the interesting thing about this scene for me as an orthodox christian

transcription of sufjan stevens’ “don’t look back” interview

interviewer [voiceover]: here’s the tale of two songs and how they helped sufjan stevens reconcile the sexual and the spiritual. and it came via a little-known california songwriter.

sufjan: judee sill was a very unknown folk singer, sort of like uh, joni mitchell, uh, in the seventies. and she only had a few records, and she died prematurely, and she was a very troubled woman but she was a great songwriter. and her stuff is being more celebrated now. but my stepdad loaned me a mixtape of her music, maybe in high school or college? and i remember the song “jesus was a cross maker.” and it’s a beautiful song that confuses the sacred and the sensual and really extenuates– ‘cause she sings about heartbreak and a lover, but also about just… dutifulness… with the same kind of erotic passion.

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"Our Balkan Homeland": A Very Incomplete History of Transia

One of the first things we learn about Wanda and Pietro Maximoff in their comics debut in Uncanny X-Men #4 is that they are from Europe. Their fictional home of Transia doesn’t get named until later, but they are European from the start, making them some of the first non-American heroes in a very American art form. It’s a fact so basic and essential that the X-Men movies and cartoons simply had to omit it. (Bitter? Who’s bitter?) Exact details of their fictional home vary from story to story. It is mostly a weird place where part of a demon god lives and a man with a handle on his head does experiments on cows. It’s been both a village and a country, and like many made up places in the Marvel Universe, it has a tendency to change location. The main focus in stories with Transia is the characters, in particular the High Evolutionary, not the specifics of the country itself. Chronicling every change Transia has been through would be both tedious and exhausting, so I’m just going to give the highlights instead.

Wanda and Pietro start off as generic Europeans. Not much attention is paid to their life before joining Magneto, except that people where they’re from apparently threaten children with pitchforks and torches. Their place of origin is quickly narrowed down to the Balkans, which is how it’s usually referred to. By “usually,” I mean “to an obsessive degree.” I don’t think anyone actually says the Balkans as often as Wanda and Pietro do when talking about being from the Balkans.

PIETRO: No, my beloved – and you must not ask me again! Wanda refused to obey me, her own brother!

WANDA: Which is not the way things were done in our Balkan homeland, is it Pietro?

Avengers Vol. 1 #127 by Steve Englehart & Sal Buscema

The Balkans is comic book code for old-fashioned. The dominant thinking is that the twins are from a backwards place, somewhere the men are misogynist and the women are milkmaids, where sisters always listen to their brothers and no one ever marries a synthezoid. This xenophobic attitude infects both of the Maximoffs’ characterizations from time to time. Whenever Wanda is written as a delicate, childlike flower, it’s probably, at least partly, because she is from the Balkans.

In Giant Size Avengers #1, it’s revealed that Wanda and Pietro are the children of two Golden Age superheroes, Whizzer and Miss America. My suspicion is that this was an attempt to Americanize them, but thankfully, Marvel realizes making the twins the children of two quintessentially American heroes is a mistake and begins fixing their origin, which means a return to Transia. In the late 70′s, they go back to Transia with the man who raised them, Django Maximoff, to find answers about their past. In this story, Transia is a village in Bulgaria, but it seems more like… Austria? Or a terrible caricature of Austria, anyway.

GIRL: Pardon, Herr Quicksilver, but mein Papa says that you are looking for Fräulein Frank. I think I know where she went.

PIETRO: Eh? What are you saying, girl?

GIRL: I saw a light from mein window last night. I tink your sister flew off to der mountain. Is she a faerie?

Avengers Vol. 1 #185 by Mark Gruenwald, Steven Grant, David Michelinie, & John Byrne

As a person with a heavy accent, reading this makes me want to punch someone in the face. And Wanda’s not a Fräulein at this point, for the record. This scene does explain Pietro’s lederhosen in all his origin story flashbacks though.

In the years following this story, Transia stops being a village and becomes its own country. In the early 90’s, it’s mentioned as being next to another fake country called Slorenia, which is used as a stand in for Bosnia. The Bulgaria connection is lost, and Transia becomes more closely tied to Romania (most recently, New Warriors Vol. 5 #5 says the main language spoken in Transia is Romanian) and ex-Yugoslavia.

A 2010 arc of Iron Man Legacy changes Transia yet again. Here, it is used as a substitute for Kosovo (real Eastern European countries are not cool enough for comics writers). There’s a war going on between Muslim Roma and Slavs, escalated by Doctor Doom because… it’s Doctor Doom. Two of the problems with this story: 1. The Transia in it doesn’t seem anything like the Transia in any other story (the guy with the handle on his head doesn’t even show up). It seems like the writer just pulled that name from the wiki. 2. It wildly misrepresents these ethnic conflicts, inserting the Romani into a role where they really, really do not fit, for no reason other than to have an excuse to bring in Doctor Doom. Because it’s Doctor Doom. The writer probably didn’t mean to be offensive, but that’s the kind of thing you should think through.

This is a negligible story in the greater history of the Marvel Universe (and one inherently screwed up by sliding timescale). It mostly retreads ground already covered by other better Iron Man stories, but it does provide us with one interesting bit of info: Transian Roms (or at least most of them) are Muslim. Meaning Wanda and Pietro were likely raised Muslim. This story never mentions the twins and it’s just as possible they were raised Orthodox Christian or something else or with no faith at all, but it’s something to consider. More of a “possible headcanon” than a “definite canon.”

I can’t say how perfectly this fits into Pietro’s history since I have read most but not all the issues he’s been in, but I can’t think of anything in either twin’s history (save some unfortunate Shamanism in their 70’s origin) that would make it impossible for them to have been raised Muslim. Wanda is Pagan and has been for a long time. That doesn’t mean she didn’t grow up in a monotheistic faith, and frankly? I really like the idea of Pietro as a lapsed Muslim. It works for me. Your headcanon mileage may vary.

Goodbye, my Hero

I was a weird kid - pale and pudgy, wearing sweatsuits of various colors (thanks mom), always making strange noises and talking to myself in the mirror, both by myself and in the company of my action figures.  

During these - lets call them “formative years” - I was sitting in Keyboarding class (that was a thing), typing something about the sly brown fox and in leaned a fellow seventh grader who took a deep sniff of my purple sweatshirt and goes, way too audibly, “You smell like pepper!” Every kid within earshot laughed, of course. Looking back, I laugh at what a weird combination of things I was: a peppery, pimpled pudge in purple. At the time, I shrugged off this virtually innocent comment, pretending not to be embarrassed as my round face went from white to red. At the time, I marched to the beat of my own drum and I was made fun of for it; bullied by guys like Rory Cash and Dan Ford and some kid named Ernie who didn’t seem to appreciate my weird jokes, funny voices, odd sounds and impromptu character work. At the time, I just let it go. I didn’t know how to respond to such a moment, defensively or otherwise.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I discovered my role model, Robin Williams, but I have a hunch it was the one-two punch of Hook, then Mrs. Doubtfire a couple years after that. I had never seen an adult act like a kid - not since Tom Hanks in Big, anyway (and I adored Tom Hanks for a whole bunch of other reasons, but THIS was different). Robin was joy embodied; a mischievous, but sensitive superhuman with a dab of anti-authority. Between those two films I stopped, re-watched and sort of went well, THAT is what I want to do! Once adolescence hit, shit really shifted gears. 

In junior high, not long after the “pepper” comment, I bonded with my mom over a last minute trip to see The Birdcage at the Hudson Valley Mall. I really liked the Mike Nichols flick (though I distinctly remember asking my mom to explain “palimony” and, really all of the park bench scene). Most of all, I remember being impressed that the man who played Peter in Hook, who was also the man who jumped around, jumped up jumped up and got down, Daniel Hillard, could also turn on the stillness (this word didn’t exist in my vocabulary but I knew what it meant) and tune the piano to play an entirely different acting note. The combination of the aforementioned with consistent, obsessive viewings of Live at the Roxy and listenings of Live at the Met are what solidified it: Robin Williams is my role model!

This was 1996, and I began to appreciate Robin for being more than a funny actor. He could do drama, comedy, cartoons, even LIVE one-man shows. My interest in this multi-talented man transitioned from intrigue to super fandom. I ordered a copy of Richard Matheson’s What Dreams May Come after losing my MIND seeing that trailer (on a side note, I’ll never forget shouting the title upstairs to my mom only for her to respond, “Wet Dreams and Cum?!” and I go “NO! WHAT. DREAMS. MAY. COME! Jesus!” She responds, “Ohhh..”). Opening day, I was first in line at the Orpheum Theatre in Saugerties, NY to see my comedic role model try his hand at a dramatic, romantic fantasy and regardless of what the critics thought, I loved every second of it. 

In 9th grade, I read Andy Dougan’s biography of Robin front to back in less than 2 days. I saw myself in this man and this man in myself. I identified with Robin as a self conscious teenager, armed not with looks but with funny voices and a sense of humor. I saw this stout, hairy guy as confident, as handsome, as charming, scary, deeply emotional. This funny guy has many sides to him - sounds kind of like me! - and I took immense pride in what I thought (read) we had in common. I even dressed like Patch Adams for the better part of freshman year, down to the cargo pants and Hawaiian shirts. I wore rings like he did. I made the ::elephant sound:: and went Down Simba! all. the. time. Like him, I was a mediocre student but kind and deeply sensitive. Our moms even shared a religion. I didn’t know much about Christian Science beyond the fact that mom liked to read the lessons every month, she did take mediation and there existed in my town a Christian Science reading room, whatever that is. But I did know that he jokingly referred to his mother as a “Christian Dior Scientist.” I sent him fan mail and received a signed photograph from Dead Poets Society. I even gave my girlfriend the Pablo Neruda poem he recites in Patch AdamsI do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off. I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul…” 

Of course, every time Comedy Central would air his live specials, I would watch, only to go to school the next day and recite lines in my best Robin impression, which became my favorite to do (later, my other hero Phil Hoffman would join the repertoire until his own tragic demise.. what the fuck?). Anyway, at school, since I didn’t make friends by tossing the football around or get girls by leaning against the locker and doing Jason Priestly eyebrows, I’d say things like “The moon, like a testicle, hangs low in the sky!” and (also in reference to my dick!) “It’s kind of like an anaconda pressed up against a plate glass window, going ::help::” I made kids laugh and made friends and heard a rumor so-and-so liked me. I was self conscious about the early appearance of body hair on my arms, back and pits til kids started to compare me to Robin Williams which, I of course, took as a compliment. As a kid who struggled with weight, to hear this successful, multi-talented superhuman make jokes like, in reference to him being born: God was like, ‘what the heck, give him tits.’  I dropped my shoulders and thought to myself, Okay, it’s fine! He’s killing it, I can kill it it too! With tits!

For my 15th birthday, I got VHS copies of Good Will Hunting and The World According To Garp, which I watched probably 50 times because I was angsty and in love and I so identified with the romantic, manic mama’s boy, Garp. This was around when I started to get a jawline and grow a pair. I remember not long after, a bully approached my lunch table while sitting with the “not popular kids” and started ripping into me about my shitty haircut. Several fantasies of witty retaliation came to mind. I thought of John Leguizamo impersonating the less savory people in his life, about how cathartic that must me. I thought of the scene in Roxanne when Steve Martin gave it to the asshole in the bar for making fun of his nose. But what stuck was the image of Robin. I thought of Live at the Roxy. I thought Live at the Met. I thought Carpe Diem and I gave it right back to the kid, confidently making fun, not maliciously (Robin doesn’t go for the throat, he goes for the balls!). I jabbed the bully with a joke about his hair and a reference to Dennis Rodman (luckily Double Team just came out and everyone got the reference). Preparing myself to get punched in my oily face, the kid turned and walked the other way, speechless, as my friends laughed. Robin was the first to arm me with humor, and for that I am forever and ever grateful.

In 2002, less than a year into an acting program I was attending in NYC, I spent $120 I didn’t have on a front row seat to Robin’s one man show at BAM. I don’t remember laughing as much as I do just watching my hero on stage, in the flesh, moving and joking at the speed of light. I was just fucking enthralled. He had the whole room in the palm of his hand, from the Orthodox Jews to the young girls to the elderly New Yawkers. Everyone was dying. In the last moments of the show - this was just under a year after 9/11, Robin bows, exits the stage, and returns wearing an FDNY sweatshirt. He shook everyone’s hand in the front row, including mine. I went on to describe to everyone and their mother that shaking his hand felt like this (*cue me, grabbing your hand and tugging at my arm hair* His hand had this much hair on it!). When the lights came up, Bob Marley’s “One Love” came on as if we fans couldn’t leave the theatre happy enough. I put that song on my iPod that night and listened to it again and again. 

I’m sitting here, sad out of my mind not just because the world lost a great actor, but because from thousands of miles and movies away, Robin taught me confidence and that it’s okay to be myself. He taught me to be generous and not to take shit too seriously. I looked up to Robin, as did my parents, as did my Italian Nana, as did my baby cousin, Dan - as did all of us - and now he’s gone. I’m heartbroken not just because he was my role model - he was my Hero.

Robin, thank you for helping me find confidence, for reassuring all of us to do no less than put it all out on the table - to be unafraid. 

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride. 

::Elephant sound:: 

Magnum Opus Watch

Not technically a rewatch since I was only able to watch 15 minutes last night. But, I will say, I loved this episode. No idea what the fandom thinks since I’ve been off the grid all day so avoid spoilers, but this felt like old-school Sleepy Hollow. Grounded in character and teamwork with humor in the right measures at the right time and high stakes and both Witnesses being there for each other. Just, wonderful. I really hope the show has found its footing again. So, let’s get into it:

  • Stop the extreme fakeout close open. Writers, you do not get to use that one for another season at least. Stop it.
  • That said, I found Crane ridiculously charming in this scene. He clearly loves Pinocchio and clearly is the worst person ever to play board games with. I want a drunk Witness game night that ends in a slurry round of Cards Against Humanity.
  • sneetchstar noted that Crane’s eidetic memory seems to be on the fritz. Fun fact I just learned: Photographic memories don’t actually exist, and eidetic memories (which means being able to remember precise information without pneumonics for short periods of time) happen exclusively in children. So nitpicking about its accuracy is pretty fruitless. I think of his memory as Katrina’s witchcraft. It’s a plot device that explains how he can remember random stuff from Ye Olden Dayes. It’s not subject to clear rules or strictures. But honestly, having an actually photographic memory would make him even more insufferable, so I’m okay with it. Just ignore their terminology. He has a really good long-term visual memory. Go with that.

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