It is often said that the opposite of love is hate, but that sort of thinking is simply incorrect. Love and hate exist in the same fiery, passion-fueled circles. When you’re devoid of that passion, you’re nowhere near the capacity for either; you’re just ambivalent. Which is exactly the story at the (undead) heart of Laura Moon, one character on American Gods who has grown leaps and bounds from her on-the-page iteration into something much more. No longer is she simply the dead wife of our hero, Shadow Moon—some sort of sacrifice to his unending love for her. In the hands of Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, she’s become so much more (and more dangerous): the embodiment of American apathy about everything.
Bryan Fuller has said previously that Laura Moon (played by Emily Browning) is the TV series’ “foothold into the world” and that she “told us what the show is.” Perhaps the best way to sum up just what that is: a tale of what makes America America. Included in that are, predominantly, the stories of immigrants, but also the stories of the Americans that take all of this—our freedoms, our ability, our belief in American Exceptionalism—for granted. As such, the tale of American apathy is a mightily relevant and necessary story to tell if you’re depicting what rules and guides this country.
shirt, she even says as much in this character trailer—she’s very blah about the whole thing:
This is most notably displayed in episode four, where Laura Moon’s origins are explored in ways unseen in Neil Gaiman’s original pages. On the screen, Laura has a go-nowhere sort of job at a casino, and stays only tangentially connected to the thrill and excitement and passion that most of her clientele get from gambling. When she’s approached by Shadow Moon, it is not butterflies and interest and excitement in this person that captures her attention; it’s just that he’s interested.
At several points throughout the series, Laura’s friend Audrey comments on how impressive Shadow’s affection for her is, but never once does Laura seem to be filled with that first love excitement. She calls him “puppy” not because he’s cute and playful, but rather because he follows her around, waiting for whatever scraps she’ll throw his way–it’s a term of endearment that’s really more one of pity. Her own apathy is also what gets her caught up with Robbie; she felt no wild love or even lust for her best friend’s husband, but just gave into the attention and lust that Robbie harbored for her. In every aspect of her life, she plays a passive role, never once making a choice for herself and simply going with the flow of what’s doing that work for her.
Even in her attempted suicide, she couldn’t bring herself to follow through—that would mean hating her life, when she really simply has no feelings about it at all. No beliefs, no feelings, no way to move forward of her own accord.
This is exactly why she ends up following Shadow, too. He revered her and, in many ways, put her on a pedestal she never earned, deifying her as something so much more innocent and pure than she was (remember the nightgown she was wearing in his dream in the pilot?). She is pulled by this coin—his gift of life to her, even in death, imbued with his love for her and their sacred (at least in this context) marriage bond—to follow him, to save him, because apathy is ruled by the forces of others. She takes, never giving, simply existing in the situations placed upon her. That’s why she doesn’t really understand that it’s Shadow’s love for her in that coin in her chest, pulling her ever-forward.
This is why apathy’s so dangerous. It is only ever controlled by outside forces.
In this case, the outside force is a coin, a magical one from Mad Sweeney—and it doesn’t feel like that detail is an accident, either. America is a capitalist nation, by definition powered by monetary gain and greed. We are the center of the world in our own minds. The American Dream posits a land of opportunity for everyone, and never once says anything about what it takes to deserve it.
Many people see this sort of behavior as a Millennial problem (Laura is certainly the right age for that generational bracketing), but it’s an inherently American one—it just presents itself in different ways from generation to generation. How many older people do you know who argue who justify never voting in elections by arguing that “nothing ever changes” so it ultimately doesn’t matter? How many do you know that say all you need to worry about is being able to pay your bills? These people are certain that America will keep being America, in the end, so why should one care about anything beyond their self-interests? In America, we are all exceptions; we are each the sun on the top side of our magical coin.
American Exceptionalism is a powerful idea, so much so that we expect it to be the rule of life here even when we do nothing to deserve it. This is a deeply privileged way to go through life, to feel as though so little of what you do or don’t do is relevant to how the world operates. (In many ways, America’s apathy problem is a white one.) Just as belief and love and hate can drive a person, so, too, can apathy. The only difference is you’re being controlled rather than trying to do the controlling. So it’s okay to not believe in anything and float through life apathetically—in fact, the people in power prefer it, as it makes you easier to control. And Laura is nothing if not controlled by her apathy. It’s why she’s now a confused zombie, charging towards something–what she’s charging towards, she doesn’t know. The expectation of things just working out how they’re going to has rendered her inert. She’s a victim of circumstance thanks to her own inability to care. So in that way, maybe it’s Laura Moon that’s the greatest danger of all.
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