“Time and attention—better than lamb’s blood,” said Media, in the second episode of American Gods, broadcast in the US yesterday. The character from the 2001 Neil Gaiman novel, which is now a Starz TV series, was more prescient than the author could have imagined.
The story about living deities takes the premise that gods are only as powerful as the people who believe in them. And that those brought to the US centuries ago, like Odin, the Norse god of war and death, are losing their power to new deities, like those of Technology and Media.
The character of Media, played by Gillian Anderson, was a personification of traditional television in the novel, which was written in the era before social media. But her powers, like the ability to talk through TV sets with the book’s human protagonist and control what he watches, reference the addictiveness of Facebook and Instagram as they exist today.
“All of these themes that Neil was exploring 16 years ago are more relevant now than when he conceived of them,” Bryan Fuller, one of the showrunners of the TV adaptation, tells Quartz. “Those us who lived through the evolution of social media and the hemorrhaging of personal privacy are now returning to his book and looking at the themes that Neil put in place through new lenses.”
The tweaks to the character in the TV adaptation are subtle, where she has become a chimera of media and fame. Media appears in the guise of dead pop-culture icons like I Love Lucy’s Lucy Ricardo, Marilyn Monroe, David Bowie, and Judy Garland, who made significant contributions to the cultural landscape.
“It seems like a fair amalgamation because now media is so much about celebrity and fame and perceived followers that you can count on your account,” says co-creator Michael Green, who has also co-written the upcoming and much-anticipated Alien:Covenant and Blade Runner 2049 films. “It was really just observing the world and listening to it.”
“Then till now, golden age to golden age, they sit side by side, ignore each other and give it up to me,” said Media, as Ricardo, from a high-definition flat-screen TV in the second episode. “Now they hold a smaller screen in their lap or in the palm of their hand so they don’t get bored watching the big one. Time and attention—better than lamb’s blood.”
There’s also a new god, Technical Boy, who looks like he could be a YouTube influencer himself.