On Tuesday, Karina Gould, federal Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, went on CBCNN’s Power & Politics to state, among other things, that American women will be able to access abortion services in Canada if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
The question asked by host Vassy Kapelos was: “Will your government ensure that American women who want to, can come to Canada for an abortion?”
And the answer was this: “I don’t see why we would not. If they, people, come here and need access, certainly, you know, that’s a service that would be provided.”
There’s a cultural context for everything, and by “culture,” I mean storytelling, art and entertainment. The specific context here is The Handmaid’s Tale, in which women living under a fundamentalist theocratic dictatorship in the United States find a safe haven in Canada. The series, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel, arrived in the spring of 2017, to intense attention and critical acclaim. There was much to extrapolate, especially the parallels with the views on women’s rights and reproductive freedom that sometimes emanated then from the Trump administration.
Did the series exist as a blip – time-locked storytelling that only had resonance during the shock of the early Trump period? Not so. The fifth season is currently in production here in Canada. It has never stopped being relevant.
While Atwood’s novel and the series are set in a dystopian future, that future is really a version of the past. The society in which it is set has rejected the present and aims to recreate and anchor itself in a distant, patriarchal past.
Fact is, the past is fetishized in American culture. “We’re not going back” is a slogan being used by many people outraged by the leaked Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, from U.S. Vice-President Kamala Harris to women protesting on the streets. And yet, the urge to go back is evident everywhere in the atmosphere of popular entertainment.
We have, in the past few years, seen a craze for reviving and rebooting TV shows from the past.
The list is long – revived versions of Will & Grace, Murphy Brown, Roseanne, Full House, Gilmore Girls, Sex and the City and many more. The impulse to revive, whether it’s with a contemporary twist or not, is in part financial. These shows are familiar name-brands and an easy sell to customers. But the impulse has deeper meaning. Viewers are drawn by the allure of revisiting the good times, and finding pleasure in familiar characters. Maybe the new version just can’t replicate the original, but it’s a helluva draw, this nostalgia.
With an uncanny irony that often characterizes American popular culture, it was announced last week that most of the original young stars of That ‘70s Show have agreed to return for the Netflix sequel, That ‘90s Show. The new series will be set in 1995 – there’s a big nineties nostalgia craze right now – but five of the six stars of the series set in the seventies will be making regular appearances. In fact, the entire premise is that the daughter of two characters from That ‘70s Show will spend a summer with her parents and grandparents. It is beyond irony, really, that just as the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 seems to be on the brink of reversal, there’s impetus to go back to the seventies for fun times on TV.
By the way, the sixth original star not coming back is Danny Masterson, who was charged with the rapes of three women in the early 2000s, in an unusual arrest and prosecution of a famous Hollywood actor in the MeToo era. He denies the charges and the criminal case is set to begin in August of this year.
Things change, but then they don’t. That’s a theme in the U.S. culture. In many countries, younger artists and storytellers have an instinctive urge to reject the existing canon of great storytelling that’s been set in stone by an older generation. Often, every new generation of artists has problems with the content of museums and galleries, rejecting an imposed catalogue of greatness and excellence.
Not so much in the U.S.A., where going back is an overriding urge that can crush both the status quo and the inclination to go forward with the new. As I write this, it is May 4, a day celebrated widely on the internet as “Happy Star Wars Day,” invoking everything allegedly groovy about a movie from 1977. It’s trending ahead of Roe v. Wade as a topic on Twitter. You can tell a lot by using a cultural context.
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter, with film, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.