Overstreet

American Gods

61 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

Justin Hanvey wrote:
: Many hieroglyphics show white, brown, and black skinned Egyptians. 

Trust me, I've seen many Afrocentrists (some of whom are flat-out black supremacists; you haven't lived until you've argued with someone who insists that the biblical "chosen people" were all black, and modern-day Jews are a "synagogue of Satan", etc.) bombard comment threads with hieroglyphics and other images that have no captions or context, going back to the #BoycottExodusMovie debates of three years ago.

Suffice it to say that I've always said I'll take actual dead bodies over anonymous works of art any day.

Which is not to say that you couldn't find people of different races within any given city; obviously, you could. (The Bible even tells us that one of Moses' wives was a Cushite (Numbers 12), and that Cushites served under David (II Samuel 18) and Zedekiah (Jeremiah 38) -- the first and last of the Judean kings.) But the current evidence seems to indicate that ancient Egyptians had less in common, genetically, with sub-Saharan Africans than their modern counterparts do -- and so, would Cushites have been *representative* of how the Egyptians saw themselves and their deities in ancient times, let alone how modern Egyptians perceive them *today*? Doubtful.

: It's very sociologically accurate, all cultures have a different conception of Jesus and often he wears their own skin and cares deeply about things that matter to them. Since the stories central idea is that belief and worship -creates- gods different Jesus' makes total sense. The universe which the novel exists in would probably acknowledge a historical person named Jesus existing but his godhood as a myth people came to believe and create multiple Jesus gods out of.

See, this is the tricky thing. The real Jesus is *both* an historical person *and* the everlasting God. And it is the *historical* side of Jesus that makes him the humanoid figure that we can depict in works of art etc. The divine side of him is simply unknowable without the human (and thus rooted-in-history) side of him.

If the show was allowing for multiple versions of *all* of its deities -- like perhaps an Egyptian god who is more relatable to the modern Egyptian woman? -- then this would be a slightly different conversation. But for some reason Jesus is the only deity who gets the multiple-personae treatment -- and he's also the only deity who has his feet planted in the real world of real historical events! (I.e., he's the only deity who was an actual real person -- singular, not plural! -- at a certain point in history.)

It's also kind of intriguing to see Mexican Jesus come with the Mexicans into America. Why does the modern Muslim Egyptian woman get visited by an ancient Egyptian god, while these Christian Mexicans have a modern Christian deity accompanying them? What about an ancient Central American deity?

At some point, someone with a mind more nimble than mine is going to pitch an article looking at The Shack and American Gods in tandem, as stories that situate Jesus in a modern, non-biblical context (and as stories that place a certain amount of narrative weight on the ethnicity of Jesus).

Oh, one extra note: Given the religious terminology engraved on the rifle of the American who was murdering the Mexicans, I wondered if we might see an American Jesus pop up alongside the American characters -- in which case we might see two different Jesuses taking opposite sides and even fighting each other. But no, last night's episode didn't go there; the only Jesus we saw was on the side of the Mexicans. Maybe some future episode, though...?

: As the saying goes we tend to make God in our image.

Except the whole point of the transcendent monotheistic God -- whether for Jews, Christians or Muslims -- is that he is beyond images, beyond depicting. The only reason we can depict the Second Person of the Trinity (i.e. Jesus) is because he actually became incarnate as a human being.

To put this another way: I have a hard time imagining that an *actor* could play the Jewish God, or the Christian God the Father, or the Muslim God in this series -- there isn't the sort of mythology (and associated imagery) to play with there that you find with the Greek gods or Norse gods, etc.

That being said, I wouldn't necessarily put it past this show to try something along those lines, at some point.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

That could very well be that he's portrayed as some disembodied voice. That's how he was portrayed in the aforementioned Lucifer story I believe though I think there was an angel that acted as Voice of God that spoke for him, or was that Good Omens? Something like that.

Found the story, it's called Murder Mysteries and is part of the Sandman universe, but is supposed to give back story to Sandman's Lucifer character and depicts an angel investigating a murder in Heaven. God is simply called The Presence and is disembodied, one angel even going so far as to say God doesn't exist as a living being but as a Presence that is in everything and everyone.

Edited by Justin Hanvey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

FWIW, re: black Egyptians, if I recall correctly the Egyptian gods in question mention in the book that they were seen as different races in the past but solidified as black somewhere around the Civil War (?). It's a different mechanic than is at work with Jesus in the show, it seems. 

Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Justin Hanvey wrote:
: God is simply called The Presence and is disembodied, one angel even going so far as to say God doesn't exist as a living being but as a Presence that is in everything and everyone.

Yeah, that's kind of what I'm imagining this series will do with God. That's kind of what I was getting at when I used the word "transcendent" -- he's too big to be confined to a personality roaming the streets or whatever.

NBooth wrote:
: FWIW, re: black Egyptians, if I recall correctly the Egyptian gods in question mention in the book that they were seen as different races in the past but solidified as black somewhere around the Civil War (?). It's a different mechanic than is at work with Jesus in the show, it seems. 

Interesting! Did this solidifying have anything to do with who believed in them at that time?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

NBooth wrote:
: FWIW, re: black Egyptians, if I recall correctly the Egyptian gods in question mention in the book that they were seen as different races in the past but solidified as black somewhere around the Civil War (?). It's a different mechanic than is at work with Jesus in the show, it seems. 

Interesting! Did this solidifying have anything to do with who believed in them at that time?

My memory isn't that good, but I think it had something to do with the communities they find the most work in as funeral directors. Someone who's read the book more/more recently could probably say better than I.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think you're right. The best thing about this is its making me want to read this and Anansi Boys again. I think I'll do that.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So, how 'bout that season finale.

*** SPOILERS, NATCH ***

I need to watch it again before I say much, and I don't know quite when I'll have the time to do that. But I was mildly surprised by how little attention the episode paid to Jesus, despite its title, 'Come to Jesus'. (Plus, if I followed this correctly, it turns out that Mad Sweeney was taking Laura Moon to see *Easter*, not Jesus, for her resurrection.)

I was intrigued, though, by the fact that Jeremy Davies is listed in the end credits as "Jesus Prime". I didn't notice any of the other Jesus actors in the credits.

I was also intrigued to see that there were a few Virgin Marys there too, at least one of whom was nursing the Christ child. I had actually wondered how the series might handle the veneration of *saints* -- if gods are created by our belief in them, then what about our belief in saints? -- and Mary is, of course, a saint and not a goddess, so *that* was interesting. (Also: has any other film or TV show ever shown Mary *nursing* the baby Jesus?)

But back to this "Jesus Prime" business: I'm intrigued that Davies is not simply "White Jesus" or some similar name. It's almost implied that he's the original, the genuine article. But is he identical to the historical figure who was crucified and buried? Are *any* of these Jesuses identical to that guy? The way Mr Wednesday refers to Jesus coming out of his stinky grave, like it was something that actually happened, seems to kind of point in that direction, maybe. And of course, this gets me thinking about the old "real Jesus" vs "historical Jesus" debate.

The fact that Mr Wednesday is played by Ian McShane is, of course, very amusing to those of us who remember him playing Judas Iscariot in Zeffirelli's Jesus of Nazareth forty years ago. He's worked with at least one Jesus before. (He also co-starred in A.D. Anno Domini, but as Sejanus, in scenes that were utterly separate from the New Testament section of the miniseries.)

The prologue this time focused on Bilquis, and included a scene in which she watches ISIS destroying the pagan temples of the past. This, too, touches on the gods-vs-God distinction that we discussed earlier in this thread. Is there a personification of the Muslim God, or Jewish God? Or of the Christian God the Father, for that matter? Or is Jesus the only one who gets treated as a person here, because he's the only one who assumed human form and is therefore depictable?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Assume Spoilers

I girded my loins and powered through the last half of this season yesterday. I like it a lot, but the last episode really crystallized some gripes I have about the show and (back of it) the novel. Admittedly, listening to Richard Rodriguez's interview on the initial Image podcast immediately beforehand probably kickstarted my gripes anyway.

But here's the thing--and, really, some of the Jesus stuff plays into this in a way--there's a distinctly anti-modern undercurrent at work here. The finale's emphasis on fertility goddesses kind of underscores this romanticized idea that the Old Gods are elemental and primal while the New Gods are slick and shallow and whatever. So even though we know that Wednesday isn't trustworthy (and plot-stuff in the novel goes a long way toward complicating notions of the Old-New binary), the expectation seems to be that we will find Easter powerful and beguiling (and Bilquis similarly) in their use of sexuality while Media is pure titillation ("Wanna see Lucy's tits?"). All of this intersects with a bog-standard critique of modernity as articulated by, I dunno, Eliot or Pound. But here's the thing--the laziest way to appear Deep and Serious is to bemoan the shallowness of modernity. Eliot and Pound do interesting things because they recognize that modernity isn't something you can roll back--you have to adapt old forms to new circumstances. You have to "make it new." The project of modernism isn't about rolling back modernity or even just critiquing it--it's about finding a way to live within it.

So. The Old Gods-New Gods binary here is a fairly lazy division along predictable lines, and it carries with it this fascination with fertility myths (fertility myths were also central to The Waste-Land, of course, though Eliot being Eliot the fertility was entirely male). Because the idea is that fertility--like thunder, for instance, or death--can't be rationalized or controlled by modernity (interesting, then, that the god who "goes bad" is the god of the forge--that is, a technology god; I have my doubts that Bilquis is staying with the New Gods for long, and certainly it isn't of her own volition). The New Gods are about control, the Old Gods are about...I dunno, existential surrender to Powers Other Than Yourself. I could talk this out to a fair extent, precisely because it's not a particularly novel set of ideas.

Ok, but Jesus. This is what's interesting, because Jesus doesn't really fit into either pantheon. He's condescended to by the Old Gods, who treat him (all the hims) as a slightly slow-witted younger brother. He's not even particularly noticed by the New Gods. So he exists in a liminal space (which might be the real reason that Gaiman struggles to include him, rather than--as Noah Berlatsky suggests--because he's avoiding controversy). He's too new for the Old Gods and too old for the New Gods. He's also, interestingly, the only God who seems to be acting on behalf of his worshipers--failing, of course; dying, of course; but, at least, not demanding that they burn themselves to death or kill each other (and, yeah, Anansi's position in the slave narrative early on is complicated by the fact that his worshipers here had absolutely no good options). So Jesus is a weird fit for the divine congress presented in the show.

Now, as to what that means--I have no idea. I suspect that the showrunners felt that expanding the story gave them the chance to deal with this huge gap in Gaiman's novel--the fact that Jesus is actually a more pertinent American God than Odin is. Which is fair. But they're obliged to tweak the mythology of the show to allow for multiple Jesuses [which, I am reminded, is mentioned in the book], mirroring the way in which Jesus is omnipresent in American life. What would be interesting would be to see these Jesuses aligning alternately with the New and Old Gods--so, like, there's the Jesus who runs a television station and the Jesus who's all into Celtic spirituality, etc etc etc. And that would mirror the transitional place that Christianity occupies in this sort of [anti?]-modernist myth: the last of the old, elemental religions and the first of the new religions of information and control.

[Something to keep in mind in all of this, of course, is the fact that the pro-Old God stance is articulated by Wednesday--a not-exactly-reliable source--directly before he's called out for his meddling in Shadow's life by Laura. So we might get something more interesting than what I've outlined above going forward]

Edited by NBooth

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

NBooth wrote:
: Admittedly, listening to Richard Rodriguez's interview on the initial Image podcast immediately beforehand probably kickstarted my gripes anyway.

How does that interview plug into this series?

: Because the idea is that fertility--like thunder, for instance, or death--can't be rationalized or controlled by modernity (interesting, then, that the god who "goes bad" is the god of the forge--that is, a technology god . . .

Oh, good point. Me, I was reminded of the Vulcan scenes in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and how Vulcan tried to impress everyone with the fact that he was now working on weapons that wouldn't require any personal fighting, just sitting back and pressing a button. (Not that American Gods went in that direction -- but the depiction of Vulcan as a weapon-maker who has *modernized* rang a familiar bell, for me.)

: Ok, but Jesus. This is what's interesting, because Jesus doesn't really fit into either pantheon. He's condescended to by the Old Gods, who treat him (all the hims) as a slightly slow-witted younger brother. He's not even particularly noticed by the New Gods. So he exists in a liminal space (which might be the real reason that Gaiman struggles to include him, rather than--as Noah Berlatsky suggests--because he's avoiding controversy).

I am unfamiliar with Berlatsky's argument, but this is what I have been thinking, too: that Jesus is an "Old God" who, unlike all the other Old Gods, is still popular and therefore powerful -- he has not felt the decline that Odin and others have -- and, if anything, he has been accommodated by the New Gods (or has been accommodated *to* the New Gods) to the extent that we have televangelists and whatnot. Except I don't recall the series really putting him on the New Gods' side at all. He's just kind of in this in-between space -- or, as you put it, a liminal space.

And once you admit the existence of Jesus in this world, you have to wonder about the saints and all the other personae that people believe in and, thus, would be powerful in this world. The season finale hints at this (perhaps inadvertently?) by showing multiple Mary figures, albeit nowhere near as many of them as there are Jesus figures. Once you allow for Old Gods who are actually still popular and have *not* sided with the New Gods, it kind of complicates the war narrative. (And I do think of Jesus as an Old God, in the sense that he has his origins in the ancient world.)

And ultimately this all takes me back to the question of the capital-G God -- the ineffable, transcendent God who exists before and above and within all things. Jews believe in this God. Christians do too, and often identify him with God the Father (though the Holy Spirit is similarly difficult to depict). And Muslims believe in him too. These are the major religions in our world today, and -- with the exception of Jesus -- none of these religions revolve around a humanoid figure the way that the Greco-Roman religions revolved around Zeus or the Germanic religions revolved around Odin, etc. But if belief makes gods powerful, then the fact that billions of people believe in this God must surely be significant within the world of this story. (Hmmm. Hinduism -- the religion that officially has 330 million gods -- is still going strong today in India, at least. Where does *that* fit into Gaiman's work?)

: What would be interesting would be to see these Jesuses aligning alternately with the New and Old Gods--so, like, there's the Jesus who runs a television station and the Jesus who's all into Celtic spirituality, etc etc etc. And that would mirror the transitional place that Christianity occupies in this sort of [anti?]-modernist myth: the last of the old, elemental religions and the first of the new religions of information and control.

Interesting! And it kind of parallels what I said a few episodes ago, about wondering if we would see a Jesus on the side of the immigrant-killers (given the religious phrase inscribed on their weapons), opposite the Jesus who was on the side of the immigrants.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
58 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

NBooth wrote:
: Admittedly, listening to Richard Rodriguez's interview on the initial Image podcast immediately beforehand probably kickstarted my gripes anyway.

How does that interview plug into this series?

Primarily Rodriguez's generalized antipathy toward the modern world. So I had that on the brain right before diving into the rest of the series.

58 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

: Because the idea is that fertility--like thunder, for instance, or death--can't be rationalized or controlled by modernity (interesting, then, that the god who "goes bad" is the god of the forge--that is, a technology god . . .

Oh, good point. Me, I was reminded of the Vulcan scenes in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and how Vulcan tried to impress everyone with the fact that he was now working on weapons that wouldn't require any personal fighting, just sitting back and pressing a button. (Not that American Gods went in that direction -- but the depiction of Vulcan as a weapon-maker who has *modernized* rang a familiar bell, for me.)

Good connection.

58 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

: Ok, but Jesus. This is what's interesting, because Jesus doesn't really fit into either pantheon. He's condescended to by the Old Gods, who treat him (all the hims) as a slightly slow-witted younger brother. He's not even particularly noticed by the New Gods. So he exists in a liminal space (which might be the real reason that Gaiman struggles to include him, rather than--as Noah Berlatsky suggests--because he's avoiding controversy).

I am unfamiliar with Berlatsky's argument, but this is what I have been thinking, too: that Jesus is an "Old God" who, unlike all the other Old Gods, is still popular and therefore powerful -- he has not felt the decline that Odin and others have -- and, if anything, he has been accommodated by the New Gods (or has been accommodated *to* the New Gods) to the extent that we have televangelists and whatnot. Except I don't recall the series really putting him on the New Gods' side at all. He's just kind of in this in-between space -- or, as you put it, a liminal space.

And once you admit the existence of Jesus in this world, you have to wonder about the saints and all the other personae that people believe in and, thus, would be powerful in this world. The season finale hints at this (perhaps inadvertently?) by showing multiple Mary figures, albeit nowhere near as many of them as there are Jesus figures. 

And you have leprechauns, djinns, and all sorts of other non-divine personages running around, too. So I wouldn't be surprised if the saints made a showing. 

58 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

And ultimately this all takes me back to the question of the capital-G God -- the ineffable, transcendent God who exists before and above and within all things. Jews believe in this God. Christians do too, and often identify him with God the Father (though the Holy Spirit is similarly difficult to depict). And Muslims believe in him too. These are the major religions in our world today, and -- with the exception of Jesus -- none of these religions revolve around a humanoid figure the way that the Greco-Roman religions revolved around Zeus or the Germanic religions revolved around Odin, etc. But if belief makes gods powerful, then the fact that billions of people believe in this God must surely be significant within the world of this story. (Hmmm. Hinduism -- the religion that officially has 330 million gods -- is still going strong today in India, at least. Where does *that* fit into Gaiman's work?)

FWIW, the book hints at a deeper metaphysical reality beyond the gods, but it's a generalized pantheism, iirc.

58 minutes ago, Peter T Chattaway said:

: What would be interesting would be to see these Jesuses aligning alternately with the New and Old Gods--so, like, there's the Jesus who runs a television station and the Jesus who's all into Celtic spirituality, etc etc etc. And that would mirror the transitional place that Christianity occupies in this sort of [anti?]-modernist myth: the last of the old, elemental religions and the first of the new religions of information and control.

Interesting! And it kind of parallels what I said a few episodes ago, about wondering if we would see a Jesus on the side of the immigrant-killers (given the religious phrase inscribed on their weapons), opposite the Jesus who was on the side of the immigrants.

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if I half-remembered your comments when I was making my own.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

NBooth wrote:
: And you have leprechauns, djinns, and all sorts of other non-divine personages running around, too. So I wouldn't be surprised if the saints made a showing. 

Right. But leprechauns, djinns and so forth don't have any ties to real-world history, the way that Jesus and the saints do.

Meanwhile, this video was released today (warning: one NSFW word), and it confirms that Kristin Chenoweth was cast as Easter partly because she is openly Christian in real life, and the producers thought it would be nicely ironic to have her play a goddess who is kind of ticked at Jesus for stealing her thunder:

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now