Mass Media: Informant or Indoctrinator?

“The anchorman comes on now… What he’s telling us, his level smile implies, is for our own good. Everything will be all right soon. I promise. There will be peace. You must trust. You must go to sleep, like good children. He tells us what we long to believe. He’s very convincing. I struggle against him. He’s like an old movie star, I tell myself, with false teeth and a face job. At the same time, I sway towards him, like one hypnotized. If only it were true. If only I could believe.” (Atwood 83)

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale continually explores the subject of government control. As the reader attempts to understand how the society came to be, he/she looks to the information propagated by the leaders in Gilead.

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Acting akin to a parent, the media can ‘spoon-feed’ information to the viewer.

Atwood uses anchorman’s dialogue to show the government-sponsored infantilization of the populace. The anchorman uses short, simple syntax as one would use to talk to a small child. He even requests that they act “like good children,” submitting to the government’s parental-like authority. Just as children are taught to not question their parents when they make decisions on the children’s behalf, so too is the populace told that they “must trust” in the government. The anchorman tells them “I promise,” as if he carried a sort of credibility. The people must trust because the anchorman says so.

To contrast with the anchorman’s message, Atwood uses complex syntax when Offred is thinking for herself. This is similar to throughout the entire novel, as thought is portrayed as Offred’s primary means of defiance. Every other chapter is “Night,” describing how Offred attempts to remember the past, giving her hope that society has the ability to change if it has changed before. She attempts to tell herself that “he’s like an old movie star” to destroy any credibility that he has an anchor, but she is not powerful enough to fully deny the power of his words.

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The media functions almost exclusively to elicit obedience.

In addition to Atwood’s utilization of syntax, she also uses diction relating to hypnosis to subtly show the extent of the government’s control. Earlier in the novel, we have seen Aunt Lydia’s attempt to teach morality to the handmaids in brief, definitive instructions, similar in its intent to Brave New World‘s hypnopaedic slogans. Atwood expands on this instruction in this passage of the media, as the anchorman tells the people “you must go to sleep.” Additionally, Offred shrewdly points out that she moves towards the TV, “like one hypnotized.” He assures them, in this altered state, that “everything will be all right soon.” Atwood shows that for this indoctrination to take place, it is preferable, in the government’s perspective, for the people to not fully be conscious.

 

By portraying the media as infantilizing and hypnotic, Atwood asserts that the media has a functional role in the continuation of society. The media operates to comfort its citizens in order to keep the status quo. This will work best if the people are not even fully aware that this is taking place.

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3 thoughts on “Mass Media: Informant or Indoctrinator?

  1. I think the comparison of the short, simple phrases in the anchorman passage to those found in Brave New World is an apt comparison. Throughout the novel, Atwood seems to draw a lot of inspiration in the structure of the heavily authoritarian, patriarchal world she creates from George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Recall her use of the words “unwoman”, “unbaby”, and “Econowife” as Orwellian language to more closely examine how society views each of these categories. I think a comparison with these other two 20th century dystopian novels is quite useful. Perhaps Atwood’s piece can be seen as the feminist version of this genre.

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  2. Hi Hannah,

    Your analysis of how media shapes Gilead is quite enlightening. I think that your focus on media is very significant because it does not simply show how the society is structured but also gives insight on how it is propagated. I also appreciate the way you contrast media’s effect with Offred’s internal thoughts and frame her thoughts within the book as a whole (what happens during Night). However, when I personally close read this passage, what stands out to me is how the media might affect Offred. In your blog, you separate Offred’s personal thoughts from the effects of media, but I believe that Offred seems to actually be affected by the media’s hypnosis even if she is conscious of its effects. Because of Offred’s opposing split between her external actions and her internal thoughts I feel that she almost wants to reconcile the two at times. In this case, to me, it seems as if she is almost leaning towards buying into society to simply rid herself of the complicated split between her internal rebelliousness and her external devotion.

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  3. I liked how you analyzed the media to be “hypnotizing and infantilizing.” I thought it was particularly interesting in how you stated the media as treating civilians like young children in telling them what they constantly need to know. I wonder if hypnosis and infantilizing can be mutually exclusive or if they are both required for the media to establish control over the people? I also wonder if the means Offred uses to escape from her past are comparable to the means the media uses to establish control? Since by trying to forget her past, Offred would firstly have to establish control over what has happened to her. Therefore, perhaps the hypnosis and infantilizing techniques can be particularly helpful for her as well as a means of dealing with her past.

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