Americans have always had a push-pull relationship with discovery and tradition.
We love electricity but dream of unplugging. People talk big about work-life balance, but workers feel guilty about taking sick days. Most of us believe in a higher power but have no problem overlooking microaggressions on the street.
It is within this rubric that the Starz show “American Gods” takes place. The highly-rated cable drama is a classic tale of old versus new, in this case of traditional versus new “gods” of the sort referred to in myth and legend and church. The show finds the gods of war, technology, media, evil, love, money and truth locked in a deadly popularity contest. Who has the most followers? Winner takes souls. The show, based on Neil Gaiman’s novel, obviously touches a nerve: Sunday night Twitter conversation lights up with the hashtags #gawds and #americangods.
Starz launched a clever marketing campaign behind the show and placed a survey on the website www.whatdoyouworship.com. The question is the thru-line of the story in that the gods are only made powerful based on the attention provided by their believers. For example, Tech Boy, a nerdy, obnoxious dudebro, thinks he is the strongest god because he is the new, hot thing. Media, represented by X-Files actor Gillian Anderson as a floating version of Lucy Ricardo, tells the main characters that no one can function without participating or seeing some version of media.
Myths aside, the universal ideas that center this modern-day fantasy tale raise interesting questions. What do people believe in? How do they spend their time? And, statistically speaking, if we could ask the question, which of these “new gods” would really be on top?
The gods can have hope, too
According to the Starz’ site, Unity is first, with Truth, Money, Technology and War bringing up the next slots. If a god’s strength comes from attention, the new American gods are clearly a force to be reckoned with. The Ipsos Global Trends Survey found that 73% of Americans say they spend their days “staring” at screens. The same survey found that 77% of Americans use a smart phone daily. Plus, some 30% of Americans watch TV – daily – online. Thus the “new” gods are correct to some extent.
There’s hope for the old gods in the data, too. In the US, 65% say they long for a simpler life. Nearly three in four say the world is changing too fast. Half feel that the technology we worship with our time is simultaneously “destroying our lives.”
This tension in the fanciful world of the show mirrors the tension in our everyday lives.
Meanwhile, one of the old gods, “Mr. Wednesday” aka Odin, of Norse mythology, explains to a character that the various ways in which Protestants worship speaks to the variety of how people interpret religion. An Ipsos study found that 68% of Americans say that religion is very important, and by religion, they mean traditional religion – not the so-called “new” gods referred to in the TV show.
But overall, since the author himself – who is British – is in the midst of raising at least $500,000 to support refugees, it would seem that his vote is for unity.