March 09, 2016

America "not a good country for gods"?

Why Adapting Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for TV Is a Bad Idea

By Abraham Riesman[P]erhaps most offensive, we'll get the book's Big Statement About America, which is bizarrely insulting to Native Americans. Near the end of the novel, a Native American with magical powers named Whiskey Jack tells Shadow he's not a god, but rather a "culture hero," because the land we call America "is not a good country for gods."

"There are creator spirits who found the earth or made it or shit it out, but you think about it: who's going to worship Coyote?" Whiskey Jack tells Shadow. "[W]e never built churches. We didn't need to."

Really? No houses of prayer? How, then, do you account for the Longhouses the Iroquois built for their prayer ceremonies? And no true gods that anyone bothered worshipping? That's an insane generalization about more than ten thousand years' worth of spiritual culture across an entire continent.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman

By BrontëI wasn’t completely satisfied with the scope of the religions and cultures he represented. Of course, it would’ve been impossible for him to meaningfully represent every culture of the world in a 600-page novel, but most of the big characters from mythology were the easy choices, coming from popular European myth. It would’ve been nice to see a few more less popular, less Anglo-centric gods be given fleshed out stories or characters. There was almost nothing from South America. Does that count as part of the barren America?

Which brings me to the subject of Native American representation. Gaiman justifies his plot-integral proposition that gods don’t thrive well in the Americas by stating that Native religions were truly more about land-worship and idols than the creation of gods. I know little about most Native religions, but 1) that’s a broad statement and 2) that just doesn’t seem fair. Can we truly say that or is this a case of misrepresentation and the molding of a culture to the author’s needs? I’m inclined to say the latter.
Mark Reads ‘American Gods’: Chapter 18

By Mark Oshiro“What I’m trying to say is that America is like that. It’s not good growing country for gods. They don’t grow well here. They’re like avocados trying to grow in wild rice country.”

And it proves to be a shockingly astute observation about the history of this place. There were plenty of indigenous people who lived in America long before white men came to bring disease and genocide, and I think that’s what he’s referring to. We are a nation built on imperialism and immigration, and what gods we did have that were grown here were lost in the genocide against the Native peoples. (Obviously not entirely, because there are still Native Americans living all over this country, many who still believe in the same gods, some who believe in new ones, and some who don’t believe in any at all. I’m not a fan of language about Native peoples that paints them as if they just up and ~disappeared~.)
Comment:  "Not entirely" is putting it mildly. Thousands of Native cultures still exist in North, Central, and South America. Their gods probably have more true believers than Thoth, Anubis, Ēostre, the Queen of Sheba, and kobolds do.

So how does Gaiman figure that America failed to produce gods while the "Old World" succeeded? The only significant religions left in Europe and the Middle East are the worldwide ones: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism. The indigenous or "pagan" religions are mostly gone.

For more on American Gods, see Whiskey Jack in American Gods.

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