Sotheby’s, the world’s most prestigious broker of luxury goods, just auctioned off a copy of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s called “The Unburnable Book.” The pages are made of aluminum Cinefoils, which is “used in film production to wrap hot lights.” The cover is made of phenolic sheet, a bulletproof laminate. And the whole thing is bound together with nickel wire and stainless steel. The lot was expected to sell for between $50,000 and $100,000; it went for $130,000. “All materials were tested by fire during manufacturing to validate these specifications,” Sotheby’s adds. So the buyer definitely got his money’s worth.
Really, I can’t think of a more perfect symbol for the modern left than this Unburnable Book. It was inspired by two events the bougie bolshies have been wringing their hands over for months now, each more absurd than the other.
The first is the leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. The eponymous handmaids of Atwood’s novel have become a popular symbol for pro-abortion activists. The book is about a dystopic future where the United States becomes a Christian theocracy called the Republic of Gilead. Women are forbidden from learning how to read or write. Their fertility status is designated by the color robes they wear. The scarlet-robed handmaids are fertile, and therefore exist solely for reproduction. They become “two-legged wombs,” as the narrator explains.
Exactly why America becomes a Christian theocracy is never really explained. That’s why The Handmaid’s Tale is such a strange book. But that’s also what makes it such a powerful symbol for the modern left. Americans’ moral attitudes are rapidly liberalizing. Last year, churchgoers became a minority in this country. There is no poll in existence that shows the U.S. population becoming more “socially conservative” in any sense of the word. And yet progressives are utterly certain that the United State is on the cusp of becoming a Baptist caliphate. The Handmaid’s Tale is used to validate the very delusion that spawned it.
It’s not just America, either. The handmaid costume was also popular with pro-choicers in Ireland circa 2018. That was the year a national referendum repealed the Irish constitution’s ban on abortion. One Irish activist explained that the handmaid costume “was used in context of the ban on abortion, because women had a sense that the state thinks of us like vessels and incubators.”
Now, if you don’t understand why that’s absurd, there’s not much point in trying to explain. If you can’t see the difference between the Republic of Ireland and the Republic of Gilead, you probably never will.
Likewise, if Roe is overturned, American women will not be chained up in barns and used as breeding stock. The repeal won’t even outlaw abortion. It will just roll back a national guarantee. Granted, six states have “trigger laws” that will automatically ban abortion if Roe is repealed. Seven more have trigger laws that require certification from the attorney general, which may or may not be given. Eight more still have their pre-Roe bans on the books, which may or may not be enforced.
Still, abortion will be widely accessible in the majority of states, whereas only five states had totally repealed their abortion bans before Roe was handed down in 1974. If it sound to you like America is hurdling towards a vicious neo-Puritan dictatorship, I really don’t know what to say.
The second incident that inspired the Unburnable Book is the “banning” of Maus, a comic book about the Holocaust, by the school board of McMinn County, Tennessee.
Of course, the book wasn’t really banned. County school boards don’t have the power to outlaw anything, much less books. The good people of McMinn County can still buy Maus at any decent bookstore or through their online retailer of their choice. The school board just doesn’t want the comic being used in class, because it contains strong language and nudity.
Naturally, that’s not how progressives see it. The comic book’s author, Art Spiegelman, said the decision has “the breath of autocracy and fascism about it.” He accused the school board of wanting to “teach a nicer Holocaust.” That’s obviously not true, and Mr. Speigelman knows it. The school board isn’t trying to censor the crimes of Nazi Germany. They’re not trying to cover up historical events. If realism was Mr. Speigelman’s concern, he would have written a history book, not a “graphic novel”—or, at least, not one about Nazi cats and Jewish mice.
That’s not meant as a dig at the author. Realism isn’t everything, and I’ve heard only good things about Maus. But an author can’t complain every time a school board decides not to use his text. Still, we can’t quite blame him for kicking up a storm, either. It’s great publicity. I’m sure there’s an unburnable edition of Maus already in the works.
Which brings us back to our main topic. The “Unburnable Book” is so perfect because it gets to the defining feature of the modern progressive: a total and utter lack of self-awareness.
It really should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: The Handmaid’s Tale is not a “dangerous book.” Books that threaten “the regime” are not published by Penguin Random House. They are not turned into a TV series by Hulu. They do not make their authors centimillionaires. Collectable editions are not sold for $130,000 at Sotheby’s.
Nobody is going to be burning The Handmaid’s Tale anytime soon. And that will come as a great disappointment to our progressive friends. They want so badly to be persecuted. (At least, they think they do.) They want to be the victims of an oppressive elite. They want to be rebels with a cause. And absolutely nothing will convince them that they are the ones in power. They are the victims of nothing but their own success.
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This is what makes it so difficult for conservatives. The “Unburnable Book” is a terrific joke the left is playing on itself. Seriously, $130,000 for a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale! We laugh, expecting progressives to go red in the face and slink off sulkily. But they don’t. They genuinely don’t seem to get the joke. They are totally lost in their Dumbledore’s Army fantasy.
Before the whataboutism starts up, let me say that I know the right has its fair share of hypocrites. Take the video of Trump supporters brawling with a police officer under a Blue Lives Matter flag. The difference is this: You could maybe find conservatives who would say, “Yes, I think it was a good idea to beat up that cop. Job well done.” Meanwhile, I’m not sure you could find ten progressives who see why a flame-retardant copy of A Handmaid’s Tale that costs three times the average American’s annual wage is a brutal piece of self-satire.
Yes, it is hard for conservatives. Because you can’t laugh at someone with no shame. We keep telling the emperor he has no clothes, but he won’t hear of it. He just keeps strutting like a peacock, wearing nothing but his crown. He really seems to think he can see his clothes. What’s even more bizarre is that he can’t see his crown.