‘American’ Identity via Cable Drama Reverberations

This Spring-szn of dramas showcased all the different portals available on… whatever device it is you’re using this week to snatch programming from thin air. Zip from Fargo, North Dakota, south to Jarden, Texas, hook West through Saul Goodman’s ABQ, up the Coast to Twin Peaks, Washington, all in a day. Regardless of where you live, television had its hold on your stateside neighbors, with an offering of ideologies as varied as our nation’s landscape. Is Lynch’s The Return on smartwatch?

Two series in particular traced American identity from its genesis: the immigrant story. In opposite formal modes, FX’s penultimate season of The Americans, an ostensibly realistic 80’s Cold War fervor family drama with hella wigz, and Starz’ highly-stylized, adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s cosmic opera American Gods. If you’re wary of spoilers for either, steer clear.

The Americans and American Gods cull the United States’ plurality of persons, inspecting culture across generational gaps. The Jennings, our protagonists in TA, were born in the Soviet Union during WWII, and that pride/fealty, exacerbated for both Philip and Elizabeth (Mikhail and Nadezhda, before) by a lucrative KGB career, is at odds with the American alias-life that protects their children. Past mortal boundaries, AG’s perspective on this dogged country stretches back, back, back, to the spiritual realms of a slave’s birthplace, shackled, Anansi-heeding import, or fated to Mad Sweeney’s greener indenture. In exchange for your soul, the United States of America as spiritually tangled, heterogenous microcosm, offers hearts and minds the possibilities of a Spirit-in-Progress.

Paige Jennings is willing to give up what she found at church just as soon as Pastor Tim doubts her ability to adapt to the reality of her parents’ profession, its duplicitous nature. Meanwhile, Easter is having a crisis, surrounded by too many incarnations of Jesus, while the New Godz of AG, (Media, Technical Boy, and Mr. Universe) try to stop her from hearing Odin’s piece. Odin is glad in abundance. As worship flows, so does power. “You are Ostara of the Dawn,” he reminds her. “Show them.” Easter is convinced. Herein identities don’t shatter, they mutate. For the Gods and Mortals alike. The SFX in AG get this across in psychedelic moves, like Mr. Universe’s digi-wave profile, and Laura Moon’s post-mortem deterioration.

What Pastor Tim wrestles to accept, we’ve already watched the Jennings circumvent as often as three disguises a day, for five seasons to date. You start by learning the language, catching onto slang, and playing the games that are popular in your new country. You teach your recipes to them and they listen. Keeping the defunct old-country at bay. Hoping to score a slice of life you deserve, you push your tolerance for abuse to extremes. 
(e.g. The Handmaid’s Tale, LA 92, The Bad Batch)

Philip (Mikhail) sacrifices the chance to meet his estranged son, Mischa Semenov, in a move that protects his deep cover as Philip, and suffocates the Russian self that brought him to act covert stateside. Philip and Elizabeth take on the biweekly-masks of Mr. and Mrs. Eckert, a married couple with a vietnamese adoptee, Tuan, in order to exploit a family that has defected from Moscow. Their son, Pasha Morozov, has an affection for Tuan, and their families share dinner and bowling bouts, but the job is the job. Tuan, a soviet agent first and foremost, convinces other kids at school to bully Pasha. As part of a blackmail scheme to drive the Morozov’s back to Moscow so the mother can continue her affair with a CIA operative, Tuan advises Pasha that in order to get his parents’ attention, he’ll have to attempt suicide, make his intentions clear on the note. In the same episode arc, Henry Jennings, still unaware of his family’s secret, pushes Philip to let him attend a far-off boarding school. That’s three father-son dynamics ready to detonate for the sake of one (fake?) American.

In The Americans and American Gods, the American body politic is particularized by dynamics of dominance and subordination, a diverse citizenry fettered by stereotypical connotative associations between nationalities. Power structures and history figure into both so as to pin their social commentary to specific moments in America. Mr. Wednesday (aka Odin) and his apprentice Shadow Moon stitch together their newfound partnership, and AG’s narrative, from loops across the midwest.

Searching between-the-lines of their neighbor’s interests The Jennings take on (Reagan-era) American culture as the adversary. By participating in our freedoms, though, they feel they might betray communist priorities. Swayed by an instinctual honor for people. Challenged by The Jennings they might might want to become.

This PoMo culture of ours, of the Jennings’, too, invites doppelgängers, bringing Technical Boy and Media into the mix, because the tools that allow us to enact our identity only get sleeker and smarter. An avatar per mood. Splicing joyously, each user pens onto a second ontology, the interface. Here, the game is vitality via replacement. On any given app, genres, attitudes, styles, clash toward the discover page of cultural relevance. The mash-up shirt has blurred realities. Even our sitcoms have got a knack for meta-textualizing.

Once the twittersphere memes a cultural mood, it fancies repetition, the mob tossing up sparks of referentia. These nodes of association gain power from their spontaneity. In an inverse of the Old Godz’ quest for relevance, this form of extinguishing nodes confirms the immediacy of a cultural mood. In a breadcrumb trail of culture, the new paths are formed by users who may leave this avatar behind for a new site and a new name. That was then, this is now. The reverberations of an instance, these sparks don’t have to catch fire as long as they shine. The PoMo inclination is that nothing lasts for good anyway. Goofy jokes for our goofy damnation.

Your posts aren’t just code. In Mass and in Mass Media, when wishes are mere symbol, imagined, invented, fashioned, dreamed of but not done, there you have desire. Symbols must partake of the actual, the Eucharist isn’t as God, it is God. Ostensibly, liberty allows the exchange of your dreams for laps around the clock, granted you’ve got the free time. In order to put Shadow Moon, and the Jennings, in this position you barter a living. The chance to ‘make’ one. To adopt and deny the Godz however we desire.

The Blue Trickster of West African myth never looks blue — his status is even stronger than Everyman, troubadour of collective subject, his is an Everyvoice that can, by organizing the community’s most fervent moods, evoke a deification-by-visibility.

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