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14 Facts About Reality Bites

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Reality Bites showed audiences how early-twentysomethings in the mid-1990s spent most of their time basing their personal ethos around the term “selling out” and suffering (Big Gulp-aided) brain cramps from self-rationalizing the hypocrisy of keeping “superficial” jobs to pay the bills. Winona Ryder played Lelaina, an aspiring documentarian who films her roommates and then has the video aired (with exploitative gloss) by her network executive boyfriend Michael Grates, a role played by first-time feature film director Ben Stiller. Ethan Hawke played the caustic irony-pointer-outer lost boy Troy, with support from Steve Zahn and Janeane Garofalo.

1. THE WRITER OF THE MOVIE NEVER WANTED TO BE A SCREENWRITER.

In 1994, Reality Bites screenwriter Helen Childress told Entertainment Weekly that she had “no interest in screenwriting. I wanted to be a poet. But poets don't make any money.” So she wrote a script all the same about people in their 20s in the early 1990s, which is exactly what producer Michael Shamberg was looking for. Childress was 24 years old when the film was released on February 18, 1994.

2. BEN STILLER MADE SOME KEY CHANGES TO CHILDRESS’ SCRIPT.

Stiller believed the script to be “extremely funny,” but tweaked it anyway. “Originally, it was much more about all the characters in the movie,” he said in an interview around the time of the film’s release. “Janeane’s character, Vickie, and Steve’s character, Sammy, and Ethan’s character, Troy; all their stories were much more fleshed out. I felt like I couldn’t really bring all those stories together; couldn’t really tell them all fully, so I just wanted to make it more about Lelaina and her relationship with Troy.” He also changed the character he ended up playing, Michael Grates, from a 35-year-old ad man attempting to make Japanese candy bars popular in the United States to a twentysomething executive for In Your Face TV.

3. TRISTAR PICTURES CHANGED ITS MIND ABOUT MAKING THE MOVIE.

In 1993, the studio also eventually said no to Pulp Fiction. Made for $11.5 million, Reality Bites would end up being released by Universal Pictures, after Stiller claimed they were “turned down by everybody” else because twentysomething coming-of-age movies such as Singles (1992) didn’t make enough money.

4. WINONA RYDER ADVOCATED HARD FOR ETHAN HAWKE AND JANEANE GAROFALO.

Winona Ryder had seen Ethan Hawke in the World War II drama A Midnight Clear (1992), and subsequently pushed for him to play Troy. Despite working with Stiller earlier on The Ben Stiller Show (1993), Garofalo said she didn’t know if she would have been cast as Vickie without Ryder’s high opinion of her.

5. GWYNETH PALTROW, PARKER POSEY, AND ANNE HECHE AUDITIONED FOR VICKIE.

Garofalo beat them out. In another interesting could-have-been, the part of Sammy came down to Steve Zahn and Noah Wyle (later of ER fame).

6. HAWKE PUT STEVE ZAHN ON THE PRODUCERS’ RADAR.

Hawke and Zahn co-starred in the play Sophistry. Hawke encouraged executive producer Stacey Sher to see Zahn for Sammy. “Tons of people read for the part and it was just once we saw Steve, we knew,” Sher told HitFix.

7. IT WAS EMMANUEL “CHIVO” LUBEZKI’S FIRST AMERICAN FILM.

The Mexico City-born Lubezki was brought in as the director of photography. “I was very young and I was inexperienced and coming to America and uncomfortable living here,” Lubezki recalled. “I didn't have many friends. I was just coming here to work. When I got this offer, I read the script, and I have to be honest, I barely understood the humor in the script. I didn't find it that funny. I found it more dramatic than funny.”

The language barrier was irrelevant; Childress later said his hard work made everyone look “gorgeous.” Shamberg believed the look of the film was a “kind of a romantic naturalism.” Last month, Lubezki pulled off an Oscar threepeat when he won his third consecutive Oscar for Best Cinematography for The Revenant (following wins for Birdman and Gravity).

8. ONE ORIGINAL TITLE WAS THE REAL WORLD.

It was nixed when MTV’s The Real World debuted.

9. GAROFALO WAS FIRED (“SORT OF”), AND RYDER FOUGHT FOR HER AGAIN.

“That was my first experience with a studio film,” Garofalo told The A.V. Club. “I didn't understand what was going to happen, or why the hours were so long. I know Ben was not thrilled with me there. He also didn't like my attitude during rehearsal, because I hate to rehearse. He sort of fired me, but luckily I was rehired because Winona stepped in on my behalf. Let's put it this way: I don't have a good work ethic.”

10. NONE OF THE COMPANIES MENTIONED IN THE MOVIE INSISTED ON A CHANGE IN THE SCRIPT.

“There is product placement in the movie, but I don’t have any problem with it because it never happened where they said ‘OK, you can put our product in but you have to change your script,’” Stiller reasoned. Diet Coke specifically was written into the script because Childress lived off of it.

11. HAWKE TURNED STILLER ON TO LISA LOEB.

Loeb had participated in Hawke’s theater company, writing music in New York City. Hawke sent her new song, “Stay,” to Stiller, who agreed it should be in the movie. After they were refused permission by Atlantic Records to use a song by The Lemonheads (fronted by Evan Dando, who appears in the film), “Stay” was slotted as the second song to play during the closing credits. The first and last music video Hawke directed would be “Stay.” Mostly because of the movie, Loeb achieved the rare distinction of being an unsigned artist with a number one single, a feat that wouldn’t be achieved again for another 19 years.

12. PETER FRAMPTON WASN’T THE FILMMAKER’S FIRST CHOICE.

"Baby I Love Your Way” was supposed to be a Beck tune.

13. THE FIRST TEST SCREENING DIDN’T GO WELL.

When the Berkeley, California audience saw the Universal logo, most of them booed.

14. THE REAL TROY SUED.

A Troy Dyer attended USC film school with Childress, became a financial consultant in Wisconsin, and sued in 2005 for defamation. Childress claimed Dyer gave her permission to use his name, because he was straight-laced and conservative—the total opposite of the character. The case was settled to “everyone’s mutual satisfaction,” according to Dyer.

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15 Confusing Plant and Animal Misnomers
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People have always given names to the plants and animals around us. But as our study of the natural world has developed, we've realized that many of these names are wildly inaccurate. In fact, they often have less to say about nature than about the people who did the naming. Here’s a batch of these befuddling names.

1. COMMON NIGHTHAWK

There are two problems with this bird’s name. First, the common nighthawk doesn’t fly at night—it’s active at dawn and dusk. Second, it’s not a hawk. Native to North and South America, it belongs to a group of birds with an even stranger name: Goatsuckers. People used to think that these birds flew into barns at night and drank from the teats of goats. (In fact, they eat insects.)

2. IRISH MOSS

It’s not a moss—it’s a red alga that lives along the rocky shores of the northern Atlantic Ocean. Irish moss and other red algae give us carrageenan, a cheap food thickener that you may have eaten in gummy candies, soy milk, ice cream, veggie hot dogs, and more.

3. FISHER-CAT

Native to North America, the fisher-cat isn’t a cat at all: It’s a cousin of the weasel. It also doesn’t fish. Nobody’s sure where the fisher cat’s name came from. One possibility is that early naturalists confused it with the sea mink, a similar-looking creature that was an expert fisher. But the fisher-cat prefers to eat land animals. In fact, it’s one of the few creatures that can tackle a porcupine.

4. AMERICAN BLUE-EYED GRASS

American blue-eyed grass doesn’t have eyes (which is good, because that would be super creepy). Its blue “eyes” are flowers that peek up at you from a meadow. It’s also not a grass—it’s a member of the iris family.

5. MUDPUPPY

The mudpuppy isn’t a cute, fluffy puppy that scampered into some mud. It’s a big, mucus-covered salamander that spends all of its life underwater. (It’s still adorable, though.) The mudpuppy isn’t the only aquatic salamander with a weird name—there are many more, including the greater siren, the Alabama waterdog, and the world’s most metal amphibian, the hellbender.

6. WINGED DRAGONFISH

This weird creature has other fantastic and inaccurate names: brick seamoth, long-tailed dragonfish, and more. It’s really just a cool-looking fish. Found in the waters off of Asia, it has wing-like fins, and spends its time on the muddy seafloor.

7. NAVAL SHIPWORM

The naval shipworm is not a worm. It’s something much, much weirder: a kind of clam with a long, wormlike body that doesn’t fit in its tiny shell. It uses this modified shell to dig into wood, which it eats. The naval shipworm, and other shipworms, burrow through all sorts of submerged wood—including wooden ships.

8. WHIP SPIDERS

These leggy creatures are not spiders; they’re in a separate scientific family. They also don’t whip anything. Whip spiders have two long legs that look whip-like, but that are used as sense organs—sort of like an insect’s antennae. Despite their intimidating appearance, whip spiders are harmless to humans.

9. VELVET ANTS

A photograph of a velvet ant
Craig Pemberton, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

There are thousands of species of velvet ants … and all are wasps, not ants. These insects have a fuzzy, velvety look. Don’t pat them, though—velvet ants aren’t aggressive, but the females pack a powerful sting.

10. SLOW WORM

The slow worm is not a worm. It’s a legless reptile that lives in parts of Europe and Asia. Though it looks like a snake, it became legless through a totally separate evolutionary path from the one snakes took. It has many traits in common with lizards, such as eyelids and external ear holes.

11. TRAVELER'S PALM

This beautiful tree from Madagascar has been planted in tropical gardens all around the world. It’s not actually a palm, but belongs to a family that includes the bird of paradise flower. In its native home, the traveler’s palm reproduces with the help of lemurs that guzzle its nectar and spread pollen from tree to tree.

12. VAMPIRE SQUID

Drawing of a vampire squid
Carl Chun, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This deep-sea critter isn’t a squid. It’s the only surviving member of a scientific order that has characteristics of both octopuses and squids. And don’t let the word “vampire” scare you; it only eats bits of falling marine debris (dead stuff, poop, and so on), and it’s only about 11 inches long.

13. MALE FERN & LADY FERN

Early botanists thought that these two ferns belonged to the same species. They figured that the male fern was the male of the species because of its coarse appearance. The lady fern, on the other hand, has lacy fronds and seemed more ladylike. Gender stereotypes aside, male and lady Ferns belong to entirely separate species, and almost all ferns can make both male and female reproductive cells. If ferns start looking manly or womanly to you, maybe you should take a break from botany.

14. TENNESSEE WARBLER

You will never find a single Tennessee warbler nest in Tennessee. This bird breeds mostly in Canada, and spends the winter in Mexico and more southern places. But early ornithologist Alexander Wilson shot one in 1811 in Tennessee during its migration, and the name stuck.

15. CANADA THISTLE

Though it’s found across much of Canada, this spiky plant comes from Europe and Asia. Early European settlers brought Canada thistle seeds to the New World, possibly as accidental hitchhikers in grain shipments. A tough weed, the plant soon spread across the continent, taking root in fields and pushing aside crops. So why does it have this inaccurate name? Americans may have been looking for someone to blame for this plant—so they blamed Canada.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

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That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

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This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

Buy at Cost Plus World Market.

8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

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Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

Buy on Live Infused.

18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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