Something that’s been sticking in my mind since American Gods first burst upon the television scene is how timely these stories are. American Gods spans tales of immigration, racism, and religion in a modern world–and it does so with a black lead character. Ever since Neil Gaiman first put pen to paper, he wanted to ensure the importance of American Gods. Though these stories are initially rooted in mythology, so much of Gaiman’s world was beyond relevant when the novel was published in 2001, and even more so right now. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green have done an excellent job taking those themes and inserting them into today’s world. However, to understand these messages even more, let’s look at Gaiman’s inspiration for the book, which Fuller and Green have delved into in a way that honors and expands on Gaiman’s text.
Gaiman has stated that at its core, American Gods is about the culture of America, particularly how immigration continually plays a role in making America what it is today. Gaiman was born in Hampshire, England, in 1960, and moved to America when he was in his early thirties. He has said that perhaps the biggest surprise upon his own coming to America was that his perceptions of the country had been entirely wrong. The America he’d been writing about was fictional, but what Gaiman came to find was that the real America is “much more interesting than the fictions.”
The beginnings of American Gods festered in Gaiman’s mind during a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was influenced by stories of the people who once lived there and eventually immigrated to America. Gaiman was interested in what those people believed upon travelling to America and how those beliefs held up when they finally arrived. What he found, as is evidenced in the novel, is that American culture has the power to sway minds, to influence beliefs, to create deities of its own through what it offers to its people. Road trips across America were also of much inspiration to Gaiman, which can be seen in the road trip that Mr. Wednesday and Shadow embark on. Gaiman was interested in writing about what immigrants’ cultures and beliefs have become, whether they came years ago or months ago. How does America influence people, and how did we all become American?
As Mr. Wednesday offers, nobody is truly, genuinely American; even Native Americans crossed the Bering Strait to come to the roots of American soil. Thus, only the people of the country are responsible for what is truly American. Of course, these ideas manifest in the new gods, representative of what modern Americans value and how popular culture has caused a stray from old beliefs. However, an interesting aspect of American Gods is that some of the old gods, particularly Mr. Wednesday, retain a fair amount of power even without widespread belief. This demonstrates the core values that American immigrants of old brought with them and how those ideas shaped the world we live in today.
America continues to comprise hundreds and thousands of different cultures, religions, values, and beliefs, all of which are ever-changing and adapting to the society we live in. It makes sense, then, that American Gods would find so much power in the modern society, and it is no surprise how well the stories tie in with modern day happenings. This allows for the television show to evolve aspects of Gaiman’s world, ultimately finding that, sixteen years after the book’s publication, the world we live in is even more of a mirror to Gaiman’s.
American Gods began filming in 2016, finishing the first season before the 2016 American election even took place. And yet the show is eminent of a political world, showcasing the importance of immigrants in American culture, expressing the cultures and origins of a modern America. The show, then, was not initially planned to be something in vocal opposition of Trump and his oft-proposed immigrant ban, even before this order was executed. However, what is woven into the core of American Gods is a pro-immigrant message, a deep-wedged slap-in-the-face for those who deny the fact that, yes, America was built on immigration and has flourished because of it. In this sense, American Gods has acquired a new, relevant meaning in the era of this new presidency. Gaiman himself has been very vocal about the messages within American Gods, stating that what he was writing about years ago is more important to talk about in a modern day experience. He also noted that any viewers who boycott the show because of its focus on immigration are more than welcome to “skip” the show because they most definitely won’t enjoy it.
Of course, Fuller’s and Green’s hands have been vital in the process of adaptation, especially considering their combined abilities to manifest a supernatural, fantasy world that feels as dark, uncertain, and authentic as the modern world. This aura surrounding the show allows it to become something even more special. Though it includes elements of science fiction and the supernatural, the realness embedded in the show makes the topics it discusses take on a foreboding tone, as if to say, “Even in this fantasy show, the real world is still out there. No matter where you try to hide, these issues won’t just disappear.”
What, then, can we expect in the upcoming seasons? It certainly seems that Gaiman, Fuller, and Green are all willing and excited to utilize this show and its stories as microphones to the modern world. The issues and topics in American Gods are not merely relevant to the America of the text or the show, but are prevalent now more than ever. What the show has done is give light and a platform to topics that have been festering in the pages of Gaiman’s book for sixteen years, proving that what truly makes America the country it is (whether that be “great,” good, or even dark and twisted) stems from America’s past, which was and has always been founded on the beliefs and cultures of the people we now call Americans.