If you have been watching American Gods — the Starz fantasy series based Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel of the same name — you know that it offers critical commentary on the social issues we face as Americans. Obviously, the impending war between the old gods and the new gods of technology, media, and groupthink force us to reconsider what we truly believe in. The modern renditions of the old gods we meet throughout the series are among the most poignant examples of this.
In last night’s sixth episode of the season, viewers travel with Mr. Wednesday and
bae Shadow Moon to Vulcan, Virginia. The town is home to the factory that makes Vulcan bullets and is owned by Vulcan, the god of fire, metalworking, and the forge. To say that Vulcan is a weird place would be an understatement. When a foreman falls into a vat of boiling metal, the factory keeps on churning out ammunition as if nothing happened. And then there is the fact that all of the town’s residents are white, openly carrying firearms, and dressed like Nazis. It’s no place I would ever travel to as a Black woman.
However, these are the fruits of Vulcan’s deal with the new gods. He receives his power from the sustained investment that Americans have in owning and using firearms. He claims that every bullet fire is a prayer in his name. The lives lost to gun violence have become sacrifices to him. It’s a story that makes sense amidst a polarized national conversation on gun control in the US. If there were ever a country for such a god to set up shop, this would be it.
However, there is an undertone linking Vulcan’s success — a level of prosperity that few old gods achieve, hence Wednesday’s determined mission — to his partnership deal with the new gods. American Gods seems to be suggesting that gun culture is thriving because of contemporary media influence and propaganda. It ignores the fact that America came to be as a result of fire power, and that this fire power has always been intrinsically linked to whiteness, as reflected in Vulcan’s citizens. Native Americans were unable to defeat colonists who had this deadly advanced technology at their disposal (you could consider guns the original new gods).
The second amendment came about as a way for Americans to protect their land — land that only white men were able to own for a long time. The racial undertones of gun ownership and usage are still alive. The Black Panther Party sparked controversy when they insisted that Black communities arm themselves.
The media has certainly played a role in normalizing gun violence and race relations, but this was true in literature and the press way before Americans started worshipping screens. If the real history of America is directly linked to Vulcan’s power, that power would have never waned in the first place. Vulcan, Virginia is not as isolated or fictitious as American Gods would have us think.