What It’s Like To Work On BuzzFeed’s Tech Team During Record Traffic

It’s all about the company culture, folks. Here’s how it all went down (or didn’t) last night.

1. 8:23 p.m.: Jay’s sysops pager goes off. His wife says, “Uh oh, is it the dress?” He replies, “What dress?”

Yes, those are automated bot messages in a dedicated Slack channel.

2. 8:30 p.m.: I put the kids into their pajamas, brush their teeth, and hand them to my husband who puts them to bed. He says, “BuzzFeed keeps tweeting about a dress and I don’t understand.”

At first the only people in dev-chat Slack room are the Los Angeles team. I check stats and see that this is going to be an amazing night. I do an @channel. Jay, of course, is already ON IT.

3. 9:02 p.m.: Active visitors on the site reach 450,000, a new record. Jake, data science, delivers a screenshot of the previous record from February 2014.

This was Feb. 13, 2014, the night of the states quiz mania.

4. PR is already pitching morning shows. This is also happening.

5. 9:09 p.m.: When we hit 500,000 concurrent active visitors, I invite Samir, social media, to dev-chat to join in on the fun.

Eugene asks him for his over-under on active visitors. Samir knows that we still have a good 90 minutes of peak internet usage and says 600,000, then revises to 650,000. He was SPOT ON — traffic peaked at 673,000.

6. Samir explains how it happened.

“People were discussing it in the office, so I figured I would tweet it, and saw a HUGE click-through rate. I posted it as a photo on Facebook because I wasn’t sure if it was something where you had to see the whole photo or not, but no one was clicking through at all. So I reposted as a link, watched it for a few minutes, not much engagement, deleted it. Twitter was doing so well, I decided to just post it again and saw it immediately rise in the live stats and get tons of comments on Facebook.”

7. There’s a lot of debate and joking about the actual color of the dress in the chat. Shaun, illustrator, uploads this gem.

Shaun Pendergast / BuzzFeed

A nod to our new Cute or Not app that was just featured in the App Store.

There are dozens of people in dev-chat at this point because it’s fun, not because they have to be.

8. 9:57 p.m.: Peak traffic. There are more than 670,000 active visitors on the site. The GIF below shows what off-peak and peak traffic looks like to a BuzzFeed server. WAIT FOR IT.

Dan Meruelo / BuzzFeed

Holy hell.

9. 10:30 p.m.: A couple of posts get stuck while publishing. Ben Smith, editor-in-chief, chats me and Amy, project management.

10. Jay, Dan, Raymond, and Eugene (sysops), and Mark, chief technology officer, are spinning up servers as fast as possible.

We have a bunch of things going for us at this point. We have heavily invested in infrastructure provisioning and scaling. We know exactly how to scale fast from running drills. We have seasoned sys admins who have gone through this before. Only two people get to bother them for updates. Jay’s pugs sat on his lap the whole time. And most importantly, we are calm and cool under pressure.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins / Orion Pictures

Predator / 20th Century Fox

The Supernatural / CW

13. 11:01 p.m.: The articles are published! By the end, we added over 40% more capacity, and readers never had any problems reading the posts or answering the poll.

Adventure Time / Cartoon Network

14. The good part about last night: BuzzFeed experienced a singular moment in global cultural relevance.

Dan Meth / BuzzFeed

All eight dress posts have a combined 41 million views. The original had 28 million views (22 million on mobile) and logged 2.7 million votes. It has been read from every country in the world in five languages. It shaped conversations at dinner, in bars, on couches, over text, all driven by mobile and the ability to show your phone to your friend. Same picture, same device, but different colors! In less than 24 hours, people from every corner of the world were looking at each other’s phones at a post, on a site, run by a company totally optimized for social and mobile.

15. The GREAT part about last night: working at an awesome company that appreciates tech.

@catesish I think you may be buying sysops drinks

— BuzzFeedBen (@Ben Smith)

@BuzzFeedBen @catesish i think we all are. bows down to @eventi @rayzorinc @jaydestro

— CDiRusso (@Christina DiRusso)


Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/daozers/what-its-like-to-work-on-buzzfeeds-tech-team-during-record-t

My Year In The NRA

I grew up and raised my family in Newtown, Connecticut — and own guns. After 26 of my neighbors were massacred, I signed up to see how the organization that controls our gun debates works.

Illustration by Rob Dobi for BuzzFeed

Not a week had gone by since Adam Lanza stole an AR-15 from his mother’s arsenal, killed her, and drove through my hometown to Sandy Hook Elementary School to massacre 20 first-graders and six teachers. Seventy neighbors and friends were crammed into a room at the C.H. Booth Library on Newtown’s Main Street, a few doors down from the Honan Funeral Home, which had just prepared a 7-year-old girl’s body for a closed-casket wake.

It was our third meeting since the tragedy. Our numbers were growing. Both Connecticut senators had come to speak to us. Media outlets from around the world were requesting interviews. Our “Newtown United” Facebook page was gathering thousands of followers a day, but we were not united about what to do.

One man passed around a petition for a local ordinance to ban assault weapons in town. Another urged everyone to picket the headquarters of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a lobbying group for gun manufacturers — a sort of NRA mini-me — headquartered ironically here in Newtown, where I had grown up and returned a decade ago to raise my own family.

A representative from Michael Bloomberg’s gun-prevention group arrived and handed out literature, accompanied by Stephen Barton, a recent college graduate from neighboring Southbury, who was shot at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight in Aurora, Colorado, about five months earlier. Elizabeth Esty, newly elected to represent Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District took the floor, vowing to make “gun control” the guiding mission of the 113th Congress. After the guests left, we resumed arguing.

The next day, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre broke his silence and in a speech that was really more a fulmination, argued that my 26 neighbors would still be alive today if school personnel had been armed: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” The message, coming before all the Sandy Hook children and their teachers were buried in the cold December earth, was remarkable for its simplicity and its callousness. LaPierre steamrolled over the deep sorrow the nation was experiencing with a single message: It’s not about the guns.

And that’s when it really hit me. What the people of Newtown wanted — and indeed all Americans at that moment wanted and still want — was an honest discussion about how something as awful as Sandy Hook could happen, and how to prevent it from happening again. LaPierre made it clear the NRA was going to do everything in its power to thwart genuine debate. At that point I realized I needed to better understand the NRA. So with a few clicks on the NRA website, I became a member.

Those who oppose the NRA are beginning to match their adversary financially. Bloomberg has committed $50 million to the cause, while Americans for Responsible Solutions, founded by shooting victim and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, is on track to raise some $20 million. Mothers are pressuring stores like Target and Kroger to ban guns from their aisles, gathering neighbors in their homes, signing online petitions, and the like. The venerable Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose namesake died in August, continues its state-by-state lobbying. There are families of victims, like my friends Mark Barden and Nicole Hockley, who lost their first-graders Daniel and Dylan at Sandy Hook; and Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher was slain in Santa Barbara. Slowly, they’re galvanizing hearts and minds for what they hope will be a reasonable conversation about gun culture run amok.

But the NRA is still ahead of its fragmented opposition. President Obama alluded to this after the Santa Barbara shootings this May: “Honestly this is not going to change unless the people who want to prevent these kinds of mass shootings from taking place feel at least as passionate, at least as mobilized and well-funded as the NRA and the gun manufacturers.”

As the NRA’s new slogan, unveiled at its annual convention in Indianapolis this April, stated, “Bloomberg is one guy with millions. We’re millions with our 25 bucks.” After the Sandy Hook massacre, I became one of those millions — and a student of the NRA.

Illustration by Rob Dobi for BuzzFeed

As a Connecticut Yankee and occasional hunter, I appreciate the role of firearms in American life. My grandfather was a U.S. Army captain, worked in the weapons business in Hartford, and owned a Colt sidearm. I own a couple of shotguns and rifles. When I inherited or bought them from hunting buddies — without a background check — I consulted the NRA’s website for tips on how to safely secure them.

I have padded through old apple orchards in Vermont listening for the drumming of ruffed grouse. On many Columbus Day weekends I have walked a line of shotguns stalking pheasant, partridge, and quail in the Catskills. I have even written for the Wall Street Journal about stalking wild boar in the cane fields around Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and in France’s Loire Valley.

Like millions of Americans — and the Lanzas — I have NRA certificates in my house. One says my son qualified at his Vermont wilderness camp as a “sharpshooter” under the Marksmanship Qualification Program with a .22-caliber rifle in the 50-foot course of fire. It is signed by the secretary of the NRA, the camp’s instructor, and the president of Winchester Ammunition. This NRA taught him how to store, load, and clean his weapon; how to stand before his target, at the range, earplugs in and eyewear safely affixed.

The organization was founded in 1871 by Union Army veterans who were dismayed by their troops’ lack of marksmanship. Their goal was “to promote firearms and hunting safety, to enhance marksmanship skills of those participating in the shooting sports, and to educate the general public about firearms in their historic, technological, and artistic context.” This is an organizational aim I understand.

Its political activities, which today overshadow its didactic origins, took off in 1975 when the NRA established the Institute for Legislative Action, “recognizing the critical need for political defense of the Second Amendment.” Today’s NRA is a $256 million nonprofit. About half of that comes from membership dues, leaving lots of room for contributions from a gun industry hell-bent on ensuring it is regulated as lightly as possible.

This became apparent immediately after my membership became active. My inbox jammed up with emails from LaPierre and ILA Executive Director Chris Cox, warning me that my rights will soon be curtailed, stripped away from me by “gun grabbers” exploiting the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Free stuff started arriving in the mail: a shooter’s cap, black with the NRA logo emblazoned in gold. An envelope with a sticker that resembled the ones affixed to cars all over Newtown. Instead of “We Choose Love” or angels and green ribbons, an eagle clutches two rifles against a red, white, and blue shield.

And every month American Hunter magazine began showing up. It served up an unsubtle helping of gun idolatry at the front of the book, with its “Armed Citizen” column summarizing crime reports in which good guys with guns repel baddies. “Standing Guard,” LaPierre’s monthly rant, follows along with an editorial from the NRA’s rotating president.

But American Hunter also offered quality service journalism for outdoorsmen and hunters with headlines like “6 Bow-tuning Tips” and “Gundogs: A Pointer on Flushers.” July provided a feature on hunting aoudad rams in the Davis Mountains of Texas. The meat of the magazine is engaging. Most months, legislative bulldog Cox signs off with his “Political Report” column.

The magazine’s editorial sandwich of valuable content wedged between ideological tirades neatly illustrates the NRA’s methodology. Much as the AARP does for its elderly members, key to the organization’s sway over its membership is an extraordinary ability to graft ideology to a basic consumer product — one that costs just $25 a year (or $35 without one of the many available discounts). The NRA membership is more than a marketing tool. It is the delivery mechanism for a dogmatic worldview that its opponents struggle to emulate.

Illustration by Rob Dobi for BuzzFeed

At the end of the Glick Peace Walk in downtown Indianapolis, a Christian youth group bearing a “Honk for Traditional Marriage” sign stood beneath a railroad trellis adorned with a banner advertising the convention inside — thousands of conventiongoers visiting around 600 different exhibits occupying the 400,000 square feet of floor space.

As I entered the midway, a child handed me a flyer for the 3MR fire control system, which claimed to reduce split time and allow for the fastest reset possible on a gun like the one Lanza used to mow down my neighbors’ kids. “Has the 3MR changed the way I approach my livelihood? Who wants to know?” it read.

I passed wild boar earrings to game cookbooks, antique Italian firearms to headlamps for hunting hogs. The biggest exhibits were those of gunsmiths like Remington, Ruger, and Beretta. There was an abundance of what the industry calls tactical weaponry, or “black guns,” something of a misnomer now that they come in pink and other colors marketed to women and kids.

At the Beretta stand, prominence was given to its new line of ARX 160 assault rifles, modeled after the ones it supplies the Italian army. My own preferred field weapon is a Beretta 12-gauge over-and-under shotgun made in the village of Gardone val Trompia, just outside of Brescia.

Nobody matches Beretta’s long-term perspective on the gun business: It’s been making weapons for half a millennium. At its headquarters, which I visited last year, it proudly displays a 1526 bill of sale for 185 arquebus barrels to the Arsenal of Venice for 296 ducats. General manager Carlo Ferlito called the spike in tactical arms sales a fad reflecting two basic fears: the possibility that President Obama would enact gun control legislation, and the other, economic.

“When Americans feel under pressure … they tend to want to protect themselves,” Ferlito told me. The thinking, he said, is, “Once the policemen do not have money to protect me anymore, because the economic crisis reduced the amount that can be spent on security, I have to protect myself and so I buy something to protect my home and my children.” Though Ferlito did not expect the torrid growth in black gun sales to be sustainable, he predicted the category would remain robust in the United States.

Heading further into the hall, I encountered a succession of gun-world celebrities. People queued at the Sportsman Channel’s booth to meet R. Lee Ermey, who played Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket. Bass Pro Shops presented Theresa Vail, an expert M16 marksman and the first Miss America contestant to openly display tattoos in the swimsuit competition.

I swapped feral pig stories with a salesman from Lightfield Ammunition, which sells Boar Buster shells. Lightfield also sells Zombie Blaster ammo, “intended for close encounter combat with a Zombie (or several when the apocalypse happens).” Teens lined up at the Bushmaster stand to take selfies with a massive gun that looked like it belonged on a Humvee in Afghanistan.

In many ways, it felt like just another trade show, apart from the occasional snarky asides from fellow conferees (“Obama’s done more for gun sales than anybody”), the monumental stand broadcasting the collected speeches of LaPierre, and the acres of guns. Friends whose only knowledge of the NRA is derived from LaPierre’s televised tirades warned me to be careful, as if I were a black man heading to a Klan rally. In reality, fellow attendees were welcoming and, for the record, not entirely white.

Rather, the most distinctive element was a general sense of impending doom, a pervading belief that America is swiftly going down the tubes. This sentiment was particularly evident at the 5th Annual Freedom First Financial Seminar, one of the many sessions taking place off the main exhibition carnival.

Tim Fisher, the director of planned giving for the NRA, kicked off the session. He was having a busy morning; across the street his office was running a seminar on “Creating a Constitutionally Centered Estate Plan.” Fisher injected a financial variation of the NRA worldview about trusting government: “You may not have a plan for your assets when you die, but you can bet they has one for you.” With that, he thanked the audience and left some flyers that explained how to include the NRA in your last will and testament.

Fisher handed off to Shad Ketcher, a Minnesotan wealth manager who first joined the NRA at 12 with $20 he made from detasseling corn. Ketcher opened a briefcase full of fake money: “Our paper dollars are getting worth less and less.” That fearsome preamble began a lecture on the need to include commodities and precious metals alongside traditional investments like stocks, bonds, and cash.

Ketcher talked about rising market volatility and the increased correlation of asset classes. He laid out a rational argument for diversification, ending on a note that aligns nicely with the overall sense of impending doom permeating the convention. Gold, he notes, is an “insurance policy to protect against inflation or disaster.”

And that nicely set up featured speaker and session sponsor Mike Fuljenz of Universal Coin & Bullion. He kicked off with a giveaway. The person with the birthday closest to his son’s, Sept. 5, would receive a prize. A few hands went up — Sept. 18, Sept. 25. I raised mine — Sept. 6. Fuljenz handed me a baggie with five squares of gold.

He then presented a thesis that gold coins will hold their worth better than other assets. This, he said, may surprise people, given “a bias against gold” in the media. It was a well-argued sales pitch, hewing nicely to the pervasive NRA message that America is going to hell in a handbasket. According to Mike’s “Personal Gold Guide,” the precious metal offers “protection against a declining dollar” and “a geo-political crisis hedge.”

After the seminar, I examined my bag of gold. Each square represented a gram of 24-karat gold worth some $40, for a total value of over $200. Handouts like this are a big feature of the NRA. Nearly every convention stand has an enticing raffle coaxing people to hand over their email addresses. There are free guns, ammo, and trips. All year, NRA members receive promotions and discounts on goods and services. A recent sampling from my inbox includes: life insurance, a wine club, a Visa card, and two protection plans against identity theft.

At the convention, these promotions came to life. The NRA Cigar Club table offered 12-month memberships for $400, promising five premium hand-rolled smokes a month from the finest cigar makers in the world. The NRA Wine Club allows members to “defend basic freedoms with every wine shipment and wine order.” On their own, these invitations can feel like spam. Taken as a whole, they communicate a message of belonging to a special cohort of aggrieved citizens who understand something the rest of us do not.

As I walked the floor, I had an urge to ask some of the people I met the questions that I suspect my friends in Newtown who lost their children would want answered. Where do they draw the line on gun regulation? What limits would be acceptable? But I held my tongue. It wasn’t just that I was attending as a member, rather than as a journalist or advocate. It didn’t feel like an environment where genuine debate would be welcome. Come to think of it, that’s worked pretty well up until now.

Illustration by Rob Dobi for BuzzFeed

The NRA’s political agenda is pretty simple: It works to perpetuate gun culture in America, and ensure that access to guns is unfettered. And unlike, say, tobacco or automobiles, the constitution gives the NRA an authoritative, to some religious, scripture to which it can continually refer when opposing regulation of the products its corporate supporters sell to its $25-a-head members.

Since joining, I have received countless calls to political action. On the day before a background-check bill failed to pass the Senate in April 2013, LaPierre emailed me that “anti-gun ringleaders in Congress and the national media are waging all-out war on our gun rights” and are “fighting to BAN tens of millions of commonly owned firearms… fighting to register and license gun owners…fighting to create a federal registry of ammo buyers…and fighting to destroy your right to defend yourself, your home and your loved ones.”

The bill in question — sponsored by West Virginia Democrat, gun-rights advocate, and NRA lifetime member Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey — threatened nothing of the sort. The legislation included language approved by many gun-rights supporters that would have made the creation of gun registries a felony charge with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

During the debate over the background-check bill, it became clear to me that the quid pro quo of membership is that you will actively engage, telephone, and badger elected officials. In the weeks ahead of the Manchin-Toomey defeat, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, Cox, exhorted us not just to call elected officials and tell them to vote against the bill, but to “forward this email to your friends and family and urge them to take immediate action” and to donate $5 to cover postage for 20 postcards to legislators.

It’s not only in Washington that this message is effective. I accompanied a group of Sandy Hook parents to Springfield, Illinois, to help support a state bill that would have imposed limits on high-capacity magazines. Though a draft of the bill hadn’t even hit the Senate floor, the NRA and other gun-rights advocates had gotten to legislators. By 11:30 a.m. on a Monday, Tom Cullerton, a former military man who had recently been elected to office, had already received a deluge.

Cullerton, who had only recently been employed as a driver for the soon-to-go-bankrupt maker of Hostess Twinkies, sat hunched, tense as the parents explained how 11 children escaped the Sandy Hook classrooms while Lanza reloaded his 30-round magazines. Nicole Hockley told him to imagine if the shooter had to change magazines after 10 shots: “This can save lives.” Cullerton told the parents that “none of that information is getting out there — it’s going to be very hard. There were so many calls this weekend.”

The bill never passed. Another small victory for the NRA’s deployment of its army of pistol-packing mercenaries.

Illustration by Rob Dobi for BuzzFeed

The NRA called my home to offer me a special deal. It wasn’t a robocall like the one last year that cycled through Newtown ginning up opposition to a bipartisan gun bill the Connecticut legislature was drafting. The grandparents of one of the children killed in her classroom got that automated NRA message too.

No, this call was of a more personal nature. A salesman with a country twang wanted me to renew my NRA membership on special terms. But before making the offer, he wanted me to answer a simple multiple-choice question: “What do you think is the single greatest threat to your Second Amendment freedoms?”

Was it, he asked, Barack Obama? Was it the United Nations and its Arms Trade Treaty? Or was it the “gun grabbers” Michael Bloomberg, Chuck Schumer, and Dianne Feinstein? I told him I didn’t think the black guy in the White House, foreigners, or the Jews in Congress were the problem. Rather, I told him, I worry about my fellow Americans who routinely abrogate their rights by not recognizing the responsibilities that come with owning firearms. Every time I see the headlines about a toddler who kills his little sister with Dad’s loaded, unsecured pistol, I worry for my rights. I told him that when I see the horrors inflicted by yet another psychopathic young man who should never have legal access to the kinds of guns our veterans have become accustomed to on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, I worry about my freedoms.

The NRA representative was not calling to have a debate. Dismissing my responses without comment, he got to the point: Act now and the NRA would extend my membership through the end of the second Obama term at a discounted rate. Moreover, say yes and I’d also receive a NRA Damascus-finish locking blade knife and an exclusive digital camouflage flat-top cap.

“Wayne,” he said, “wants you to have this.”

All for 25 bucks.

illustration by Rob Dobi for BuzzFeed

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/rob1cox/my-year-in-the-nra

This Might Look Like a Normal Photo. But When You Look A Little Closer, It’s Incredible.

High school football players are notorious for being bullies, not guardian angels. That’s why it’s so surprising to hear what one entire football team did for a special young man named Zachary. They changed his life forever, but not because they were tormenting him.

They made him feel so special for one day and it might have changed everything in Zachary’s life. This is from a Facebook status his mother posted:

In light of all the bad news circulating around about teachers abusing special needs kids and teens and bullying going around in schools, I wanted to share my story of hope and inclusion. My 13 year old Autistic son Zachary has played football since he was 8 with almost the same group of boys, he has never been a great player but has always made up for it in excitement, never give up attitude, and determination to do everything all the other boys are doing.

On Thursday of last week (10/17) it was their last game of the season. In the fourth quarter, they put Zachary in. I sat watching as usual when I saw him walk to a different position … not thinking anything of it, I continued watching. Amazement and shock set in as I saw him handed the ball and then he began running for a touchdown with his teammates closely guarding him. He scored a touchdown, his first ever, and I could see the huge smile on his face even in the stands.

I was in tears as I watched the whole team surround him and celebrate with him. They presented him with the game ball afterwards, he accepted and just hung his head in amazement, still grinning ear to ear. They had arranged with the opposing team to give my son what to them seemed like five minutes of glory and a chance he might never have had. To my son it was a shining moment he is still talking about. It has been three days and he is still sleeping with his game ball tucked in beside him and carrying it with him everywhere. The Hamilton Wildcats teachers, players, coaches and parents are number one in my book for their outstanding inclusion, acceptance and, well, for giving my son one the best memories if not the best memory of his young life.

I just wanted to share his story as I was told by many a doctor he would never be able to play organized sports among other things, and hopefully give some hope to others .. thank you for taking the time to read this.

One proud momma,
Tonya Moyer

You’re not cool if you’re a bully. You’re cool if you’re compassionate.

Read more: http://viralnova.com/special-needs-football/

One Day, This Guy Decided To Climb To The Top Of The Great Pyramid Of Giza. Just Because.

Urban exploration can result in some amazing photos and experiences…although, strictly speaking, it’s not always legal.

That is what Andrej Ciesielski learned after he climbed to the top of one of the Pyramids of Giza.

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Andrej the thrill-seeker made it all the way to the top of the Great Pyramid of Giza (the largest of the three there). It’s also known as the Pyramid of Cheops. That pyramid in particular is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (not only that, but it’s the only one to remain largely intact).

Shortly after arriving at the top, Andrej was arrested (of course).

But man…was it worth it.

He claimed the entire climb only took him 8 minutes (although, getting down was another story).

“Walking around in the complex I was waiting for the right moment to start climbing The Great Pyramid of Giza. When I started climbing a street seller was standing behind me but I didn’t care about him I turned around he laughed and I continued climbing.

At the half some people got attention on me and looked up to. That’s how the police spotted me. They shouted something in Arabic I think but I didn’t care and kept going while listening to music.”

His excursion was amazing, but it was a bit of a walk on the wild side most wouldn’t dare.

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Top of the Cheops Pyramid!

Posted by Andrej Ciesielski on Monday, January 18, 2016

Thankfully, after some quick questioning, the police released Andrej…who was most likely on his way to climb all over another wonder of the ancient world.

Read more: http://www.viralnova.com/giza-pyramid-climb/

This Simple Chalkboard Reveals Something Important About The Nature Of Regret

When it comes to human emotions, regret is among the harshest. What makes it so insidious is the fact that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Instead, it attaches itself to other emotions like a leech that cosigns on all of our grief and frustration.

Just think about that for a second. What’s the feeling that swells up when you think about everything you’ll never get to say to someone? What’s the feeling that creeps up on you when you let your dreams take a backseat to reality? What’s the feeling that peppers your decision to leave someone you love behind? I think you know the answer.

While it’s never a pleasant topic to confront, what happened when these people were asked to put their regrets in writing revealed something important about how we let regrets dictate our experiences.

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It’s never too late: http://aplus.com/s/30a05e703ad

Posted by Ashton Kutcher on Thursday, January 28, 2016

Vowing to live without regrets is easier said than done. In fact, they’re so wrapped up in the human experience that it’s almost impossible. Time has a tendency of running away with our goals and racking up a collection of regrets in the process, but by figuring out how they affect the decision-making process, we can begin to break the cycle.

Read more: http://www.viralnova.com/chalkboard-regret/

Our 9 Favorite Feature Stories This Week: Heaven’s Gate, Donuts, And A Girl Who Never Grew Up

This week for BuzzFeed Features, Katie J.M. Baker tells the strange story of a Texas woman who for 20 years tricked families, employers and high schools into thinking she was a helpless teenager. Read that and these other great stories from BuzzFeed and around the web.

1. Forever Young — BuzzFeed

Justine Zweibel / BuzzFeed

Charity Johnson, a 34-year-old woman from Texas, didn’t want to steal money or hurt anyone. So why did she trick people all over the country into believing she was still in high school? Read it at BuzzFeed.

2. Whoever Saves a LifeMatter

Photographs by Sebastiano Tomada

Matthieu Aikins spends a brutal seven days with Syria’s intrepid first responders. “There wasn’t even water to wash the blood from their hands. The bathroom had been destroyed in the blast the night before.” Read it at Matter.

3. A Radical New Look at Mass ShootersEsquire

Can the FBI find a shooter before “the next one” happens? Finding a dangerous man (or woman) is even harder than it seems, reports Tom Junod. Read it at Esquire.

4. The Prodigal Prince — Longreads

Kiera Feldman trace the rise and fall of the Oral Roberts dynasty in this story originally published by This Land Press. Read it at Longreads.

5. The Secret World of the Dunkin Donuts Franchise KingsThe Boston Globe Magazine

Photograph by Ken Richardson for The Boston Globe

The New England chain has slowly spread down the East Coast and across North America. And as it spreads, Neil Swidey has the story of one family quickly getting rich off coffee and donuts. Read it at The Boston Globe Magazine.

6. Anthony Kim, Golf’s Breakout Star Of 2008, Is Nowhere To Be FoundSports Illustrated

Allan Henry / USA Today / Via golf.com

He was one the most promising young golfers of the ’00s, with more than $12 million in career earnings. Then he disappeared. Alan Shipnuck asks: What happened to Anthony Kim? Read it at Sports Illustrated.

7. The Online Legacy of a Suicide Cult and the Webmasters They Left BehindGizmodo

The Heaven’s Gate website is up and running fine — which is extraordinary, Ashley Feinberg explains. “Because as far as the public is aware, every last member of the suicide cult died 17 years ago from a cocktail of arsenic and apple sauce.” Read it at Gizmodo.

8. Baby’s First Photo — BuzzFeed

Ruth Graham unpacks the booming ultrasound photo industry: “Some expectant parents visit spa-like ‘keepsake ultrasound studios’ several times over the course of their pregnancy, to capture images at various stages.” Read it at BuzzFeed.

9. Why I Hope to Die at 75The Atlantic

Photograph by Jake Chessum for The Atlantic

Ezekiel Emanuel doesn’t want to live into his 80s or 90s. And he’s got his reasons. Read it at The Atlantic.

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Angelina Jolie’s Perfect Game

Angelina Jolie has the best publicity game in Hollywood. Here’s how she does it.

What was Angelina Jolie best known for in 2004?

a.) Wearing a vial of Billy Bob Thornton’s blood around her neck.

b.) Making out with her brother on the red carpet.

c.) Being the offspring of ‘70s star Jon Voight.

d.) All of the above.

The answer, of course, is d. There was talent there — in 1999, she’d won an Oscar for her depiction of a sociopathic mental patient in Girl, Interrupted — but that performance had also effectively set her image at the intersection of beautiful and menacing. The marriage to Thornton, who was 20 years her senior, and their frankness about their sex life (knife play, bondage) only amplified the message: This girl was gorgeous, but wow was she weird.

But it gets even weirder — just not in the way you’d expect. While filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Cambodia, Jolie became invested in the plight of refugees, leading to her high-profile appointment as a United Nations ambassador. Then, in 2002, Jolie finalized the adoption of a 1-year-old boy, Maddox, from an orphanage in Cambodia.

S. Granitz / Via WireImage ; Carmen Valdes / Via WireImages

How could those two very different understandings of Jolie make sense together? Most Hollywood stars, with the help of their publicists and agents, work very, very hard to have a coherent image — to “mean” something clearly and simply: the Nice Guy, the Pinup, the Tough Dude. Ryan Reynolds, Megan Fox, Vin Diesel.

But the biggest Hollywood star images are complicated, and even contradictory: Marilyn Monroe was pure sex, but she radiated innocence; Marlon Brando was overpoweringly masculine yet incredibly sensitive.

So Jolie’s image mixed dangerous sexuality…and benevolent humanitarianism? It sounds ridiculous. But it was precisely that combination, and the flexibility it permitted, that allowed Jolie to not only weather one of the biggest potential scandals of the decade, but facilitated her rise to superstardom.

It’s because Angelina Jolie plays the celebrity game better than anyone else in the business. Her game is subtle, often invisible, incredibly precise, and always, always effective. And by all accounts, she does it without the help of a publicist. To best explain how she masters it today, though, we have to return to 2004 — but this time, to Brad Pitt.

George Pimentel / Via Getty

In fall 2004, Brad Pitt was one of the top leading men in Hollywood. Two-time “Sexiest Man Alive,” he was coming off of the massive success of both Ocean’s 12 and Troy, in which he appeared mostly nude at the age of 40. He was also in the fourth year of marriage to Jennifer Aniston; together, they formed Hollywood’s most golden — and, arguably, beloved — couple.

Pitt and Jolie had both signed on to make Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a double-crossing spy thriller intended to exploit Jolie’s skill at what can only be called sexy fighting. When filming began in fall 2004, Jolie was single, but Pitt was married — still, it was no surprise that the narrative of the film, which required them to play rival assassins who just happened to be married, sparked immediate rumors of romance. It was all routine gossip, status quo for two stars in any movie — at least until January 2005, when Pitt announced that he and Aniston would divorce.

Both Pitt and Jolie denied that anything had happened, but Jolie’s image, coupled with suggestive stills from the film, kept the story in circulation. Then, in late April, a revelation: pictures of Pitt and Jolie playing on a Kenyan beach, published on the cover of Us Weekly with the subtitle “12 PAGES OF NEW PICS THAT PROVE THE ROMANCE WAS REAL.”

While none of the images show Pitt and Jolie in a romantic configuration, let alone touching, Pitt’s familiarity with Maddox seemed to tell a different story. Quickly dubbed “Brangelina,” the pair dominated the summer news cycle, first promoting Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which defied expectations by opening with a $50 million weekend — a personal best for both stars — and went on to gross over $150 million worldwide. Then, in July, with Mr. and Mrs. Smith still in theaters, the pair traveled to adopt a 6-month-old AIDS orphan, named Zahara, from Ethiopia.

There was no confirmation of a relationship, no public displays of affection. At press junkets, interviewers signed agreements that they wouldn’t ask questions about their personal lives. Indeed, it wasn’t until Jolie revealed that she was pregnant in January 2006 that the pair publicly acknowledged their relationship status.

Usually, a refusal to publicly comment or otherwise shape the response to scandal results in backlash. In 1950, it was revealed that Ingrid Bergman was pregnant with the child of Italian neorealist director Roberto Rossellini, whom she had met while filming Stromboli. When Bergman became pregnant, she was still married to her Swedish husband, thereby making the pregnancy even more illicit. As a result, Bergman became embroiled in the biggest Hollywood scandal since the Fatty Arbuckle trial. So scandalous, in fact, that she was publicly denounced on the floor of the United States Senate as an “instrument of evil,” the subject of dozens of condemnatory editorials and a generalized object of scorn.

Pascal Le Segretain / Via Getty Images for Cinema for Peace

Many female stars from the period had endured similar ordeals — they’d just covered them up. With the help of studio “fixers,” dozens of starlets had abortions; when Loretta Young found herself pregnant with the very married Clark Gable’s baby, she traveled to Europe, went into hiding, gave the baby up for adoption… and then adopted her.

Bergman, in other words, had options. But from the start, she had resisted the normal strategies for Hollywood stardom. When famed producer David O. Selznick “discovered” her in Sweden and brought her stateside, she resisted all attempts to shape her into a Hollywood starlet: Bergman refused to pluck her eyebrows, or wear heavy makeup, or mold her image in any manner.

Instead of battling her, Selznick decided to exploit her stubbornness, framing her as the “Nordic Natural” who didn’t even need the normal sculpting and shaping. Lack of image, in other words, as image: What you saw was what you got.

Popperfoto / Via Getty Images

This lack of mediation — and resistance to publicity maneuvering — is precisely what made it so difficult for Bergman to negotiate her scandal. Two years earlier, Robert Mitchum had been arrested for possession of marijuana while hanging out with a woman who was decidedly not his wife. Well aware of the public perception of illegal drug use, Mitchum declared his career over. But 43 days as a model prisoner, along with some savvy publicity manipulation and a very remorseful, very sappy apology in the leading fan magazine, salvaged his career.

Archive Photos / Via Getty Images

But Mitchum gave himself fully over to the recuperation of his image — a campaign that included a full-page spread of him playing with his sons and this piece of magnificent copy:

“Wild animals at a birthday party! A fishing trip on a desert sea! But then, as Josh and Chris Mitchum can tell you, wonderful things have been happening since Dad came home … Bob always had a great fondness for his sons. But in the past, his attitude with them was pretty casual. Now he gives them most of his leisure time.”

It sounds sappy, but it worked; if anything, Mitchum became more successful. Bergman, however, treated the entire affair as a private matter, refusing to do any press or otherwise attempt to exculpate herself. It was all very European.

And so Bergman retreated to Italy, gave birth to a daughter, gave birth to a set of twins, made movies with Rossellini. Bergman’s offense was far more grave than Mitchum’s — in part because she was a woman, and her “sin” was sexual — but her unwillingness to speak or otherwise mitigate the fallout from her actions, and thereby control the trajectory of the narrative, effectively blacklisted her in Hollywood and ended her American career.

Which returns us to Brangelina: The lack of public comment could have mired both Jolie and Pitt in the quagmire of bad press and bombing movies. But Pitt and Jolie were speaking constantly. They were just doing so semiotically.

In April, for example, immediately following the release of the photos of him and Jolie on the beach, Pitt flew to Ethiopia, where he spent three days touring AIDS orphanages.

J. Tayloe Emery / Via ONE.ORG via Getty Images

In May, Jolie participated in a humanitarian mission in Sierra Leone, meeting with the president and speaking privately with victims of the 2002 civil war.

Business Wire / Via Getty Images

In October, Jolie visited Darfur to bring attention to the plight of Sudanese refugees; later that month, she returned to New York to receive the U.N.’s Global Humanitarian Action Award.

Richard Corkery / Via NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

In November, she appeared at a Washington press conference celebrating the signing of the Assistance for Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children in Developing Countries Act, while Pitt spent two days meeting with various politicians to lobby on behalf of the ONE Foundation’s work in Africa.

Win McNamee / Via Getty Images

They then flew to Geneva to hear debriefings on the aftermath of the Pakistani earthquake; for Thanksgiving, they flew to Pakistan, where they participated in relief efforts.

Pakistan Ministry of Information / Via Getty Images

When Jolie reached her eighth month of pregnancy, she and Pitt made the decision to move, temporarily, to Namibia, in hopes of avoiding paparazzi yet drawing attention to the impoverished country; when they sold the rights to the first photos of their daughter, Shiloh, for over $7 million, they donated the money to charities fighting AIDS in Africa.

And the list goes on and on, from Pitt’s high-profile work with the Make It Right Foundation in New Orleans to the adoption, six months after the birth of Shiloh, of a 3-year-old Vietnamese orphan, Pax — all of which were regularly punctuated with images of Jolie, Pitt, and their ever-growing family looking like, well, a family, albeit an untraditional one.

This photo, for example, is a semiotic gold mine: Shiloh, often nicknamed “The Chosen One,” a glimmering beacon of whiteness, flanked by her racially marked siblings, one of whom seems to be protecting her from possible harm. All three are framed by their doting parents, tied to their children via skin color, head/neck scarf, hair highlighting, and physical touch. They’re a “Party of Five,” as the title of the accompanying article puts it, but they’re a distinctly global one: The photos were all shot in Cambodia, and when asked how her children manage all the traveling, Jolie says, “We’ve tried to make them very adaptable, so when we go to a country like India or certain parts of Namibia, they’re happy to play with sticks and rocks outside — they’re happy to blend.”

Taken together, these images, and the stories that accompanied them, were speaking about their relationship, even if the pair themselves weren’t offering comment. And what they were saying was that this wasn’t a story about sex or scandal; rather, it was one of family, humanitarianism, and global citizenship. Within this framework, any publication that chose to focus on sexual intrigue was effectively neglecting the most in need.

Take the dozens of letters to the editor that People received and printed in response to its months of Brangelina coverage. While there were always letters like this…

I’m sickened by Angelina and Brad. They should be hiding their romance out of embarrassment and shame.

Great! Yet another baby born out of wedlock. These people read lines for a living; you’d think they’d be able to read the directions on a contraceptive package.

…they were always surrounded by ones like this:

I had a hard time getting past the whole Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston breakup. However, after reading your story and seeing the photos, it is obvious how in love he and Angelina Jolie are. I applaud them for putting so much heart and soul not only into raising their children in a loving environment but also for raising them to be proud, aware and kind.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the picture of Brad, Angelina and their children is priceless: three alert children with their parents as bookends. Look how Brad’s and Angelina’s arms surround them, with Maddox protectively holding his baby sister. I am not a big celebrity watcher, but I know a loving family when I see one.

These are real letters, but People’s choice to run these particular ones — always in a way that outshines the single dissenting voice — implicitly encouraged other readers to take up the same attitudes.

There’s an old PR maxim that goes, “If you don’t like what people are saying about you, then change the conversation.” That’s what Bergman failed to do, but what Angelina Jolie did with aplomb. It was more than just the beautiful images, though: It was what they represented.

More specifically, Jolie’s image management played on anxieties and ideals specific to the mid-2000s: If Aniston was America’s sweetheart — the girl next door par excellence — then Jolie was the cosmopolitan, global citizen. If Aniston was cute and victimized, then Jolie was sexy, in control of her sexuality and the men around her — a vivid manifestation of postfeminism that projects both the success of feminism and its current irrelevance. If Aniston was reticent to juggle family and career, then Jolie wanted a sprawling international family, the marks of her globalism literally tattooed on her body in the form of the longitude and latitude of her children’s birthplaces.

Jolie’s image thus combines a successful career, motherhood, engaged philanthropy, and active sex appeal: the very height of having it all, but in a way that reflects a distinctly transnational, non-U.S.-centric identity that might not appeal to a certain swath of conservative American moviegoers, but made her — and, by extension, Pitt, whose image has been folded into her own — immensely appealing to progressive Americans and the global market at large.

That’s how Jolie functioned ideologically. But it’s not the entire story.

Most of us don’t know a life before People magazine. It was started in 1974 as a spin-off of the “People” section in Time magazine, and with the heft of Time Inc. behind it, it enjoyed one of the most successful launches in publishing history. And in the 40 years since its launch, it’s become a publishing juggernaut.

People has dominated a category of “personality journalism” that it created, telling stories, as its first editorial proclaimed, about “the active personalities of our time — in all fields.” Its success sparked dozens of copycats: USA Today, Entertainment Tonight, and one, founded in 1978, funded by the New York Times Company. It was called…Us Magazine.

Over the next decade, the magazine would switch hands several times before Publisher Jann Wenner, best known as the wunderkind responsible for Rolling Stone, took full control in 1989. He experimented with different formats, but by 1999, the magazine was losing $10 million a year, known in the trades as “Wenner’s folly.”

Until, that is, Wenner made the decision to funnel $50 million into a complete redesign and, in 2002, hired Bonnie Fuller as editor-in-chief, notorious for her sensational yet tremendously successful tenure at Cosmopolitan and Glamour. Fuller — and her successor, Janice Min — popularized a feature that we joke about today, but one that had tremendous ramifications on the industry at large, which, as you’ll soon see, dictated the coverage of Pitt and Jolie.

That feature was “Stars: They’re Just Like Us.” You’ve almost certainly seen it, or seen it satirized, but what it did was take photos of stars doing mundane activities — pumping gas, going to the grocery store — and captioned them to suggest that stars are, in fact, just like us. As I highlighted earlier, it’s nothing new, ideologically, but it was a brilliant business move. Because, as Fuller put it, “people don’t like to read,” she flooded the magazines pages with photos — but the cheapest kind available, namely, paparazzi photos of celebrities doing unremarkable things.

Until the late ‘90s, paparazzi had been a rarified vocation. Unless contracted to a specific agency, an individual paparazzo had to bear the cost of an expensive camera, miles of film, development, and distribution. But with the rise of digital technologies at the turn of the millennium, it had become increasingly easy — and cheap — to track a celebrity’s quotidian activities. Anyone with a digital camera and an internet connection could take and sell unauthorized photos of celebrities. The number of paparazzi grew from a “handful” in 1995 to 80 in 2004 and 150 in 2005.

Three high-profile gossip narratives compounded the sense of celebrity hysteria. First, Britney Spears was pregnant with her first child with Kevin Federline, and pictures of her pregnant body were at a premium.

Lester Cohen / Via WireImage

Second, Tom Cruise had engaged in a very public courting of Katie Holmes, replete with myriad photo opportunities, including a date at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

L. Cohen / Via WireImage

And finally, Pitt and Jolie, whose refusal to comment on their relationship, as discussed above, led to a premium on visual documentation. The market for these photos exploded, and by 2005, Us was receiving 45,000 to 50,000 images every week, 75% of which were paparazzi shots — allowing both Us and People to tell the next chapter in the Brangelina narrative in photos.

But as Us began to slowly encroach on People’s circulation and advertising dollars, the two began to engage in massive bidding wars over exclusive rights to various photos. With Time Inc. behind it, People was able to offer huge amounts of money for all types of photos, even ones it did not plan to use. For example, People spent $75,000 for a photo of Jennifer Lopez reading Us Weekly, simply to prevent Us from publishing the photo. People was driving up prices, hoping to shut out other magazines with smaller operating budgets from scooping them on any story, no matter how small.

People would always have more buying power, but Us relied on its wiles, as evidenced by the magazine’s scoop on the first photos of the Pitt-Jolie romance. People believed it had secured the rights at $320,000, and Us countered with an offer of $500,000, but only if the agency would sign a contract immediately, without going back to People.

People tried to retaliate with a $1 million offer, but the deal was done, and the magazine had to watch as Us took the glory. When, a year later, the bidding began for the first images of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, People refused to be outbid by Us, even if it meant paying a startling $4.1 million, which became a story in and of itself, especially when Jolie and Pitt turned around and donated that money to African charities.

Throughout this period, gossip blogs were gradually becoming a regular fixture — Perez Hilton, most notoriously, but also Just Jared, The Superficial, Go Fug Yourself, Oh No They Didn’t, and Lainey Gossip — all of which exploited the newly massive stream of digital paparazzi photos. Us and People provided weekly updates, but the blogs helped keep the Brangelina narrative in constant circulation, inundating web users with daily, even hourly updates.

The transformation of Pitt and Jolie’s “scandal” to one of “happy global family” could not have happened, at least not with the efficiency and clarity that it did, if not for the seismic changes in the gossip industry taking place at the same time. Indeed, the successful navigation of the potential scandal of their relationship could have been a fluke — if not for the masterful negotiation of the decade of Brangelina publicity to come.

Looking back, the Brangelina publicity strategy is deceptively simple. In fact, it’s a model of the strategy that has subconsciously guided star production for the last hundred years. More specifically, that the star should be at once ordinary and extraordinary, “just like us” and absolutely nothing like us. Gloria Swanson is the most glamorous star in the world — who loves to make dinner for her children. Paul Newman is the most handsome man in Hollywood — whose favorite pastime is making breakfast in his socks and loafers.

Jolie’s post-2005 image took the ordinary — she was a working mom trying to make her relationship work — and not only amplified it, but infused it with the rhetoric and imagery of globalism and liberalism. She’s not just a mom, but a mom of six. Instead of teaching her kids tolerance, she creates a family unit that engenders it; instead of reading books on kindness and generosity, she models it all over the globe. As for her partner, he isn’t just handsome — he’s the Sexiest Man Alive. And she doesn’t just have a job; instead, her job is being the most important — and influential — actress in the world.

Her image was built on the infrastructure of the status quo — a straight, white, doting mother engaged in a long-term monogamous relationship — but made just extraordinary enough to truly entice but never offend. The line between the tantalizing and the scandalizing is notoriously difficult to tread (just ask Kanye), but Jolie was able to negotiate it via two tactics: First, and most obviously, she accumulated (or, more generously, adopted and gave birth to) a dynamic group of children who were beautiful to observe; second, she figured out how to talk about her personal life in a way that seemed confessional while, in truth, revealing very little; and third, she exploited the desire for inside access into control of that access.

Let’s start with the first. More jaundiced critics have accused Jolie of collecting children like handbags — an ABC News piece, for example, wondered if “black babies” were “Hollywood’s newest accessory.” Jolie’s “true” intentions with adoption and motherhood, however, were less important than the perception of those intentions. As emphasized above, Jolie’s ever-expanding family was almost always celebrated. Even before the birth of Shiloh, People had declared them their first-ever “World’s Most Beautiful Family,” exalting the “multicultural brood that transcends continents and boasts the two cutest kids ever to sport a Mohawk and a kerchief.”

The birth of Shiloh and the adoption of Pax strengthened the sentiment, but it was the birth of twins Vivienne and Knox in 2008 that transformed a family into a phenomenon. Lots of celebrities had kids; others had adopted kids; some even had twins. But none had all of the above. The desire for documentation thereof was compounded by general twins frenzy: Babies are cute, but two babies, that’s even cuter. Demand for the first photos was high, but no one anticipated the $14 million price tag that People and Hello! paid for exclusive rights, the most that has ever been paid for a celebrity image. But the paycheck paid off, at least in part: The issue featuring the twins and a “19-photo album” became the best-selling issue in seven years — a huge coup.

The cover was striking, but again, it was an image of the family together that quickly became the iconic shot.

The picture just emanates family-ness, but a very particular sort of unposed, unmanufactured family. You got the formal pose of adoration on the cover, but this photo is messy, discombobulated, an incredibly compelling argument for authenticity. If everything Jolie says in interviews — how madcap they are, how they’re just trying to figure it out day by day, how much they love each other — is the theory, then photos like these are the proof.

The “photo album” and the text that accompanied it served a particular purpose, however. When Jolie and Pitt sold the photos to People, they stipulated that they would also have control not only over the photos themselves, but the editorial content. According to inside sources, the publication that won the image rights would be “obliged to offer coverage that would not reflect negatively on her or her family,” wouldn’t use the word “Brangelina,” and would supply an “editorial plan” for the layout. Put differently, whoever bought the photos also agreed to editorial oversight by Jolie and Pitt.

It wasn’t the first time that Jolie had exercised that sort of editorial control. While doing the publicity rounds for A Mighty Heart, all journalists speaking with Jolie had to sign a publicity agreement with the following stipulations:

1) Interviewer will not ask Ms. Jolie any questions regarding her personal relationships. In the event Interviewer does ask Ms. Jolie any questions regarding her personal relationships, Ms. Jolie will have the right to immediately terminate the interview and leave.

2) The interview may only be used to promote the Picture. In no event may Interviewer or Media Outlet be entitled to run all or any portion of the interview in connection with any other story.

3) The interview will not be used in a manner that is disparaging, demeaning, or derogatory to Ms. Jolie.

The move to control journalists’ questions — and subsequent reportage — wasn’t unprecedented: In classic Hollywood, there was a tacit agreement between the studios, fan magazines, and gossip columnists that star interviews and profiles would remain positive, flattering, and in line with the star’s image. But you don’t really need an agreement to garner positive treatment: The calculus of contemporary Hollywood publicity ensures that journalists, especially those in the celebrity trade, will paint positive portraits of their subjects if they want to remain in the business. Write a negative story, in other words, and no publicist will let you near their client.

In formalizing the agreement, however, Jolie broke an unwritten rule: The demand for celebrity access may impinge what we normally call journalistic ethics, but you shouldn’t make it public. Most outlets at the press junket for A Mighty Heart refused to sign the agreement, which was obtained and published by The Smoking Gun, sparked a New York Times piece, and prompted Slate to declare an Esquire profile, presumably written under the same conditions, “the worst celebrity profile ever written.”

For the first time, Jolie’s strategy for control had backfired. Before, nothing had read like a publicity stunt — she just looked like she was living her life, traveling around, doing her activism, having some kids, casually dating Brad Pitt. She didn’t have a publicist; she wasn’t calculating or concerned about her image. But the revelation of the journalist agreement suddenly put all of that into doubt: Maybe everything that had seemed so natural and unmediated was, in fact, an elaborate publicity plan.

It was, of course. Not a malicious or manipulative plan, at least not in the way we think of them — but Jolie, like any public person, was always conscious of the way her actions and words made her appear. She was so conscious that she didn’t need a publicist — a less savvy woman would’ve certainly made a mistake. And part of that savvy was effacing any traces of manipulation: The more you make the evidence of the game disappear, the more your audience will be willing to forget that they’re being played. Or, put differently, that part of the reason that millions found Jolie’s words and actions so compelling was that they felt she wasn’t trying to be compelling: She simply was. And in our postmodern moment of hyper-manipulation, a perceived lack of manipulation fosters the sort of rarified authenticity that every product, celebrity or otherwise, desires. Authenticity is the most valued currency in the media world — and Jolie, at least to that point, had it in spades.

Jolie handled the backlash with ease. Her lawyer claimed total responsibility for the document, calling himself “boneheaded” and “overzealous,” while Jolie herself asserted that she “wouldn’t have put it out there.” Her manager, Geyer Kosinski, told the Times that the document itself was meant as “guide” intended to protect Jolie from herself: “She is an incredibly candid, honest person, who is undeterred in answering questions. Our collective intention was to protect her.” In this way, the response to the backlash became a way of reaffirming Jolie’s own authenticity. If she wasn’t so unchecked and unguarded, her people never would’ve had to put it out there. And now, with the agreement revoked, every piece of reportage would be the “real Jolie.”

That note of reaffirmed authenticity has continued to structure the Jolie image — as she traveled the world, alternating between starring roles, supporting Pitt, and humanitarian work; as she told Vanity Fair that her daughter Shiloh was “like a little dude” who loved to wear boys’ clothes and be like her brothers and refused to acknowledge the trolling press that accused her of “turning Shiloh into a boy.”

It continued as she directed her first film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, a love story set in war-torn Bosnia, and insisted on casting only local actors playing their own ethnicity. “It couldn’t be anyone else,” she told Vanity Fair. “It’s their story. It was important that they were willing to do it. If none of them were willing, I wouldn’t have made it.” As her family continued to be photographed in exotic locales doing various edifying activities: going to the aquarium in Sydney, riding on a boat in the Galapagos, frolicking on the grounds of a castle in Scotland, going to see Wicked in London. As she started wearing a sizable ring and confirming the engagement only through Pitt’s publicist, who said, “It is a promise for the future and their kids are very happy. There’s no date set at this time.” As she offered just enough of herself, and her private life, to keep the public interested. Never too many images or interviews; never a danger of oversaturation. Just enough, in other words, to make you feel grateful each time you had the opportunity for more.

Over the winter and spring, however, there was a relative lack of Jolie content. She appeared in Jordan in her capacity as a UNHCR Special Envoy to raise awareness about Syrian refugees in December; honored her cinematographer Dean Semler at the American Society for Cinematographers Awards in February; visited the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda to advocate against the use of rape as a tool of war in March; spoke at the Women of the World Summit and the G-8 in April. For anyone else, that’s a busy four months; for Jolie, it’s a relative pittance of public appearance.

But then, a bombshell: She’d been out of the spotlight because she’d been preparing for, and then undergoing, a double mastectomy. Another celebrity would reveal that kind of information through a magazine cover — which is what Michael J. Fox did with the news of his Parkinson’s disease, how Patrick Swayze chose to confirm his battle with pancreatic cancer, and what Guiliana Rancic did two years earlier with the news of her own double mastectomy.

Jolie was certainly no stranger to sanctioned People magazine covers — but there was a grander narrative at stake, and she had something else in mind. The narrative of illness (or, in Jolie’s case, pre-illness) and affliction is almost always rooted in the personal: Here is how I feel; here is how it affects my family. Gossip and fan magazines have always turned celebrity struggles into melodrama, engendering the sort of sympathy and/or empathy that further connects the reader to the star image.

But Jolie wasn’t interested in melodrama. Instead, she wrote an editorial for the New York Times, couching the news in the selfsame rhetoric of advocacy and awareness that had structured the rest of her non-Hollywood labor. She plainly explained that she was a carrier of the BRCA1 gene and that her doctors estimated an 87% risk of breast cancer and 50% risk of ovarian cancer; she narrated the process of the removal in explicit, unflinching detail, from the “nipple delay” procedure to reconstruction surgery eight weeks later.

The editorial was titled “My Medical Choice,” but the message was about universal awareness. As she explained, “Breast cancer alone kills some 458,000 people each year, according to the World Health Organization, mainly in low- and middle-income countries. It has got to be a priority to ensure that more women can access gene testing and lifesaving preventive treatment, whatever their means and background, wherever they live.”

“For any woman reading this,” she continued, “I hope it helps you to know that you have options.”

As Jolie said at the end of her editorial, “I chose not to keep my story private because there are many women who do not know that they might be living under the shadow of cancer,” which is another way of saying, “I chose to take this scary thing and use my privilege to make it so that less women might have to experience it.” It reads as benevolent, altruistic, and fundamentally good — the very opposite of how we generally think of celebrity culture, and the dozens of proliferating stories, blog posts, tweets, and cover stories affirm just how effectively she communicated the message.

That message wouldn’t have such unambiguous clarity, however, without precise planning. All the doctor’s appointments, surgeries, and recoveries — all of the potential leaks — were anticipated and controlled, allowing Jolie to completely control the narrative. And that sort of control allowed Jolie, with Pitt firmly beside her, to likewise control the meaning — of the procedure and its ramifications on her career, of course, but also her image at large. In the years prior, the gossip press had come to refer to her as “Saint Angelina” — and this became one more justification for her beatification.

And all of this was accomplished, recall, without a publicist. As Bonnie Fuller said back in 2008, “She’s scary smart,” with “an amazing knack, perhaps more than any other star, for knowing how to shape a public image.”

In the year since the Times editorial, Jolie has been in full movie star gear: filming Maleficent, appearing with Pitt during the publicity tour for World War Z, and, most significantly, directing her second feature, Unbroken. Unlike The Land of Milk and Honey, Unbroken is a classic Hollywood prestige picture. Based on the real-life travails of Louis Zamperini that had been adapted, in 2010, by Laura Hillenbrand into a best-selling book, its plot reads like an Academy Awards checklist: athletic triumph, World War II, lost at sea, time as prisoner of war, and based on a true story, with the protagonist still alive.

The script had been bouncing around Hollywood for decades, but it took Hillenbrand’s adaptation, plus some script work by Joel and Ethan Coen, to put it into filmable shape. A short clip aired during the 2014 Winter Olympics, and, with a December release date, its fate will be markedly more high-profile than Jolie’s previous directorial effort. In short, Unbroken seems poised to finally legitimate Jolie’s artistic ambitions — which, when coupled with the certain blockbuster success of Maleficent, situates her as the most enviable female star in Hollywood.

In the lead-up to the release of Maleficent, however, Jolie has given dozens of interviews, with a recurring emphasis on a career pivot away from acting in order to focus on directing, writing, and her work for the U.N. and the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative. But that doesn’t mean that her role as a celebrity — and the masterful management thereof — has faded. When asked about whether she feels guilt as a working mother, Jolie’s response was an object lesson in effective PR:

I’m not a single mom with two jobs trying to get by every day. I have much more support than most people, most women in this world. And I have the financial means to have a home and health care and food. When I feel I’m doing too much, I do less, if I can. And that’s why I’m in a rare position where I don’t have to do job after job. I can take time when my family needs it. I actually feel that women in my position, when we have all at our disposal to help us, shouldn’t complain. Consider all the people who really struggle and don’t have the financial means, don’t have the support, and many people are single raising children. That’s hard.

Jolie’s words have been reframed as a sublimated critique of Gwyneth Paltrow, who sparked critique when she suggested that her schedule was more difficult than that of a mother with an office job.

It’s unlikely, however, that Jolie was targeting Paltrow, or any specific celebrity. Purposefully or not, she directly addressed the animosity levied not only at celebrities. They may be beautiful, and act beautifully, and provide us with objects of lust and desire — emotions whose flip side has always been jealousy and resentment. Those feelings fuel the particular and complex schadenfreude we feel watching celebrities fail, suffer, and implode, and it’s the primary engine of the snarkiest and darkest side of the gossip industry. And every time a celebrity says that it’s hard being pretty, or difficult having your photo taken all the time, or exhausting attending movie premieres, or sitting in hair and makeup, or posing for magazine covers, it engenders just a bit more spite, which makes it all the easier to quietly revel in that celebrity’s demise.

But with a quote like that, Jolie does something different. Instead of attempting to make herself seem “just like us,” she acknowledges the gap; instead of empathizing, or comparing her struggle to others’, she underlines just how difficult it is not only for most of her fans, but most of the world. As gossip columnist and CTV host Elaine Lui explains, “She doesn’t allow herself to be quoted about how hard her life is … She’s figured out that celebrities can never get away with moaning — especially not now, in these times, when almost everyone has it worse.”

Jolie is exquisitely beautiful. She’s a talented actress, she has a beautiful family, and seems, in truth, quite happy. She’s handled her publicity with enviable skill. But that skill isn’t the product of training, or planning, or even a well-laid-out strategy. And like many in her position, Jolie never went to college. But she is clearly intelligent and experienced — and, most crucially, humbled by that experience.

Her savvy, then, stems from the same thing that makes us write better as we grow older or think more expansively after traveling abroad, the thing that happens when you realize your relative insignificance, or have to make difficult decisions, or experience pain, or witness suffering. It’s the sort of skill that can’t be taught, and that’s the reason Jolie doesn’t need a publicist: Everything she says and does in public is guided by her myriad, textured, educating experiences of the world.

So many celebrities embarrass or otherwise scandalize themselves because their sphere of operation is so limited and privileged: It’s hard to not be angry about the paparazzi when they compose the boundaries of your existence; it’s easy to come off as superficial when appearance is the only thing on your mind.

But it’s both telling and instructive that the best person at the contemporary publicity game is also the one most invested in a life outside of Hollywood. And that, more than any beauty or acting tip, is what not only all celebrities, but anyone interested in making themselves into a compelling person of worth and note, should learn from Angelina Jolie.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/angelina-jolies-perfect-game

Man Races A London Train By Running Overground From One Station To The Next.

The guys at Epic Challenges thought it would make for a cool challenge to see if someone could race a subway train from one stop to the next. … but safely, and above ground.

The challenge took place in the London Underground, precisely on the Circle Line from Mansion House to Cannon Street. The racer had to be on the train as it arrived at one station, then sprint out from the train car through the station and out onto the streets above. The racer then had to run above ground through the city, get to the next station, and catch the same train again.

A friend of the challenger waited in the train with a camera and explained what was happening to the other passengers, who all got on board with wanting the challenger to succeed.

(Source: Epic Challenges)

It never felt so satisfying to watch someone catch the train before. I was actually cheering along with the passengers at the end.

Read more: http://viralnova.com/subway-race/

Jeb Bush, 2016’s Gay-Friendly Republican

Quietly, Jeb has filled his campaign-in-waiting with some of the most open proponents of gay rights in the Republican Party. And donors think he sees the issues the same way they do — pro-LGBT.

Shortly after the 2012 election ended, David Kochel, the top-flight Iowa Republican strategist who had run Mitt Romney’s campaign in the state, decided to stop keeping his opinion of marriage equality to himself. He had spent years helping presidential candidates court the conservative Christian voters who dominated Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, but he had grown increasingly convinced that his party was on the wrong side of the marriage debate, both morally and politically.

With the campaign over, Kochel — who declined to comment for this story — began turning up at gatherings for pro-gay Republicans, calling on the GOP to modernize its social agenda, and appearing on local TV talk shows, demanding to know why the party of “freedom and liberty” shouldn’t support marriage rights. “Frankly,” he told one interviewer, “the culture wars are kind of over, and Republicans largely lost.”

According to people who discussed it with him at the time, Kochel was suffering from post-2012 burnout, and joked that he had taken on this little mission because he was tired of caucus politics, and wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t get sucked back into another race in 2016. After all, what kind of Republican presidential candidate would want to hire an outspoken marriage equality advocate as a campaign strategist?

As it turned out, Jeb Bush would.

When Bush officially launches his presidential bid later this year, he will likely do so with a campaign manager who has urged the Republican Party to adopt a pro-gay agenda; a chief strategist who signed a Supreme Court amicus brief arguing for marriage equality in California; a longtime adviser who once encouraged her minister to stick to his guns in preaching equality for same-sex couples; and a communications director who is openly gay.

To an extent that would have been unthinkable in past elections, one of the leading candidates for the Republican presidential nomination has stocked his inner circle with advisers who are vocal proponents of gay rights. And while the Bush camp says his platform will not be shaped by his lieutenants’ personal beliefs, many in the monied, moderate, corporate wing of the GOP — including pragmatic donors, secular politicos, and other members of the establishment — are cheering the early hires as a sign that Bush will position himself as the gay-friendly Republican in the 2016 field.

In addition to Kochel, who is expected to run the national campaign, Bush has hired Tim Miller, a star communications and research operative who is gay; longtime aide Sally Bradshaw, whose support for her pro-gay preacher recently showed up in a New York Times profile; and Mike Murphy, the veteran GOP consultant who joined other prominent Republicans in signing a 2013 brief calling on the Supreme Court to overturn California’s same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8. What makes this band of operatives unique is not just that they support gay rights, but that many have made it their mission in the past to bring the party along with them.

With his team in place, Bush has attracted a wave of early support from many of the party’s most prominent gay rights advocates. Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chair who authored the Prop. 8 brief, has reportedly been introducing Bush to donors. At least a dozen of the brief’s 80 signatories have either endorsed him, donated to him, or gone to work for him. Tom Ridge, the former Homeland Security secretary who regularly preaches LGBT inclusion to his fellow Republicans, has declared himself an enthusiastic Bush-backer.

Asked how Bush’s team might influence the way he approaches LGBT issues in the campaign, spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said he has been primarily concerned with “picking the most talented staff available,” and that, “Gov. Bush’s position on gay marriage is clear. If he pursues a run, it will be premised on his agenda and views, not anyone else’s.”

Bush’s official stance is that he believes marriage should be between a man and a woman, and that states should have the right to craft their own laws on the matter, free of tampering from federal courts.

But inside Bush’s orbit, some believe his personal feelings on the subject may have evolved beyond his on-the-record statements. Three Republican supporters who have recently spoken with Bush as he’s blitzed the GOP fundraising circuit told BuzzFeed News they came away with the impression that on the question of marriage equality, he was supportive at best and agnostic at worst.

“He wants to do the respectful, human thing,” said one of the Republicans, a donor who requested anonymity to comment on private conversations.

If, as many observers expect, the Supreme Court rules this June to extend marriage rights to all same-sex couples nationwide, some of Bush’s pro-gay donors are hoping he will use the moment to fully pivot toward an embrace of marriage equality — turning himself into the first serious pro-gay GOP presidential candidate.

“His thinking appears to have evolved,” said David Aufhauser, a former senior Treasury official who co-hosted a fundraiser for Bush earlier this month in Virginia. Aufhauser, well known in GOP circles for his gay rights advocacy, stressed that he doesn’t speak for Bush, but contended that the candidate would benefit from opening up about how he now views the marriage issue. He suggested Bush deliver a high-profile “statement of principles” following the Court’s decision this summer, pledging to “remove all barriers of state discrimination,” discussing how he “abhors hate based on orientation,” and also championing strong protections for churches.

If handled right, Aufhauser argued, Bush could draw a sharp contrast between himself and other Republicans — and in a twist that would defy the chatter about the generational divide in the GOP field, he could even succeed in siphoning off younger voters from opponents like Rand Paul or Marco Rubio. “When the governor speaks on this issue, I’m confident people like my kids — a demographic the party needs — will find him to be thoughtful and embracing,” he said.

As for any concern that such a move might make Bush seem like a bandwagon fan who only starts rooting for the team once they’re celebrating in the end zone, Aufhauser said, “It’s worth noting that President Obama did not support the concept until his last campaign — i.e., the twilight of his political life.”

It wouldn’t be the first time Bush had changed his position on LGBT issues. When he was running for governor of Florida in 1994 as a right-wing crusader, he wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald arguing that LGBT people should not receive specific legal protections: “We have enough special categories, enough victims, without creating even more… [Should] sodomy be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion? My answer is No.” When BuzzFeed News reported on the article in January, Bush’s spokeswoman moved quickly to disown it, saying it “does not reflect Gov. Bush’s views now.”

At the same time last month, as Bush’s home state of Florida was hosting its first same-sex unions, he released a statement that was widely noted for its mollifying tone, urging “respect for the good people on all sides of the gay and lesbian marriage issue — including couples making lifetime commitments to each other… and those of us who believe marriage is a sacrament and want to safeguard religious liberty.”

If the statement seemed to represent a change of heart over the past two decades, it also reflected the political calculus of Bush’s message man, Mike Murphy. In a Time column just after the 2012 election, he wrote of the GOP’s electoral problems, “We repel younger voters, who are much more secular than their parents, with our opposition to same-sex marriage and our scolding tone on social issues.”

But Gregory Angelo, the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans, said he believes Bush’s softened tone reveals something deeper than savvy spin.

“Certainly don’t discount the influence of top-level advisers,” Angelo said. “But at the end of the day, these calls are all made by the guy in charge… I look at these statements that Mr. Bush has made, and I don’t think that he’s just parroting talking points that he’s being given by his advisers. I think he genuinely feels those things.”

Of course, Bush could face substantial political risks if he chooses to lean in to a pro-LGBT message during the primaries. He is already viewed with deep suspicion by many conservatives for his positions on immigration and Common Core education standards; adding gay issues to the baggage could be what tips the scales from being an occasionally frustrating but acceptably daring McCain-like maverick, to an elitist, Huntsman-like squish. Already, some Evangelicals are circulating stories cautioning against Kochel’s nefarious influence on the candidate.

But as long as the fundraising race continues to consume Bush’s efforts and attention, there is nothing but upside. The GOP donor class — heavily concentrated in secular metropolitan centers where the LGBT culture wars don’t rate — generally supports marriage equality, and finds pulpit-pounding activists embarrassing.

One senior Republican fundraiser with close ties to several mega-donors said it is increasingly important for candidates to reject conservative dogmas on the marriage issue in order to get a hearing from big-dollar contributors.

“It hasn’t become a litmus test yet, but as far as how people are viewing your ticket to entry, you have to be approaching the LGBT issue with a new mindset in order to be taken seriously,” the fundraiser said. “They want to win. And they believe that if Republicans nominate a candidate who is perceived as anti-gay, that will be a net liability in the 2016 elections.”

The party’s most prominent pro-gay mega-donor, hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, has yet to pick a 2016 horse — but some Bush insiders believe his early gestures toward LGBT inclusion will help give him an inside track to the investor’s cash. Singer reportedly spent time earlier this week fielding pitches on behalf of several likely presidential contenders.

In an interview, Tyler Deaton, who runs a pro-LGBT Republican group founded by Singer, American Unity Fund, praised Bush for the “very respectful and thoughtful” tone he has taken while discussing the marriage issue. But he also said he’s hopeful that the political climate will encourage other GOP candidates to follow Bush’s lead. He noted that all four of the early primaries and caucuses next year will take place in states that perform same-sex unions, and that a majority of Republican voters under 50 now support marriage equality.

“The entire 2016 primary is going to take place in a new context,” he said. “Compared to 2012 where I feel like candidates were in a race to the bottom in how they could talk about LGBT freedom. There were some really unfortunate moments in that campaign.”

While Bush and his team weigh just how far he should go in his LGBT support this election, some pro-gay Republicans are already calling the campaign a marked improvement from 2012, when Romney faced a noisy backlash from social conservatives outraged that he had hired a gay man to serve as his foreign policy spokesman. The aide was gone within weeks.

“I guess what’s interesting is that I haven’t seen that type of pushback now in 2015 in the wake of these hires,” Angelo, of Log Cabin Republicans, said. “There were a lot of lessons learned in the 2012 election cycle.”

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/mckaycoppins/jeb2016lgbtfriendly

Between Girls: A Conversation With Lena Dunham

On being a woman, writing in the age of the internet, and making friends on Twitter.

Three days before the release of her first book, Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham sat down with her friend, BuzzFeed News staff writer Ashley C. Ford, to discuss confession as currency, the undervalued beauty of memoir, and how their unexpected friendship was forged on Twitter.

Ashley Ford: Hi, Lena! Let’s just get into it, OK? OK. So, I was reading an article in Vulture and there’s this new show Transparent with Jeffrey Tambor–

Lena Dunham: I saw the pilot, it’s beautiful!

AF: I haven’t seen it yet, but I keep hearing fantastic things.

LD: It’s awesome! My friend, Gaby [Hoffman], who was on Girls, is in it. She’s one of my oldest friends. I’ve known her since we were 3.

AF: She was also in Obvious Child!

LD: Yes, she was, and she was also in the first movie Nora Ephron ever directed, so it all comes full circle. She’s amazing. She was a child actor, a really great one, who has now transitioned into being a really great adult actor.

AF: Indeed she has. Anyway, in this Vulture article, the creator of Transparent, Jill Soloway, said something to the effect that you and your writing in Girls was one of the things that gave her permission or inspired her to stop pretending. She said she has been writing for a long time, wanting to write characters like yours but hiding them behind likability. After knowing you and reading things that other people have said about you, one of the things I thought was, Has Lena ever been good at pretending?

LD: Firstly, that’s such a nice compliment from Jill! I love her work and she seems like she’s always been bravely working on shows like Six Feet Under that really pioneered for me the ability to talk through characters who weren’t necessarily behaving perfectly or sympathetically, but who I still cared about. That being said, no, I am the worst pretender in the world. If I’m having an issue with someone, I can’t even wait 45 minutes until we can get to a private place to talk to someone.

I think half of my life has been trying to turn my inability to fake it, and my inability to separate myself from whatever emotion I’m feeling at the time into a viable way of life. I was once having a fight with my boyfriend, a typical couple fight, and we were at Mother’s Day with his mom and his grandmother. And I was like, “We need to go outside and talk about this right now.” And he was like, “Lena, we are going to be 30 years old. You need to be able to stand in Mother’s Day for half an hour and know we’re going to talk about it in the car.” And I was like, “I can’t! I can’t stand here faking it.” I have none of those skills. Can you pretend?

AF: I’m not good at pretending, but I am good at being manipulative in a similar way. I give people seemingly intimate information about myself, that satisfies them, and makes them feel close to me. I want people to feel close to me even if I’m actually too scared to let them in.

LD: I think it’s really true that people — especially in this day and age — use sharing as capital in a way to say to other people, “Trust me.” In some ways, I share for a living. I’ve definitely had to reexamine what sharing means to me. There are things I will only share with a true friend. There are parts of my life you know about that aren’t in the book and aren’t in my show.

AF: I do it because I really hate the idea of anybody feeling uncomfortable around me, or feeling like they can’t talk to me about something. Part of it is an offering so people can know I’m a safe person.

LD: That’s such a beautiful way of thinking about it.

AF: It’s not super important for me to know people’s deepest, darkest secrets, I’m not a secret-hoarder, but I don’t want people to feel like they can’t tell me their secrets.

LD: You want people to feel safe and settled around you, and it helps you feel safe and settled if everybody else does too. That makes sense to me.

AF: When do you feel safe and settled?

LD: I feel safe and settled in a one-on-one context like this, drinking tea with a friend. In this case with you, even while the tape recorder is on. I feel safe and settled in my home reading a book, walking down the street to get a yogurt, or at work when I feel really clear on what we’re doing that day. I’ve always loved a one-on-one conversation, or a constructive work environment, or a nap. Those are my three safest areas. What are yours?

AF: I feel really safe when I’m by myself, listening to music, and reading all at the same time. I’m recently finding that sharing my space when that’s happening is really intimate for me. My favorite moments between me and my boyfriend are just that, him putting on a record, and us both reading. He’ll be on the couch, and I’ll be in a chair, and I don’t know that I love him more in any other time than I do in those moments.

LD: The time when I read before bed, or the time I can steal in the afternoon, is increasingly the most sacred time of my day. Especially with the book coming out and all the anxiety I’ve had about that moment, I can’t get enough of that time when it’s just me and a book, or that article that I’ve been waiting to read. That intimate time is when I just pull myself back together. My boyfriend is not much of a reader. He can appreciate good writing, but for him, it’s not the same kind of rebirth and rejuvenation that it is for me. He’s had to really learn what reading means to me. It’s an amazing thing to have had the same escape from the time you’re 3 years old to the time you’re 30 years old.

AF: When you say “stitching yourself back together,” do you feel like you lose pieces of yourself in the sharing process?

LD: As you know, with memoir or personal essays or autobiographical work, there’s always this dance of figuring out what you can share without hurting yourself or the people around you, and when you get that balance right, it’s the most cathartic thing in the world. To share enough, but to have still kept a little for yourself, nothing feels better.

When I need that stitch-myself-back-together feeling most is during the promotion of something. You become this kind of weird hologram of yourself, because you’re engaging with the press juggernaut, and you can’t control it. If you’re a creative, controlling person, you still try to. I have been on set for 22 hours and I’m fine. I’m tired, but I’m tired in this really strong way. But if I’ve done eight hours of press, I’m so tired I can’t speak English to you. I don’t even know what my name is. I did a bunch of press this week, then I went to my parents’ house to stay with them, and I slept for 14 hours. That’s what my body needed. It’s such a weird thing to spend that amount of time a) talking about yourself and b) monitoring yourself.

AF: This is funny to me because my friend Roxane [Gay] has been on two book tours this year.

LD: I can’t even believe what Roxane has been up to. Plus, being a professor? The girl is on fire.

AF: She really is! But, she one day tweeted, “I’m so sick of myself.” Which was about talking about herself in interviews.

LD: I think if you don’t have her reaction, you’re a maniac. If you’re content to talk about yourself that much, you have a serious broken element inside yourself. Or maybe that’s not fair, maybe you just have a routine down and you’re good at it. But I know exactly how she feels. There are times when the sound of my voice makes me want to hurl myself off a large structure. Plus, you already spend so much time trapped with your voice when you’re writing a memoir. Do you ever have that feeling?

AF: That’s when I know I need to take a break or walk away. I feel like once I start reading back to myself and every thought I have in reaction to the writing is Who the fuck cares? I know I’ve reached my limit.

LD: Do you feel like it helps you that you can move back and forth between memoir and more journalistic writing for BuzzFeed?

AF: Absolutely. I am exhausting. I’m not sure how anybody who spends a lot of time with me deals with me. I’m moody, not extremely, just in a slightly annoying way. I exhaust myself.

LD: I find you to be a pleasure, but usually I get to have dinner or tea with you, so maybe your moodiness takes place elsewhere. But you know, you and I once spent a very intimate weekend together — I hope people take that sexually — and I feel like I would have been exposed to your moods. But even just what it feels like to be in your own head.

The next film projects I’m working on have a more historical bent and they’re about topics I’m interested in. That being said, just to be able to move my attention to a time and place that isn’t my own has been thrilling. I know you’ve found this as you work on your memoir, something that is such an exhaustive accounting of where you’ve been and what you’ve been through, even if it isn’t the whole story, it takes something out of you.

AF: It does. And my mother likes to remind me often that it can take from other people too. The day I moved to New York, my mom called me because she read an essay and didn’t like what I wrote. She said, “You have to understand that when you write things about your life, it’s not just about you.” And I said, “Sure.” But I feel like it is about me. She’s part of my life, obviously, but she’s not the entire story of my life.

LD: I tried to be careful to show the material to the people who I wrote about. With the exception of the times I thought it would be bad for my safety or my emotional health. That was only, like, two people in the book. Two or three people in the book. OK, four. All men. I’m not of the belief that you necessarily need to break a few eggs to make an omelet. I did not want anyone in my life to feel abused by this book. The fact that something’s true doesn’t always make it OK for someone to hear it. So, I showed the book to my family and most of my friends.

AF: Do you feel that when you hit something important it’s also something that has almost completely laid you bare? Did you have moments like that while writing your book?

LD: Yes. I had a few essays in the book that I thought about not publishing. It sounds like a trite writer’s statement [switches to a distinct snobby voice], “I was afraid to publish a few of these pieces.” And we’re like, “Fuck you, no you weren’t.” But I truly was. I felt like why, as a person who already has a semi-public life, would I want to put more of this stuff into the universe? And I realized that I only write what I feel like I have to. Do you feel that way?

AF: Specifically with nonfiction, yes. I’ve told people before that I try to write to fill cracks. Whenever I feel like there’s something on this side, there’s something on the opposite side, and there’s a chasm between them; if I have experiences that fill that chasm that could hopefully help these two sides see each other a little better, or if it helps me reconcile both of those sides of myself, then I write. My book is basically about loving fiercely, and in a very complicated way, someone who’s done something monstrous. There are parts of that person that are good, and parts of that person that are borderline monstrous. I had to give myself permission to feel how I felt, so I could figure out what those feelings said or didn’t say about who I am.

LD: Well, that’s the reason I was initially so attracted to your writing. I was at a place in writing my book where I really needed to see someone telling the truth in a way that I could tell was challenging them, but they were doing it anyway. I think I found your writing — not to overstate it, but I kind of can’t overstate it — I found your writing at a point where I really needed to. I met your work, and then met you, at a point when I really needed to see somebody else telling a story that they kind of couldn’t take back. The couple of essays that I mention in the book that are about the challenges of gray areas of being abused in some way, those are pieces that wouldn’t be in the world if it weren’t for you.

AF: Shut up.

LD: It’s real! I remember you and I were emailing, and my parents were like, “What are you doing for four hours over there, hunched over your iPhone at the airport?” And I was like, “I’m emailing Ashley, and this is what I need to do right now to feel like I can be alive and continue my work on this book!” It pushed me through as I thought about how to form this. It’s really amazing to be talking to you about it at this point when you’re headed off to work on your book for a month. It feels very synchronous.

AF: I tell people often that mine and yours is the most improbable friendship and relationship of my life. I don’t think people in general would think that being friends with Lena Dunham means feeling very well taken care of spiritually and emotionally.

LD: They think you’re friends with that asshole who does those assholes things on TV.

AF: I think it has to do with how we became friends, and how you were already such a public figure when we did. I think people would think, You’re friends with Lena Dunham so maybe you can get cool things, and I think it’s hard to explain to people sometimes that no, that’s not it. I’m friends with someone who I would call if I couldn’t stop crying, or I would tell about a project or an idea because she is going to be encouraging, even if she’s telling me at the same time that it’s not a good idea.

LD: That makes me so happy. I remember when we first started emailing each other and I was like, “This is amazing!” Now we get to be a part of the history of women writing each other letters. Even if they’re not paper letters, there’s something about writing to another writer. No amount of text messages or Facebook posts or Twitter favs can replace that feeling.

AF: I agree. It was surreal when you tweeted me initially, because I knew of you, definitely, but I didn’t watch the show. I would read interviews and think, She’s funny! But I didn’t have HBO, and I wasn’t super familiar. I had seen Tiny Furniture, though!

LD: I remember you said that, and I thought that was so cool because I’m always surprised when people have seen that weirdo indie movie.

AF: I watched it on Netflix. My friend Lora said, “You have to watch this movie,” and I did. And I loved it! So when you tweeted me, I was like, in what world does this person come in contact with anything I’ve done?

LD: You were tweeting about R. Kelly. I remember I met you right before the Twitter vacation and we DM’ed each other, and I was like, “Email me because I’m going to try to stay off of Twitter for a couple of days. I just need a little break from this action.” Hence our off-Twitter friendship was born. I feel really lucky we met at that moment because in another universe we could have just ended up tweeting each other, and occasionally favoriting each other, but because of where I was, and where you were, we were able to actually enter into a real dialogue in over 140 characters.

AF: I got that DM with you asking me to email you and thought, “What the hell would I email her about?” I had no idea what I’d say.

LD: I was basically like, let’s continue this conversation of R. Kelly being an asshole offline.

AF: I eventually decided I’m just going to write to her about the state of my life.

LD: I remember thinking when we started emailing, if Ashley’s catfishing me, I’m fucking enjoying it, so rock on. These emails are great, so if this is what it’s like to be catfished, then we can just enjoy our lives. But somehow I knew it wasn’t a catfish, and I would tell the people in my life, and they would be like, “You know, Lena, you have to be careful. People get nude photos hacked out of their email. Making a friend on Twitter and then proceeding to share all of your personal information with them isn’t always the greatest idea.” And I was like, “You pessimists!” There was enough evidence you existed, but I’m also not on Facebook, so I couldn’t stalk you down. There were just a couple pictures of you and your writing. I was choosing to believe in a miracle.

AF: I was just like, why not? My mom definitely thought I was going to get murdered.

LD: When you came to visit me, she was like, “You’re going to get your head dumped in a gutter, and I want you take responsibility for it.”

AF: That was her position, yes. I was at this place in my life where my boyfriend and I had just started dating, and I was trying to learn how to be vulnerable with him, and you were this great trial for vulnerability.

LD: I got to be your test vulnerability run!

AF: I mean, you really were. Maybe the second or third email I sent you I was basically like, “I really like you just from these emails and conversations we’re having, and I understand that you’re busy and you might go away, but just don’t go away without telling me that you’re going away.”

LD: I thought it was so beautiful. Like, “Oh my god, she’s just asking for what she wants.” I spent my whole life thinking all of my friends are mad at me. Jenni Konner, who I run Girls and my company and my life with, made a rule where I’m allowed to ask her, “Are you mad at me?” and she can say yes or no and the answer is usually no. But to have that with a friend where you can just ask for what you want? What a revelation. Especially if you’re somebody who was used to being kind of mean-girled in your seventh- through twelfth-grade years. You learn as a young woman a lot of habits of dishonesty. Bearing your fears, bearing your feelings, and not expressing your needs to the people who are supposed to be close to you.

AF: I still worry about that with you. Not about you leaving, but I worry, Is she telling me she’s not busy while she’s actually super fucking busy because she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings?

LD: Well, I would rather be with you. But also, don’t worry. I’m always going to complain when I’m feeling too busy. I’ll always take an opportunity to complain to someone who I think can take it. You’re that someone.

I have a question for you: In the time I’ve known you, your life has changed a lot — you’ve moved to New York, you’ve gone from working an office job to writing full time — so what effect do you think it’s had on your book and other personal writing, to suddenly be a full-time writer?

AF: You’re right! When we met, I was a receptionist in Indiana who freelanced a little. A lot of people warned me that once you start writing full time for work it becomes harder to do it for yourself. That has not been the case for me. I’ve written more here than I did all of when I lived in Indianapolis. Especially editing. Working on deadline taught me to just get words down on a page and not self-edit as I write. I’ve learned that self-editing, at least as much I have been, isn’t good for me as far as being productive. That lesson has been life-altering.

LD: I feel like you and I have in common the fact that you’re working on your book as you try to turn out these smart thoughtful pieces every week for BuzzFeed, and I was working on my book as I also tried to make a television show. This idea that having this secret place you go, which is memoir, there’s something I love about. And I feel like there’s a really rich history of that where authors are secretly plugging away at that super-personal manuscript while they do other things. I know it sounds like a joke because my show is also super personal, but the memoir was like taking that to a whole new level, because it removed the lens and veil of fiction.

AF: Even as I am reading [Not That Kind of Girl] now, the first thing I noticed was that this is all Lena. This is not Hannah Horvath at all.

LD: It’s funny because I get it, conflating a person and a character. It’s confusing when someone looks and sounds like the person they play on television, and I’m also the creator. It’s interesting because I saw an article floating around after Alessandra Stanley wrote that incredibly ignorant piece about [How to Get Away With Murder]. Did you read that?

AF: I did.

LD: She also just wrote another ignorant piece of Transparent. So she just cannot stop.

AF: I didn’t even read it.

LD: It was a bummer and disappointing. Anyway, there was a piece that came out in response to that that asked, “Why do Lena Dunham and Shonda Rhimes get confused with the characters on their show(s), when so many male showrunners do not?” I don’t know if people assume Larry David is his character on the show, I don’t know if people assume Jerry Seinfeld is his character on the show, I don’t know what that experience has been like for them, but I will say that people have a lot of trouble imagining that women have the imagination to create a separate persona.

AF: Don’t you feel like that with memoir it’s kind of the same thing? For a long time what hindered me with writing my memoir was the fact that it’s a little tragic, it’s not a happy-go-lucky kind of story, and I’m not a tragic person.

LD: In my book, I had a fear of putting in challenging events, that would force a new identity for me. I was concerned that if I write about rape, I will always be known as only a rape victim. If I write about having a teacher being inappropriate with me in my childhood, I will always be someone who has been molested. If I write about having been bulimic for two weeks, I’ll be a person with an eating disorder. I think suddenly these labels are applied to you that you aren’t prepared to deal with and they don’t jibe. Because you do not walk through the world like “someone who has suffered tragedy.” You are someone who has been through a lot of complicated things, but you move through the world purely as Ashley. So, I think a part of you wondered how to reconcile the labels that come with publishing something like this, with the person you are.

AF: How do you do that?

LD: So much of it is just about letting go of the concept that other people have the power to form your identity. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that and finally deciding that person’s perception of my body isn’t my perception of my body. That person’s perception of my ability isn’t my perception of my ability. It doesn’t really matter how I’m being labeled as long as the experience that I’m sharing is an honest one. I don’t think I would have had the fortitude to tell some of these stories a few years ago. Getting beaten around a little bit, having people say some rough things about me, and having lived through it took away a lot of fear in a certain sense. You would think having nasty things written about you or having people form assumptions about you would create this fear and defensiveness, but it just made me go, “Fuck it. Let’s strap the bungee cord on and go!” I guess you can live through all kinds of things that your 14-year-old self didn’t think you could handle.

AF: Hell yeah.

LD: How did you come to a place where you felt like you could finally write about your father?

AF: The first time I wrote about my father, which incidentally was on a blog, it was a blog I shared with five other girls. We called ourselves the ChickLitz. We wrote about books, writing, and being women.

LD: I wish I could have been part of that.

AF: Most of us were in the same nonfiction writing class taught by a professor who became our soul-leader, Jill Christman. I was a huge fan of Roxane Gay, and she’d recently been putting up some nonfiction things in different places, and I had always been scared of people not agreeing with my opinion. At least my written opinion. But I wanted to write about certain things in my past. I wanted to be more honest. I’d been lying to people for a really long time about my father, and about my relationship with him. I would tell people he was in prison, and when they’d ask why he was in prison, I would say that I didn’t know. I’d usually say that no one in my family ever told me, and I was too afraid to find out. I knew that my father was in prison for sexual assault. For some reason or another I wanted to stop lying about it. Probably I watched an episode of Oprah that broke me open.

LD: She breaks everyone open.

AF: She does. I decided to write this blog post about my dad. At that time, it was the hardest thing I’d ever written. Roxane had been reading the blog, she saw my post and asked if she could publish it in Pank magazine. I said yes. I was tired of hiding.

LD: What I think is so important, and what I try to live by, is that when you have a painful experience that you know other people have shared, there’s something generous about finding a way to put it into the world. I have so much gratitude for writers who tell the truth, and the books that have laid bare many of these experiences. I know so many people will have so much gratitude for your book. Think how many women on an abstract spiritual level, and on a concrete level, you can touch with what you’re saying. To me, there’s this amazing personal freedom that comes with talking about these things. And you know how it’s nicer to give presents than to receive them on a purely selfish level? Like, it’s just fun to watch your friend open a present and shriek? That’s how I feel when someone connects to something I’ve written. It’s the same fun feeling where you’re like, I just got to do something that made me feel good, and made you feel good? Holy shit!

AF: Yes! That was the first time I’d written something where people emailed me, Facebook messaged me, or DM’ed me to say they’d gone through something similar, or I am going through this thing. It blew my mind. It made me feel less alone.

LD: Everyone connects to the concept of shame. Shame is what everybody’s carrying. Whether they’re trying to pretend they don’t have acne, or they’re trying to pretend their father is not in jail. If I believed that my whole career existed for my own catharsis, I’d be pretty bummed out.

AF: When I write nonfiction, I’m mostly writing about humans, just through my human experience. At the heart of it, I’m writing about universal issues. When I write about my dad being in prison for sexual assault and me lying about that, I am writing about that specific situation, but I’m also writing about shame in general.

LD: There are a few common human emotions that unite us all.

AF: I read nonfiction by men that is very emotional, but for some reason, memoir is so often relegated to an emotional women’s genre or a vanity project. When I started writing nonfiction, my then-boyfriend called it “emotional porn.”

LD: I think women’s memoir is one of the most disparaged genres of writing. Confessional poetry by women also didn’t get its due. They’re both treated like a symptom of hysteria. Male memoirists are heralded as these brave, heroic figures who are here to give us dispatches from the darkest places in the world.

I was watching a documentary of the punk singer Kathleen Hanna, and she talked about how as a woman you often feel there is this voice that is automatically set up to question whether your experience is valid, or whether your experience is real. How many women say, “I didn’t report my sexual assault because I thought people would think I was lying?” That’s one of the reasons I was scared to put that essay in the book, because I thought, People are going to find a way to negate my story.

AF: Do you think that’s a matter of the kinds of people who write reviews, or feel entitled to write reviews, or more symptomatic of how we culturally value women’s voices?

LD: I’m sure it’s a combination. I think we’re realizing more and more that we have a long way to go, and it’s very comforting to me how public this discourse is right now. How it’s easier than ever to point it out and make the inequality clear. Do you feel that way?

AF: I do. I feel like we’re at a really great and important time. This is a time when women are not just talking about what it means to be a woman, but we’re publicly talking about what it means to be all different kinds of women. So many of us approach our womanhood differently. It’s not enough to be tolerant of that, we need to be accepting as well.

LD: We have to take it to the next level. I’ve had such an education since the show first came on the air for me to realize that part of what feminism meant was not just fighting for your own concerns and for those of your closest group of friends, but fighting for each woman to be able to live the best version of the life that she wants. Feminism is that we all protect each other’s right to live in a way that is safest and happiest for us. That’s one of the reasons that I called the book Not That Kind of Girl. I wanted to play with the idea that there even is one kind of girl. It’s helped to talk to you and understand your concerns and your version of feminism that isn’t wildly different from my own, but it has its differences. I think the more of that that we can do the better off we are.

AF: What memoirs do you feel informed your feminism?

LD: Mary Karr and Jo Ann Beard in their total openness, ability to examine, critique, and love their female role models. Those were just hugely formative. Nora Ephron’s ability to casually capture then dismiss everyday examples of chauvinism is meaningful. Joan Didion’s deep intellectual cultural criticism. I read so much Dr. Maya Angelou as a kid and felt like the language was designed to make you soar. You and I texted a lot the day she died. Don’t you feel like there was something about that language that was designed to light up a little girl and get her fired up?

AF: Dr. Maya Angelou always wrote for the people who needed to hear her the most. I think that’s why she wrote in a way that was both aspirational and lyrical. It was gorgeous. I wanted to keep going. I felt that rhythm.

LD: And that’s why some snotty fucking people have an attitude about her. Those are the people going, “I haven’t read much Maya Angelou,” and you’re like, “You should because she’s really famous for a reason. She’s really fucking good.” There’s a tendency for people who read and write for a living to want to love the thing that nobody else knows about.

AF: Do you think you’ll write more memoir?

LD: Right now, it’s not where my head is. I have ideas for essays and I have ideas for moments. I’m not saying I’ve written down every experience I’ve ever had, but there are things I need to understand in a different way before I can return to this format. I know there’s a story in me about my mother and her family, but there’s a lot that’s still unfolding. I’m sure there will be a story in me about motherhood and what that means, but it’s not here yet. Do you imagine nonfiction will be your form forever? Do you have an interest in writing fiction?

AF: Oh yeah. I love writing fiction. I have ideas for fiction. I’m learning that I like
screenwriting. Thanks to your encouragement.

LD: Screenwriting is really fun. I love how immersed you can become in the dialogue and the patterns of a character and how much you get to know them in an entirely different way.

AF: I’ve had a habit my entire life of walking somewhere and coming up with scenes in my head and starting to make up dialogue on the spot and saying those lines to myself.

LD: I’m so glad all of those scenes in your head haven’t been replaced with tweets. I’m a little worried that sometimes when I walk down the street that I’m forming a few too many tweets and too few actual sentences. That’s exciting to me. I can’t wait to read what you’re writing next.

AF: I’m excited about being able to share things with you. I’ve been working on the book for a long time, and I’m not the kind of person who gets my excitement from the sharing. I’m satisfied by doing the work. But I’m finally at a place where I feel like I am excited for people to actually see what I’ve been working on.

LD: I’m ready to see it all. I love you, Ash.

AF: I love you too.


You can follow Lena Dunham on Twitter here, and Ashley C. Ford on Twitter here.

Read more: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ashleyford/not-those-kind-of-girls