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

Mark Lin­sen­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt take on both Mar­garet Atwood’s 1985 nov­el plus the Bruce Miller/Hulu TV series through sea­son 3. There’s also a graph­ic nov­el and the 1990 film.

We get into what’s need­ed to move a nov­el to the screen like that: The char­ac­ter can’t just remain pas­sive as in the nov­el in order to keep us suf­fer­ing with her past the first sea­son as sto­ry­telling beyond the book begins. We talk about Atwood’s fun­ny neol­o­gisms (like “pray­va­gan­za”) that didn’t make it into the show.

How does race play into the sto­ry, and how should it? Is the sto­ry pri­mar­i­ly a polit­i­cal state­ment or a self-con­tained work of art? Giv­en the bleak­ness of the sit­u­a­tion depict­ed, can there be com­ic relief? How can we have a nom­i­nal­ly fun­ny pod­cast about this work?

Some of the arti­cles we drew on or bring up include:

Plus Eri­ca brings up this video of Bill Moy­ers inter­view­ing Atwood about reli­gion. We also touch on Shindler’s List, Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nau­seaDavid Brin diss­ing Star Wars as anti-demo­c­ra­t­ic sto­ry­telling, and the many con­ser­v­a­tive dis­missals of the show as hys­ter­i­cal pro­pa­gan­da.

Buy the bookthe graph­ic nov­el, or its new sequel The Tes­ta­ments.

You may be inter­est­ed in these relat­ed Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life episodes (Mark’s long-run­ning phi­los­o­phy pod­cast): #181 on Han­nah Arendt and the banal­i­ty of evil, #139 on bell hooks  and her his­tor­i­cal account of con­di­tions for black women not ter­ri­bly dis­sim­i­lar to the ones described by Atwood, #90 inter­view­ing David Brin about the con­nec­tions between spec­u­la­tive fic­tion, phi­los­o­phy, and polit­i­cal speech. PEL has also record­ed sev­er­al episodes on Sartreand Mark ran a sup­port­er-only  ses­sion that you could lis­ten to on Nau­sea in par­tic­u­lar. Also check out Brian’s Con­tel­lary Tales pod­cast #2 talk­ing about anoth­er breed­ing-relat­ed sci-fi sto­ry by Octavia But­ler.

This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can only hear by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.