­ment­ed, and thor­ough­ly under­mine the image that he sought to con­vey. Does our dis­il­lu­sion­ment with him per­haps reflect not just on rape cul­ture but the impor­tance we put on celebri­ty itself that made Cos­by for a long time “too big to fail”?

It’s fine if you haven’t seen the doc­u­men­tary. You can expe­ri­ence Bell talk­ing about it on WTF and in Slate. For in-depth info on the charges against Bill Cos­by, try the Chas­ing Cos­by pod­cast.

Fol­low us @CAtFightJOy, @law_writes, @sarahlynbruck, and @MarkLinsenmayer.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion fea­tur­ing all of our guests that you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop or by choos­ing a paid sub­scrip­tion through Apple Pod­casts. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.