So you think you can’t dance? BF_STATIC.timequeue.push(function () { if (BF_STATIC.bf_test_mode) localStorage.setItem(‘posted_date’, 1407974592); }); BF_STATIC.timequeue.push(function () { document.getElementById(“update_posted_time_3415392”).innerHTML = “posted on ” + UI.dateFormat.get_formatted_date(1407974592); });

1. Your lack of dance skills started early.

2. Your teen awkwardness was only further amplified by your lack of dance skills.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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3. Which made middle school dances the worst.

The absolute worst.

The absolute worst.

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4. You can only do simple dances like The Macarena.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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5. Over time you’ve adopted questionable signature dance moves.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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NBC / Via

6. Whenever you’re at the club you’ve had to resort to grinding to make up for lack of skill…

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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MTV / Via

7. … And the results have been disastrous.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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MTV / Via

8. When you try a new move you either look stiff…

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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9. … Or creepy.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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10. Oh, and any of the “sexy” stuff is totally out of your skill range.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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11. You have no idea how to act when someone dances up on you.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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12. You actively tried to avoid celebrations that required dancing like Quinceañeras…

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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13. … Bar Mitzvahs…

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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14. … And of course weddings.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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15. You even have trouble with dancing video games.

You even have trouble with dancing video games.

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Damn you Just Dance 4!

16. Strangers throw you shade when you show off a total lack of rhythm.

Strangers throw you shade when you show off a total lack of rhythm.

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Facebook: marlonwayans

17. Whenever you do try to bust a random move, it never goes right.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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18. You can never mimic the cool dances you see in music videos.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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NBC / Via

Well, at least you can dance judgment free in front of your friends.

18 Experiences You Have When You Can't Dance

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15 Pop Culture Pac-Man Mods

In his ongoing series of pop culture Pac-Man mods, artist Jonah Nigro has created dozens of humorous Pac-Man variations, replacing the famous character with other famous characters from movies, video games, comics and cartoons. You can see all of his creations on You can also find him on deviantART as Slim-Hazard, where he has shared his other artwork and paintings as well.

If you have any suggestions for future Pac-Man mods, reach out to Jonah on his website!

1. Cookie Monster

2. Homer Simpson

3. Darth Vader

4. Link (Legend of Zelda)

5. Wall-E and EVE

6. Nyan Cat

7. Harry Potter

8. Sonic the Hedgehog

9. Gollum (Lord of the Rings)

10. Scooby-Doo

11. Walter White (Breaking Bad)

12. Master Chief (Halo)

13. Spiderman

14. Mario

15. Batman

10 Covert Military Operations

In recent history there have been some amazing secret military and intelligence operations undertaken. This list looks at 10 of the most interesting or important. Be sure to use the comments to mention others that may not be included here.


After the defeat of the Nazis during World War II, there was a scramble by all the major powers (U.S., U.K. and Russia) to capture the leading Nazi scientists and intelligence agents. The US operation was named operation paperclip. Many Nazi scientists were captured as a result – the most famous of whom were Wenher Von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, who helped the U.S. develop rockets for space exploration and, ultimately, the moon landing. The most famous of the intelligence agents recruited was Reinhard Gehlen, who was used to set up a spy ring against the Soviet Union (known as the Gehlen Organization). He also helped train the Israeli Special Forces Mossad.

 Ceo Wp-Content Uploads 2009 12 Cia Mk-Ultra-Mkultra-Lsd

Inspired by North Korea’s brainwashing program, the CIA began experiments on mind control. While including hypnosis and I.Q. tests, the most notorious part of this project involved giving LSD, and other drugs, to American subjects. In one reported case, a subject was given LSD continuously for 77 days. Scottish scientist Donal Ewen Cameron was also involved, in attempting to remove schizophrenia by erasing all memories and reprogramming the individual. His experiments included putting subjects into drug-induced comas for weeks at a time, while playing tapes of noise or simple repetitive statements.


This was the code name for the plan to assassinate Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, in 1942. Many called Heydrich The Hangman of Prague, due to his part in the planning of the killing of millions of Jews through “The Final Solution”. Two soldiers from the Czechoslovakian Army based in Britain were assigned, Josef Gabcik and Jan Kubis. On May 27, 1942, during, Heydrich’s daily commute, Gabčík and Kubiš waited at a tram stop. As Heydrich’s open-topped car neared the pair, Gabčík stepped in front of the vehicle, trying to open fire, but his gun jammed. Heydrich ordered his driver to stop the car. When Heydrich stood up to try to shoot Gabčík, Kubiš threw a grenade at the vehicle, and its fragments ripped through the car’s embedding shrapnel into Heydrich’s body. Heydrich, got out of the car, returned fire and tried to chase Gabčík, but collapsed. The assassins were initially convinced that the attack had failed. But after surgery, and several days in hospital, Heydrich died from infections from the wounds.

War3024 Bayofpigs

Better known as the Bay of Pigs invasion, although conceived by the Eisenhower administration, it came to define the early days of the J.F.K. presidency. The plans involved an invasion of southern Cuba by CIA trained Cuban rebels, with the help of American air support. The planners had imagined that the invasion would spark a popular uprising against Castro, which never happened, due to underestimated support for him. A promised American air strike also never occurred. This is the CIA’s first major public setback, causing President Kennedy to fire CIA Director of the time, Allen Dulles. Interestingly, Operation Pluto was also the name used for a WWII attempt to build a major oil pipeline in the sea between France and England.


After the Terrorist group Black September kidnapped and murdered 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad decided to seek revenge under Operation Wrath of God. During this time, covert Israeli assassination units killed dozens of suspected conspirators across Europe. The string of assassinations spurred retaliations and criticism of Israeli. The film Munich outlined these events.

5Th November Operation Payback

While maybe not, strictly, a covert operation in the traditional sense, I felt the need to include it because of how recent it was and the news it generated. It was a series of DoS (Denial of Service) attacks, by a group calling itself “Anonymous”, against many of the websites which withdrew their support for Wikileaks after the leaking of the Iraq War logs and cable leaks, in 2010. Those websites attacked include Visa, PayPal and MasterCard, among others.

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After the allied invasion of Sicily and the collapse of the Italian government, Mussolini was arrested by King Victor Emmanuel of Italy, and imprisoned. Mussolini was imprisoned at the Campo Imperatore Hotel in the ski resort in Italy’s Gran Sasso. Otto Skorzeny was personally selected by Hitler to carry out the mission, and intercepted a coded message by the Italians to discovered Mussolini’s whereabouts. Skorzeny joined the Luftwaffe paratroopers when they crashed gliders into nearby mountains, before overwhelming the Italians without a shot being fired. Mussolini received a hero’s welcome at Hotel Imperial in Austria.

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Carried out by the Israeli Defense Forces, this was a rescue of 248 people from an Air France plane at Entebbe Airport, in Uganda. The Plane had been hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), while going from Athens to Paris. On July 4th, 1976, a raid took place at night by 100 elite Israeli commandos, after landing near the airport in three Hercules transport planes. The operation took only 35 minutes, the commandos caught the hijackers by surprise and killed all seven, as well as 20 Ugandan soldiers. Three hostages were killed as well as one Israeli commando, all other hostages were taken to Israel.


The attack on Osama Bin Laden’s safe house in Bilal town, Abbottbad, Pakistan, occurred at 1:00 a.m. when the walls were breached by around 20 Navy SEALS using explosives. An airborne unit of the US special operations command, known as the Night Stalkers, provided two modified Black Hawk Helicopters and two Chinooks as backups. The SEALS split into two groups, one group taking to the main house. This group found Bin Laden on the third floor, unarmed, and shot him twice, one hit the left side of his head, another hit his chest. After the raid, U.S. forces took bin Laden’s body to Afghanistan for identification, then buried it at sea within 24 hours of his death. There is currently some backlash as a result of the non involvement of the Pakistani intelligence (ISI) during the operation.


While not successful in its end goal (assassinating Adolf Hitler) it is the most famous (helped by the Tom Cruise film). The Attempt was made by Claus Von Stauffenberg and other anti-Nazi Germans. With the Normandy invasion many believed the end of the Nazi regime was forthcoming, and the plot was the culmination of the efforts of several groups in the German resistance to overthrow the Nazi regime. It was decided Claus would deliver the bomb, as he had close access to Hitler. The attempt was called off twice, because the conspirators wanted to kill other high ranking Nazi officials, also. Eventually, on the 20th July 1944, Colonel von Stauffenberg entered a conference room, moved up close to Hitler and placed the briefcase containing the bomb on the floor beside the German leader. A few minutes later, he left the room with the excuse of taking a phone call. It was later learned that after von Stauffenberg had placed the bomb and left the room, Colonel Heinz Brandt had found the briefcase in his way and moved it to the other side of a heavy table leg away from Hitler. When the bomb exploded, Hitler escaped with an injured hand and damaged eardrums.

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Nathan Pyle / BuzzFeed

Everything Is About to Change (for Real This Time)

The year I graduated high school, the media was overrun with speculation about a new technology set to shake the foundation of the world. What was it? We weren’t told, exactly. All we knew was that code name “IT” was so revolutionary that we would have to rebuild our cities from scratch. Techie god Steve Jobs declared it “as big a deal as the PC.”

At the end of the year, the product that was about to blow our minds to the future was revealed: the Segway.

A dorky scooter.

Instead of forcing us to rebuild our major metropolises, the Segway managed to be a prop for blowhards on TV sitcoms. I think I’ve seen one twice in real life.

I was thinking about the Segway again as I’ve fallen into a hole of reading about Amazon versus Hachette, e-books, self-publishing, and Kindle Unlimited. Most articles and nearly every comment thread are filled with declarations that e-book dominance is already here. The publishers are “dinosaurs” who don’t see the “paradigm-shifting” “sea change” and aren’t creating “proactive” new “business models” in the wake of this “disruptive” “revolution.” Anyone who reads print is a “luddite” propping up a “dying industry.” If they don’t get on board soon, they’re doomed!

Strangely, you can read those same comments in articles from last year. Or five years ago. Or 10.

It’s been over 15 years since the first dedicated e-readers were released, and over seven since the first Kindle. Today, about 15% of consumer spending on books is electronic and about 30% of books sold are e-books. The majority of book readers still only read in print, and only 6% of readers read e-books exclusively. It’s clear that e-books are here to stay, but it’s less clear that the complete dismantling of the publishing industry is around the corner.

Technology Is Only a Straight Line in Retrospect

I’m the online editor for Electric Literature, an organization dedicated to new literary models and technologies. I’m active on social media, I’ve crowdfunded a book, and I’ve published e-only works. I’m hardly a luddite who hates the internet, and indeed I get excited about the new possibilities for reading and literature out there.

Still, I roll my eyes at the constant declarations that the future is here all over again. Every new product is a revolution, every app will completely change how we communicate. A pair of “smart boxers” that monitors your farts per day is the future of underwear. An e-toothpick that tweets your gum health is a paradigm shift in dentistry. It’s true that there are always people who resist change, and industries that collapse because of it. It is also true that new “revolutions” fail to occur on a monthly basis. Even the most forward-thinking writers get their predications way off.

Technological progression always looks like a straight line in retrospect, but only because we ignore the supposed sea changes that fail. Movies were black and white without sound, then black and white with sound, then color with sound. But what happened to Smell-O-Vision? And five years after Avatar, why hasn’t 3D completely taken over the way we watch movies instead of being a declining sideshow? On the one hand, it’s easy to see the progress from early cell phones to modern smartphones. And yet, the fact that it was phones that progressed that quickly instead of, say, consumer vehicles (still no flying cars?) would shock time travelers from as recently as 1994.

The Future of Books Is Hypertext! No. It’s POD! No. It’s Enhanced E-Books! Apps! Netflix for Books! None of Those? Wait. It’s Cloud Storage!

In Bloomberg, Leonid Bershidsky recently declared that the Amazon-Hachette dispute is silly because both companies “fail to recognize is that in the world of digital literature, book ownership will soon be an anachronism.” The actual future of books, according to Bershidsky, is “an enormous digital library in the cloud, where any book could be borrowed.”

I could see a cloud service working, but it’s another amusingly confident prediction that contradicts previous confident predictions. Is the future cloud borrowing instead of Netflix model? Is it “an interactive novel read on a Google Glass”? Is it apps? Social writing networks like Wattpad? Print on demand (POD) machines on every corner? Nano-narrative book bots plugged directly into your eyeball?

Likely all of those things will have some role, however small, in 10 years’ time. But one thing that all of these predictions miss is that people actually like physical books. They like holding them. They like putting them on bookshelves and coffee tables. Hotels and retail stores buy bulk used books for decoration. Many people who buy exclusively e-books still like to browse in physical bookstores and look at physical books.

The printed book is far from dead.

Nathan Pyle / BuzzFeed

Books Are Not Music

The favorite comparison for print doomsayers is the music industry. Although Bershidsky rightly points out that financially the publishing industry is adapting to the digital world much better than the music industry did, he still falls back into the default comparison:

[…] the book market is following the music market’s technological development path. It progressed from hardcover and paperback books — analogous to vinyl LPs and CDs — to Amazon’s Kindle, which could be used to purchase books from Amazon the way Apple Inc. sold songs to iPod users through its iTunes store.

Since this comparison is made ad nauseam, I’d like to take a detour and list some reasons why I’ve always thought it was off:

  • New music formats were improvements while new print formats were variety. New music formats had more functions (fast-forwarding, skipping around, etc.), were smaller, and held larger amounts of information. Trade paperbacks were cheaper, less sturdy version of hardcovers, and mass market paperbacks were cheaper and flimsier still. Book formats were meant to capture different parts of the market; music formats were meant to replace previous formats.
  • In a 20-year period, consumers were asked to move from vinyl to cassette tapes to CDs to MP3s —and to buy new devices to play them with each time. You read paperback and hardcover with the same set of hands and eyes.
  • There are numerous industry differences too, but in the interest of keeping this relatively short I’ll stick to one: the music industry was built around using singles to sell albums. Customers often felt forced into paying full album price just to access the one or two songs they wanted. Readers, however, do not buy novels to read the one chapter they like over and over.

Dinosaurs Don’t Always Die

Even if you believe that the publishing industry is just another bunch of “dinosaurs” like the music and movie industries, it doesn’t follow that the big publishers are dying. Last time I checked, the rise of Netflix and YouTube haven’t stopped the box office from being dominated by the same movie studios rebooting the same franchises with the same famous actors. While a few superstars have risen from self-publishing, it still remains the usual pack of Big 5 Kings and Rowlings topping the best-seller lists.

As a fan of independent music, small presses, and weirdo films, I’m not cheering this on. I wish that the early ’00s vision of the internet allowing the passionate indies to topple the giant corporations had panned out. At best, though, we’ve traded a handful of old corporations for new, larger ones (Amazon, Apple, Google, etc.) and actually made it harder for artists to survive.

The internet has made people expect “content” (a gross term for art) to be very cheap or free…even when that content is advertising for rich corporations. While everyone can produce and spread art, it’s becoming increasingly hard to actually make any kind of living off of it. The people in position to capitalize are always the rich, and so the big movie studios are able to leverage the global markets and the established music industry players have been able to leverage music licenses to car commercials. While a lot of self-publishers have this idea the Big 5 hate and fear them, the truth is closer to the opposite: The Big 5 have started to look at the typo-ridden Wild West of self-publishing as a kind of digital slush pile from which they can snatch up the works that build an audience. (Publishers are even trying to re-create this dynamic under their umbrellas.)

The dinosaurs, it would seem, are much better at adapting than we think.

The Future of Books Tomorrow…Today!

Since I’ve taken some jabs at other people’s overconfident predictions, here’s where I post my own predictions for future bloggers to mock.

It’s possible that in the distant future we will “read” by injecting word venom into our bloodstream, but I don’t think printed books are going away anytime soon. (Predictions beyond a decade are pretty pointless in conversations about contract negotiations or what way to publish your work today.) E-books will continue to grow, but print will remain a large portion and probably capture a majority of dollars spent for the near future. If there’s a reason to be bearish on print, it’s the shuttering of physical bookstores (although indie bookstores are experiencing a bit of a comeback). If there is any reason to be bearish on e-books, it is that dedicated e-readers are already nearly obsolete.

The reason that neither e-books nor print will die is that both have separate advantages. Print books are easier to flip through, easier to write in, look nicer on your shelf, and — as recent studies have indicated — the human brain processes information on them better. (That’s before getting into questions of DRM, poor formatting, the inability to loan or resell your e-books, and so on.) E-books obviously have advantages too. You can bring one slim device on a long trip instead of a half-dozen books. If you are connected to the internet, you can purchase instantly, look up words, and share bits with friends. Etc.

The film industry seems like a good comparison in how the mediums don’t compete as much as capture different markets. Diehard fans go to the theater and buy Blu-rays, regular fans go to theater now and then and maybe rent from iTunes, and casual fans just watch whatever happens to come to Netflix or Redbox. It’s easy to imagine diehard readers buying special editions or hardcovers, while regular readers get the paperback or e-book, and readers who don’t care as much about specific authors will buy whatever e-books go on sale.

And what about these “Netflix for books” services? People have been predicting their ascendance for some time, but I’m still skeptical. A big part of how Netflix works is by having a ton of crappy films and shows that casual viewers would never pay movie ticket prices for but will watch for no additional charge. My guess is that there are fewer readers like that, and people who do read that way can fill that need with extremely cheap used books or self-published e-books (thousands of which can be gotten for between $0.00 and $2.99). Unless these services figure out how to offer something new — exclusive content à la Netflix? — they won’t be a major force.

The ease of e-book publication combined opens up a lot of possibility for companies and organizations to become their own publishers. We have already seen magazines and newspapers start to publish e-books. Not only will this trend increase, but it will expand to other areas. TV shows and movie franchises publishing additional e-book material for diehard fans perhaps?

What about self-publishing versus print generally? I tend to think that framing them as opposing forces obscures the fact that they are, to a large degree, different worlds. Self-publishing has opened up new markets — some that big publishers overlooked, some that they didn’t want to be involved in — more than it has eaten away at traditional publishing sales. (If Amazon succeeds in drastically lowering e-book prices, the reverse may happen though.) Rather than self-publishing or traditional publishing, authors in genres like romance, fantasy, and sci-fi will increasingly go “hybrid.”

Despite the regular hyping of enhanced e-books/hypertext/apps/interactive books, I don’t see those going anywhere outside of a few specific markets like children’s books and textbooks. The problem is that we already have a whole industry devoted to interactive narratives: video games. Art forms survive by figuring out what makes them unique, not by trying to emulate other mediums.

What Can Books Do Better

Currently, publishers just convert their paperback books to e-book and self-publishers POD the same books they sell digitally. Just as art forms need to push their unique advantages, I think the future of books is pushing the unique advantages of different formats.

In print, you will see more focus on design. In the last few years, we’ve seen an increase in special editions, beautifully designed and smartly curated series, and books that really have to be read on paper due to unique layouts or interior art.

In e-book land, I can see a lot of ways to exploit the advantage of digital files. A lot of self-published authors “bundle” short novels or stories together to let readers sample different authors. There is no reason that traditionally published authors couldn’t do that too. Maybe presses will sell cheap “samplers” of the writers on their catalog like music labels used to do. An e-book file can be as long as you want, so why not include bonus materials that would muck up a print book? (Here’s a more dystopian e-book vision: e-book apps that are free to download and start, but require in-app purchases to finish the entire narrative or get bonus material.)

And what about using POD technology to allow customers to create their own anthologies from a publisher’s catalog? Publishers need to find ways to use the different advantages of each type of book, and figure out what kind of work can be done on e-book but not print, or POD but not hardcover.

You will also, I think, increasingly see e-books used to supplement the print edition. From J.K. Rowling writing new Harry Potter stories on her Pottermore website to Adele Waldman writing an e-single story from the POV of a minor character in her novel, writers are starting to figure out how to use digital distribution to provide additional material to readers.

In short, the various formats will cohabitate peacefully…at least until the next dinosaur-killing, paradigm-shifting, sea-changing, revolutionary technology appears.


Lincoln Michel’s fiction appears in Tin House, Electric Literature, Unstuck, NOON, and elsewhere. He is a co-editor of Gigantic magazine and Gigantic Worlds, a forthcoming anthology of science flash fiction. Sometimes he draws authors as monsters. He tweets at @thelincoln.

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Charity YouTubers Pay $1300 For Special Family’s Car Repairs

Online charity group Give Back Films has returned to help a very special family.

Even though they were already short on cash after losing their jobs due to the economy, the couple adopted two kids from China. To help them out, GBF decided to pay their car repair bill. 

The moment they realized the burden of the $1,300 car bill was paid, the couple couldn’t help but smile. It was as if a weight was lifted off their shoulders.   

After meeting the online philanthropists, they were also given a $500 gift card to Walmart and a Nintendo Wii for the kids. 

“Oh my gosh are you serious?” the mom asked in shock. 


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1. He appreciates the finer things in life:

2. He once did mushrooms with his cat:

After the experience, he told David Letterman that he “had no doubt that [the cat] was his brother.”

3. He may or may not be a vampire from the 1870s:

5. or the Virgin Mary:

6. or a British soldier during the War Of 1812:

7. or Spongebob:

8. or Mexican War Of Independence leader Miguel Hidalgo:

9. or a black man from the 1970’s:

10. His HAIR:

11. He was once stalked by a mime:

“I was being stalked by a mime—silent, but maybe deadly. Somehow, this mime would appear on the set and start doing strange things. Finally, the producers took some action and I haven’t seen the mime since. But it was definitely unsettling.”

12. He makes a great desktop background:

13. This somehow happened to him:

14. He looks suspiciously like an owl:

15. He has a pet octopus.

It was part of a “$276,000 spending spree that included two king cobras and an octopus. He claimed that he bought the octopus because it would help him with his acting.”

16. He has a tattoo of Woody the Woodpecker:

17. He’ll help you wake up in the morning:

18. And he can help get you a job:

19. He isn’t afraid to take what he wants:

From Kathleen Turner’s biography:

“He was arrested, I think, once for stealing a dog. He’d come across a chihuahua he liked and stuck it in his jacket.”

20. He was originally every single member of the Avengers:

But he had to drop out after being told that the movie would break “too many records.” This may not be true.

21. He once went crazy in Romania:

After leaving a club in the country while promoting “Ghost Rider,” he got into a fight with his friend and ran through the streets yelling “I thought we were brothers, man,” and “I’ll die in the name of honor.”

22. He can help teach you biology if you’re in Serbia:


26. And once more in spanish:

27. He bought, and plans to be buried in this pyramid tomb:

28. Mustache:

29. He got Johnny Depp his first acting gig:

“I said, ‘I really think you are an actor, that you have that ability.’ That was just from playing one game of Monopoly with him.”

30. He’s everyone’s favorite Pokemon:

31. His middle name is Kim.

He was born Nicolas Kim Coppola.

32. And he takes his stage name from the superhero Luke Cage:

33. In fact, he loves comic books so much that his son’s name is “Kal-El”:

Superman’s name as a boy.

34. He gets really into his roles:

35. He combines to form Voltron:

36. He played a fry cook in “Fast Times At Ridgemont High”:

And I’ll be damned if he wasn’t the best fry cook to grace the Silver Screen.

37. He once gave a chameleon a cigarette:

38. He once ate a cockroach – three times in a row:

It was while filming the movie “Vampire’s Kiss”. The scene took three tries.

40. He looks great as a cholo:

41. Because, honestly, these movies:

42. And because of this picture:

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Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling Frazer Harrison / Getty Images

Over the course of the last five months, Brit Marling has found herself telling the same story, over and over and over again. The tale of summer 2009, the one she spent living as a freegan drifter, has become the key anecdote connected to her new espionage thriller, The East — which features Marling as a spy for hire named Sarah Moss who infiltrates an eco-anarchist collective that is injecting terror into its extreme public advocacy. In the meantime, she’s finding out that the spotlight tends to project a distortion.

“Of course, people don’t understand. Even when I talk about that summer now, or when people write about it, it’s with a certain degree of remove and frivolousness, as if it’s like a cocktail-party story,” says the 29-year-old actor and screenwriter. Marling has long, almost translucent blonde hair, very blue eyes, and a thoughtfulness that gives weight to her every word; she shakes her head, yet keeps a smile, frustrated with (but maybe not surprised by) the infinite loop of subtle condescension that sharing her personal story has engendered.

Then she sighs, shifting in her seat at an overly large round table in a Soho hotel restaurant. “But that was your life, that happened to you, and you were moved and opened and changed by it,” she says. “And it’s hard for people to understand that.”

Marling’s life has taken a lot of unexpected turns over the last decade. She graduated from Georgetown in 2005 and moved to Los Angeles the following year to pursue a career in show business — despite the overwhelming evidence that doing so is a crazy risk that leads mostly to a life of misery and rejection. At least she had company in the struggle, as her creative partners and fellow Georgetown alums Zal Batmanglij and Mike Cahill (three years her senior — they were student filmmakers when a 17-year-old Marling introduced herself to them after they won the Georgetown Film Festival with a short film) joined her for the adventure.

Cut to four years later, when Marling and Batmanglij were underemployed and creatively stymied, trying to kick-start careers in L.A. with dead-end jobs in TV production and dark edit bays. The only auditions Marling could get were for the archetypal blonde in torture porn flicks — and the blonde always dies. She chose to study screenwriting instead. Intrigued by the anarchist texts they had been reading on the internet, the duo began hopping trains, falling in with communes, and learning to scavenge for food.

“I think so much of our culture is about being afraid, and that keeps you in line,” she reflects, casting the adventure as an emancipation of sorts. “And the moment that you realize that there’s not really anything to be afraid of, that you could eat three meals a day out of a Dumpster and that you could live in a squat and that you may actually be happier, you can become pretty bold in what you do next.”

Batmanglij, Marling and Cahill Fox Searchlight

Re-energized by the trip, Marling starred in and co-wrote both of what would become the trio’s two breakout films, both of which screened at Sundance in 2011: the cult drama Sound of My Voice, which was co-written and directed by Batmanglij, and the Sundance-winning philosophical sci-fi mystery Another Earth, which was Cahill’s project (both films got picked up for limited release). Production began on Another Earth without any real funding in early 2010; the three were living and shooting at Cahill’s mom’s house in Connecticut, where they paid no rent.

The filmmakers carry a rare sort of animation and enthusiasm that might seem unlikely given the serious, meditative, and frequently intense tenor of their movies. Marling explains that they grew tired of waiting helplessly for a chance to pursue their goals in what was a largely permission-based industry — now, just a few years later, digital technology has shifted the power structure — and it’s no coincidence that the trio’s flurry of acclaimed films have all come from within. They aren’t stepping stones, but passion projects.

“We’re trying to catch a fish with its own energy source,” Batmanglij says, offering up a broken metaphor that still somehow makes sense. In his early thirties, he’s tall and fresh-faced, with an infectious excitement for his work. His smile is constant, unbroken. “We’re trying to find something that is solar powered. Because it has to sort of constantly be given this energy. I spent the last five years working on this movie, start from inception to now… We’re trying to find other ideas like that. If you told me I had to go remake Sound of My Voice in France, I’d be so excited.”

Even before those two movies were released, Marling — who has also starred in films directed by Robert Redford and Nicholas Jarecki — and Batmanglij began working on what would become The East. The film poses difficult moral questions about the consumer economy, the ethics of capitalism, and the behavior of large corporations. The first impression of the group — also called The East — which is led by a charismatic Alexander Skarsgård and an intensely driven Ellen Page, is of a grungy, whacked out pseudo-cult of fundamentalist warriors. But it soon becomes clear, to both Marling’s character Sarah and the audience, that their grievances are not just legitimate, but deeply uncomfortable truths.

Among the targets of their carefully plotted and publicly flouted revenge schemes: a coal company that so sullies a nearby reservoir that it melts holes in children’s brains and a pharmaceutical company that sells drugs they know to be dangerous and debilitating. The East’s tactics are brutal — literally, giving them a taste of their own medicine — but that’s almost beside the point.

Ellen Page and Alexander Skargard in The East

Fox Searchlight

Zal Batmanglij directing on set of The East

Fox Searchlight


“Look, there’s some pretty ugly eye-for-an-eye stuff that’s sanctioned in our government,” Batmanglij says. But movies, he insists, aren’t prescriptions; a kinky sex scene doesn’t serve as a recommendation that people should try whatever acrobatic or illicit thrill that they see on screen.

“I don’t believe in the death penalty, and that’s sanctioned eye-for-an-eye, so I’m not someone sitting around preaching eye-for-an-eye justice, but gosh, what do you do when the drug company in the movie is based on a real drug company, and a real drug exists that has those side effects?” he asks. He seems genuinely unsure of the right answer. “Who’s responsible? People take that drug and some people have ended up in a wheelchair because of it. Is that fair? Five pills and you’re in a wheelchair. Is that fair?”

It’s a rhetorical question, but try this: Have you heard of the pharmaceutical company Rambaxy? In early May, it was found guilty for faking test results to pass FDA inspections; its executives knew that their HIV drugs were dangerous and potentially deadly. The company sells $1 billion in generic pills in the United States alone each year; it paid a fine that equaled six months of sales. No one got charged with a crime.

The East, as depicted in the film, is a tiny sect of isolated radicals who feel like it’s them against the world. But something changed just as The East was weeks away from production: The Occupy Wall Street movement began. The low flame of resentment — that smoldering suspicion that the game was rigged and nobody with any sort of power gave a shit, the same desperation for something new that had turned Marling into a tireless Obama campaign volunteer and a year later drove her to the woods — had sparked and combusted.

Marling speaks with a deep admiration for the protestors who powered Occupy, expressing frustration at a news media that she thinks covered it with a certain remove and cynicism, and wonders why reporters didn’t spend more time in the trenches trying to understand its members. “Whatever you think of Occupy, they forced people to talk about something that nobody was talking about,” she says.

Given the timing, that specific moment in history played no part in the writing of the screenplay for The East, but that’s sort of a technicality. The populist street protest was driven in large part by the same freegan idealists with whom Marling and Batmanglij had traveled, and it is no leap to say that The East would be Occupy’s more violent and extreme comrade.

“It’s interesting to me how sometimes the fringe or a group of people that seems ‘other,’ they often have a lot of ideas or perspectives that would be really beneficial to the status quo,” Marling proclaims, toeing the delicate line between sympathizing with extremists and being pragmatic. “Regardless of what you think about The East or its politics or its methodology, I think everyone can agree, whether they’re on the right or the left, there are a lot of things that do not work about the current system. I think everyone looks at the banking crisis or the HSBC thing or the BP oil spill and is like, ‘WTF?’”

arling in The East

Fox Searchlight

Scene from The East

Fox Searchlight


Singling out greedy, crooked bankers and indefensible environmental ruin isn’t all that radical, in and of itself, but consider Marling’s background: Not only did she graduate from Georgetown with a degree in economics, she was also offered a job at Goldman Sachs during the high-flying mid-aughts. She had completed an internship at the bank and impressed enough to earn a lucrative offer, which came in an email that she read while in an internet cafe in Cuba, where she was with Cahill (then reportedly her boyfriend) making their documentary Boxers and Ballerinas, which focused on four young children whose dreams are stalled by the United States’ blockade on the country.

She turned them down, and here she is, nine years later, tearing off the emperor’s clothing instead of luxuriating in his company. The radicals of The East see those banker types as the dark underwriters of the dystopian America that they reject, and Marling has seen behind the curtain. She told The Independent in 2011 that during her internship, she suffered a “profound break,” and “began to question everything.”

“The assumptions you use to make models in macro and microeconomics are that the population is constant, that resources are infinite, and that people’s happiness increases the more things they buy. And then you enter the real world, and all three of those things aren’t true, and they’re also why the system doesn’t work on a fundamental level,” she says in a burst that would make any Democratic primary voter swoon and the halls of D.C. think tanks echo with horror. “How is the idea that growth is everything and growth is king and that’s how we measure progress, how can you continue to grow indefinitely on a planet with dwindling resources and a climate change problem and an exploding population? We can’t. Growth can’t really measure success forever.”

What’s even more crucial than Marling and Batmanglij’s shared comprehension of the intricacies of GDP and the Keynes-Reaganomics debate is the shorthand that they have developed over the past decade. In an industry that arbitrates writing credit, their cooperation almost sublimates ownership.

“It took us nine months to write The East; we didn’t start writing it on the computer until seven and a half months into it,” Batmanglij reveals, a smile creasing his face when it’s noted that, well, that is a seemingly insane feat of memorization for a movie so intricate. “We just told each other the story. Human to human. That’s what it is, a story.”

He continues, plucking a half-squashed blackberry from a room service tray to demonstrate the fragile nature of any project in its infancy; its juices drip between his fingers: “We pass it back and forth and we love it, and we trust each other and we learn to trust each other so we don’t know where did this thing start? It didn’t start with either of us kind of, it just has been and we’ve just been its custodians. And pretty soon it gets so big that you don’t feel that it belonged to anyone. It just exists. That’s when it gets exciting.”

But what, exactly, excited them? The idea of tearing into the economy and exposing its rotten core? How, then, can Marling and Batmanglij sit in a trendy hotel in Soho, adjacent to a room stocked with Coca-Cola products, promoting a film that was produced by Fox Searchlight, which is a division of the media monolith News Corp? How can they advocate for such a fundamental rethinking of American priorities when they are an active part in a tragically flawed system?

“I think there are no easy answers,” she concedes. “I think this movie is totally about the moral gray of the time we’re living in, and how hard it is to navigate that and to feel like you’re being responsible and accountable to your morality on a day-to-day basis. But at the same time, this movie was made at a corporation and a corporation is just a group of people and a group of people, when they come together in any fashion, can do really powerful, positive, productive things.”

She continues, adding, “So it’s not a movie about corporate villainy at all — it’s a movie in which the villain keeps changing and the antagonism keeps shifting, and I think that’s sort of the time we’re living in.”

Their commune friends might say that such an excuse is bunk, that it’s all or nothing, full emancipation from capitalism or an inescapable share of guilt when society suffers its eventual meltdown. But unless you’re willing to cast away all material possessions and abandon your family, that austere life is no solution. Blissful ignorance can black out the conscience when necessary, utility reigning over empathy thanks to the self-perpetuating limits of a world that is both richer and poorer than ever.

Just last month, a sweatshop in Bangladesh suffered a collapse that killed 1,000 people who were toiling in criminally unsafe conditions to make clothes that we wear without a second thought in the Western world. Several companies agreed — under immense public pressure — to sponsor new safety precautions at factories; many others, like The Gap and Walmart, have refused to sign on to such accords. Is that news enough of a tragedy to create a clarion call for change, to seriously hurt the companies that won’t take a stand?

“I think about all that with my sneakers: Would I be wearing my sneakers if I actually saw the small hands that had made them?” Batmanglij asks himself, though he seems to already know the answer. “People don’t really believe that their computer or sneakers are made by small hands, a child’s hands, or a person who is living such a miserable life. They somehow think that no, that person has a tough life, but it’s an OK life. But if they actually saw just a video of the person who made your sneakers, if that was available on YouTube, I don’t think you’d buy those sneakers.”

Awareness is the first step, but it’s hard not to feel helpless in the massive world economy. How does one person not buying a pair of shoes make even a whisper of a dent in a multibillion-dollar machine? How can they exist in the real world without contributing to its destruction? They’d love to know the answer. Making socially conscious films — Marling’s other projects include Redford’s The Company You Keep, which examines the consequences of a Weather Underground bombing, and Richard Gere’s Arbitrage, a drama about a Ponzi scheme — is a start, especially in an industry that continues to favor big-budget comic book films. She and Cahill just partnered on another film, a medical drama called I Origins, which tackles its own set of social complexities.

The East is all about radical action, but both Marling and Batmanglij understand that reality dictates a more temperate individual approach to the world’s problems. And again, it all goes back to those glorious few months spent Dumpster diving and sleeping on rooftops.

“Maybe one of the things I figured out that summer was that if I kept my life really small, if I didn’t need that much, then I could have a freedom,” Marling says. “Then I didn’t have to be enslaved to a high rent and a pool and all kinds of possessions. The smaller I lived, the less likely I was to become enslaved to having to maintain a life. But that becomes complicated once you have a family you have to support. There are no easy answers to any of that stuff for sure.”

Read more:

Nintendo revealed its new games for the Wii U and 3DS handheld on Tuesday, forgoing the traditional E3 press conference in favor a online-only stream.

Some highlights:

  • The Legend of Zelda is coming to Wii U.

  • After almost a decade of hiatus, Star Fox is coming back with a new title for the Wii U.

  • You can play as anyone you want in the next Super Smash Bros. Nintendo is making Miis, its customizable human avatars, playable characters in the upcoming entry to its fighting game series.

What did you think of Nintendo’s E3 announcements? Let us know in the comments below.