AMERICAN GODS: AESTHETIC OVER STORY?

AMERICAN GODS is perhaps Neil Gaiman’s most famous novel and stands alongside The Sandman comic book series as his most recognisable work. As a novel, American Gods is a messy classic of the fantasy genre; structurally it doesn’t work in the way Gaiman would have perhaps wanted it to.

It attempts to be both an epic, in the tradition of The Odyssey but also a novel of self-discovery in the same vein as Dickens’ Great Expectations.

Yet the novel fails to be either and as such it is a miss mash. That isn’t to say there aren’t good things about the book – the core concept is dealt with very well and Gaiman creates interesting and dynamic characters.

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What, you could ask, does this have anything to do with a website that deals with TV? Well, American Gods was recently adapted for Amazon Prime and the first season has just come to an end.

A second series has just been commissioned and like many series on streaming sites it has garnered a lot of attention.

Yet American Gods the series, like the novel which inspired it, is a mess. A beautiful mess. You could argue this is no fault of the production team – they are simply following the standard set by Gaiman’s novel.

Aesthetically, the American Gods series is gorgeous. A lot of effort has clearly been put into the set design, character design and the overall images that are presented to us. Yet whilst American Gods is stunning the story, lacks a strong and developed structure. It shifts and dissipates rather than following one logical step after another.

This raises the question – are we more inclined to watch things now because of their aesthetic quality rather than the content of the story?

Aesthetics are of course valued in any TV series or movie; nobody wants to watch something that doesn’t at least represent the mood or tone of the story that is being presented.

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Are we becoming more interested in the effects used such as in Viking battle in the first episode or Mr Wednesday’s reveal in the last episode than we are in the story? Film of course originated as a purely visual medium. Could our obsession with the way something looks rather than the content of it be holding back creativity?

Films like Avatar and Transformers rely on spectacle more than they do with engaging their audience in an interesting story. Could this become the new norm?

Whether aesthetics have become overly important in television and film is ultimately a question for the individual. Yet the lauded praise that is being given to American Gods presents an interesting distortion; if audiences are appeased by aesthetics rather than plot then how long will it be until cinema simply becomes a series of Instagram photos with some light music played over the top?

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