Thursday 9 August 2018

Red capes and Pooh: fiction as a source of symbols of dissent (Anne Rooney)

The costume of the Handmaids in Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale has been adopted by women around the world protesting against oppression of women and repression of reproductive rights. It's clever. The costume is a symbol, but one that can't easily be suppressed. A woman can't be arrested for wearing a red cape, yet she doesn't need to say anything to make her point. From a writer's point of view it's fascinating. A story — a work of speculative fiction (scifi if you like) is so embedded in the cultural pysche that its entire ethos can be referenced and drawn on in support of a cause, just by wearing a coloured cape.

Literature as a tool of dissent has a long history. We've all referred to Big Brother (of 1984 fame, not dumb TV show), Animal Farm and Brave New World. But none of these has a visual icon that allows the reference to be carried out silently and, effectively, irrepressibly. But maybe the wordless reference it's taking off. China has been suppressing images of Winnie the Pooh and the latest Disney Pooh film has been denied release there because Pooh has been adopted as a symbol of dissent. Or at least a way of making fun of the leader Xi Jinping. Are there any more visual symbols of dissent taken from popular literature?

It's another reason, I suppose, for governments to disinvest in 'proper' education. But the rise of the Handmaid and Pooh both come from the filmed versions. Can't see any government managing to suppress Netflix...

Anne Rooney

1 comment:

Catherine Butler said...

Another example that springs to mind is the use of the salute from The Hunger Games by protestors after the 2014 coup in Thailand. And the use of the mask from V for Vendetta (itself of course borrowed from Guy Fawkes masks) by Anonymous.