I just finished reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, a novel premised on the idea that human superstitions and worship have given rise to real gods, pixies, leprechauns, etc. Those ancient creatures are at war with new gods worshipped in America, gods of technology, TV, media, etc. For what it is worth, I thoroughly enjoyed the read and would recommend it to that small segment of my readers that enjoys such things.
It got me thinking, though, about what gods are really worshipped in America. I don’t think Neil Gaiman has it quite right, though he may be close. After all, TV (the domain of the Media god) does have all the appearance of an idol. It sits on an altar surrounded by our offerings — DVDs, Blurays, Game Consoles, and Media Players. We gather around them. Point our furniture at them, like so many pews in a church. But just as the altar of a church isn’t what you worship, the TV isn’t the item of worship. Sure, for some people it is, but for most it’s just a conduit.
It could be the noise maker that makes a single guy living alone feel less lonely. It gives him the illusion of company. Maybe he feels attached to the characters in the screen, like friends that are always there from week to week.
It could be the only connection with home a weary traveler as. He stops at a hotel, flips on the TV, and is greeted by the same voices and faces he sees on the TV at home. It’s the closest he has to being home.
Some are just looking for a good story — one where everything turns out ok and anything can be solved in just 24 minutes. (30 if you pause for commercials, but who does?) Some TV shows actually border on artistic. They’re crafted like a good movie with literary geniuses writing the scripts.
Some come to the TV looking for heroes — indomitable personalities that swoop in just in the knick of time to make things right. Someone or something to believe in when the world seems inscrutable.
But not all the needs they meet are so innocuous. Televisions are also the manner in which we celebrate vanity and pettiness. We gather around our TV sets to watch reality unfold but the realities we pick are often those of the worst people we can find. We tell ourselves that we’re just watching ironically, but some are emulating, others wishing, and most are propping themselves up with a common lie — “I might be bad but I’m not that bad.” Of course not, but you are taking time out of your week to fund someone’s trivialities.
Those are the gods that really have the most sway in television — wealth, vanity, and pettiness. And people do yearn for these things! Trading riches for possessions, self-esteem for oneupmanship, and love for lust.
Today, it was brought to my attention that MSNBC — which bills itself as a news outlet — cut from an interview with a congresswoman (you know, someone who runs the country) talking about the NSA (you know, the guys that are reading all of your emails) to inform us that a teenager would be going to court for DUI. You can see the video here. There you have it. MSNBC does these things because that’s what people care about. We don’t care about governance or ethics. We traded the grand for the mundane — like a spoiled teenager acting like a spoiled teenager. These are our gods.