Let the Motherf***er Burn
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The adage “we are all immigrants” is a lie. It is a blatant lie, a disfiguring euphemism designed to make white people feel better about the role they have played in the subjugation and oppression of people of color. It is the kind of phrase that exists to put a bandage on real wounds without ever actually addressing the depth of the wound in question. It is especially an adage that fits perfectly within the purview of the white liberal moderate who notes that they understand historical patterns of oppression but are simply unwilling to admit how they in turn benefit from those patterns because it makes them uncomfortable. Creating a collective image of prosperity and harmony born out of perseverance, then, allows white people to feel as if they own a little bit of racial oppression themselves, even though they quite simply do not. The phrase is intended to give white people permission to espouse ignorance because it is cloaked within the veneer of respectability. It allows, in essence, white people to raise a banner without actually doing something productive.
But the phrase is more than a euphemism, it is fatalistic in that it actively allows for the more disturbing parts of American history to be swept away in the dark waters that open “The Secret of Spoons.” It creates the mythology of a wide, wind-swept expanse of geography that was empty, lying in wait for visitors with an almost embarrassing largesse of riches. It creates the lie that everyone, white, brown, and black alike, were welcome upon the shores of this magnanimous land. It makes it palatable to believe that everyone willfully came here and was received at one point by a gleaming copper beacon of hope. It actively erases the genocide of indigenous peoples that was wrought forth by white conquerors because if everyone is an immigrant, then that must mean that there were no populations here before. There’s already a national mythology of convivial relationships between whites and indigenous peoples built over the course of a chilly November evening as they dined on turkey with a side of cranberry sauce. The further erasure of crimes against indigenous peoples is unwelcome.
“We are all immigrants” ignores slavery. The word “immigration” critically notes that there is an ability to make a choice as to whether or not emigration from one’s current home is a viable option. That is in part why the distinction between “migrant” and “refugee” for example is so critical to understand. Slaves did not have that option of making a choice to emigrate to a new land. They were kidnapped and sold off to be worked to death making money for white capitalists. The next time a white moderate notes that there was slavery before the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade, it must be noted that slavery as an institution did not take on a global paradigm of racist, anti-black dimensions until white Europeans decided to make it so to justify their horrifying actions.
American Gods’s second vignette opens up on a slave ship, the camera coming in to focus on a slave praying to the god Anansi (a mesmerizing Orlando Jones, Sleepy Hollow). Anansi first appears as a spider, as he does in traditional folklore, before transforming into a man. The spirit of all knowledge in stories, Anansi decides to tell the slaves on the ship a story of a man who once upon a time got fucked. “The Man Who Got Fucked” is the story of black people in America. They were brought to this so-called promised land to be split up, sold off, and worked to death. Make no mistake, rebellions occurred, but the stronghold that slavery had on the black body never truly left. It was replaced by a system that used the same principles as slavery but always managed to call it something else. America as a country was founded by white people, but it was built upon the pain of black and brown bodies and no matter how well-meaning a white individual may be, this country made sure that people of color never forgot their reality even as it pretended that that truth did not exist. Today, that paradigm of oppression can be looked at through the lens of police brutality, another mechanism of the state making it clear where it thinks black people belong. Anansi makes it abundantly clear that all the slaves on the ship are already dead. They might as well take some slavers down with them.
The opening narrative edits quickly to a lynched Shadow hanging from Yggdrasil before he is cut down by a mysterious power. Shadow is understandably infuriated and horrified, but he barely has a decent chance at trying to recover from that death experience before he’s visited by what he assumes is the ghost of his wife, Laura. He feels that he’s losing it, but that sense of a probable, impending madness seems to be most palpable when he is in the supermarket buying gifts with Mr. Wednesday and he’s visited by one of the new Gods: Media (a sharp Gillian Anderson, The X-Files) Media makes it known that she is the one to whom the mortals now sacrifice to. It does not matter whom they’re sitting next to, what they ought to be doing otherwise, they need her presence. The devices through which she can be worshipped keep on becoming smaller, but the quantity increases, the desire increases, and Media continues to become more popular. That experience unlocks something in Shadow’s mind, a sharp belief that he may be losing it, but that there was something else in existence that he couldn’t deny as it was bearing down upon him with such a relentless intensity.
“The Secret Of Spoons” refers to the lamentation of a god named Czernobog, the Black God from Slavic mythology (Peter Stormare, John Wick: Chapter 2). The loudmouthed Czernobog lives with the Zorya sisters, whom in Slavic mythology are guardian goddesses who guard over and watch the skies. Sharp-tongued Zorya Vechernyaya (Cloris Leachman, Mary Tyler Moore) and tight-lipped Zorya Uttrenyaya (Martha Kelly, Baskets). Czernobog describes that the immigrant experience was not that much more different for him than it was for Shadow, that he was considered to be dark where he came from. In Slavic mythology, that might be true, but Shadow’s expression brings forth the episode’s thematic construction about race and the interactions only go downwards from there. Czernobog may be convinced that he’s as dark, but the aforementioned lamentation that gets to what he is truly concerned with. “The Secret of Spoons” is the lamentation of a man who ran the guillotine and became obsessed with the instantaneous death his phallic hammer would bring down upon the heads of unsuspecting prey. He sees a mortal amongst them, a black mortal man specifically and that desire to bring back the power of instantaneous death arrives once more. An adrift Shadow takes the bet of death, his loss reverberating quietly throughout the scene. His loss was a shame, Czernobog noted wryly. Shadow, after all, was his only black friend.
+“You arrive in America, land of opportunity, milk and honey, and guess what? You all get to be slaves. Split up, sold off and worked to death.”
+“The only good news is the tobacco your grandkids are going to farm for free is going to give a shit load of these white motherf***ers cancer.”
+“Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”
+“Slit the throats of every last one of these Dutch motherf***ers and set fire to this ship. Let it burn. Let the motherf***er burn!”
+“No. No cops.” Ricky Whittle delivered the underlying ferventness of that piece perfectly
+“There’s a lot to be said for bottling up emotions.”
+“No chance for serendipitous lovely.”
+“Always better dead than forgotten.”
+“The truth is not what people want to hear.”
+“There’s only us, and serving is beneath me.”
+“You don’t die of cancer.”
+“I’m tired of glorious.”
+There are some truly gorgeous shots of Chicago.
Episode Title: The Secret Of Spoons
Teleplay by: Michael Green & Bryan Fuller
Directed by: David Slade
Image Courtesy: Collider
Source: Radio Times
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