When I was a child, I was told a story. I was told the story of this land called America, this land of immigrants such as myself. It was a land that was the melting pot of the globe, where I could walk a single block in New York and hear hundreds of languages intermingling with one another, flowing freely in the wind. In my early years, I imagined people arriving from all walks of life and finding themselves in this country, people from the countries everyone knew and the ones I would delight myself by finding on the globe. I imagined people coming and making a life for themselves and their families, including their children with whom I would ride the same subway to get to kindergarten in the morning. That imagination broke when I was seven years old. It is a fascinating social construction, the melting pot, one that is embedded far deeper in our national fabric than most people imagine it to be. It gives birth to the idea that “We Are All Immigrants,” a catchy slogan often used by well-meaning white Americans that just happens to ignore that not everyone who is here or whose ancestors came here did so having a choice. Slaves did not immigrate to the United States. Native Americans did not immigrate to the United States. Refugees do not always immigrate to the United States. In keeping with the mythology of having a choice, there is also a furthering of the mythology of individualism that is so key to the American identity. American individualism, the personal parallel to American exceptionalism, assumes that everyone has an equivalent opportunity to succeed within institutions that were created by a select few for the sake of a select few. When people are constrained and outright neglected and oppressed by such institutions, they naturally try to escape those institutions to find a better life for themselves, for their families. They try to find some hope, and if one takes the aforementioned mythologies at face value, where is there more hope than the land known as the melting pot? The veneer of the melting pot itself is melting away, especially in the political climate of today, but it remains a potent force, a double-edged sword whose edges have always been brighter to one segment of the population than others.
The opening sequence sets the stage for a sharp, dark hour that holds no pretense about race relations in America, as potent perhaps as can be expected from two cis-gender white male show runners. Refugees from Latin America are crossing the Rio Grande River in the dead of night, desperate to find a better life for themselves so they can at the very least survive. Empathizing, or at the very least sympathizing, with their plight requires just a dash of basic human decency, of espousing the belief that everyone deserves a life of dignity, regardless of their ability to create a profit. Yet when the refugees make it to land, they encounter a different sort of melting pot altogether. It’s a land that is guarded by white men with Biblical quotes engraved on their pistols, looking upon the refugees arriving for solace as if they were invaders that must be wiped out. When Wednesday told Shadow that there were several Jesuses, it was to note how many variations of a single god or god-like figure can exist from culture to culture. Here the audience sees the first Jesus of American Gods, a Jesus that arrives from Latin America with the refugees, saving the life of a man who was desperate to get across but the current could not support. This Jesus arrived with those who believe in him, who uttered prayers to his name so they might cross the border and into the fruitful land Atsula and her people had been promised. There is, however, another Jesus, one that is white and stands behind the white men dispatching bullets into the refugees, taking in their screams of terror in a quiet, withdrawn repose. The white terrorists guarding the land they believe to be theirs fire shots through the Jesus that had come with the refugees, watching him collapse into the desert sand. The white terrorists along the river are killing the god they believe in, but it’s a god that doesn’t look like them and therefore he must be an invader, a foreigner that must be repelled at the pain of death.
Racism and religion have a curious intersection, building upon the foundation that there is a certain belief system that is correct. That belief system does not have to be tied to a specific divine figure. It could be an economic belief system, such as capitalism. It could be tied to a social belief system, such as white supremacy. It could be a material good with somewhat of a mass appeal, such as the bullets that feed the guns of Vulcan, Virginia. When the system of belief becomes inherently tied to a specific type of person, everyone who doesn’t fit within that specificity becomes the “other.” The other in “A Murder of Gods” is presented through the purview of race. The Jesus accompanying the disenfranchised refugees was the other, the brown who could never be the man white Christians worship. Shadow Moon is the other the people in Vulcan could never comprehend being one of their own and there is a critical social construction of that paradigm on display. The entire town of Vulcan is white and they worship the personification of the Roman god of volcanoes, of fire, but they don’t just worship the racist white man that leads their forces. They worship the bullets that Vulcan creates, the bullets they fire into the air and pointedly land around the only black man in town. With each bullet they fire, however, they are not just creating another weapon to use against anyone who isn’t white, they are increasing their absolute faith in Vulcan. With each bullet fired, the greater their belief in the god of infernos and the greater that belief, the more powerful he becomes. The bullets become a perpetual cycle for Vulcan shrewdly has made the manufacturing of bullets the primary industry of the town. The bullets keep on being made, they keep on being shot through guns, and he continues to thrive when so many of the older gods have faded away. That doesn’t keep him from being incinerated by Wednesday, but ultimately Vulcan himself isn’t the primary takeaway from this sequence. The key analysis is of America’s religious obsession with guns and bullets and the underlying reality that guns, these objects personifying American culture, belong only to white people.
The townsfolk of Vulcan believe that there are just two Americas. One is the America they know, believe, and will fire an inordinate amount of bullets to protect. The other America is the foreign one, populated by men like Shadow Moon and Salim who are a threat to their miserable, tightly fraught existence. Yet there is no dichotomous view of America. Everyone, as Wednesday notes, looks upon Lady Liberty and sees a different picture and upon questioning, that impression crumbles apart as one is forced to look at Lady Liberty in another facet. It’s a mirror to what Laura and Salim experience as they embark upon an incredible road trip with the irritable Mad Sweeney in tow. Laura largely looked upon life with apathy, trying desperately at times to feel something, anything. In death, she has found something but knowing her from before, that still may not be enough. It’s not a marker of judgment but it critically highlights just how difficult it can be to find system of belief and even when you have found it, it ultimately may not be the pathway that provides you with contention, let alone happiness. As Laura sits next to Salim, she finds herself drawn to a friendship with a man who believes, who has shed one identity for the sake of another but continues to believe, who has suffered so much for his identities but continues to believe and pray five times a day in the direction of Mecca. She never judges him for his belief, she tries to understand it and see the person that lies beyond it. Salim sees a woman who is apathetic, slightly broken, and dead, but he doesn’t impart any judgment upon her, either. He understands how difficult it is to find that system of belief, let alone sustain it to find that furtive happiness because it was a tremendously difficult journey for himself. Salim and Laura critically never feel compelled to lecture one another on what they should believe or how they should go about it. They never feel the urge to pull or push one another in part because they understand, whether consciously or subconsciously, that the systems of belief that matter the most are of understanding, compassion, and empathy. If only the townsfolk of Vulcan could learn to do the same.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Religion inspires in those who fear nothing.”
+“Fuck those assholes.”
+“They’re taking over America.” Ugh, Wednesday
+“I really like anal sex.”
+“You ever see a man hanged, Shadow?”
+“Neutral, in the face of injustice, is to be on the side of the oppressors.”
+“Life is great.”
+I cannot emphasize how much I LOVE Laura and Salim’s friendship
Episode Title: A Murder Of Gods
Teleplay by: Seamus Kevin Fahey and Michael Green & Bryan Fuller
Directed by: Adam Kane
Image Courtesy: The AV Club
Source: National Park Service
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