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.

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13 So-Called Healthy Foods That Really Aren’t So Great For You

You know what’s better than sitting down in front of a big bowl of kale? Sitting down in front of just about anything else.

A cup full of razor blades? Yup. A dish piled high with rusty nails? You bet. A plate of discarded dreams? Pretty much.

Very obvious (and probably abnormal) distaste for kale aside, green stuff is good for you. If you feel lethargic, irritable, sluggish, or generally out of shape, you’re probably not getting enough of it. That being said, there are some fruits, veggies, and dishes out there that get off on masquerading as health food just to watch us squirm. Here are a few culprits that your body really wouldn’t miss if you replaced them with chocolate.*

*Don’t replace vegetables with chocolate.

1. Peas


Okay, so here’s the deal with peas and why they’re the worst. Not only do they taste like a combination of moth balls and sadness, but they’re really not all that good for you because they’re high on the glycemic scale. High-glycemic foods have been linked to weight gain and acne. Bye, peas. Bye.

2. Bell Peppers


Because the universe has a personal vendetta against me and wants to rip the vegetables I actually like from my weak, unhealthy hands, bell peppers contain something called solanine. Basically, this little chemical can lead to inflammation that can eventually morph into diabetes and/or heart disease. The only domino effects you can count on in life are bad ones. Remember that.

3. Frozen Veggie Burgers


Bad news, veg friends. The frozen veggie burgers we all know and love are usually packed with highly processed soy. To enjoy veggie burgers that actually contain vegetables, try making some from scratch.

4. Coconut and Almond Milk (in Cartons)


Because drinking dairy milk is hands down one of the weirdest things human beings do, plenty of us opt for almond and coconut milk. And that’s fine. The downside is that those of us who have made the switch also purchase our milk of choice in cartons at the supermarket. Commercial producers of the stuff have to extract a lot of it in a short period of time, which leads to the addition of artificial vitamins like vitamin D2. These artificial versions have been linked to birth defects and brittle bones.

A substance called carrageenan is also used in this process, which was determined by the World Health Organization (WHO) to be a carcinogen. We’re all screwed.

5. Margarine


If there’s one thing that sends me into an existential crisis, it’s the fact that I have to live my life knowing that butter is bad for me. While opting for fat-free, oil-based spreads like margarine might make you feel like you’re making a healthy choice, hydrogenated oils turn into trans fats at room temperature, and those are even worse than saturated fats. Everything is horrible and happiness is an illusion.

6. Celery


There’s no long, drawn-out explanation for why celery isn’t the best choice. It’s just kind of pointless. If your intake of nutrition-packed veggies is adequate, go ahead and make some ants on a log. If it’s not, don’t rely on these crunchy little guys to get you where you need to be.

7. Whole-Grain Bread


Why can’t the universe just let me be great? Here I am thinking that choosing whole-grain bread over white bread at the grocery store is the best way to go, but nah, nothing works. As it turns out, many of those lying, scheming loaves are dyed versions of their paler counterparts. They also tend to contain hydrogenated oils and added sugar. I love everything! (No I don’t!)

8. Yogurt


Because I’m apparently wearing a sign that says “please play me” on my back, most yogurt in grocery stores contains as much sugar as a candy bar. Your best bet is to go as plain as possible and add your own fruit and toppings at home.

9. Dried Fruit


Loved by crunchy people the world over, dried fruit also has a candy-like effect on the ol’ bod. Packed with sugar and preservatives, these snacks aren’t much better for you than gummy bears. And they’re obviously not half as good, so you’re playing yourself here.

10. Agave Nectar


While artificial sweeteners are horrible, using agave nectar as an alternative just because it’s natural isn’t any better. In fact, it contains more fructose than any other common sweetener. Things just got real sour real quick.

11. Sandwich Thins


You can just go ahead and assume that anything that calls itself “bread” and also comes with a mile-long ingredient list probably isn’t healthy. Instead, be way too cool for your friends and eat open-faced sandwiches if you want to skip out on some carbs.

12. Egg Substitutes


Egg substitutes will essentially help you trade a little cholesterol for way too many preservatives (and will rob you of a few key vitamins in the process). Eating a few whole eggs a week isn’t going to hurt you.

13. Wraps


My whole world is crashing down around me. Basically, tortillas are almost always made with white flour and packed with a third of your daily value of sodium. The other issue here is psychological. Because we’re excited about cutting back on bread, we opt for crispy chicken instead of grilled. We indulge on a little ranch dressing. Those calories add up. Guess everything is a lie, folks.

If you need me, you can find me in the kitchen eating my feelings (and I won’t be using a wrap to find sweet, edible relief).

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This Guy Just Hiked The Appalachian Trail. His Before And After Pictures Are Crazy.

For the past 5 months, former Marine Gary Sizer made his way up the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine.

This week, Sizer posted pictures of himself on Reddit before starting his journey and after completing it. He doesn’t even look like the same person. 

Here is Gary Sizer in all his glory before and after his adventure.

Sizer says he burned between 5,000 and 6,000 calories a day on the trail. He ate throughout the day while hiking because of the exercise.

The real treats were days where he was “zeroing.” That is, hiking zero miles. On those days, he binged on pretty much any and all unhealthy, fatty foods that he could get his hands on. Sizer described his nutrition during the trip as a “five month cycle between starvation and binge eating.”

H/T: Reddit

That is one heck of an exercise program. Good on Gary for sticking to it and completing the adventure of a lifetime. Maybe I’ll start hiking instead of going to the gym…

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These 20 Gardening Tips Will Leave You Sporting A Green Thumb

They say gardening is the best form of therapy. It also might be the cheapest.

I have the utmost respect for those who grow fruits and veggies in their very own gardens. I can’t even fathom the time commitment it must take to plant, water, and harvest everything. I barely find the time to walk through the produce department at my local grocery store, so kudos to those of you with green thumbs.

With that being said, I’ve tried my hand at gardening on quite a few occasions, each time with disastrous results. Long story short, everything green I touch turns to dust. I am really good at making fertilizer out of all the plants I’ve managed to kill, though.

So for those of you out there in the same boat as me, here are 20 tips that will make everyone think you belong on the cover of Fine Gardening.

1. Turn your used plastic cutlery into garden markers.

2. No watering can? No problem! Make one with an empty milk container.

3. Store your extra seed packets in an empty photo album.

4. Save your fast food cup carriers for an awesome place to start growing your seedlings.

5. Decrease the number of tools you need in your garden by turning your rake into a measuring stick.

6. Create your own garden markers out of rocks.

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7. Combine four liters of vinegar, 250 grams of table salt, and one tablespoon of hand soap to make your own weed killer.


8. Adding diapers to your pots will hold in moisture, keeping your soil moist for days.

9. Toilet paper also serves as an excellent seed tape.

10. Start out your seedlings in used egg shells for a perfect biodegradable pot.

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11. Water your houseplants with just a glass of water and a paper towel.

12. Keep soil from leaking out the bottoms of your pots with a coffee filter.

13. Create this awesome hanging garden with a shoe organizer.

14. Have an old shower caddy hanging around? Transform it into a vertical garden.

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15. Who knew you could grow seeds in a lemon?

16. Soak your seeds in water 24 hours before you’re ready to plant them.

17. Paint your worn-out tires and turn them into unique planters.

18. Banana peels are the perfect fertilizer to help your rosebushes grow.


19. Save the ashes from your summer campfires — they make an excellent fertilizer.


20. Never forget to water your plants again with this automatic waterer.

These tips make gardening look so easy. I’ll have a green thumb in no time!

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We Tried A Classic Love Experiment And This Is What Happened

Can asking each other 36 questions and staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes make two people fall in love?

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

A few weeks ago, Mandy Len Catron of the New York Times published “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This,” which has since gone viral and even inspired a few parodies. In the piece, Catron talks about going to a bar with a man who would later become her boyfriend and asking each other 36 questions, followed by four minutes of uninterrupted eye contact. The study, formed by Dr. Arthur Aron of Stony Brook University, was originally designed to measure closeness in strangers, but has since then been used to try to form romantic bonds between people.

“We were trying to find a method in the laboratory to create closeness,” Aron told BuzzFeed. “There had been a fair amount of research on how people tend to form friendships, and what that research showed was that a very standard process is that they self-disclose, reveal personal things about themselves at a gradually increasing rate, and that it’s reciprocal. So we wanted to see if we could make that happen in a short amount of time in a lab.”

What matters even more than self-disclosure, Aron said, is how the other person responds. “If I’m sitting there self-disclosing and the other person is just sitting there blankly and then takes their turn, it’s not going to have the same effect, we think, based on the research, than if the other person is nodding and appreciating that that’s how you feel.”

“Believing that someone is interested in deeply knowing you and seeing you for your true self is an extremely important ingredient for intimacy to develop,” Dr. Jill P. Weber told BuzzFeed. “But more powerful than believing this about a person is actually experiencing someone asking questions and displaying interest in a person’s most intimate details.”

As far as the eye contact’s effect, Dr. Kelly Campbell of California State University told BuzzFeed that “researchers have found that the ‘bonding’ or ‘love’ hormone of oxytocin gets released during prolonged eye contact. This is the same hormone that gets released when mothers breastfeed and gaze into the eyes of their infant.”

With all that in mind, we decided to test out this experiment ourselves.

Some of us were meeting strangers for the first time on a blind date. Some of us had just started seeing the person or were in new relationships. Others were together for a decade or so.

The official study had the 36 questions divided into three sets, where each section was timed for 15 minutes and the whole experiment lasted for 45 minutes total. However, we decided to answer all 36 questions the same way that Catron did in her piece, our experiences ranging from three and a half to seven hours, respectively.

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

Brett Vergara and Anonymous, Blind First Date

A: The hardest part was probably the build up to it. I was really nervous about the idea of opening up to a complete stranger. When I got there it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. I actually really enjoyed myself!

BV: What quickly became apparent doing this exercise is how we were far more similar than I’d have originally anticipated. On the surface, it would seem that my partner and I came from very different backgrounds, with entirely different upbringings, and in turn had completely contrasting life experiences. This definitely wasn’t the case. It only took a few questions to unravel the similarities and common chords in our backgrounds.

A: I’m hoping that after this experience I will go into future dating situations being less afraid to really open up about who I am.

BV: I would say that going through this process serves more as an intensifier of any type of relationship, romantic or platonic. I mean, before I went through this experience there wasn’t a single person that knew the answer to every question involved with this exercise. Not my parents, not anyone I’ve been in a prior relationship with, not even my closest friends. When someone knows that much about you, especially on that intimate of a level, it’s only bound to bring you closer.

Sarah Karlan and Becca Sherman, Dating for Two Months

SK: I like sharing what is going on in my head. I found it more strange to hear how I appear to another person. I think we all have an idea of how we come across to others, but to hear someone say what they ‘like’ about me was weirdly amazing — and also made me feel uncomfortable at the same time. Such brazen honesty is not usually how we function in everyday life. It was refreshing.

BS: The weirdest part of this for me was talking so much about my childhood and family. I don’t spend a lot of time reflecting on my childhood, and don’t think of asking about it or discussing it much with someone I’m dating — at least, not in some sort of analytical way. That being said, I surprised myself with some of my answers, and it felt important and worthwhile to share with her.

SK: I like the idea of “cutting to the chase” or “cutting through the bullshit” and asking real questions. On dates sometimes you can get wrapped up talking about the superficial but it was a different ballgame doing the deep dive into each other’s lives. I think more people should do this even with non-romantic partners. Do it with your friends, your mom, everyone! Maybe not the eye contact though… that could get weird.

BS: I think I was most surprised at how comfortable the eye contact part of the experiment was for me. I had built that part of the experiment up in my head, and was expecting it to be pretty nerve-racking and/or awkward, but after spending time digging into all of these questions, it just felt right. You spend this very direct, focused time digging deep into who you both are with these questions, learning to “see” who the other person really is, and then you spend a really direct, focused amount of time physically seeing this person. I thought it was just a really perfect way to wrap it up and make you feel even closer.

Jenna Guillaume and Chris Guillaume, Together for 13.5 Years, Married for Two

JG: The hardest part for me was staring into each other’s eyes for four minutes. It didn’t feel natural — I kept wanting to lean forward and kiss Chris or ask what he was thinking or talk or do SOMETHING. It felt a little absurd, and I think it was probably more to do with my habit of constantly wanting to keep myself busy. Being still without any distractions was tough for me. But it was kind of relaxing too.

CG: I was surprised at how nice it was to share these things with each other again. It brought up wonderful memories of what we have done and achieved together.

JG: The thing that struck me most was that there weren’t really any surprises, which is probably good considering we’ve been together for 13.5 years. We know each other better than anyone else. The most surprising part for me was actually thinking about my OWN answers, and dwelling on a few things I hadn’t really considered before.

CG: The main takeaway from this was that talking more is always going to make for a happy relationship. It is easy to forget to talk with all the distractions in life these days so setting time aside each day to just talk might be my new favorite part of the day.

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

Julia Pugachevsky and Anonymous, Second Date

JP: I really liked the questions where we had to name things we liked about each other, because we had to do it several times and go deeper than just “you’re smart” or “you’re attractive.” He had some very thoughtful things to say about me that I don’t think would normally come up on a second date, and it was quite wonderful to hear what nice things people notice about you when they first meet you.

A: As we opened up to each other more and more, to my surprise, I actually felt more physically attracted to her. I tend to think of physical attractiveness as this immutable rating, like one you’d give a Sims character or something, certainly something that only changes over a long time scale. But I guess it’s rare to look at someone hard, really scrutinizing them, without the intent of criticizing them or judging them negatively, and really finding the good.

JP: In some ways, this felt more comfortable to me than a standard second date at a bar because it gave us the freedom to open up when it’s usually considered a dating taboo to reveal too much too soon. I ended up telling him some hilariously incriminating stories about myself and we both had a good laugh, and I think that was a positive experience for me — not being afraid to really make fun of myself and just trusting the other person to get it.

A: Something that I’ll take away from this exercise is just remembering to compliment people. It felt so great when she said nice stuff about me. It’s so basic, but everyone’s so wrapped up in trying not to seem too vulnerable or too interested that people don’t compliment each other enough.

Arianna Rebolini and Brendan N., Together for 1.5 Years

AR: The questions that assumed or required us being strangers were funny, we had to alter how we were answering them, like the things we appeared to have in common. That one is probably better when you’re venturing a guess instead of being like, “We both like sushi; this is a fact.” Same things for the ones that were better suited for single people (like the “I wish I had someone to share ___ with” one).

BN: I had a hard time with some of the more abstract ones, like the one about love and affection.

AR: I was surprised at how visibly uncomfortable he was talking about himself. I feel like I knew he didn’t like being the center of attention, but it was like he didn’t want to take up time on his own stuff. I was also surprised by how much we DID know. I thought we’d be like learning all these new things about it each other but I guess we’ve covered a lot.

BN: I couldn’t believe how hard it was for me to tell my life story. It was such a struggle, and I picked such weird things. It felt impersonal the way I told it, like what was it, my fucking Facebook timeline? It felt like the most impersonal of all my answers.

Erin Chack and Sean C., Together for 9.5 Years

EC: I found it funny when I asked Sean the first question — “Who would like to have dinner with?” — and he looked at me blankly and said, “Am I supposed to say you?” After topping off his glass of wine and explaining the experiment wasn’t to prove we are in love but to help new couples accelerate intimacy, he relaxed. It was endearing how nervous he seemed at first.

SC: Erin and I have been dating for nine years so it was cool to go over a lot of views we’ve both talked about in our relationship and see what has changed, which wasn’t much.

EC: The most surprising thing to me was that there was literally nothing we didn’t know about each other. I thought there’d be some uncharted territory, but every response he gave I knew before he said it. The only new thing I learned was Sean thinks he’s going to die very old and I think I’m going to die young, which is something we may have never enunciated but I ascertained from the way we talk about our futures.

SC: Just thinking about the foundation of our relationship again was cool. And to always try to remember what we clicked together on and how we grew with each other and grow outside our relationship as well.

Alice Mongkonglite / BuzzFeed

Isaac Fitzgerald and Alice Kim, Together for Two Years

IF: I found out things I didn’t know about Alice, which is always exciting. I also thought it was really interesting to see what she focused on when telling her life story in four minutes. I was actually surprised by what I focused on during my own answering of that question as well.

AK: You get into a groove concerning the day-to-day, which is fine, but a little high-flown abstract talk never hurt anybody.

IF: I think there are ways that I could better support Alice based on some of her answers. I feel more familiar with the things she’s hopeful for, and with the things that she worries about. (She really didn’t like looking me in the eyes for four minutes, so we should probably avoid that in the future.)

AK: I had no problem staring at Isaac for that long, as he’s dreamy, but I found myself getting twitchy and self-conscious about being looked at — really looked at — for so long.

Krystie Yandoli and Chris W., Blind First Date

KY: Answering these questions wasn’t difficult for me because I like to consider myself a pretty honest and open person (plus, I talk a lot anyway). Asking the questions wasn’t difficult for me either, since I interview people all the time and am comfortable having conversations that involve an in-depth level of thought. But just sitting there with another person who, presumably was supposed to be a potential love interest felt bizarre in itself — opening myself up to that possibility was new and way overdue.

CW: I think by nature I’m pretty willing to reveal almost anything about myself in almost any situation, so the intimacy and privacy wasn’t a big deal. Maybe the hardest part, then, was staying on track enough to actually get through the questions in a reasonable amount of time since we both were pretty interested in pursuing tangential follow up questions. The whole thing took like five hours!

KY: I haven’t been open to the idea of love or romantic relationships for the past few years, so it was nice to be reminded of the work that needs to be done in order to create a substantial relationship. Since I went out with Chris, I’ve become more approachable, initiated dates, given out my number, and have had plenty of successful romantic interactions. This hasn’t been entirely intentional on my part, but I think subconsciously I’ve opened myself up to the idea of being comfortable with guys and knowing that if I want something, I have to go after it myself.

CW: The biggest takeaway was about the scope and topics of the questions. Essentially they access deeper forms of connections by trying to avoid questions of what you “do” and get in to who you “are.” Sure, getting to know someone’s tastes and interests is important, but by focusing on personal history and how the other person feels about specific emotional cues, or what their hopes or wishes are about their life ahead, these kinds of questions bring out more nuance and information about a person’s personality.

Intrigued? Here are the 36 questions so you can try it for yourself!

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Don’t Ever Reheat These 8 Foods In The Microwave — They Become Toxic!

I’ll admit it. My microwave and I are best friends.

Not only do I go for the microwave meals, but I often have leftovers when I do decide to make a fresh home-cooked dish. Often times, that means reheating food for days afterward. Even though it doesn’t quite taste the same, it usually gets the job done.

What I didn’t know is that some of the foods I reheat on a regular basis can actually become toxic when heated in the microwave. This is essential information for anyone who cooks at home.

1. Celery has nitrates that can turn into carcinogenic (cancer-causing) nitrosamines after reheating in the microwave.

Read More: In The Past 3 Years, This Dad Has Drawn On Over 400 Of His Son’s School Lunch Bags

2. Don’t put that leftover breakfast in the microwave; instead, toss eggs into a salad or sandwich for a cold and healthy way to reuse them.

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Scientists Found Tissue Remains In A Dino Bone…Could ‘Jurassic Park’ Be Real?

Hold onto your butts. In theory, a real “Jurassic Park” situation could be unfolding as we speak.

Actually recreating a dinosaur would be a long way off, but thanks to a 195-million-year-old dinosaur rib, it is theoretically possible. On January 31, scientists published their ground-breaking discovery in Nature Communications. Deep inside a fossilized rib bone, they believe they’ve found traces of collagen, protein, and possibly blood — the basic building blocks that it would take to clone a dinosaur.

Before you totally freak out, just know that the rib bone did not come from a “sharptooth.” Rather, the material was found in the rib bone of a Lufengosaurus, a common leaf-eater from the Early Jurassic period.

According to paleontologists, the Lufengosaurus looked something like this. They grew to be roughly 30 feet long and lived in what is now southwestern China.

Read More: Genetically Modified Cells Sound Scary, But They Just Saved Two Babies From Cancer

By analyzing a 195-million-year-old fossil with infrared spectoscopy, scientists have uncovered traces of soft tissue.

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The Whiteness Of “Public Radio Voice”

As a black man, do I need to code-switch to be heard? A slightly different version of this piece originally appeared on

Chenjerai Kumanyika Linda Tindal

Last summer, I produced my first public radio piece as part of a week-long intensive radio workshop run by Transom. While writing my script, I was suddenly gripped with a deep fear about my ability to narrate my piece. As I read the script back to myself while editing, I realized that as I was speaking aloud I was also imagining someone else’s voice saying my piece. The voice I was hearing and gradually beginning to imitate was something in between the voice of 99% Invisible host Roman Mars and Serial host Sarah Koenig.

Those two very different voices have many complex and wonderful qualities and I’m a fan of those shows. They also sound like white people. My natural voice — the voice that I use when I am most comfortable — doesn’t sound like that. Thinking about this, I suddenly became self-conscious about the way that I instinctively alter my voice and way of speaking in certain conversational contexts, and I realized that I didn’t want to do that for my first public radio-style piece.

Of course, I’m not alone in facing this challenge. Journalists of various ethnicities, genders and other identity categories intentionally or unintentionally internalize and “code-switch” to be consistent with culturally dominant “white” styles of speech and narration. As I wrote my script for the Transom workshop piece, I was struggling to imagine how my own voice would sound speaking those words. This is partially because I am an African-American male, a professor, and hip-hop artist whose voice has been shaped by black, cultural patterns of speech and oratory. I could easily imagine my more natural voice as an interviewee or as the host of a news-style podcast about “African-American issues,” or even a sports or hip-hop podcast. Despite the sad and inexplicable disappearance of NPR shows like Tell Me More, I can find many examples of African-American hosts — like Tavis Smiley, John Hanson, Roland Martin, Bomani Jones, Freddie Coleman and Reggie Osse (Combat Jack) — of both of those kinds of media. But in my mind’s ear, it was harder to hear my voice, that is to say my type of voice, as the narrator of the specific kind of narrative, non-fiction radio piece that I was making.

Ira Glass of This American Life Neilson Barnard / Getty Images

I love listening to podcasts and public radio. I listen to them in my car, while chopping vegetables, while I’m working out, and when I should be doing other things (writing, grading, or producing my own podcast pieces.) The voices on podcasts and public radio are informed, interesting, gentle friends. They keep me company as they share important, entertaining, and sometimes tragic stories. But the timbre, accent, inflections, rhythm, metaphors, and references of these voices reflect class, region, ethnicity, gender, and other components of identity. Meanwhile — though I don’t have the statistics handy to prove this — my impression is that few of the hosts of popular narrative non-fiction podcasts and public radio programs like This American Life, Invisibilia, RadioLab, Startup, and Strangers are non-white. In short, very few of these hosts speak the way that I speak. This is one reason that some of my black and brown friends refuse to listen to some of my favorite radio shows and podcast episodes despite my most impassioned evangelical efforts.

I spoke to hip-hop artist, poet, author, doctoral student, and podcast skeptic A.D. Carson about this. He and I have produced both scholarly and artistic works together, but we don’t share the love of public radio.

Now I’m not sure I agree that all podcast voices are “warm coffee voices” and A.D. is clearly not moved by, or not aware of, the many different kinds of podcast and vocal styles that do exist if you know where to look. The problem is that you do really have to know where to look and if you don’t, then you might only be exposed to a narrow range of voices. This is why whether we agree or not, we all know what A.D. is talking about.

To give you a sense of how this affects me, here’s what I sound like as a hip-hop artist. Although I don’t speak this way all the time, it reflects an important aspect of my personality. I wrote it after I heard there would be no indictment in the Eric Garner case.

How can I bring that voice into my efforts as a radio producer? 

On the other hand, here is what happened with the Transom piece. I hear more code-switch than Chenjerai on my first effort.

Let me say I’m proud of this piece. It would be arrogant and lazy to expect my first piece to be amazing. So my issue isn’t about that. Some of what bothers me is just problems with poor writing choices. At times, I wrote with in a voice that isn’t my own (“Fisherman with Capital F”? What does that even mean?). What bothers me most when I listen to this piece is that I’m acutely conscious of the way I’m adjusting my whole experience/method of inhabiting my personality. My voice sounds too high in pitch, all the rounded corners of my vernacular are awkwardly squared off. I’ve flattened the interesting aspects of my voice. On the suggestion of Samantha Broun and Jay Allison of Transom, I tried to re-record part of that piece to better understand and illustrate these subtle differences.

When I hear this rerecorded piece, I’m not sure how much more effective it is, but I feel better listening to it. My voice is calmer, but hopefully not boring. In place of “Fisherman with a Capital F,” I allowed myself to get passionate for a moment about my subject’s fishing credentials. Overall, I feel more centered and I sound like myself, rather than sounding like myself pretending to be a public radio host.

Protestors in Ferguson, Missouri in November Scott Olson / Getty Images

Different hosts with different voices tell different kinds of stories. I make this point because there are many public radio programs that go to significant lengths to include the voices of underrepresented groups. These voices most often appear as people who are interviewed, but this is not the same has having hosts with different perspective and styles of speech.

In August and then again in November 2014, my wife and I traveled to Ferguson, Missouri. When we first got there in August, I remember talking to some young African-American males who lived on the street where Michael Brown was killed. I asked one why he thought that there had been such an uprising in Ferguson. In response, he reminded me that Michael Brown’s body had lain in the street for four hours (he said eight) before being picked up. Of course I had heard this before, but he made me feel it. I sat quietly for over 40 minutes and let him tell his own story his own way. His voice smoldered with conviction as he spoke. The deep resentment and frustration in his steady low tones pushed through any detachment or emotional distance that I might try to maintain. I felt the weight of Michael Brown’s body, and the weight of so many other lives in this young man’s voice. I wasn’t hearing his voice thrown in as a sound bite garnish to another host’s main dish. Instead, he was the narrator, assembling memories, images, emotions, and even speculation into his own multi-modal account. I would like to hear people who speak with voices like this young man’s voice as hosts and narrators on public radio shows and podcasts.

I can offer many examples of other voices that we don’t often get to hear as hosts. I think about my colleague Marilyn, an African-American female lecturer who speaks powerfully in various voices. Marilyn is from Chicago and when she speaks to me the way that she speaks at home, I learn all kinds of things about her, her family, Chicago, and life in general that don’t come across the same way when she speaks “professionally.” There’s no way to transcribe the music of her voice and that’s the point. You can only enter that world by hearing it yourself.

I also think about Uncle Carlos. My uncle-in-law Carlos lived part of his life in Ecuador and part of it in the Bronx. I remember him reminiscing about his recently deceased dog. Many people have a version of this kind of story, but no one can tell it the way my Uncle Carlos told it. “Oh man!” He would say, almost yelling at me! “You don’t understand the times that we,” (he and his dog) “got each other through!” “After he couldn’t walk so good, I would pick that dog up in my arms and carry him anywhere we need to go! You don’t get it man.” His voice — a beautiful mixture of New York and Ecuadorian English accents would cut into you. Then he would pause for long periods letting it sink in. This silence — the kind that is likely to be cut out in the editing process — was as important as his words. They were part of the unique rhythm and pace of his speech. He spoke loudly and passionately, too loudly and passionately for most public radio, but that’s the way our family communicates. I wonder what my Uncle Carlos would share with us if he were the host of a show.

Before I started writing this piece, this problem seemed simpler to me than it does now. That is because I was focusing on what I heard, and what I heard were the voices of white people on most of the popular public radio shows and podcasts. I didn’t want to hear it, but it would jump out at me despite my efforts to ignore it. Often, but not always, when I hear non-white journalists they also seem to be adjusting their vocal style of narration and reporting to what has come to be understood as professional.

However, as I dug deeper into this problem, I realized how tied up this phenomenon is with the broader complexities of speech, region, identity and dominant culture.

Certainly, there are real problems with diversity that many organizations are working to address, but these problems don’t only have to do with race. In fact, as I look across the landscape of popular podcasts, problems of representation regarding gender, ableism, sexual orientation, age, and other parameters of ethnicity might be even worse. I’m focusing on the racial aspects of this problem because this is how I personally experience the imbalance. I’m not saying that voices and styles of speech map on to the ethnicity of the speaker in any simple way. There is no single “authentic” African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American, or white way of speaking. To say otherwise would be to participate in a reductive and inaccurate essentialism of which I want no part.

However, I do think that there is what the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire called a “dominant syntax” and flowing from that is a narrow range of public radio and podcast host voices and speech patterns that have become extremely common. Public radio has become a kind of speech community with its own norms and forms of aesthetic capital. Just as it is not very common for me to hear a radio host with a thick South Boston accent, there is a whole range of vocal styles that are common in the African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American cultures but rarely heard from hosts.

Which all raises the question: What or who is the public in public radio? The demographics of race and ethnicity are changing in the United States. The percentage of non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. population dropped to roughly 63% in 2014. Middle growth series projections estimate that by 2043 the “minority population” will constitute a numerical majority in the total U.S. population. Latinos are already the largest demographic in California. With these changing demographics come new stories, new languages, and new ways of speaking American English. The sound of public radio and podcasts must reflect this diversity if we are serious about social justice and encouraging active, constructive participation.

So what do we do?

There are two important takeaways from all of this.

1. Depending on who you are, and how you speak, you may not find many examples of voices and styles of storytelling that sound like yours.

It is not just about the kind of stories that non-white journalists tell. It’s also about the ways that vocal styles communicate important dimensions of human experience. When the vocal patterns of a narrow range of ethnicities quietly becomes the standard sound of a genre, we’re missing out on essential cultural information. We’re missing out on the joyful, tragic, moments and unique dispositions that are encoded in different traditions of oratory. Fortunately, there are organizations fighting for diversity in many areas of media. I recommend becoming involved with these efforts.

2. If you’re a radio producer or podcast host and your way of speaking is different from what you generally hear in radio and podcasts, produce many, many, podcasts in which you are the narrator.

As boring and cliché as it is, there is no substitute for practice, and there is actually no other way to develop your voice. I’m still working on being a more consistently productive journalist in this regard. There’s just no way around it: The more you get used to your recorded voice, and writing in your voice, the more confidence you will build.

Republished and edited with permission from, the DIY workshop and showcase for new public radio.

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