[personal profile] wingedbeast
Fair waning given. This will be about both the book and the Starz series "American Gods". If you haven't read and watched, you may wish to do so before reading on, for here there be spoilers.

Laura Moon, in the book, was less a character than a combination of goal and Deus Ex Machina for the main character, one Shadow Moon. We never see her in life, only after death. In the same moment we first see her body, we learn that while Shadow Moon was in prison, she was cheating on him with his best friend, husband of her best friend.

For all of that, the book could easily have gotten away with treating her unkindly. Neil Gaiman is a better author than that. From what's said in the book, she's a person who's spouse and socially/morally acceptable source of romantic and sexual fulfillment is inaccessible and did not have the strength to wait. She didn't lack for affection and, indeed, both partners in the affair had every intention of ending the affair once Shadow Moon returned. It made her imperfect, but in a way that was too human to hate.

On the other hand, she wasn't a character in relation to herself. She existed in relation to Shadow Moon. He wanted to resurrect her fully from her undead state. "Mr. Wednesday" sometimes feared her as a competitor for Shadow's belief. And, she, seemingly randomly, saved Shadow's life with undead strength.

So, there are elements I like about what the series is doing and elements I don't.

I like that she's getting her own story with her own agency. Instead of resurrection being a motivation for Shadow Moon, she's working to get her own resurrection. This leads her down her own path along the world of beings that gain power through human belief and her own perspective. That's all great.

I can go back and forth on the nature of Laura's character before and after her death. Before her death, Laura Moon seems... Well, to some she could seem cold, uncaring, detached from the world. To me, she seemed clinically depressed, potentially anhedonic. Her affair, her planning of a casino robbery, even her relationship with Shadow all seemed to be her chasing after some form of happiness. It's only after her death that she seems capable of feeling love. And, that's because it seems that it's only after her death that she believes in anything at all.

That's where we get to the bit I don't like.

Laura Moon was, in life, an atheist and clinically depressed. As far as the text of the series would have us believe, I just repeated myself. She was raised Christian, but grew up to stop believing that there was anything magical in the world, stopped finding joy in anything, and, because of that... No, not because of that. Because of that would suggest the text sees this as two separate things. By the text, the lack of sensing the supernatural is the lack of capacity to feel joy is atheism.

This is a common trope. And, you can switch out deities if you like. God or the pixies or Santa Clause, it doesn't matter. There are stories that will, repeatedly, speak of the ultimate virtue that is believing in the power and benevolant motivation of beings that manifest both in ways that are functionally equivalent to nonexistence. Clap your hands if you believe in faeries. Find your faith.

The trope is built from stereotypes about atheists and those stereotypes are neither new nor informed by actual atheists. It was created by people who needed to explain the existence of atheists, but didn't feel any impulse to allow for the possibility that an atheistic perspective might be valid. Something had to be lacking in the atheist, otherwise how could such a thing possibly exist?

When I acknowledge something along the lines of the Twilight Zone episode "The Obsolete Man", in which a totalitarian government that kills people for having obsolete skills or trades has to identify itself as atheistic in order to remind the audience that it's evil, it's of sociological concern to me. I can treat that coldly.

When I acknowledge something more recent, such as a similar trope at play in Doctor Strange wherein the good doctor is uncaring about people and unwilling to sacrifice until he abandons a Materialist philosophy, it irks me a bit more.

It bugs me all the more in this particular story.

"Mr. Wednesday" is a god in America. He's our only consistent view of the gods. We soon find out that he's Odin. Throughout, we know that he is a con-man. His only marketable skill in the world is getting people to believe the lies so that he can have power. By nature, that requires that he devalue the very people he needs to believe in him.

Neil Gaiman created a world in which both sides of the debate are true. The gods are, in fact, real. The gods are, in fact, lies. The series goes along with that same premise, to the point that there are multiple Jesuses (Jesi?). While Christianity is culturally dominant in the US, the gods (or god and saints/figures) thereof are, fundamentally, no different from any other.

Atheism has been presented as the cause of, caused by, and/or synonymous with a deficiency of thought, of emotion, or of morality. This setting, out of all, should be the place where it's easiest to present a view of atheism wherein the atheist can be mentally, emotionally, and morally sound.

Bare in mind, this is explicitly text. When we have an entire episode devoted to Laura Moon's side of the story to date (the fact of which is something I like), her depression is mainly shown through subtext. When it is at its closest to text is in the discussion of the afterlife. Early in their relationship, Shadow asks Laura what she believes happens to you after you die. This comes into a discussion about how she used to believe but found out that the world has no magic to it.

Because the text cannot simply put up a neon sign reading "clinically depressed" with an arrow pointing to Laura, it does the next best thing and has that sign read "atheist" instead.

Aside from the short-stories, giving their view of various gods and their interactions with humans in America at several points in history, Shadow and Laura are the only characters that aren't gods. Shadow could, technically, be an atheist before meeting Mr. Wednesday. But, in today's society, that means that he's likely a Christian of some variation, even if he doesn't regularly pray or go to church. That's just the water in which we swim.

That leaves only one representation of someone who doesn't believe in an afterlife. I won't go so far as to say doesn't worship, because "worship", in this story, doesn't have so confined a definition. By posting this online, asking for you to read and comment, I am, in the way this story would have it, making a sacrifice of time and effort unto the internet and receiving, if I am lucky, validation (and, hopefully someday, money).

That's another topic. But, for now, just to focus on this question of Laura Moon, wherein the word "atheist" effectively means clinically depressed and emotionally detached, I'm left with the question... why?

Date: 2017-07-27 03:23 am (UTC)
dragoness_e: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dragoness_e
It's been a long time since I read American Gods, but I'll flail at an answer anyways.

Because in that universe, gods are real, magic is real, and to be unable to participate or believe in that facet of the universe is to be missing something. I think the implication is that her depression caused her atheism, not the other way around. As someone who has had spells of severe depression, it really does leach the magic and joy out of the universe. Even if you've had direct experience of the supernatural in the past, that bout of depression can cause you to tell yourself that nothing so wonderful really happened to you, it was just your imagination/wishful thinking/a dream/an hallucination. When you're depressed, wonder and magic simply aren't allowed to happen to you, as far as your brain is concerned.

"The world has no magic in it" is a better description of severe depression than atheism. I've read enough posts by atheists who find magic and wonder in the world all around them, in nature, in science, etc. So, given that Laura likely first hit a depressive spell that convinced her there was no hope, no magic in the world, the pessimistic logic of depression led her to decide there's no God or gods, either. (The other "fun" alternative that depression can lead to regarding religious belief is that God hates you and wants you to suffer for some sin you committed.)
Edited Date: 2017-07-27 03:29 am (UTC)

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