Afghanistan is literally The Handmaid’s Tale. And The Handmaid’s Tale is an example of the power of art.
Margaret Atwood was horrified by the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979 and the installation of an Islamic government run by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Women suddenly had far fewer rights than they enjoyed under the previous, more secular American-backed regime. There were other aspects of Islamic rule that differed sharply from life under the Shah, but Atwood cared mostly about women’s rights and stuff like abortion.
Let’s leave off the fact that maybe the Iranian people have a right to decide if they want to live according to traditional Iranian religion and culture and not godless secularism imposed from afar. Ditto the people of Afghanistan.
Atwood wrote a book inspired by the Islamic takeover of Iran, but in a fever-dream induced spate of bigotry, she decided that Christians are actually the bigger threat, and that every man—especially those who are Christian—is a weird, woman-hating Puritan just waiting for the right signal to oppress all females and turn them into “breeders” or whatever.
It’s insane. But the book, pushed by academics who agree with Atwood’s anti-Christian, anti-male message, as well as the subsequent show created within the past few years, have convinced generations of women that men are evil, abortion is awesome, and Christianity is the worst and most oppressive religion on the face of the planet.
One wonders what these kooky women and their “male” allies make of Islam. Do they look at the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and say to themselves, “You know, maybe we shouldn’t invite hundreds of thousands of people from that country here lest they practice the same or a similar form of Islam”? Probably not. These people can’t see that far past their own genitals. And the burgeoning battle between former allies of secular atheist liberalism and traditional Islam is fascinating, but enough about that. We’re here to talk about the power of art.
Academicians and philosophers devise new ideas and theories, but they are promulgated by the culture. And in the complete absence of any American high culture that normal people care about, pop culture is all we’ve got.
Nobody is persuaded by a think piece or a white paper. But when people who get paid large sums of money to appear on TV (where, remember, everything that happens on it is true to the majority of people because they can see it) and say that this or that happening in America is “literally The Handmaid’s Tale,” you have an instantly identifiable touchstone that millions of people will understand and nod along with.
People with technical skill in writing or filmmaking or any other pop culture entertainment media have all the power. It is unfortunate that so many of these talented people use their gifts for destructive aims. Music provides a great, almost subliminal example. I remember being at a nightclub with my wife and some friends of hers in our dating days. The song “Paper Planes” by M.I.A. came on and everyone hopped to the dancefloor.
“Paper Planes” is a catchy tune, maddeningly so. This is the chorus:
“All I wanna do is— sound of shotgun being cocked
And a— sound of shotgun being fired
And take your money
All I wanna do is— sound of shotgun being cocked
And a— sound of shotgun being fired
And take your money”
I refused to dance to this. My wife’s friend asked me why. “I don’t like the lyrics,” I said. “Listen to what she’s saying?”
“Who cares?” my wife’s friend replied. “It’s a good song!”
And there you go.
Well-crafted art can get you to say and think things that you’d normally be horrified to ever have enter your mind. Do I think my wife’s friend actually wants to murder somebody and take their money? Of course not. Yet she certainly sang that exact sentiment willingly and gleefully. So did nearly the entire club. It does not take a great leap of imagination to think that this erodes abhorrence to both violence and armed robbery . . . as long as we hear about it happening to someone else, somewhere far away.
You might be wondering if I am making the argument that art influences behavior. I am, and it does.
“But these people would have done this anyway!” the common argument goes.
Would they? Or did media, culture, and art give them a push? Were people influenced to support the war in Iraq, or would all of them have “done it anyway”? Would people have supported smoking bans and gay marriage if they weren’t bombarded with media in favor of those positions? Would membership and attendance in Christian churches be so low if it wasn’t for an anti-church drum being beaten in nearly every aspect of popular culture? Would suburban housewives think that looting and rioting are okay if people on TV with the expensive degrees, titles, and a platform didn’t incessantly tell them it is?
If media and art had no effect on behavior, why do said anti-smoking activists brag that by removing the use of cigarettes on screens both large and small they helped reduce tobacco consumption in the U.S.? Or, as I’ve said in another post, why do the creators of Will & Grace brag that their show helped pave the way for gay marriage?
Why are the arts one of the most hotly contested battlegrounds in any war for the hearts and minds of a people?
Why is hardcore pornography freely available on the Internet, and any effort to restrict access like those undertaken in Germany and Britain—token measures that anyone over the age of 18 can pass—met with howls of protest?
Why are brazenly anti-Christian works of art defended as “artistic” and “asking the important questions,” while making anti-Jewish or anti-Islamic works will get you deplatformed, financially ruined, arrested, or killed?
Artists wield an awesome power in the most classical sense of the word. Margaret Atwood and the showrunners who adapted her work have successfully twisted the tenets of Iranian-style Islam and made legions of American women think it’s actually what Christians believe. Comic book and laser sword movies have convinced people that Wakanda is real and that they were a part of some resistance against an oppressive power.
At the end of the day, in order to make sense out of any of this, you have to ask four questions:
- Who are the gatekeepers?
- Who and what do the gatekeepers serve?
- Who are the gatekeepers’ friends?
- Who are the gatekeepers’ enemies?
And then you will understand why some works get pushed and promoted, and others are lucky to ever see the light of day.
This power is so important that it requires such stringent gatekeeping if one wants their vision of how civilization should be to rule the day. We are fortunate that these structures are becoming more decentralized and that technology has created many alternative avenues (such as this one) for counter-messages to spread. But the battle is long and hard and will not be won in a generation.
We need to adopt a samizdat mindset. Samizdat, for those unfamiliar with the word, refers to the practice of dissidents in Soviet Russia of copying and delivering forbidden works in a clandestine manner as a way of getting an alternative to the regime’s message into the hands of people hungry for something different, something better.
Anyone who’s thinking runs slightly counter to the American empire and its allies is in the same position. Our art requires alternative channels of distribution. It may ring hollow to hear an independent author who sells books on Amazon saying this, but you can’t let the perfect, the ideal, be the enemy of the good. Until a better solution presents itself, good enough is good enough.
It should not be surprising that the power of art can make even the mighty institutions tremble. God was, after all, an artist who created the universe through His Word.