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The Cleavage Of Consent Between Bollywood’s Leading Ladies And Their Voyeurs

Objectifying Deepika Padukone without her consent has implications far beyond Bollywood: It endangers every single Indian girl and woman.

I remember laughing out loud the first time I watched the music video for “Sheila Ki Jawani.” I remember being taken aback by Katrina Kaif — per usual a paragon of all things sexy — thrusting herself at me with her midriff and cleavage and legs deliberately bared, while simultaneously telling me, emphatically and with no room for doubt, that she knows I want it but I’m never gonna get it. I’m never gonna get her body. I remember delightedly grappling with the cognitive dissonance Sheila created, her tongue firmly in cheek.

Main tere haath na aani” sounded to me like an empowering and explicit withholding of consent. And to see it sung by a scantily clad, pelvic-thrusting woman was to be told: Look, I can be as overtly sexual and “immodest” as I want to and still not grant you any further physical permissions.

I remember getting predictably addicted to the criminally catchy tune, but remaining pleasantly surprised by the very, very progressive message I perceived: Sheila will allow you some access to her body. Sheila will flaunt her body. Sheila will be totally thrilled for you to look at her body. But anything you do with Sheila’s body will be decidedly, nonnegotiably on Sheila’s terms. Don’t even think about assuming otherwise.

FADEL SENNA / Stringer / Via Getty Images

In this morning’s Times of India, Pooja Bedi made the argument that Deepika Padukone, along with the rest of Bollywood’s leading ladies, has herself to blame for the culture of media-driven objectification that she is now vehemently protesting.

“If admiring and focusing on a woman’s assets is a crime, all item numbers should be banned,” Bedi wrote.

This comes in response to Padukone’s livid (and now famous) assertion this past weekend that the media’s objectification of her is disrespectful to women. This was specifically with regard to the Times of India article “OMG: Deepika Padukone’s Cleavage Show!” that highlighted Padukone’s cleavage in a surreptitiously taken video from a trailer launch event. “YES!I am a woman.I have breasts AND a cleavage! You got a problem!!??” Padukone tweeted. “YOU don’t know how to RESPECT Women!”

While India’s Twitterati and tinseltown alike came forth quickly in her support, critics were just as ready. And, picking eagerly at low-hanging fruit, many were quick to cite item songs in the argument that Bollywood’s ladies are themselves complicit in the media’s thirsty, relentless objectification of them. You’ve made your bed, Deepika, now strike a provocative pose and be gawked at in it.

The argument — which Bedi perched herself at the helm of this morning — seems to be that by consenting to being ogled at and exposed in certain contexts, these women have granted permission to their audiences to do so all the time.

Logically, Bedi’s argument is sound. “If admiring and focussing on a woman’s assets is a crime,” then by all means, ban item numbers. Ban the fashion industry. Ban most means of money-making, really.

But here’s the catch: Admiring and focusing on a woman’s assets is not a crime. Doing so without her consent is. Doing anything to her body without her consent is, be that eve-teasing, harassment, rape, or circulating a particular video or photograph of her to millions of people who wouldn’t otherwise have had access to it (the latter-most being a crime that Jennifer Lawrence and several of her Hollywood contemporaries famously fell prey to just a few days ago).

This isn’t to say that item songs, a still problematic mainstay of Indian cinema, are absolved of their many, many flaws. They glorify objectification; they are a shameless money-making assault on good storytelling; they are usually just terrible music. But, for all their shortcomings, they have absolutely nothing to do with how the women starring in them should be treated when removed from their very particular context. To argue otherwise is to make the very dangerous assumption that every minor provision of consent can be extended to universality. That just because a woman has shown you her body in any capacity, she is “asking for” whatever else you choose to do to it.

In a nation where the gravity granted to female consent is already absent to a terrifying and life-threatening degree, this isn’t an argument to which we should be attaching any credibility.

“We don’t go into a hostile frenzy when cameras caress and capture SRK’s and Hrithik’s perfect six-pack abs,” Bedi pointed out, in her own defense. “Why should it be different for a woman?” And for anyone who has ever railed publicly against female objectification, this is a familiar challenge.

Again, the question itself reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of why nonconsensual female objectification is dangerous: It is dangerous when it sets or reinforces a precedent for disregarding female consent or, more importantly, a lack thereof. Forty-two percent of Indian girls have faced sexual violence in some form by the time they’re through with their teenage years. Ninety-two Indian women are raped every day. If the weight granted to male consent had also been under siege in India for centuries and if it claimed lives on a daily basis, I would raise just as loud a din in defense of Hrithik. As things stand, I think he’ll be all right.

“Sheila Ki Jawani” was refreshing to see in the Indian mainstream because — as Padukone exemplified most recently — being a woman in India means being surrounded by an age-old, culturally persistent disregard for your consent. Myriad headlines remind us every morning that personal space is a myth; that yes means yes and no means violence; that if you want to live in a country where the female body is not a liability, you’re in the wrong place.

Being a woman in India means your most mundane decisions — what to wear, what route to take to work, how many drinks to drink — are weighed down by the potential to become life-threatening at any moment, without your permission. We are constantly reminded — most depressingly by ourselves — to dress modestly and arm ourselves against a culture whose mind-set, apparently, is that if you can see a female body, you can have it.

“Sheila Ki Jawani” was thrilling in its outright and preemptive rejection of what is now Bedi’s argument: that being consensually exposed to the female form in one context gives audiences the right to consume it in any other. This is a mind-set that has made victims of thousands of Indian girls and women across the nation, to gruesome and horrific degrees, when those around us assume that because we are allowing them to see our bodies, we are also allowing them to do anything more. And Sheila’s emphatically inaccessible jawani was the perfect antidote.

But, as of this morning, my initial elation at Sheila’s sexy and indubitable feminism has been brought crashing down by one sobering revelation: In order for Sheila’s message to carry any weight, one would have to stop staring at Katrina for long enough to hear it.

And that, of course — being heard and not seen, being listened to and not completely objectified, being given any agency with regards to how her body is devoured and when and by whom — is a luxury the Indian woman has yet to be granted.

I remember laughing out loud after voicing the (admittedly unpopular) opinion that “Sheila Ki Jawani,” while not unflawed itself, sounded to me like Bollywood’s closest existing approximation of a feminist anthem. In a perfect matching of form and function, it was an item song to defend all item songs.

Moreover, it was the perfect defense for Bollywood’s leading ladies against their hoards of drooling voyeurs: Yes, I am showing you my body, Sheila says. Yes, I’m aware that it is supremely attractive. No, that does not mean you can touch it, that doesn’t mean you can photograph it, that doesn’t mean you can monetize it, devour it, or otherwise claim it.

And don’t you fucking dare tell me otherwise.

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I Really Hope This Dog’s Old Owner Sees This. It Left Me In Tears… Especially The End.

The following message was posted on the New York City Craigslist. The person that wrote the message adopted a rescued pit bull that was at a kill shelter in the city. Her previous owners were evicted from their building and the dog, who was covered in cigarette burns, was taken to the shelter. Luckily, she was saved before being euthanized. 3 years after adopting this beautiful girl, her new owners have a few things to say to the terrible people her left her out on the street. This is what their Craiglist posting said:

“On Feb 9th 2011, you were evicted from an apartment at 20 Catherine St and your old red pit bull was seized by animal control and taken to the kill shelter. “

“She was really skinny and had bad skin infections, and had been bred A LOT. She’d even had a Caesarian, judging by the scar.”

“They said at the kill shelter she was 12 years old. She also had a lopsided face and it looked like there were a few cigarette burns on her head/ears.”

“I figure you were having a pretty bad time of it, since you were being evicted. I hope things have gotten better for you in the intervening years. Although it’s unlikely you’ll ever see this note, I just wanted you to know that I have your dog and she is doing great.”

The letter continued: “The AC named her Cathy, for Catherine Street. She was held for cruelty investigation (she was REALLY skinny) then immediately put on the kill list, which is the sort of irony that happens at Animal Care & Control every day. I like old dogs and I loved Cathy’s little lopsided face. A rescue pulled her for me and sent her north. She gained weight and recovered from her skin issues. Her coat shines now and you can’t see the little round cigarette burn marks any more. We spayed her (her hormones were really out of whack from all the litters she had). She has been wonderful with my young daughter, and our other two dogs. And it turns out she loves to swim! She loves fetch too. If she really was 12 back in 2011, that would make her 15 now but I doubt that as she still will go on long hikes with me, and swim and retrieve balls from the bay until she can barely stand… even though, yes, her face is turning white. She is truly an ambassador for her breed, even people who don’t like pits will stop and pat her as she happily wags her tail. She loves to sleep in sunbeams, and is so happy to go on walks or swims she just wags her tail with every step. She is sleeping next to me as I type this, grunting with joy. In fact, she sleeps on my bed every night. Your dog is an awesome dog. We love her so much. The past three years we’ve had with her have brought us (and her) so much happiness. If you do see this, we’d love to know how old she is, and what your name for her was. Also please say a prayer for her, as soon she is going to have mammary surgery to remove some small lumps… unfortunately not spaying a dog and breeding her a lot means she is very likely to get mammary cancer, and Cathy has it. Luckily my vet caught it early, so I am hoping Cathy can spend many more happy years with us. She really is the best dog. P.S. you can’t have her back.” Who knows how Cathy came to be so starved and abused, but her first family getting evicted was probably the best thing that could have happened to this dog. Now, she is with a loving family that doesn’t treat her like trash… but a treasure. Source: Craigslist Please share Cathy’s beautiful story. We hope that her original owners see what they did to her. We also hope they see how happy she is now.

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Why I Feel OK About Falling Off The Wagon After Years Of Sobriety

Illustration by Allen Brewer for BuzzFeed

Nothing terrible ever happened when I drank. At least, as far as I’m aware, it didn’t. My high-strain endurance boozing at even the most civil and daylight-tinged gatherings never seemed to yield any irreversible fallout. Merely bad things happened, of course. I’ll probably never look certain people in the eye again; certain doorways, I’ve likely darkened for the last time. But as far as lost jobs, injured bystanders, or jail time are concerned, I quit drinking in May 2010 with a clean record.

A little over a year ago, I started again.

People don’t know how to react when you tell them you’ve ended a lengthy period of sobriety, particularly if the interaction occurs while you’re clutching a decanter of amber liquid. Your nuclear-grade smile and giddy tone should provide context clues, but these details might be misinterpreted as a sarcastic celebration of failure. Some of my friends certainly took it that way. They greeted the news with concern and reprehension, responses ideal for when somebody has fallen off the wagon. “Somebody” hadn’t, though. What I had done instead was a comprehensively debated, intentional dismount from said wagon. Admittedly, it was anybody’s guess whether I’d stick the landing.

My reasons for quitting drinking would sound rather boring in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I know this to be true from having gone to meetings with and for other people, but never myself. My personal definition of an alcoholic was always “someone who drinks in the mornings and/or alone,” and as long as I was guilty of neither, I was OK. I was just someone who looked for reasons to introduce drinking in any situation, and pushed it as far as it could go. You can imagine how I felt about the concept of brunch.

It was, in fact, a standard-issue brunch that led me to stop drinking after less ambitious slow-down efforts failed to take. Following a Mother’s Day summit of Bloody Marys and omelets, I scratched a big red X through the calendar day, in terms of getting anything done. I bid my brunch group good-bye and met another friend at a bar to keep the fun going. Much later, on the way home, it occurred to me that I could either while away the remaining Sunday hours alone, actively dreading my copyediting job the next day, or I could stop at the bar near my place and go toe-to-toe with oblivion. In a day of bad decisions, what’s one more?

When I woke up the next morning, I had to email my boss and apologize for being late. Once I threw up in the shower, saw my own bloated cadaver in the mirror, and actually smelled liquor in my pores, though, I emailed again to say I couldn’t come in at all. (It was “a stomach thing.”) Then I crawled back into bed, literally hating myself, until the idea of not drinking for the following two weeks started coming into focus. Having a simple guarantee against this feeling for a set period released a palpable surge of relief. And after those two weeks were over, I just kept going.

My problem with alcohol had always been a problem of knowing when enough was enough. It wasn’t just with alcohol, though, but with everything. I have a compulsive personality. I am an apex predator of More. Be it alcohol, food, sex, or unread tweets — my life revolves around itches not scratched.

This insatiable appetite crescendoed in college, when I topped out at over 300 pounds, and drank like I wanted to jailbreak my bodily form and become pure energy. Although more than a full third of that weight is long gone and I no longer do keg stands, food is something I still struggle with. Over time, it became easier to sustain the macro eating decisions that delivered me from a deadly weight level. What turned out to be much harder, though, is remembering, moment to moment, to rein in compulsion when I lay eyes upon a generous serving of something I want — whatever it is.

On the surface, I didn’t like the attention when people found out I didn’t drink; old friends attempting to goad me into a relapse, first dates looking at me like there was a red flag stitched across my face. But I’m a writer: Obviously, I crave attention. I hoped people would regard me as they might Iggy Pop or Slash or any other iconic figure whose latter-day sobriety was an interesting turn in a long saga. Nobody did, though, nor should they have. Mostly, it turns out, people don’t care what you do if it doesn’t affect them directly. And anyway, I wasn’t after anybody’s admiration; I just wanted their company. Aside from all the events I missed out on by intentionally skipping, I felt left out at the ones I attended. There’s an incredible loneliness about being the sober one. You can be physically at the party, and still not really there.

In New York, and for media people in particular, alcohol is even more thoroughly entwined with the culture. Not only are deals made and interviews conducted around alcohol often, there are also author readings, book parties, storytelling shows, bull sessions, and good-bye-to-all-that send-offs just about every night. Heaven help you if you’re a karaoke enthusiast to boot.

Two and a half years in, sobriety had not taught me self-control, it had merely institutionalized self-deprivation. I was no closer to conquering the underlying infinite thirst than I ever would be without confronting it head-on.

The first time I considered a formal return to drinking was in March 2011, less than a year into sobriety. I was traveling alone in Europe, on a trip paid for mostly in phantom alcohol-bucks. Having left my digital devices back in Brooklyn, I walked around just thinking for long, uninterrupted stretches. Without any distractions or company, it’s easier to actually think about the stuff you always put off thinking about — like what to do with your life in pretty much every respect. One idea that kept flooding toward the forefront of my thoughts was that, at some vague point in the future, I might want to start drinking again. This sobriety streak was never supposed to last forever. Ending it was just a question of when.

After Europe, I did a lot of quiet waiting. I went to parties sober. I went on dates sober. I even went to a bachelor party in Las Vegas, where the air is so thick with the fumes of alcohol, desperation, and horniness, it’s a miracle anyone can even see the undead army of strip club promoters hovering at the periphery of everything. I was at home, though, by myself, when I finally made the decision that it was time.

November 2012 had been a blur of complex assignments, weddings, family stuff, and Hurricane Sandy. The idea of straight-up skipping Thanksgiving was an eleventh-hour breakthrough that I pounced on. With nothing to do for a few days, except the odd visit with fellow stragglers, I seriously contemplated the end of my sobriety for the first time in nearly two years. The dry years had been among the best in my life for a lot of reasons. I now had a budding writing career, a comfortable living situation, and better health. Much of these changes were directly due to sobriety. How much would dousing myself with firewater change who I had become?

Finding reasons in favor of drinking again did not require deep meditative analysis. What did, however, was the question of whether I was ready. One conclusion I’d reached long before this rogue Thanksgiving was that if I were to go back to drinking, I needed a plan. The one I decided on involved instituting a maximum number of drinks — three to four — with a loophole built in for special occasions. No more endless refills; instead I’d keep track like a data scientist. The caveat was that these special occasions had to be premeditated. I wouldn’t allow myself to just say “fuck it” on any random night and get turbo-hammered — it would have to be a measured, organized chaos. Those were the rules. They would be my own personal Konami code for winning at alcohol.

I had my first drink a couple days after Thanksgiving, as soon as my housemates returned from their respective families. I hoisted a sweaty glass of Maker’s Mark to mouth-level and stared at it, heart racing. Everyone would understand if I backed down. We would sit in the kitchen and play Uno, everybody buzzed except me, and it would be like any other night. Instead, I leaned my head back and took a sip.

The whiskey was warm in a familiar way. It blazed a winding path to the pit of my stomach, like a lit fuse. As the warmth spread and my tongue loosened, I thought, I remember this. The others seemed a little nervous. They were right to be. When my third drink turned into slivers of ice, I felt like I could keep going. Nobody else was stopping either. But the new order of things was three or four drinks and done, and it seemed better to not hit the maximum amount the very first time, so I stopped and enjoyed the transgressive thrill of being tipsy again. Overall, the dynamic of a typical hangout changed very little that night, except now a lightly pulsating thundercloud had enveloped my consciousness. I wondered through the haze whether I’d made the right decision.

The holidays were coming up. A sudden onslaught of colored lights and festive music contributed to the feeling that a period of mourning had ended. Soon there would be a batch of parties famously sentimental and uninhibited all at once. During this year’s merry-go-round, I would surely be more in tune with the social climate of each event than I’d been the last couple seasons.

When you’re a perennial sober party guest, some people eye you suspiciously. Not always, but it happens. Your unimpeded memory functions like a video recorder, capturing every potential embarrassment, and so serial misfits avoid you accordingly. You also discover that a lot of things people say to make each other laugh sound like context-free jibber-jabber to the sober ear. It can feel as though you walked into a shitty Adam Sandler movie halfway through, and some of the audience suspects you of bootlegging it.

When I started going to get-togethers again as a drinker, I realized how resentful I’d become toward people who dared to have fun in my presence without overtly including me. I’d been so aggrieved in my sobriety that I’d reflexively acquired some of the superiority that drunken eyes seemed to accuse me of harboring. Even though I felt closer to the eye of each party’s storm now, I also understood that the distance when I wasn’t drinking perhaps had more to do with me than with alcohol.

At one final bash of the season, I met the person who wound up becoming my girlfriend months later. It felt liberating to go out for a drink with someone new, without the sobriety reveal looming like a scythe on a pulley, an unfettered implication of damage to cloud the night with doubt. This change, however, did not summon some sort of dating deus ex machina. One facet of awkwardness may have disappeared, but that was it. Now there was just everything else that could go wrong.

My elevator pitch for ending sobriety had been “moderate social drinking without ever blacking out again.” Before May 2010, I used to black out three or four times a year, which was perhaps above average for someone closing out his twenties. This habit of going into autopilot mode, for an overly self-conscious person, is an actual living nightmare. You have too many drinks and suddenly, for an unspecified spell, the mere shell of yourself takes over — and unlike you, he isn’t worried at all about how he’s perceived. The next morning, the self-conscious you returns, just in time to be mortified.

The last night of 2012 was the first time I invoked “special occasion” status and exceeded the three-to-four-drink limit. I guzzled heartily, keeping up with the other revelers, without ever crossing over into the murky headspace where that thundercloud starts disgorging behavioral bolts of lightning, and apologies are required. This minor victory gave me confidence, and over the next couple months there were plenty more like it — nights in which I stopped drinking right on schedule, brunches that didn’t turn into all-day affairs. This must be how normal people do alcohol, I thought.

But buoyed by my New Year’s Eve experience, “three to four drinks max” soon translated to “four drinks almost every time.” Meeting a friend for a drink or having wine with dinner rarely resulted in four rounds, but almost any given night out did, and that happened once or twice a week. Testing the elasticity of the rules, I got semantically Clintonian about what constituted a drink — with two beers equaling one whiskey. The program had devolved into fuzzy math. It began to feel like a formality to keep track or to even have a pre-set cutoff point at all, so I just stopped.

The first time a night got away from me was in March. Having a night “get away from you” is a euphemism for alcohol-induced partial amnesia. There was a big asterisk affixed to this instance, though. I’d flown in from Cannes on zero sleep the previous night. After a day spent in transit, I went immediately into drinks with friends. In the morning, I had no memory of how the night ended. There were assurances that “nothing bad happened,” as though not remembering weren’t bad enough. I wrote off the incident as a fluke, though, attributing it to a mixture of exhaustion and alcohol — and perhaps a soupçon of denial.

Not drinking at parties can make you feel like you’re not even there, but at least you still have agency. You’ll never be ambushed the next day with evidence of things you did or said; things that, in the light of day, make your skin crawl. You’ll never have to untag yourself from someone’s Facebook photo, and Memento a grotesque image into nonexistence, despite the fact that everyone else still knows it happened. Well, actually, even sober people have to do that last one sometimes.

In many ways, the rest of the year was an unqualified success. The novelty of drinking again took a long time to fade. While it lasted, a lot of totally ordinary situations took on the feel of social experiments. (“Hypothesis: If I meet X person at Y event and have Z to drink, how hard will it rock?”) There were drawbacks, of course. I’d gained several alcohol-pounds, spent a princely sum of alcohol-bucks, and left a regrettable impression or two. As far as changing from the person I was the previous Thanksgiving, though — I hadn’t. My writing career progressed, while I enjoyed the best romantic relationship I’ve ever been in, and I’d taken some memorable travels. Sobriety had provided the catalyst for changes that couldn’t be undone by drinking now — not unless I became some kind of Bukowski-style bar-monster, which I hadn’t. In other words, nothing terrible happened.

The first time a night got away from me without any asterisk whatsoever was at a holiday party a few weeks ago. I remember the party itself in full Technicolor panorama, and I remember leaving and getting into a cab afterward. I also remember bringing along a red Solo cup filled with accidentally double-spiked Adult S’mores beverage. Beyond that, it’s all a blur.

I woke up the next morning in a dead panic. It had happened! Exactly what I dreaded! The plane had crashed into the submarine, or whatever! My girlfriend assured me it wasn’t as bad as all that, though. According to her, I’d become a mushy broken record who danced when no music was even playing, but that it happened after we’d left the party. She teased me by dispensing sound bites in dribs and drabs throughout the day. Clearly, she was nowhere near as shaken up about it as I was, but some of the things she said made me want to cut out my tongue with hedge clippers, so that I could neither talk nor consume alcohol ever again.

I’d fucked up, for sure. Part of trial and error, though, is error. One day, it may sound unbelievably, heartbreakingly naïve to have written these words, but right now, what feels best is finding a way to continue drinking. If I give up alcohol again, it needs to be for the right reasons — like general health or the suspicion that I’ve formed a physical dependence — not as a stopgap for dealing with why I’m compelled to drink too much in the first place. My problems with alcohol are secondary to my omnivorous thirst for more everything. Abstaining from one won’t make the other go away. It’s a Band-Aid for a bullet wound.

Epiphanies lose their impact with repetition. Realizing you have a problem may be the first step to solving that problem, but unfortunately for those of us set in our ways — roughly everyone ever — it’s not the last step too. There are only so many times you can pat yourself on the back for concluding it’s time to make a change without following through to the finish. Not drinking for two and a half years gave me the gift of never having to think about controlling myself. Starting again brought back the recurring epiphany that I need to be more present and aware in all my appetites. I haven’t figured out exactly how yet, but maybe learning to do it with alcohol will force me to do it with everything.

Read more from the Fresh Starts series.

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The Dark Side Of America’s Redneck Reality TV Obsession

Television networks like TLC and MTV can’t keep mining poor rural Americans for show ideas and then act surprised when their stars implode.

Honey Boo Boo and Mama June. AP John Bazemore

When TLC’s Here Comes Honey Boo Boo — a spin-off featuring the family of Alana Thompson, one of the breakout stars of Toddlers & Tiaras — premiered in 2012, critics called it repellent and disturbing, which was not a completely unfair assessment: The family’s favorite meal is a mix of butter and ketchup that Honey Boo Boo’s mother, who is known as Mama June, microwaves into a red slime and pours on to spaghetti for the girls. They call it “sketti.”

It was also a show, however, about a family that enjoyed spending time together and, despite their issues, seemed to genuinely love each other. The majority of the episodes are shockingly mundane — as the show goes on Alana doesn’t even do beauty pageants very often. It seems like the only really outrageous thing about Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was that TLC had the gall to a let poor family from Georgia show the rest of the country how they lived. American audiences gawked along at a family that hung out in garbage dumps and ate roadkill. Its first season was one of TLC’s highest-rated shows ever.

But gawking at the real lives of rednecks is only entertaining if it’s not too real. The news that Mama June is dating convicted sex offender Mark McDaniel was a bridge too far; TLC canceled the show last week, shelving an entire completed new season of episodes. TMZ also learned that TLC is offering to pay for counselors and tutors for the children. The day after the show was canceled, Alana’s sister Anna — now 20 — claims she was allegedly sexually assaulted by McDaniel when she was 8 years old. She told People magazine that McDaniel “would try and touch me and all that stuff.”

It’s an extreme case, but this isn’t even the first legal issue for Mama June; in 2008, she was charged with theft of child support payments. None of this legal murkiness is that unusual in the pantheon of hillbilly reality television, which takes as its starting point the premise that it’s OK to watch poor (usually white) people from the American heartland struggle to cope with the realities of modern life.

The phenomenon hit its stride in 2012, when Duck Dynasty, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, and Buckwild all came out within months of each other, and followed on the heels of the success of shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom, and Toddlers and Tiaras. All of these shows raise the same question: With 45 million Americans living below the poverty line, are we supposed to laugh at these people, pity them, or relate to them? Why — when several of these shows have imploded under the weight of their subjects’ own struggles — do they keep getting made? Is the pressure of being the “right kind of redneck” too much to bear?

Universal Studios



America has long been comfortable laughing at hillbillies. The hugely popular Ma and Pa Kettle films of the late ’40s and ’50s were spun out from a 1946 film adaptation of a rural slice-of-life novel called The Egg and I. In their first movie, the Kettles and their 15 children move to a modern home and struggle to learn how to live with all the expensive gadgets Pa Kettle wins in a tobacco slogan-writing contest.

There ended up being 10 Kettle films in total, and at the height of their popularity, Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride — the actors who played the titular Ma and Pa Kettle — were the biggest stars in the country.

The Beverly Hillbillies were no different. Paul Henning created the show for CBS in 1962, based on his experiences living in the Ozarks. The show was panned by critics, but became one of the most popular TV shows ever made. Henning went on to make two spin-offs for CBS, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.

CBS then doubled down on hillbilly/rural America-based programming so heavily — including the shows Hee-Haw, The Jackie Gleason Show, Mayberry R.F.D. — that by the late ’60s, the network had earned the nickname “The Country Broadcasting Network.” The oversaturation led to backlash, and CBS began its “rural purge,” canceling 15 shows between 1970-1971. Not even Lassie was spared.

But the famous pop culture hillbillies of 20th century were actors reading from scripts. Their versions of poverty and ignorance ended when the episode was over. It was safe. Today, the real Pa Kettles and Jed Clampetts of the world are speaking directly to people like them. But when you take real Americans who’ve been living under the poverty line and pull them into the pop culture spotlight, the dark reality of what it means to be poor in America comes with them.

Brenna Gaskin, a contestant on Toddlers and Tiaras. TLC

In his book Hillbilly: A Cultural History of an American Icon (Oxford University Press, 2005), author Anthony Harkins argues that American pop culture becomes obsessed with rural hillbilly culture during moments of economic tension, and mass media rednecks help the American middle class blow off some steam and feel a little more secure: “Well, at least I don’t have it as bad as those people.” Harkins’ theory corresponds roughly with the rise of the “hicksploitative” reality TV phenomenon of the last five years, although it might downplay the transformative effect of having a marginalized group be represented on TV, and it’s a bit of an oversimplification to write off the popularity of something like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or Duck Dynasty as merely an exploitative guilty pleasure for the middle class.

TLC premiered Toddlers and Tiaras and MTV premiered 16 and Pregnant in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. Both shows are unnervingly similar — even down to the format. Take two or three young women, who are usually from lower-middle-class towns in the American South or Midwest, and then follow them around as they either have a baby or compete in a toddler beauty pageant.

They were huge hits and spun off into their own reality franchises, with dozens of imitators on a diverse array of cable networks. It’s not surprising: The shows are cheap to produce and give a viewer an addictive mix of schadenfreude, existential horror, anthropological fascination — a feeling of “I might have it bad right now, but at least I’m not a pregnant teenager crying in a Burger King parking lot in Georgia or a pageant mom hot-gluing rhinestones on my 4-year-old in the lobby of an Alabama Hotel Marriott.”

MTV’s short-lived Buckwild is a good watershed moment in the new era of hillbilly reality shows. It followed nine young people from Charleston, West Virginia. It was marketed as a “redneck Jersey Shore.” It caused national outrage. In one episode the stars shoot a potato gun at each other; in another they fill the bed of a dump truck with water and jump into it from the second-story window of a house. Most episodes end with the cast getting blackout drunk at a house party and fighting each other until the police have to intervene.

The outrage wasn’t surprising. The Buckwild cast took the American redneck lifestyle to its logical endpoint: mouth-gaped yokels literally sitting naked in the mud, drunk on moonshine, and having sex with each other. But living that way isn’t sustainable.

The cast of Buckwild. MTV

In February 2013, Buckwild cast member Salwa Amin was arrested by police during a drug raid and charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. Amin pled guilty and was sentenced to one to five years in prison in January 2014. A few days after Amin’s arrest, cast member Michael “Bluefoot” Burford was arrested for an aggravated DUI.

Buckwild wasn’t canceled, however, until the death of 21-year-old breakout star Shain Gandee, who was fired from his job as a sanitation worker several months before filming. In April 2013, Gandee’s body was discovered, along with the bodies of his uncle David Gandee, and friend Donald Robert Myers, in their truck. An autopsy ruled that Gandee, his uncle, and Myers died of carbon monoxide poisoning after their truck got stuck in the mud while the three were off-roading.

That same year, though, other networks were having issues with their authentic hillbilly stars being a little too authentic.

Phil Robertson, family patriarch of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, was given an indefinite suspension by A&E after calling “homosexual behavior” sinful in a GQ interview in December. A&E had to release a statement saying that Robertson’s views were personal ones and didn’t reflect the company’s views on homosexuality. Robertson was reinstated by A&E nine days later. A few months after, in July, Joann Wells, star of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding spin-off Gypsy Sisters, was arrested for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars from Target. TLC refused to comment on the incident. In August, Will Hayden, a cast member on the Discovery Channel’s Sons of Guns, was arrested and charged with repeatedly raping a child. Discovery canceled the show after Hayden’s arrest.

Phil Robertson speaks during the 2014 Republican Leadership Conference on May 29, 2014. Getty Images Justin Sullivan

The legal troubles of reality stars are not exclusive to rednecks, obviously. Stars from the Real Housewives franchises, Mob Wives, and Jersey Shore have seen their fair share of controversy. But those shows, unlike their hillbilly counterparts, are far more interested in excess and cartoonish party culture.

And the appeal of this new wave of redneck reality TV is more complicated than just middle-class viewers gawking at the poor. There are just as many — if not more — viewers tuning in to see families that actually look like them depicted on television. A lot of people genuinely love Duck Dynasty — it’s a ratings powerhouse and launched a book that sold more than a million copies on Amazon. The show has 8 million Facebook fans. People are not watching Duck Dynasty out of a mean, snarky irony. It’s also safe to assume a lot of their fans share the same religious values as the fundamentalist Christian cast.

The problems arise when these authentic hillbilly “real-life characters” start acting in a way offscreen that doesn’t comport with the relatively safe, contained version we see of them on-screen. You’re going to have a problem if you’re trying to re-create The Beverly Hillbillies with real people — people who are currently fighting a serious meth problem, don’t believe in evolution, and are mired in poverty. Their issues don’t vanish under a spotlight — they usually get worse.

The reality-TV hillbilly isn’t going away any time soon. This week MTV is premiering a new show called Slednecks, which has been described as “Buckwild in Alaska.” In the trailer there are scenes of naked skiing, backwoods keggers, and drunk guys in diapers chopping wood. Hopefully there won’t be another Shain Gandee or Jenelle Evans or Mama June — but it also doesn’t seem too unlikely.

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This Massive ‘Jack-O’-Lantern Blaze’ Will Put Your Halloween Plans To Shame

There are all sorts of ways you can get intothe spooky Halloween spirit.

You can go pumpkin picking with bae, hit up a scary haunted house or, you know, visit a magical manor thats filled with a mind blowing amount ofimpressive jack-o-lanterns.

Tale of The Girl Who Literally Couldn’t Even

Allow me to introduce you to the Great Jack OLantern Blaze.

Each year, a team of dedicated artists and volunteers turn the grounds of Van Cortlandt Manor in Croton-On-Hudson (a suburb of NYC) into a festive Halloween scene by transforming thousands of pumpkins into spooky jack-o-lanterns that look lit AF.

The jack-o-lanterns are used to make a variety ofmesmerizing sculptures that range from skeletons and witches to monsters and ghosts that come life once the sun goes down.

If youwalk through the flickering pumpkin arch inVan Cortlandt Manor

youll immediately find yourself in a spooky pumpkin-filled world that is like no other.

This mesmerizing manor may look like something straight out of Halloweentown

But dont let the abundance of scary Halloween creatures fool you

itsjust the annual Great Jack OLantern Blaze.

Each year, a team of talented artists painstakinglycarve 10,000 pumpkins

and turn them into all sorts of next level jack-o-lanterns in honor of Halloween.

The stunningpumpkin sculpturesfeatureeverything from beguiling bee hives

And frightening flowers

To spooky spider webs

and whimsical witches.

This years enchanting installation alsohas a pumpkinrendition of the Tapanzee bridge

And a headless horseman-inspired covered bridge

That houses an insane pumpkin planetarium

filled with a dazzling display of shooting stars.

Plus, there are also prehistoric pumpkin creatures

Dreadful monsters from the deep

Haunted Halloween trains

and spine-chilling skeletons that will put the jack-o-lantern on your front stoop to shame.

Tale of the Deadly Walk of Shame

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Oh, you drink diet soda? You must be so healthy

Oh, you drink diet soda? You must be so healthy

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Study Concludes That Women Who Squirt During Sex Are Actually Peeing

When aroused, some women may experience squirting, or a rather noticeable discharge of fluid. What it is exactly and where it comes from has been hotly debated: female ejaculation or adult bedwetting? Researchers are now saying that squirting is essentially involuntary urination.

Female ejaculate is technically the small amount of milky white fluid that’s expressed when climaxing, New Scientist explains. Squirting, on the other hand, results in a much larger gush of a clear fluid, which comes from the urethra, the duct where urine is conveyed from the bladder. The findings, which combine biochemical analyses with pelvic ultrasounds, were published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine on Christmas Eve.

A French team led by Samuel Salama from Hopital Privé de Parly II recruited seven healthy women—who’ve reported recurrent and massive fluid emission (enough to fill a cup) during sexual stimulation—to undergo “provoked sexual arousal.” The team conducted pelvic ultrasound scans after urination and during sexual excitation just before and after the squirting event. 

All of the women had empty bladders before sexual excitation, however, urine collected just before squirting showed that the bladder was filling up. Urine sampled after squirting revealed that the bladder had been emptied again, revealing the origin of the squirted liquid. 

The researchers also analyzed chemical concentrations in the urine samples (before arousal and after squirting) as well as the squirting sample itself. These included urea, uric acid, creatinine (a byproduct of muscle metabolism), and prostatic-specific antigen (PSA). The latter is a protein that’s produced in men’s prostate glands and in the “female prostate” called the Skene glands; PSA is found in “true” female ejaculate. Urea, uric acid, and creatinine concentrations were comparable in all of the urine and squirt samples. However, PSA, which was not detected before sexual simulation in six of the women’s urine samples, were present in urine collected after squirting and in the squirt sample in five of the women.

Squirting, they found, is essentially the involuntary emission of urine during sexual activity—though there’s also a small contribution of prostatic secretions as well. Salama’s team is now working on a protocol to test whether the kidneys work faster to produce urine during sexual stimulation than at other times, New Scientist explains. And if so, why.

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Did Your Pet Scratch Your Leather? Get Clippers…You Might Be Able To Fix It!

My dog went through a mean chewing phase.

On second thought, if I leave her for more than an hour or two, she reverts back to that bad puppy habit. Because of this knowledge, I never buy any nice furniture. But if you had a beautiful statement piece before you brought a fur baby into your home — say a beautiful leather sofa or chair — and they’ve put a dent in its soft skin, read on.

With just some hair clippers and leather cleaner, you can make you leather furniture look like nothing ever happened…here’s how.

Grab some clippers and put them on the shortest setting. Trim all the excess leather scraps.

Then use some good leather cleaner — test it on a small area first.

This YouTuber suggests Meguiar’s Gold Class Leather Cleaner.

After rubbing it in…

It’s almost like new!

I guess I can actually own nice things after all! What a genius trick…and way cheaper than buying a whole new couch.

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The Funniest Woman In Hollywood Is In Search Of Her Next Big Role

As Season 10 of It’s Always Sunny gears up, Olson looks ahead to what a life after Sweet Dee would be like. Sometimes I’m like, Oh well, they just wanted a young pretty person, rather than a funny person.”

Kaitlin Olson is hating having her picture taken right now. The 39-year-old star of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia doesn’t say this out loud, but it’s not hard to tell that she is deeply, deeply uncomfortable — though she’s nowhere near as awkward in her own skin as her character Sweet Dee, a caustic and narcissistic would-be thespian, on the FX (and now FXX) cult comedy. “Could you play a bit with the tree?” the photographer gently asks her.

It’s an unusually warm Friday afternoon, and Olson is standing in the backyard of her contemporary Sherman Oaks home. The lawn is sprawling, with a trampoline on one end and a pool at the other; toy cars and pint-sized seats, the cast-offs of her two young children, litter one corner. A stylist fixes Olson’s hair as she begrudgingly twists her fingers through the tree’s branches. “Just hanging out, touching my tree,” Olson says out loud, to no one in particular. “You like photo shoots? It’s pretty great, standing by yourself, taking photos.”

For a seasoned actor like Olson — who’s been working consistently for the past 15 years in comedy roles, turning up on Curb Your Enthusiasm as Becky, Cheryl’s loud and opinionated sister; as Mimi’s vengeful nemesis, Traylor, on The Drew Carey Show; and currently on New Girl as the free-spirited girlfriend of Jess’ dad — it’s surprising that she’s not used to the being the center of attention by now. But she’s decidedly not.

The truth is, though, that Olson feeling anxious about this interview and photo shoot is entirely understandable. She’s heading into a 10th season of Sunny, and while that’s a place any actor would envy being in, she’s also arriving at a crossroads in her career. As Sunny begins to wind down, Olson will soon be leaving a show on which she’s been a linchpin for 10 years, and will have to look around the corner to see what lies ahead for her career.

“Could you maybe relax your shoulders a bit more?” the photographer asks her, trying a different tack. “I don’t know,” Olson says, laughing at the word relaxed, “because I’m definitely not.”

Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

The biggest role in Olson’s career to date remains the 10 years she’s spent on Sunny as Deandra “Sweet Dee” Reynolds, a horrifying example of a human whose self-centered streak is often a driving force in the storyline. Such as in the Season 8 episode “The Gang Gets Analyzed,” when Dee’s therapist calls her out for lying about being the first choice as the female lead in The Notebook, and the episode ends with Dee repeating, “Tell me I’m good,” until her therapist finally relents. Or in a third season installment, “Dennis and Dee’s Mom Is Dead,” when Dee hears from a lawyer that she won’t be getting any inheritance, because she was “a mistake” (despite being Dennis’ twin), and her knee-jerk reaction is to dig up the grave so she can steal the jewelry off her mother’s dead body. But rather than be repulsed by her character’s more detestable nature, Olson has been able to connect with Dee.

“I can’t tell if I relate to her anymore or if I’m just so used to playing her and love her so much that it’s second nature,” Olson says. With the photographer and stylists gone, Olson finally seems more at ease, sitting at a long wooden outdoor table in her backyard and tucking her legs into her chest. “There’s a certain element of desperation and wanting people to like you… I was really shy. But I think because that was so sad for me when I was little, that it’s so hilarious and sad now, that I relate to that. I like this character’s way of handling it, way more than how I handled it. Which is, like, aggressively and angrily. Maybe it’s cathartic. I don’t know.”

“I was really proud to make Larry [David] laugh. The more I would yell at him the more he would laugh.”

And Olson not only relates to the idea of needing to fit in, but it’s something that’s apparent just from talking to Olson. Often she’ll end sentences with “I don’t know,” like she’s trying to take back what she just said in case you don’t like it. Several times, she stops herself from answering a question with “I don’t know if I can answer that question. I don’t want you to print anything I have to say,” or “I don’t know how to answer that, again, without having it in print sound like I’m being a real arrogant asshole.” Refusing to answer tough questions about Hollywood and her role in it proves doubly problematic though, and she softens the blow by pointing at the recorder and saying, “I’ll tell you when your thing’s off.”

That need to be liked started long before Olson made it to Hollywood, and it’s what initially led her to start performing. Olson grew up in perhaps the most un-Hollywood setting — on a six-acre farm in Oregon. Olson says her mom would whistle when it was time for dinner, and if you wanted a snack, you just ate out of the garden.

“Nobody was an actor,” Olson says of her family. “I started doing summer camp stuff in elementary school and loved doing the plays. I liked making people laugh. I remember that specifically, being really young and having my parents being in the audience and laughing. It wasn’t really a Oh, I’m the center of attention feeling, it was more Oh, I’m making them so happy right now feeling. I liked that.”

Olson — with Julie Payne, Cheryl Hines, and Paul Dooley — rails at Larry (Larry David) on Curb Your Enthusiasm HBO

That sense of accomplishment — of making someone happy — is what drove her to attend the University of Oregon and major in acting, and it’s what would eventually take her to Los Angeles to fully commit to her vocation. “I thought it was beautiful. It was so sunny. It’s so cloudy and gray and rainy in Oregon,” Olson says of moving to Los Angeles. “I didn’t understand how anyone could ever be sad or depressed here. It was so beautiful.”

She took classes at The Groundlings and eventually made it into the Sunday company. To support herself, Olson worked three jobs: as a recruiter for a biotech company; as a receptionist in a hair salon; and as a salesperson at a boutique shop. “I worked hard,” Olson says. That determination paid off when she landed an audition for Larry David’s HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm. “I’m not the ballsiest person, so I was very proud of myself for getting it,” Olson says. “I was really proud to make Larry laugh. The more I would yell at him the more he would laugh. Which was really fantastic. I loved that.”

Patrick McElhenney/©FXX / courtesy Everett Collection

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia originally started as a “writing exercise,” according to Rob McElhenney, who made a $200 homemade video pilot with Charlie Day and Glenn Howerton in an apartment. That pilot then sold to FX in 2005, and was given a budget of $400,000, less than a third of the cost of a traditional network comedy. It was shot with the caveat that they’d need to reframe the original storyline from being centered on three actors in Los Angeles to a group of friends who tend bar in Philly.

According to Howerton, one of the show’s executive producers, who also plays Sweet Dee’s twin brother, Dennis Reynolds, on the show, Olson came up against some stiff competition for the role of the hilariously vulnerable Dee; the final two actors considered were Olson and Kristen Wiig, according to Howerton, but in the end Olson landed it. (Wiig’s publicist did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

“I knew her work from seeing her in Curb,” Howerton tells BuzzFeed News. “We wanted to find somebody who could be as funny as the guys, and we felt a lot of times in comedies, girls are so often relegated to the ‘oh, you guys’ role.”

Day, who fans know best as the ever-screaming and always emotionally unstable Charlie Kelly, echoes the sentiment that casting Olson was a no-brainer.

“We were blown away by how funny she was,” says Day. “I can’t think of an overall impression other than our general excitement that we found someone who was really right for this part.”

Oddly enough, it was McElhenney — to whom Olson is now married — who was less than convinced about her. During the audition, Olson accidentally left out a critical line in the script they’d given her, and McElhenney was nonplussed, to say the least.

Howerton and Olson in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia FX

“I left the room and Rob was like, How did she leave out the funniest line that was in there? and he didn’t want to cast me,” Olson says. “Rob, who I’ve now married, had to be talked into hiring me.”

The first time Olson and McElhenney met was during her audition, and despite any apprehension he had, she was cast as Dee, and the show premiered in 2005. Somewhere during filming Season 2, the pair started dating, though they wouldn’t officially come out as a couple until the show’s third season.

“Literally, the stupidest thing you can do in the entertainment industry is start dating your co-star on a television series that’s expected to continue,” McElhenney says in a phone interview. “Potentially, we could’ve ruined the dynamic of the TV series, but we jumped in anyway. I guess because I started to fall in love with her.” His voice softens as he says it.

They married in 2008 and have two sons, Axel (age four) and Leo (age two).

Mary Elizabeth Ellis, who plays The Waitress on Sunny and is married to Charlie Day in real life, first met Olson when they were on a flight to shoot the pilot. “The guys flew to Philly early, and I flew on a flight with Kaitlin,” Ellis explains. “We had a lot of cocktails together and were like, OK, you’re great, we’re going to be best friends.”

Ellis vividly remembers the moment when she found out Olson and McElhenney were dating. It was during a press junket, and they all sat down in a hotel room. “They were like, ‘We have something to tell you guys,’ and Kaitlin just starts crying and says, ‘I love him. I love him so much, you guys. He’s such a great person. We don’t want you guys to be mad at us because we’re dating and on the show,’” Ellis says, laughing. “It just made us laugh so hard, because it was such a funny way to reveal that they were dating for the first time. They’re just so great together.”

Patrick McElhenney/FX

None of this would have happened if Olson had chosen not to take the role of Sweet Dee, which she considered in those early days.

The character was written as the typical straight man, which Olson had no interest in playing. “There were three episodes that were already written that I had to do that were just very like, ‘You guys. Come on, you guys. That’s stupid, you guys,’” Olson says. “But I was very clear about not wanting to do that.” (“I don’t think we did a great job writing her character the first season,” Howerton says.)

It speaks to Olson’s character that she wasn’t willing to just simply lay down and read the lines she was dealt; she took an active role in shaping the character and how she wanted to play Dee. “She pulled Rob aside, because he was the showrunner, and said she didn’t want to do the show if her character wasn’t funny,” Howerton says.

Olson only took the role after many conversations with McElhenney about how the character of Dee would be shaped. “He was like, ‘Look, we just don’t know how to write for a woman, but we’ll figure it out,’” Olson says. “And I was like, ‘Well then, don’t write for a woman. Just write — look at all these great funny characters you wrote. Just write one of those. I’ll make it female.’”

Despite initial character setbacks, the Dee of the past nine seasons is hilarious, and the most physically comedic role on the show. (Witness her free-form dance moves.) Dee’s actions don’t fall victim to the conventions usually dealt to women in comedy. Dee was Bridesmaids before there even was a Bridesmaids. She is crude beyond belief at times. She flails her arms and spits venomous, half-baked threats at anyone within earshot. She falls — a lot — and fake-vomits so convincingly that it’s become a running gag on the show. “I’ve never heard somebody do a gag so funny,” Howerton says. “You know, suppressing puke, it’s just a weird gift she has.”

Olson runs head-first into a parked car on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia FX

In the second season episode “Charlie Gets Crippled,” Olson wears a back brace and hobbles on crutches as she drags her legs behind her. In “Who Pooped The Bed?” she runs out of a shoe store in stilettos and slams headfirst into a car so hard that there’s a dent, a stunt Olson performed without a stunt double.

“We had a stuntwoman do it, and it didn’t look very real, and then Kaitlin did it, and actually ran into the car, probably almost breaking her neck,” Day says with a laugh. “It’s just one of the funniest moments of physical comedy I think in the history of the show.”

Olson furrows her brows as she stares across the lawn. “I don’t want the stunt double to do it, unless it’s like a quick thing, because that’s part of the acting. I want to do that,” she says. “There’s a lot of acting that happens in between the running out and the head-hitting.”

The only problem is that Olson is extremely clumsy. “If there is a tack on the floor, she will step on it,” Howerton says. During the filming of Sunny, Olson has broken her back, her foot, her heel, and while on set, she fell through a floorboard and ripped her calf open on a metal spike.

“Our idea of Dee was not as physical as Kaitlin is,” McElhenney says. “It’s something we sort of found with the way she carries herself.”

Olson sighs. “I’m very long,” she says. “I’m very unaware of how long my limbs are and I bash into things a lot, and Rob makes fun of me a lot… I’ll do something and Rob will tell me to do it again and I didn’t even know it was funny.”

Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

Olson is, as Howerton says, nothing like her Sweet Dee character, though fans of the show often have a hard time accepting that. “They assume I’m drunk and loud and that I want to do shots and stay up all night,” she says, laughing.

The home that Olson shares with McElhenney is immaculate, despite the fact that they have two children under the age of four. When her youngest, Leo, comes home from school, her entire face lights up and she wraps him in a warm hug before excusing herself to put him down for a nap. And an ideal Friday evening is one spent at home, according to both Olson and McElhenney. “A perfect night is coming home, having dinner, putting the kids to bed, and opening a bottle of wine and watching Game of Thrones,” McElhenney says.

Olson is often described by those who know her as nurturing and protective — “I think of her as a lioness,” McElhenney says. “She’s extremely protective of her children, like I fear oftentimes for my life if I cross a line. I’m afraid she’s going to snap my fucking neck. The way a female lion might with her cubs.” — very un-Dee qualities. She was “raised by hippies” in Oregon (McElhenney’s words) and cooks organic food, grows herbs in her garden, and uses homeopathic remedies.

“My motherhood life is sort of private … it’s so special to me I don’t want it attacked or to have that part be annoying to people.”

“She’ll pick something from the garden to heal a wound and it will magically disappear,” her friend and fellow actor Tricia O’Kelley (of Gilmore Girls and Devious Maids) says. Day: “In the 10 years that we’ve been doing [the show], I don’t think I’ve ever seen her get a cold. That’s quite an accomplishment.”

Her weakness is watching any of the Real Housewives shows, and she says that if she ever does get time to relax, she’ll check into a hotel nearby to “literally just order room service with a girlfriend and get massages and drink wine and watch Bravo.”

And because her private life is so starkly different from her television persona, she tends to keep it under wraps. “I feel like people only want to hear me say funny things. Like, I don’t tweet about my kids or being a mom ever, because I’m very aware that that’s annoying for people to hear,” Olson says. “So everything is true, but I just feel like my motherhood life is sort of private, because it’s so special to me I don’t want it attacked or to have that part be annoying to people.”

And everyone around Olson mentions how her role as a mother is an enormous part of her identity. “Motherhood has changed her a lot for sure, it’s by far her number one priority is those children,” O’Kelley says. “Everything else comes in a distant second. Her family as a whole — Rob, their marriage — her family is her priority.”

When asked what he sees as being next for Olson, her husband agrees that while her career is a priority, family will always come first for them. “She would love to build out a movie career and see what’s next in television,” McElhenney says. “But I do know the thing that’s most important to her now is to make sure these boys are raised well.”

Olson concurs. “Parenthood has become number one,” she says. “So I’ll only take something if it fits in, and if it doesn’t interfere with my ability to be a good mom. And that’s the truth and that’s how it will always be, because I feel that.”

Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

Motherhood might be Olson’s priority at this point, but acting is a very real and large part of her world. “I would love to do more film,” she says at one point. “I really like TV, but yeah, in the interests of doing something different I would love to do more films.” She pulls at her silk shirt. “I’m not having any more babies. I want to work.”

In a year when Time named 2014 the “Best Year for Women Since the Dawn of Time,” it’s still a year where female-led comedy shows like Selfie, Super Fun Night, and Trophy Wife were canceled. And a year in which the most anticipated female-driven comedies — Tammy, Obvious Child, and They Came Together — made a very small dent in the film landscape. Obvious Child grossed just $3.1 million at the box office, and They Came Together grossed under $1 million. While Tammy was a financial success, making close to $100 million at the box office, if you compare that to male-driven buddy comedies like 22 Jump Street (which grossed close to $200 million), there seems to be a disconnect between what Hollywood is offering and what Americans are seeing.

“Look, I’m never going to understand what Middle America wants, because I’m on a show that Middle America doesn’t necessarily like, but I think is really funny,” Olson says, wrapping her arms across her chest. “I think there’s definitely a shift, and no one’s funnier than Melissa McCarthy and she’s doing really well, you know, so hopefully.”

Sasha Roiz and Olson on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia FX

Whether or not middle America likes Sunny or Olson, there does seem to be a shift happening. Ellen DeGeneres hosting the 2014 Oscars led to an 8% increase in viewership, and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have hosted the Golden Globes for the past three years, but is that enough? “For sure, there’s not enough funny roles for women in Hollywood, period,” Howerton says. “I’m happy to say that we personally — in Sunny and other things that we’re working on and have written — always try to make it a priority to write funny female roles.”

Even if what Olson and Howerton say is true — that Middle America doesn’t like the kind of comedy Olson wants to do, and there aren’t enough comedic roles for women in general — what does that mean for Olson as she leaves Sunny to explore other roles? Where do you go when the film and television landscape isn’t in your favor?

Olson doesn’t seem entirely sure, other than that she’d like to try out a character who isn’t quite so heightened and extreme as Dee. “I don’t know that I want to do something super dramatic. Our show and our characters are so heightened; I would like to do a more realistic person, who’s going through something really hard, but deals with it in a humorous way,” she says. But at the moment, those aren’t the parts she’s being offered.

“What I get a lot of is ‘We know you can make this funny.’ Stuff that’s like, it’s OK, but then I’m supposed to make it funny,” Olson says. “It’s a great compliment… But I don’t know if I’m interested in taking something that’s OK and being the one that’s responsible for making it funny.”

“I think a lot of men are scared to act opposite a woman who is as funny as they are.”

When asked why she thinks she hasn’t been offered more roles at this point, Olson says, “Sometimes I’m like, oh well, they just wanted a young pretty person, rather than a funny person. That’s discouraging, because there’s nothing I can do about that.” Olson pauses, and then softens the blow with, “I love my job. I got really lucky. I love my character and this circumstance, but it is a little confusing why, in my off time, I’m not doing more. I can’t really blame it on ‘oh well, I’m pregnant’ anymore.”

The actors who have worked with Olson know what she’s capable of, and vehemently speak of her potential. “I’m pissed off at the world that she’s not a giant movie star,” Ellis says of Olson. “I just think she has so much to offer: She’s a great comedian but she’s also a great actress.”

For his part Howerton offered his own take. “I just think it’s a shame that she hasn’t been more recognized, and that more roles have not been thrown at her. I think a lot of men are scared to act opposite a woman who is as funny as they are, and who will give them a run for their money for being the funniest person in that project,” he says. “And I think a lot of times she doesn’t get cast in things because she’s so funny, and I think that’s fucked up.”

When asked if this was at all true, Olson appears hesitant to answer and seems borderline uncomfortable. She pauses before responding. “I hope not, but I feel like that’s happened a few times. I just hope that, if it is true, it starts to shift soon. Because it’s a shame. I don’t know if I can answer that question. I don’t want you to print anything I have to say.”

After a long pause — where she leans across the table, then sits back and re-tucks her legs into her chest — she says, “Yeah, I just, I love Glenn for saying that and for recognizing it, and, well, you know, Rob says all the time, he’s like, ‘Look. That must not be what America wants because if it were, you’d see more of it.’ People, women, want to see women being pleasant. But for some reason, we want to see men be really funny. I think that’s starting to change, you know, ever since Bridesmaids really. So that’s really awesome. I think that’s the part that I’ll focus on and just hang in there.”

During a time where Olson does have to consider and weigh every word she says, because those words could lead to her next big role or prevent her from landing it, it’s clear that she’s nervous about it all — about posing with the tree, how she’ll be perceived by viewers, and what people think of her, and wanting to be liked by an audience larger than the one she’s cultivated with Sunny. “I hope it’s not threatening for me to be as funny as I can be and work with a really funny man,” she says emphatically, straightening her posture and finally relaxing. “To me, that sounds like an amazing movie.”

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Why Gluten Is Not The Enemy

The other day, The New Yorker published a very long and thoughtful investigation into our national obsession with gluten, the seemingly evil grain protein found in wholesome and delicious foods like pizza and chicken tenders. Their conclusion? It’s not gluten, and it’s never been gluten. Gluten isn’t making you fat. Gluten isn’t making you sick (unless you actually have celiac disease (you don’t)). Gluten didn’t fuck your prom date behind your back.

Still, that won’t stop morons from claiming that gluten is killing us. So, since printing out that article isn’t really feasible (I mean who even has printers at home anymore right?), not to mention the fact that saying “Ugh, go read a New Yorker article” is about the douchiest way to correct someone, here are some common gluten-free talking points and how to shoot them the fuck down.

“Humans weren’t meant to eat grains!”

Dumb. So dumb. First of all, humans are omnivores – meaning we can eat just about anything, including each other. This argument comes from the paleo diet crowd, who tend to be close bedfellows with GF-nuts, anti-vaccers, and CrossFitters. They claim to be authorities on what humans ate in prehistoric times, despite almost none of them being trained as nutritional anthropologists. Yes, perhaps the earliest humans ate berries and dead animals because they were too dumb to produce anything more complicated, but we’ve had this little thing called “agriculture” for tens of thousands of years, and we haven’t gone extinct yet. Speaking of which…

“But human growth slowed because of agriculture and all that gluten!”

This is reasonable, if you’re the kind of person who liked to eat paste as a kid (and also the kind of kid whose parent bought them paste instead of the infinitely superior Elmer’s squeeze bottles). Yes, human skeletons dated to after the advent of agriculture tend to be smaller than their hunter-gatherer counterparts. Gee, seems kind of suspicious that the only people able to survive (and therefore breed) back then were the ones strong and athletic enough to LITERALLY KILL THEIR FOOD WITH THEIR BARE HANDS, doesn’t it? Agriculture also allowed the population to explode and civilization to flourish. That meant that things like intelligence and resources took precedence over size and strength for mating purposes, and there just weren’t enough towering Adonis-types to impregnate all the chicks. People were bound to get smaller. Oh, by the way – humans are the tallest on average we’ve EVER been, thanks to agriculture and gluten. Actually, screw agriculture – I’m crediting gluten. Gluten is literally the only reason you’re alive right now.

“But wheat has more gluten in it now!”

No. The New Yorker article found this to not be the case, at all. Sorry, you’d have to print that part out and show it to them, I guess. This doesn’t even make sense, if you think about it. There are lots of ways to genetically modify food, but there’s no tangible benefit to engineering wheat DNA to produce more gluten.

“Even if the wheat’s the same, we’re eating more of it!”

Who is, and in what context? If you go back 700 years, people were eating a LOT more grains. Hell, they were practically eating nothing but grains. Meat would have been prohibitively expensive for all but the wealthiest people. fruits and vegetables, sure, you had whatever was around, but anyone who’s bought produce from Trader Joe’s knows that shit goes bad within, like, 15 minutes of getting it home. Wheat flour and other grain products are cheap, easy to make and have a long shelf life. If anything, we’re eating fewer grains now than we ever have in the past.

“But I feel better since I’ve stopped eating gluten!”

I’m sure you do, you fad-dieting weenie. Odds are, when you gave up gluten, it was less about the protein itself and more about the foodstuffs that contain it. That means you gave up beer, late-night pizza, submarine sandwiches the size of a child, practically anything breaded and fried, etc. Chances are you also went on a health kick and started eating boring food like kale and boiled chicken. In other words, you stopped eating shit and started eating wholesome, real foods, which is the only reasonable thing anyone can say about the way people “ought” to eat. Saying that the removal of gluten from your diet is the reason you feel better is like saying that cutting out syringes is the reason you’re no longer addicted to heroin.

“But celiac disease diagnoses are on the rise!”

They sure are. You know what else is on the rise, and has been for some time now? Modern fucking medicine. 20 years ago, scientists wondered why celiac disease was so uncommon in the U.S. versus Europe. Turns out, it wasn’t – it was just severely underdiagnosed. Today it’s estimated that 0.71% of the U.S. population has the disease, which is actually a good thing – that translates to about 2.2 million people who are, y’know, getting the medical attention they need.

“Ok well I know I don’t have celiac disease, but I do have a gluten sensitivity!”

No, you don’t. Who told you that? Was it a gastroenterologist? Because if not, it’s likely that you’ve been receiving nutritional and medical advice from someone not qualified to give it, like a chiropractor, your pastor, a psychologist or your mom. Your mom doesn’t know shit. There is just no evidence that non-celiac gluten sensitivity exists, despite many attempts to identify it.


I think that covers it, though I’m sure there will be no shortage of idiots in the comments to tell me otherwise. Why, if it’s so absurd, are we so obsessed with gluten? It’s not making us fat – lack of exercise and eating way too much shitty food accounts for that – and it’s not making any but a tiny handful of us sick, so why all the fuss? Like any other fad diet, it boils down to human nature and human stupidity: It is our prerogative to stuff our faces with the most calorie-dense things we can find, because our bodies are too dumb to realize that the “lean times” will never come. Just as with the “low-fat” craze in the 80s and 90s, we convince ourselves that something is “bad” because it’s a lot easier than having the willpower to say no to that 4th doughnut.

Eat foods that contain gluten – just in moderation, as a reasonable person would with all foods. The only reason to contribute to the mind-bogglingly huge gluten free food market is, I dunno, I guess if your dad’s an executive at a GF food manufacturer. Just kidding – you have no idea who your dad is.

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