Juju

Her body, like so many bodies, was found buried in a forest. The discovery of the (26-yr-old) corpse was announced on the news as J was driving to pick me up from Jonava railway station. She was crying as we hugged on the platform, passengers, visiting for the weekend, streaming by. The senselessness and randomness of the young woman’s murder had deeply upset her. She told me that the country had united online in an effort to find the missing woman, a small army of cyber sleuths in search of a happy ending. Their clicky enthusiasm was in vain; the woman, it seemed, had been beaten to death for her car.

I was shaken and disturbed by what happened but it remained abstract for me – I did not personally know the victim. I was far more distressed by another body-found-in-a-forest. In 2013, a 17-year-old girl was waiting at a bus stop in the Panevėžys district. Two men (33 and 23) drove by and saw her. They had been drinking and were on their way to get a kebab. On seeing the girl their plans changed. They bundled her into the car, drove her deep into the forest and raped her. When they were finished, they locked her in the trunk and drove away. The girl called the police from her mobile. She told the operator what had happened, that she feared the men were going to drown her. A frantic police search ensued. The men panicked. They decided to get rid of the evidence. By burning the girl alive. In the trunk of the car. I cannot. Imagine. Unthinkable. That. Divine plan. Sorry, where was I…

…in Jonava. We were there because J is working with a mechanized infantry unit of German troops, part of a 1,200-strong NATO battalion stationed in nearby Rukla that has been deployed to Lithuania as a symbolic gesture against potential Russian aggression. J was on call over the weekend in case of any problems or incidents (the leadership is obsessed with public perception). Back in Germany, the soldiers are routinely regarded with derision and contempt; they are pleasantly surprised to find themselves welcomed as allies and defenders in Lithuania.

We were staying in a rented wooden guesthouse. On the first night a group of teenagers held an all-night party in the large house across the pond. They shouted “whoo!” a lot. Like cognitively challenged owls. Or mentally wayward wolves. The millennial party animal is all whoo and no whoa. Reared on the looped spectacle of porn, they aspire to be as whoozily wild as possible: they drink, dance, do crazy shit, play wild games, strip off, run wild, suck on that, ooh yeah, they go at it, harder, faster, until the whooing (a Bacchanalian wooing of the deity of Pussy) builds into a crescendo, in which verbal jizz flies everywhere, sprays everyone, in a blizzard of WHOOS. Most pass out by that point; some keep at it. Drunken incoherence takes over. Self-loathing and bewilderment creep in. Now the millennial philosophizing may begin: “What the fuck’s going on?”

I have a supremely embarrassing confession to make. Please do not judge me too harshly or rashly. J, who knows all my foibles and flaws (+ kinks, quirks, oddities), merely smiled when I whispered my uber-secret to her. It was the sort of smile that pats you on the head, ruffles your hair and then forgivingly slaps you on the back. So here goes: I watch Supergirl. Yes, ma’am, I understand. No, ma’am. No one forced or coerced me.

I usually watch it (late) on Tuesday morning. Because it soothes my brain after writing for four or five hours (beginning at 5:30am today; dissatisfaction with the text roused me two hours ahead of the alarm). Being a network production, Supergirl is often painfully formulaic. It is, like 93% of American cultural output, ultimately about the “choices” we make. It is a fairy tale of free will in a world where careers, superpowers, happiness and ontology somehow overlap. It bludgeons brain into calm with seamless scenes of lofty purpose. And, frankly speaking, the show injects me with a desperately needed shot of hope. Yes, ma’am, hope. It is 42-odd minutes of good-naturedness that somehow survives the supremely cynical network production process (The Washington Post described it as millennial wish-fulfilment). The silly storylines involving anthropoid, anglophone aliens are really just codified metaphors for Muslims and LGBT folk. And Supergirl herself is a useful, quasi-feminist role model for the hyper-reality we apparently now occupy. J complained that the actress overdid the ditzy routine when I showed her a few scenes (it is perfectly in the spirit of her cartoon kin) but she did respect the casting of a relatively flat-breasted actress for the part. The show also deals with some semi-serious themes and pleasantly surprises me, at least once per episode, with an unexpectedly sharp remark.

Here is an example of how face-slappingly bad the dialogue can be.

J’onn J’onzz: I’m turning into a White Martian.

Supergirl: Oh my god!

Here is an example of some dialogue that snapped me out of my viewing stupor:

Cat Grant: (millennials) “…are the ultimate example of what is wrong with parenting today. All that god-awful self-esteem building, everyone is special, everyone gets a trophy, and you all have opinions that you think deserve to be heard. And yet the truth is you need to earn the right to have an opinion in the first place.”

I guess the part of me that grew up on a purdy, rectitudinous farm in Smallville, Kansas, America, wants to believe in Supergirl, meaning the delightful actress who plays her, with her double act of exaggerated nervousness (male attention leads to giggling) and confident cape-wearing (the costume becomes her).

Which brings me to my next confession. Without any beating around the bush (because there was none), I saw Supergirl naked. I was googling the actress, whose name I will not mention even though it is a click away, when I came across leaked private photos of her. Curious and uber-excited, I clicked on them. Yes, Ma’am, I know, shame on me. The photos showed the actress having sex. They were extremely graphic but carefully staged and lovingly taken (the shots were made using a timer and converted to black and white). But they were also extremely private: I was trespassing on her private property, violating her right to privacy. I clicked a hasty retreat, vowing never to look at the pictures again.

I was confused. My lovely Supergirl would coyly giggle and blush when men paid her attention. When a kiss came her way, she would either solemnly turn her cheek away or ceremoniously lean into it. Yet here she is enjoying passionate, loving sex. Here she is being all young, herself and human. I dug deeper into the (mass) leak of photos and the public reaction to it (the actress’s brief reaction was dignified and dismissive; she provided a link to a TED talk on clickbait news). In one infuriating article I came across, the author opines: “[..] you have to wonder how those porn-like photos may haunt her acting career since she is trying to portray the Supergirl character as a role model for girls and other women.” The problem, you uber-idiot, does not belong to the actress but with the character of Supergirl itself.

Supergirl is not a good role model (I only said that before to justify watching it). Her human alter-ego is supposedly: gauche, sweet, timid, hard-working, honest, plain. Supergirl, on the contrary, is a sexed-up female deity, a woman (note to fact-checkers: not a girl) who wears a short skirt, kinky boots, and figure-hugging (© Daily Mail) latex, but who denies her personal desires in order to do good. Both incarnations of her are good, yet her human form is affectedly inferior (she wears specs, feigns clumsiness). Supergirl spends most of her time trying to balance her wish to do good (as a superhero using her powers) with her wish to excel professionally (as a journalist) with her proclivity for love and friendship (as a regular gal). She is, essentially, a Christian eidolon with superhuman powers of probity. In that regard Supergirl is an anti-role model; she takes hard-won gains for women (sexual emancipation, legal and social parity) and either suppresses them (duty over pleasure) or raises them through the glass ceiling all the way into the clouds (where, in time, they leak back down to earth).

I have two more justifications for watching the show. No, ma’am, this won’t take long. The first is that it resounds with nerve-allaying alliteration: Clark Kent (SG’s cousin), Lex Luthor, Lena Luthor, Hank Henshaw, J’onn J’onzz, Lucy Lane. This spills over into an overlapping universe of other repeating initial letters, such as Peter Parker, Green Goblin, Matt Murdoch (Daredevil), Jessica Jones, Otto Octavius, Pepper Potts, Reed Richards, Silver Surfer, Stephen Strange, Wonder Woman and Zinedine Zidane (or Zizou). This symphony of stuttering is music to my ears, an incantation that, through sheer force of repetition, transforms base, ugly reality into a soaring delusion of potentiality, a magic potion that makes me dizzy with the special effects of hope, clanging church bells that offer me faith even though I have none.

The second reason that I gravitate towards Supergirl every Tuesday is my lifelong love of Superman (he and Supergirl occasionally text). When I was about 12 years old, I walked the two and a half miles to one of my two local cinema (the fancy Granada, not the dingy ABC) to watch Superman I, II and III (sic) back to back in a six-hour trip of nebulous escapism. As I was walking home, dizzy as a bee drunk on pollen laced with opium, I actually believed I could fly. I stuck out my arms, hands flat and pointing outward, ready to cleave the sky. I tried to will myself into flight, I tried so hard I probably looked like I was in search of a toilet, where I might rid myself of a particularly hard and knotty shit. It was no use; I couldn’t do it. I ran at it, leapt at it, sprang at it, until I had staggered the two and half miles back home.

In my 20s I tried to attain loftiness by other means; I was taken with the idea of the Übermensch. As impressed as I was with this proto-self-help tract, I suspected that the words were not as lofty as they seemed, and the dizziness I felt reading them was a seduction rather than a revelation. Time would reveal that the author was all too swayed by his humanity. His soaring ideals, though admirable, were only ever earthbound; he suffered from an over-exuberant delight in the fictitious powers of language and their ability to transmogrify reality, just as I now picture an elephant walking across my ceiling with a mischievous chimp hitching a ride on its back (he’s sticking his tongue out at me and gesturing that I’m a wanker). The author deserves his place in the pantheon of great thinkers but it was inevitable that his quasi-biblical language would end up being commandeered by feeble minds in search of words that peeled with the sound of authority. It was a form of wishful thinking, ma’am, that helped pave the way for an apocalyptic number of bodies to be found in forests across Eastern Europe.

I like Jonava (the town is close to where the woman’s body was found). A goose struts around the property of the guesthouse with extraordinary self-confidence. I grudgingly admire its anserine arrogance as the cocky little thing waddles wherever it wishes. J overhears the grandfather fondly address it using two different diminutives. As we sit on the veranda whereupon vodka is my libation to the full moon. Over our heads hangs a large log, a rope dangling from the middle of it, a pendulous loop that makes no sense either aesthetically or functionally. J jokes that the rope is a non-fatal noose for people to hang themselves “just a little bit” after a really bad day.

As we try to relax in our lovely wooden house, an oasis from reality under the protection of Supergoose, J reads on the internet that a 19-year-old boy stabs a 9-year-old boy to death in Germany because he wanted to know what it feels like. Around the same time, back in Lithuania, an intoxicated man pours gasoline on his wife and sets her alight. Her brother manages to escape the ensuing blaze by jumping out of the window. The house “accidentally” burns down according to the frustratingly uninformative news report.

As I drink coffee and suckle on a cigarette on the veranda in the early morning I see four deer on the other side of the pond. I have never seen four deer before and they are only about 30 metres away. I know I should be feeling awe and wonder; instead I see how nervous and jumpy they are, how their spindly legs are designed to pivot and take flight in an instant. I see a beautiful creature that lives in permanent fear of being ripped to pieces and eaten alive or smashed to an internal pulp by a car. It makes me deeply sad. I remember B telling me that I have cervine eyes: maybe I will end up as forest floor fertilizer, carrion for the crows.

Before driving back to Vilnius, J shows me around Jonava. It is strangely fascinating, I eagerly look around like I’m in Tokyo or Timbuktu. We come across a large crowd of well-dressed elderly and middle-aged women walking away from a church service. We are confused; where are the men? I go up to three women and ask them, in my poor Lithuanian, where are all the menfolk. One of them laughs. Another shakes her head. The third tells me they’re all drinking beer somewhere. I thank them and walk away. Where J and I walk, talk, hit the road, part with a loving hug. Until the day ends in another mock death.

My initials do not repeat but form a preposition that is for “expressing motion in the direction of (a particular location) or “approaching or reaching (a particular condition)”. My superpower, inasmuch as I possess one, is an ability to negate everything to a state of bare bones or nuts and bolts. It is a miserable gift to have but at least I can see the wood for the trees.

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