Monday, 23 July 2018

False News?

Having followed the excellent Hulu production - with Elisabeth Moss - of The Handmaid’s Tale I’m re-reading it. Although re-reading is too grand a gerund to use as I only dipped into aspects of the novel when teaching some of the more harrowing scenes. I showed my older students the chilling Natasha Richardson version (1990). I refer to the event where a Handmaid is ceremoniously hanged and a male ‘felon’ is mobbed to death. I compared this interpretation with the Carrousel in ‘Logan’s Run’. Both stories show what can happen in a world short of resources, a world at war or a world coping with the after-effects of war. Death becomes ritualised and is called ‘salvaging’ or carrousel.

I’ve only read a third of Margaret Attwood’s novel but if I didn’t know the story line I’d be begging for answers to her open-ended scenes. Maybe that’s the point. June/Offred is thrown into a world - not quite prison - against her will and knows very little. We, the readers, know very little too.

Today I had to go for tests at my GP surgery following a slipped disc earlier in the year. But no-one seems to be able to tell me exactly what they are looking for in these tests. One letter told me I was fine but in the surgery Nurse Ratchett said various things were wrong with me and I had a lot to think about. Today, apparently, I’m fine, again.

I mention this as on page 29 in my edition of Handmaid the phrase ‘false news’ is used. So Donald Trump didn’t invent the phrase then. (Attwood penned it in 1985.)

Have I, having been sent for ‘tests’, been a victim of ‘false news’? I went through a similar process some nine years ago. I had tightness in my chest when swimming and made an appointment with my GP. From then on ‘chest tightness’ was interpreted as ‘chest pain’. No matter how many times I said I wasn’t in pain, as they stuck another ECG electrode on me, I was rushed through a batch of tests to check my overall health. It was very kind of them to spend time with me in this way but as I lay in A&E surrounded by very sick-looking people I merely felt guilt, not pain, for taking up a bed.

As I write I’m sounding confident that today’s tests were taken in a similar light ie the GP is just making sure my liver function is fine ( I hardly drink but I have been overweight). If it isn’t - something I haven’t even considered - no-one has told me what I do about it. Now my slipped disc is better I can move normally, the weight has dropped off me and I’m assuming I’m well. Fingers crossed.

I know everyone in the NHS, like in state education, is run off their feet but being ‘processed’ doesn’t sit easily with me. I’m simply not sure what ‘they’ are looking for.

And I wonder whether June/Offred - in Handmaid - feels the same. Clearly her situation is far worse than mine as she is no longer in her own home, has been separated from her loved ones, can’t read or go to work in a job of her choosing, lives in peril under a very strict behavioural code and can be tortured with cattle prods or sent to ‘The Colonies’ to die a lingering death. To say nothing of enduring ritualised, non-consensual sex.

But when we don’t know why things are happening to us and no-one seems to be able to give the depth of answer we seek - and conflicting results are given - what do we do?
Resort to the internet?

GPs tell me not to believe everything I read on the internet. So how do we get ‘the knowledge’? Or don’t we ever get it? Are we surrounded by ‘false news’, mere victims - processed by the state? Put up and shut up as it’s all done for our own good, of course.

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