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When Superheroes Walk Among Us
An ode to those who amaze, and a plea.
STICK TO SUPERHEROES
Superheroes are real. Not the ones with crazy mutant laser powers, the comic books got that wrong. They’re not even crime-fighters, and that’s for the better; the world is rarely improved by people taking “justice” into their own hands. But they’re real — people whose very presence is a gift to the world around them, a sheer, jaw-dropping delight that if you didn’t get it on your phone, nobody would believe you. Here’s three such people.
Boban Marjanovic, all 7’4” and 290 pounds of him, is gigantic by NBA standards, which is like being cold by Antarctica standards. He’s a tremendously skilled scorer even away from the basket, and for a spell his player efficiency rating was up with all-time greats like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Shaquille O’Neal. Had he been born 20-30 years prior, he’d be a game-altering Hall of Famer.
Alas, the modern NBA has little use for a center who can’t capably defend out to the three-point line, and a man that large simply doesn’t have the lateral quickness to do much else than protect the rim, so his minutes are generally limited to when his team needs an offensive spark (or a warm body to have on the floor when the game’s no longer in doubt).
If there’s any resentment on Marjanovic’s part for being something of a sideshow, it’s not at all apparent; “Bobi” is one of the most well-liked, affable players in the league and he’s always happy to use his gigantic frame and hands to make someone’s day. Here’s him with the comparatively diminutive Kristin Chenoweth — just watch her face as she confronts the reality of someone who’s nearly 30 inches taller than her:
Now, don’t shed too many tears for Boban’s professional career either; he’s still earned almost $30 million in his NBA stint already, which is less than someone like Damian Lillard makes in a year but is still enough money that he should be comfortable for life. He’s already made his film debut as the world’s most violent librarian in John Wick 3, and it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever be wanting for time on someone’s screen, whether here or back in Serbia. He’s just irrepressibly Boban, and that’s a gift for the world as a whole.
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Veltri’s an internet celebrity, so you either know him or you don’t, and it’s fine if you don’t. Quick synopsis: he dropped out of music school to pursue finance, but he also has perfect pitch, so he can play music by ear after one listen. And to most people, that’s indistinguishable from a superpower.
Omegle, for the uninitiated, is a service that connects two random users, where they can talk or type to each other and skip to another one whenever either feels like it. In theory it’s a great way to have conversations with strangers around the globe, from your very own living room. In practice, it can be exactly as chaotic and treacherous as you’d fear.
Still, the website persists to this day, and as Veltri’s videos prove, it’s still popular with the #teens and #kidsthesedays, despite(?) the overwhelming presence of weirdos and pervs and bots. So when someone like Veltri pops onto someone’s screen and he creates what he does, the wide-eyed incredulity on his listeners’ faces is something that cannot be faked or rehearsed. They’re watching magic, and more importantly magic they didn’t expect to see.
There’s something else about these kids that these videos reveal: after these mini-performances, his listeners cannot wait to shower him with gracious, sincere compliments. There’s a lot for younger people to be jaded and cynical about in this world. Veltri, and what he gives to his listeners, are the exact opposite of those things.
If at this point you haven’t smiled enough reading this newsletter to send it to at least seven friends, that’s legally a felony. I don’t make these rules, I just pass them along to you.
Okay, at least one comic book superhero is actually real. Chadwick Boseman, whose life was cut unfathomably short last year from colon cancer, was already a stellar lead actor prior to his turn as T’Challa in Marvel’s Black Panther in 2018. But my word, he was perfect in that movie. Perfect to be the first Black standard-bearer in a Marvel movie, perfect for the pan-African utopia that is Wakanda, perfect at carrying that role away from the screen and into the real world.
The movie was such a success, both monetarily and in its viewers’ hearts, that as part of its run of promotion, Jimmy Fallon and the Tonight Show ran a segment where fans of the movie were invited to praise Boseman and the movie before being surprised by him from behind a curtain. If you’ve never seen it before, you’re in for a treasure, and if you have I strongly doubt you’ll object to watching again:
Boseman was already two years into the cancer fight that would take him from us when this was aired. His death was a shock to the world, even as he’d been seen with a troubling level of weight loss earlier in 2020. But looking back at it, did Jimmy know? Did that inspire the show to ensure Boseman got his flowers in front of the world while he was still around and healthy enough to enjoy them with his whole heart? We’ll likely never know, and perhaps we’re not meant to.
So we take this for what it is: pure, unadulterated joy between both star and fan, a celebration of the singular majesty of Chadwick Boseman. I may be little more than another colonizer, but I know well enough to say and mean: Wakanda Forever.
STICK TO AFFIRMATIONS
Thanks for joining me today. We’ll always end on a kind word.
There’s been a rash of racist attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders recently, including the murder of several massage workers in Atlanta. Hopefully, you’ve seen plenty of your friends saying Stop AAPI Hate on social media recently, and yes. On a basic, fundamental level, that’s a violent ideology that costs real human lives. But if it were as easy as saying Stop It, racism would be long dead here, there and everywhere.
Hate is an insidious thing, and it thrives on silence, familiarity and the benefit of the doubt. Remind yourself that “ally” is better as a verb than a noun, and make sure you and your friends and your family know that racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic comments, even jokes, have no safe harbor around you.
It can be uncomfortable, yes. It’s absolutely easier said than done. But the people from threatened minorities around you are always listening, and they have long memories. It’s a survival instinct as much as anything else. Be there for them, mean it when you say it, and help make the space around you as safe as possible. That’s work that anybody can do, especially you, and it matters so much.