My second study for the New Gods book-verse will be: Media, the goddess of television. I know I should treat her on the third position, given that she is the third New God Shadow encounters after the Spookshow, but since the Spookshow is made up of many people, I’ll keep it for later.
Media. In many ways, the opposite of the Technical Boy. She appears at first sweet, charming, seducing – but she has difficulties hiding her dark, threatening, sadistic nature. Contrary to what her name suggests, Media isn’t really the goddess of all the medias. In the TV show, Media’s character plays fully on the ideas of mass-media and pop-culture, but in the book she is mostly the embodiment of the most popular form of mass-media in the 90s: television.
Warning! Spoilers ahead, spoilers ahead!
I- Media’s first appearance: identity, lust and weaknesses
She first appears in the seventh chapter. Shadow is in a motel room late at night, watching television (a “motel-fuzzy” television with “colors swam across the screen”), switching between teleshopping, televangelists and episodes of M*A*S*H. A subtle indication about how television absorbed and overtook fundamental areas of our societies: commerce, religion and war. Shadow finds an episode of the Dick Van Dyke Show, a very successful 60s black-and-white sitcom. He tries to watch it but soon realizes something is wrong – the episode doesn’t feel right and ends up with a violent and unfunny scene of domestic abuse. That’s the first glimpse of the dark nature of Media, a goddess that delights in shocking her audience, laughs at human misery and attract attention with tragedies and violence.
Quickly, the Dick Van Dyke Show dissolves into a “phosphor-dot fuzz” and is replaced by an episode of I Love Lucy. I Love Lucy, another black-and-white sitcom, from the 50s this time. It wasn’t chosen out of the blue: I Love Lucy is considered the first “real” sitcom ever made, and the greatest and most influential example of this genre, being the most watched show in post-WWII America. Media “possesses” Lucy to speak directly to Shadow and an important point is made here: Media is not Lucy herself. She merely takes the shape of Lucy. And she doesn’t possess/imitates Lucy Ball, the actress, the human, but rather Lucy Ricardo, the character (not only does she explains it, she also keeps mimics gestures typical of Lucy Ricardo). Media can’t possess or control people, but she can possess and control characters. Because Media is a goddess of fiction, of televisual fiction.
Media also specifies that she is not the embodiment of television, but merely its goddess. She describes the television as her altar, a shrine families gather to adore. She is the being behind the altar, that feeds of the attention and human relationships they sacrifice. And ”sometimes, each other”. This ominous mention might simply mean “people neglect their loved ones and ignore those right next to them”, but the fact that Media makes the gesture of blowing the smoke out of a gun, it seems rather to mean “the crimes, violence and murders inspired by television”.
While she names herself Media and claims that she is not television, she still presents herself to Shadow with several nicknames used for television, like “the world of the cathode ray”. We can also note that most of these nicknames act like godly epithets, describing her different functions and powers. She is called “the idiot box” (a 70s slang for television used to denounce its nature of weapon of mass distraction, propaganda distribution and stupidity-inducement), the “boob tube” (an 80s television slang denouncing television as a platform of sexuality and pornography and as a tool that diminish the IQ of children while wasting their time), and finally the “all-seeing eye” (because television is one of the main sources of information, its journalists and reporters covering everything that is happening or not. You can find a channel/program about every subject possible, from sport and fashion to cooking and gardening.) This last nickname is the darker one because it implies, and it is confirmed later in the book, that while people can watch Media through television, she can also watch you through your set. She is like the Telescreens of 1984, only with consciousness.
While she acts a bit rough with Shadow at first, asking him to give her a “fucking break” for thinking that Lucy talking to him is weird, she quickly plays the sweet little girl and concerned friend. She says that she hates when people hurt him, promises that she’ll never do that, and offers him a job with the New Gods. She was impressed by his “feats” with the Spookshow (Laura killing a lot of them) and while the other New Gods “underestimate” him, she wants him in her camp. In short, she tries to seduce him like a television advertisement. Also note how Media takes interest in Shadow only after he is believed to be a mass murderer. Again, Media is attracted to the smell of blood.
She shares the same disdain Technical Boy has for the Old Gods, comparing them to “crappy roadside attractions, carts selling homegrown produces on the side of the highway, buggy-whip vendors and whalebone-corset repairers”. On the opposite side, she described the New Gods as “the coming thing, the shopping malls and the on-line sales.” The New Gods for her are “now and tomorrow” while the Old Gods “aren’t even yesterday anymore”. Quite a catchy publicity slogan, right? Shadow immediately recognizes Media’s speech as a copycat of Technical Boy’s discourse. When he mentions it, Media changes the subject and immediately excuses Technical Boy’s brutality by explaining that he is “not good with people he doesn’t know”, but that deep down he is “a good kid” and that, once Shadow works for them, he’ll end up seeing how “amazing he is”. Again, cliché advices people tend to serve about bullies and abusive people in teenage television shows and other toddler cartoon.
In this scene, the first limitation of Media’s power appears: Ricky knocks on the door and asks offstage what is keeping Lucy busy for so long, which irritates Media and forces her to rush her seduction. It seems to imply that when she possesses characters, she is bound by the limits and rules of the fiction/work she is in. Pressed by the time, she starts promising Shadow material rewards, “the double, treble, a hundred times more than what the old guys” pay him (a materialistic side Technical Boy also showed with him bragging about his wealth), and when it doesn’t work, she goes into full lust-manipulation, asking Shadow “You ever wanted to see Lucy’s tits?”. A simple question, not only a blatant, lecherous, nearly ridiculous attempt at seducing Shadow, but also what betrays Media as the goddess of the sexual and pornographic television. Remember all the people who believed and told their children and friends that television was too sexual, becoming depraved, taught bad morals or wasn’t suited for children? Media was there to answer their belief.
Fortunately for us, Media’s strip-tease is stopped by the sleep function of the television, that shuts down the little machine. Here is Media’s second weakness: television itself. She has only power over people watching television, her only link with humanity. Without it, she is nothing, just darkness and silence.
II- Media in Cairo: of true powers and metaphors
The net apparition of Media is in chapter eight. It’s really short and without much consequence on the plot. As Shadow is getting ready to drive the corpse of an old lady out of her house, he sees Media in a small television (a “small TV set” that “droned from one corner of the […] bedroom”), possessing a newsreader (presumably female but it’s never clearly said). The newsreader grins and winks at Shadow, who calmly gives the set the finger. After that, Shadow stops watching television altogether, feeling that he is being “watched” at all time.
One important thing is made clear here: while Media can’t take possession of the actors and has to stick to the characters they are playing, she can take possession of people who work for the television and show their face on screen, like newsreaders. That’s here we realize that Media real power is to take possession of anyone, and presumably anything that appears on screen. Real life will stay untouched but the pictures, the sounds, the recordings, what people will see and hear coming out from television, that is what Media can twist and play with at will.
What is also interesting in this chapter is that, right before Media’s arrival, the husband of the dead old lady gives a rant about his ungrateful children and grandchildren, bad and greedy people, vultures waiting to take the little he scraped with his wife, to the point they had to flee from town to town to escape them. A rant that actually mirrors the situation of the Old Gods and New Gods: the Old are the lonely grandparents, accumulating what little faith and worship they can get, fleeing the oppression of their “children”, the New Gods, ungrateful vultures erasing and stealing from the old, greedy and obsessed with gaining dominion and power. A new generation that doesn’t pay attention or respect to its elder, who are slowly dying.
III – Media in Lakeside’s police station: propaganda, cruelty and migration of words
Media’s next appearance is in chapter thirteen. Shadow is in a cell, and Media takes control of the television set at the police station. Right after the end of the Tonight Show (emblematic American late night talk show that is running since 1954), Media possesses an episode of Cheers (another very popular and successful sitcom that ran during the 80s and early 90s – Media seems to have a great love for sitcoms, probably because it’s one of the television genre created in the US) and speaks through all the members of the gang – Diane, Cliff and Carla. After some lame jokes about how he is now in “orange couture” and how he should “escape in the hunting season when everybody wears orange”, Media announces through Clara that she is interrupting the program to show him something “that’s going to make you piss in your friggin’ pants” (again, call back at how television relies on what’s shocking and sensational).
Media shows Shadow what looks at first like a documentary presenting the New Gods message, with the participation of Mr. Town. Media delivers Shadow a new speech about his rights and freedoms, mocking his current imprisonment and twisting the foundations of the American society. She claims that he has the right to join the “winning side”, just like he has the right to “believe the wrong things”, just as “freedom of speech gives you the right to stay silent”. And she adds that it’s what “it means to be an American”, “that’s the miracle of America […] the freedom to stay just where you are". All of this is, of course, really powerful. Media shows here her power as propaganda, how democratic freedoms can be twisted to hide bigotry, prejudice and tyranny under the false aspects of freedom and acceptance (in a way quite similar to how the New Gods treat the Old Ones). She ends up with her biggest argument: don’t do anything. Don’t go outside, don’t move, just watch everything and let yourself be distracted. It was, and still is, one of the biggest criticism people have against television: it makes people slothful and apathic, turns them into egocentric people cut from reality and lacking any form of empathy. Television is here to distract and entertain, but when it seduces us and becomes an addiction, it prevents us from acting in the real world and change it to our liking, turns people into idiots and becomes a way to escape reality rather than a way to kill time, learn things or have a good laugh. Well, that’s what anti-television people say, and that’s a way we can interpret Media’s speech. Television offers you the entire world on a silver plate, you can learn everything, live through other people and travel anywhere without leaving your seat, so why shut down the screen and do something else? Just watch.
Back to the book, after this small documentary, Media’s transmission turns into a “LIVE FEED” (Neil describes the “live feed” logo as “pulsating”, making the television look more alive and organic than it normally should). This live feed is the one of the meeting between Mr. Wednesday and Mr. World, ending with Mr. Wednesday’s murder. Not only does Media broadcast the video of said murder to Shadow, she also uses close-ups, replays, slow-motion and freezes in a sadistic and voyeuristic fashion. All this time she comments the scene as a female voice-over/announcer, and the diffusion ends with, on the tone of a “news reporter pronouncing the final tag line”: “Yes, it’s still God’s Own Country. The only question is, which gods?”.
“It’s God’s own country” is a very popular English expression, used to describe several regions of the United States throughout history – even parodied by the Nazi propaganda during World War 2. It’s also interesting to notice that, while this sentence was used to refer to many “new countries” such as the United-States, Australia or New-Zealand, it was originally used in the Old World, in countries such as Ireland and England. Thus it could be considered a deep and hidden, if not coincidental, representation of cultural adaptation and “migration” of a concept.
IV – Media in the Center of America: the dark side of the friendly teacher
Strangely, Media doesn’t appear in the seventeenth chapter, the final battle between the New Gods and the Old Ones, even though we can guess she is among them. After all, there are many “perfect people” looking like old movie stars or television newscasters among the New Gods. They are probably the “players”, the Hollywood New Gods of fame and celebrity that Media seems to represent. However, she still has one last big appearance before the final battle – in chapter fourteen. She is one of the New Gods representatives present at Mr. Wednesday’s funerals, indicating her high position in the New mythology.
It is her one and only manifestation out of a television set: she doesn’t take the aspect of a fictional character, but rather appears as a woman “perfectly made-up” and “perfectly coiffed”, reminding Shadow of “every newscaster ever seen on morning television, sitting in a studio that didn’t really resemble a living room”. Again, Media isn’t simply the goddess of mass entertainment and pop culture, but also of information, hence why she has an affiliation with journalists, news reporters and spokespersons.
She welcomes the Old Gods in a cheerful and hypocrite way, trying to please and flatter them. She notably says to Shadow “You’ve certainly led us a merry chase, haven’t you?”, a sentence she already told him in a more threatening way when Shadow was in his cell, showing just how repetitive Media is. She shakes Shadow’s hand firmly while looking at him straight in the eyes (the stereotypical “body language” of gentlemen and good businessmen), and dares to speak of Wednesday’s funeral as an “evening business” that should be done “as pleasantly as possible”. She tries to ease the tension and prevent insults and attacks by claiming that they are “all friends here”, adding upon entering their motel “I’m afraid it’s not the Four Seasons, but then, what is?”, which just further proves that under her affability and friendly interactions she is as condescending, arrogant and snob as the other New Gods. For those interested, the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts is an international luxury company with more than one hundred hotels worldwide. Its headquarters are in Toronto, Canada, where the first Four Season Hotel opened in 1961. The most famous of these hotels in America is the Four Seasons Hotel Austin, the first hotel possessing a “high-speed wireless Internet network”. Built in 1986, it hosted queen Elizabeth II during her 1991 visit of Texas. In a funny way, the Four Seasons company, after the collapse of the travel industry caused by September 11, ended up bought by Bill Gates, the man behind Microsoft, in 2007.
Anyway, back to the book. Media in her human form has the tendency to particularly insist on certain words and sentences, written in italics, imitating the way newscasters, journalists and television personalities speak through over-use of emphasis. Czernobog mishears Media’s name as Medea, “the one who killed her children”, and Anansi explains “different woman, but same deal”. It may be a reference to how television industry has the habit to “kill” its children, the stars (think of the scandals of child-stars, “children of television”, ending up in drug addiction, sexual abuse and suicides.) When they eat their fast-food, she eats with a napkin poised by her lips to remove the crumbs of her burger from her mouth. Clean and polite, she doesn’t want any stain on her perfect image. When Shadow asks what are the rules the gods follow, Media explains it with a business vocabulary: “It’s like breaking the street date. You know. When things are allowed to be on sale.”
When Shadow goes inside his bedroom, he finds Media already there, sitting primly on his bed, waiting for him, her face pale (probably because in the center of America she doesn’t feel quite well). Just like what she represents, Media is certainly invasive and likes to sneak in people’s homes and lives. She thinks, opportunistic as she is, that it’s an “appropriate time” to make him an offer: she tries to soothe him, with “a smile in her voice”, and offers him to join the New Gods again, since Wednesday is now dead. She first goes with the carrot, offering him fame, “power over what people believe and say and wear and dream” (sounds a lot like Internet influencers nowadays, huh?). She offers to make him the next Cary Grant, or the next Beatles, which indicates that Media doesn’t have power over television only, but indeed also on the cinema and music industry, affirming her role as the “media goddess” instead of the “television goddess” (even though, since she is a representative of the “players”, she may merely invoke the powers of her fellow deities instead of her own). When Shadow refuses and asks her to leave, she then switches to the stick. She threatens him with doing bad things to him (the complete opposite of what she said in her first appearance, revealing her nature as a liar and manipulator): she can turn him into “bad joke”, make everyone “forget him”, or worse, turn him into a “monster”, make sure people remember him as the next Manson or Hitler. Here we have the dark side of media fully coming into light. Media has the power to spread fake news, fake reports, to twist the truth. Media is what ridicules, it is and always was a tool of humiliation. Media offers fame and glory, but can also doom one with the curse of anonymity and obscurity, or deprive of any success or career people had slowly built. Media, finally, is what exhibits for all to see the crimes and the criminals, dictators, cult leaders and mass-murderers. How many movies, how many documentaries, how many cameos and references to those that tortured, killed, and destroyed hundreds and thousands of people? Media is what carried on these criminal’s dark legend, and helped grew a cult around them. Worse than that: Media can deliberately distort the historical truth into a pop culture version of a person or an event. A version romanticized, biased or exaggerated, but that people will remember better than the nuanced, complex, boring truth.
Shadow doesn’t react at all to these threats and she leaves with a final dramatic line: “I offered you the world. When you’re dying in a gutter, you remember that.” (Shadow also indicates that her perfume lingers in the room long after she left, even though he doesn’t describe what this perfume smells like.) Some like to interpret Media’s insistence at seducing and recruiting Shadow on their side as something similar to what transpires out of Technical Boy’s breakdown and self-reassuring speeches. An insecurity about their strength. The need to have an ace with them. A fear that they won’t be enough by themselves. A longing, a craving for human support. A lack of something, we don’t know what exactly, but this lack is here and it’s a crack in their impeccable image.
Media’s last appearance is during the eulogies around Wednesday’s corpse. She spouts random banalities and meaningless platitudes typical of the 90s American media. She talks about how “people die every day”, “for each time of sorrow there is a corresponding moment of joy”, comparing the death of people with new babies coming into this world, saying that joy and sorrow are like milk and cookies, they go well together – and finally she adds pedantically that everyone in the room should take a moment to meditate on that. She tries to pass off the murder of Wednesday as a natural thing, insists on how old generations have to go to give room to the new – clearly making the Old Gods understand, in a patronizing, if not passive-aggressive way, that their departure from this world could only bring the best to everyone.
Her last line, “everyone should meditate on that”, makes her sound like a teacher, or at least a wannabe teacher/mentor, and that fits perfectly with what television is about. Television is supposed to be a teacher, to be a way for us to learn and discover things. It’s the place of documentaries, it was the tutorials before the Internet. It’s especially obvious with the children shows – remember Sesame Street was for example an attempt to help poor and uneducated children to learn the basics like the alphabet or how to count. As a result, it’s normal that the goddess of television treats other people like children in need to be taught.
- In the comic book adaptation, when Media encounters Shadow as Lucy Ricardo, the smoke from her cigarette actually gets out of the television, into Shadow’s room. One of the covers also shows a creepy, crazy-looking Lucy-Media getting out of the television like the ghost from The Ring.
- Still in the comic book adaptation, Media's attempt at seducing Shadow at the Center of America is even more blatant. Because here not only does she is seen sitting on his bed - she is also wearing nothing else than a white t-shirt and pink panties. And in a disturbing way, she keeps the same warm, friendly smile when both seducing him and threatening him. Her face only drops all traces of emotions and becomes hard as stone when Shadow resists to both of her attempts and shows no love and no fear for her.