TIME Travel

The 20 Most Beautiful Libraries in the World

George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Johns Hopkins University

Travel + Leisure has catalogued cutting-edge and historic libraries, from Australia to Vienna

George Peabody Library, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore

The Peabody Stack Room’s five-tier soaring atrium has wrought-iron balconies and columns so graceful that Nathaniel H. Morison, its first provost, called it a “cathedral of books.” It’s one of America’s most beautiful college libraries, with a setting so gorgeous that weddings and special events are often held here. Bibliophiles come not only for the design but to browse 18th- and 19th-century volumes of archaeology as well as British and American history and literature.

The Royal Library, Copenhagen, Denmark

Known as the Black Diamond, this neo-Modernist building was built in 1999 as an addition to the Royal Library’s original complex. Its striking steel, glass, and black granite structure contains a concert hall, a popular café, and exhibition spaces. The Black Diamond treats visitors to spectacular harbor views and a ceiling fresco by one of Denmark’s most famous artists, Per Kirkeby. Guided tours are available on Saturdays.

Clementinum, Prague

The baroque Library Hall, with its rare gilded globes and spectacular frescoes depicting science and art, is just one building in the vast Clementinum complex. Legend says the Jesuits had only one book when they started building the library in 1622; when they were done, the collection had swelled to 20,000 volumes. Labels on the bookshelves are original to the library’s opening, as are volumes with “whitened backs and red marks,” markers left by the Jesuits. Tours run daily.

Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janeiro

A group of far-from-home Portuguese immigrants banded together to create a Portuguese library in 1837, although construction on the Real Gabinete Português de Leitura didn’t get going until 1880. The neo-Manueline building’s limestone façade showcases Portuguese explorers like Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and Pedro Álvares Cabral in sculpture. The cathedral-like reading room has a stained-glass dome and wooden galleries. Its ornate bookshelves hold the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of the motherland. Open Monday to Friday.

Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

When the original library burned down in 1814, Thomas Jefferson seeded a new one with his own much broader collection of books. Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, stands guard in mosaic form above the main reading room, and scrolls, books, and torches pop up throughout the Library of Congress. Highlights include the main reading room, the Gutenberg Bible (one of 42 left in the world), and free classical concerts. Open Monday to Saturday.

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TIME Culture

Comic-Con Women Protest Sexual Harassment

Geeks of CONsent have collected more than 2,600 signatures

As more women get involved with San Diego Comic-Con, some are calling for its organizers to institute an official anti-sexual harassment policy at the convention. Three women from Philadelphia who founded Geeks for CONsent have collected more than 2,600 signatures on a petition that demands such rule changes.

Women have flocked to the Geeks of CONsent site to share stories of harassment, ranging from cat calling to groping to taking underskirt shots at the world’s biggest comic convention, which took place over the course of four days last weekend. Many of these women were participating in cosplay, or dressing up like a character from a comic book, movie or TV show and adopting that character’s personality and traits. “Unfortunately, some con-goers see women in costumes as just a part of the convention scenery and believe they are dressed up solely to attract male attention,” Geeks for CONsent writes on their site.

Geeks for CONsent emphasizes that “cosplay does not equal consent,” meaning that dressing up like a character (in a revealing costume or not) does not mean that women are inviting men to ogle or fondle them.

Even as thousands of women signed the petition this weekend, objectification continued to be a problem at the convention. Scantily clad women known as “booth babes” were still used by many organizations to attract visitors to their events, and panel host Craig Ferguson described costumed women as “vaguely slutty,” according to the New York Post.

Star Trek: The Next Generation actor and Comic-Con icon Wil Wheaton tweeted his support for the movement over the weekend:

San Diego Comic-Con believes that its rules sufficiently address the offending behavior in question. “Comic-Con has an explicit Code of Conduct that addresses harassing and offensive behavior,” said Comic-Con International in a statement on Sunday to the Associated Press. “This Code of Conduct is made available online as well as on page two of the Events Guide that is given to each attendee.”

But the Geeks for CONsent founders claim that the code of conduct is vague and does not specifically address sexual harassment. They also assert that staff members working at the convention need to be trained in how to handle sexual harassment complaints. San Diego Comic-Con’s code of conduct currently reads:

Attendees must respect common sense rules for public behavior, personal interaction, common courtesy, and respect for private property. Harassing or offensive behavior will not be tolerated. Comic-Con reserves the right to revoke, without refund, the membership and badge of any attendee not in compliance with this policy. Persons finding themselves in a situation where they feel their safety is at risk or who become aware of an attendee not in compliance with this policy should immediately locate a member of security, or a staff member, so that the matter can be handled in an expeditious manner.

The women of Geeks for CONsent point to Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. as a model of what sexual harassment rules at San Diego Comic-Con could look like. The convention responded to complaints last year by partnering with Geeks of CONsent to provide a team of people who could act as a resource to attendees who feel unsafe. Awesome-Con’s rules now say it has a “zero-tolerance policy against harassment, groping, stalking and inappropriate photography. Gender-based harassment doesn’t have to happen in the workplace to be unacceptable.”

TIME Iran

Despite a Crackdown, Iranian Fashion Keeps Pushing Boundaries

Iranian fashion
Tehran fashion houses are pushing boundaries in Tehran ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

In the latest case of Iranian authorities cracking down on fashion they deem “un-Islamic,” a famous clothing design institute called “Khaneh Mode” or Mode House was shut down last week in Tehran. The fashion designer had caused a controversy last month when it held a show with models wearing coats which appeared to be made of the Iranian flag—minus its religious symbols. Nor did it help that the show had allowed men among its audience, which violates conservative Islamic taboos.

This was followed by intense reaction from conservative politicians and religious groups, who cited the show as yet another violation of Islamic mores and traditions, which in turn forced the government to react. “This fashion show did not match the regulations of the Fashion and Clothes Management Workgroup and therefore we have taken legal action,” said Hamid Ghobadi, the workgroup’s secretary according to the official ISNA news agency. “The Khaneh Mode institute has been shut down until further notice.”

The workgroup, which was created by an enactment of parliament, is tasked with organizing Iran’s emerging fashion industry and making it compatible with Islamic standards. It is headed by a deputy minister of Iran’s Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance and its members are mostly government officials, with a handful of representatives from the fashion industry. Pictures of the show first emerged on Iranian websites in late June and showed men among the audience—until recently was unheard of in the Islamic Republic. The young female models, who wore white leggings, sported loose coats in the green, white and red tricolor of the Iranian national flag.

Iran’s fledgling fashion industry has begun to evolve in recent years, with shows on the rise. Most of these shows have permissions from the authorities but also underground shows are on the rise which depict more risqué dresses and even lingerie. However, until recently all shows for female clothes were held behind closed doors with no men allowed inside. The audience was also not permitted to take pictures or film.

Following the furor of religious and conservative groups the designers, Khaneh Mode immediately tried to do damage control with a statement on their website apologizing for having inadvertently offended anyone and reaffirming their commitment to “National and Islamic values.” Nonetheless, the authorities acted a few days later and shut them down.

Javid Shirazi, the director of the fashion house, told TIME in Tehran that that “we are completely committed to working within Iran’s native and Islamic framework and we tried to observe these in our show. Inviting men to view shows is permitted since last year so long as the clothes completely cover the body of models and models do not catwalk but walk in a normal and modest manner.”

The shutting down of the fashion house is just the latest instance of an endless tug of war between authorities and women in Iran, one that has been fought since an Islamic dress code was enforced in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution. This clash comes to the forefront every summer, when the latest female attire trends pick up with a tendency towards shorter and skimpier coats and ever tighter legwear, which has been epitomized this year in leggings.

The authorities react every year by escalating their “Morality Patrols.” The outcome is a cat and mouse game between more fashionably dressed women and the authorities. The results can be bizarre—women sporting trendy attire will sometimes take taxis from one side to the other side of squares and junctions just to bypass the morality police.

But over time the will of Iranian women has slowly but surely prevailed, with acceptable dress these days now far beyond the harsh codes of the first years of the revolution, when practically no makeup was tolerated and anything less than a chador—a loose robe that covers the body from head to toe—was frowned upon. And with the election of the more moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last year, many hope that the authorities will relax their strict stance on what women can wear in public.

Officially there has been no relaxation, in fact the authorities have tried everything they could think of to counter it. But in practice it’s a losing battle.

“Since last year there’s been a transformation in the framework of the permits we can get and what we can do,” said Shirazi, who sounded upbeat in spite of the closing of his business. “With the great potential this country has and the great desire young Iranians have, there is a bright future for the fashion industry in Iran, and this [the shutting down of Khaneh Mode] is just necessary experience we need to gain to go ahead.”

TIME Culture

Scarlett Johansson, Lucy and the Future of the Female Action Star

Film Title: Lucy
Universal Pictures

Scar Jo's unlikely road from the other woman to superhero

This weekend’s Lucy—the action thriller starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman who has 10 times the brain capacity of other humans—may just turn out to be a hit. The film scored $2.7 million at the Thursday box office, beating out Hercules, which stars a traditionally macho hero, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. If the box office numbers continue to soar, Johansson will join the small pantheon of women who can carry an action film that isn’t based on a comic book or a young adult novel.

There are very few actresses who can accomplish that feat. Remember, we’re not counting Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games is based on the uber-popular YA series), Kate Beckinsale (the Underworld series was based on a comic), anyone who shared the screen with an equally formidable male action hero (Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2) or who starred in an action film that bombed (Jennifer Garner in Elektra). Who’s left? Angelina Jolie is probably the most well-known: she took top billing in Tomb Raider, Salt and Wanted (to varying degrees of success). Uma Thurman kicked ass in both Kill Bill movies. And Sigourney Weaver was a terrific warrior in Alien. That’s about it.

And none of those women starred in a tentpole superhero film. In fact, films focused on superheroines have historically crashed and burned (see: Halle Berry in Catwoman). But being able to carry an action film with no built-in fan base means that the people at Disney may finally feel comfortable with giving Johansson her own Black Widow film, where she plays the star, not the sidekick to Robert Downey Jr. as she does in The Avengers.

But there’s a hitch. Lucy isn’t really an action movie. It’s more a meditation on pseudo-science: action scenes are intercut with clips of animals from nature documentaries and shots of stars swirling through space. Lucy never shoots or kicks when she can just sweep bad guys out of the way with the flick of her hand. Her Marvel movies have certainly proven that she has the physicality necessary for a superhero film. But does she want her own franchise? Her resume suggests perhaps not.

Johansson has taken a strange trajectory to this spot. Her breakout roles had her playing the other woman or the unfaithful woman (even if the cheating is simply emotional): Lost In Translation, Girl with a Pearl Earring, Match Point, The Other Boleyn Girl, Vicky Cristina Barcelona and He’s Just Not That Into You all place Johansson in some sort of love triangle or cheating scandal. Why she was cast in these roles is obvious: Johansson is a classically beautiful, voluptuous blonde. Men in the audience knew she was fatally attractive, and women—based on the number of times I’ve heard female friends declare their hatred for her—were repulsed by her undeniable sex appeal.

Even as she’s moved away from the role of the hapless young woman, she’s capitalized on her dangerous beauty: her superhero character, Black Widow, is named after a spider that traps and then kills its prey; in Don Jon she played the only woman who could tame a man obsessed with porn; in Under Her Skin she’s an alien that eats men; and even though she never appears in Her, her disembodied voice is so sultry that it’s no wonder Joaquin Phoenix falls head over heels for his computer.

You may notice that these more recent films increasingly capitalize on Johansson’s intelligence and not just her body: she’s played and tricky alien, a computer, and now in Lucy, the smartest woman in the world. So while the success of Lucy may mean that Johansson can helm a Black Widow movie, taking such a simplistic roles could feel a step down for Johansson. She’s made a point throughout her career to choose pretty complex roles, working with directors like Woody Allen and Christopher Nolan and opting for lower-budget projects like Don Jon and Under Her Skin, when she could turn on her charm and have an easy road to rom-con stardom. Why go from playing hyper-smart women in artier films to reciting cliche dialogue in a superhero flick?

But the way actors afford to take “challenging” roles like Samantha in Her is by suiting up for things like The Avengers. So I suspect it will only be a few more years before we see Scarlett Johansson heads up her own Marvel franchise. Hopefully more women will follow.

 

TIME Culture

The Rise of Fangirls at Comic-Con

Comic-Con International 2014 - Day 1
A costumed guest attends Comic-Con International 2014 - Day 1 on July 24, 2014 in San Diego, California. Joe Scarnici—FilmMagic

Why women are flocking to the conference

San Diego Comic-Con—an annual conference celebrating all things gloriously nerdy from The Avengers to Star Trek—has had a reputation as a boys’ club, albeit a geeky one. Many unfamiliar with the event might assume it’s made up of nerdy boys in Star Wars costumes ogling “booth babes.” But attend this year’s Comic-Con, which began Thursday and runs throughout the weekend, and you can visit a panel on the women of Marvel comics, watch a geek couture fashion show and meet female writers of iconic shows like The Walking Dead.

This year’s Comic-Con will draw 130,000 fans, almost half of whom are female. It will feature 12 panels focused specifically on women—more than ever before. And that doesn’t even count panels that feature female writers without advertising it.

“When I was in high school I went to some local sci-fi cons, and the way I remember it, men vastly outnumbered the women. Now though when I go to cons I see that the numbers are far more evenly matched, and that’s nothing but terrific,” says Phil Plait of Bad Astronomy fame, who is hosting a panel called “Behind the Scenes of Science Fiction in Movies and on TV,” which happens to be made up of all female writers from shows like Game of Thrones and movies like Guardians of the Galaxy. “There’s nothing inherent in the ideas of fantasy, science fiction or any other genre that shouldn’t appeal to men and women equally — to everyone equally.”

Girls are taking over Comic-Con, but where did they come from and why did it take so long?

Sarah Michelle Gellar Stars In Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Sarah Michelle Gellar Stars In “Buffy The Vampire Slayer.” Getty Images

Out of the Shadows

Long-time attendees, panelists and industry insiders believe that women have always been a fan of genre, but in the last five years they have become more openly vocal about their nerdy tendencies.

“I feel like it’s perceived to be a boys’ club, but I’m not sure it ever really has been,” says Jane Espenson, who will participate in the sci-fi writing panel. Espenson wrote episodes on a wide range of sci-fi and fantasy shows, including Buffy, Game of Thrones and Battlestar Galactica (where she was the only woman in the writer’s room). She is currently a co-creator of the online show Husbands. “There were always a lot of women at those Buffy panels. Even at the Battlestar Gallactica panels because Starbuck was such an iconic female character, you’d see a lot of women showing up in fighter pilot uniforms.”

Sci-fi and fantasy have a history of being groundbreaking in terms of diversity: the original Star Trek forged the way for social change by telling stories about acceptance using aliens as a stand-in for marginalized human groups. But it took social media and conventions like Comic-Con to bring together like-minded geek girls who may have been bullied or marginalized at their schools for liking “boy things.”

“The community of women who are interested in these things are becoming more vocal thanks to things like Twitter and Tumblr,” says Jeanine Schaefer, an editor at Marvel who has worked on titles like She-Hulk and the all-female X-Men series. “It’s not that they’re suddenly here. It’s that they’re suddenly more visible.”

In a world where Game of Thrones, a fantasy show, has become the most-watched series in HBO history (an unimaginable feat just a few years ago), being a nerd has become kind of cool. “Not only is it acceptable now to enjoy these things, but it’s oddly kind of sexy to like video games and science and get what the boys are doing,” says Espenson.

And a plethora of cool female characters in these genres — from Deanerys in Game of Thrones to Mystique in X-Men — have connected with fans and inspired them to create their own badass ladies in fan fiction or even within the industry. “The number of letters that I’ve gotten over the years from young women talking about how they only survived high school because of Buffy is overwhelming,” says Espenson. “I think women see the show and want to create their own thing.”

Ashley Eckstein poses in a geek couture Darth Vader outfit to promote the Comic-Con fashion show Her Universe

Geek Couture

Nothing epitomizes the transition of girl geek culture into the limelight quite like the rise of Her Universe, a women’s clothing brand dedicated to geek-inspired fashion (think: Avengers leggings and R2D2 skirts). Founder Ashley Eckstein got the idea after she was cast in Star Wars: The Clone Wars in 2005. As a part of the franchise, Eckstein sought out Star Wars women’s wear and came up short. “I was tired of wearing men’s boxy shirts,” she says. “I wanted women’s cuts and dresses. I did my research and close to 50% of sci-fi fans are women, and 80% of all consumer purchases are made by women. I’m no mathematician, but that looked like an untapped market.”

So she started her own company in 2010. Her Universe now has licenses to create apparel based on Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who, The Walking Dead, Marvel and Transformers, among other franchises. The label took off and is now a mainstay in popular stores for teens like Hot Topic.

In an effort to further reach out to female fans, Eckstein is organizing a fashion show for “geek couture” at this year’s Comic-Con. Comic-Con is of course filled with cosplay—short for costume play, in which participants dress like their favorite characters—but Eckstein spotted another movement. “I’d been noticing a trend for quite some time that girls who show up in their own costume fashions that weren’t cosplay,” she says. “They were these outfits that were cosplay-inspired but that you could wear going out, and the women were using Comic-Con as their runway.”

Eckstein worked for two years to create a real fashion show featuring designs submitted by fans. They received over 160 submissions and narrowed the show down to 36 outfits. The two winners of the show will get to design their own lines for Her Universe. Such an event would have been unimaginable at Comic-Con in the 00s.

Thor concept art on July 15, 2014. Marvel Comics

Thor Becomes a Woman

As the geeky girl has become a more visible trope online and at the convention, industry execs have realized they can reap huge profits from an untapped market of female fans. So they started reaching out directly by licensing stories to companies like Her Universe. Now, they’re taking the next step by re-examining the diversity of characters in their comic books, films and shows.

For the past four years, Marvel has hosted a “Women of Marvel” panel that highlights not only female writers and editors at Marvel Comics but also some of the brand’s female superheroes. Marvel editor Schaefer says that last year was their most successful panel ever: the room was so full with both men and women that most had to stand and many fans couldn’t even get in. This year will likely draw even more curious followers since Marvel recently announced that the popular hero Thor will become a woman.

“While we’ve always been dedicated to making our characters reflect the world outside your window, we’re making more inroads towards better reflecting the breadth of our readership by diversifying our line and making sure there’s something for everyone,” says Schaefer.

Sometimes that means creating more female heroes or allowing a woman to wield Thor’s hammer. Other times that simply means letting women know they can read comics too. “I’ve long said to get women to read comics, we don’t need to make something that all women will read because that doesn’t exist,” says Schaefer. “We just need to make sure there’s not a sign that says, ‘No girls allowed.'”

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow Moviestills DB/Marvel

Waiting for Black Widow

But despite the community’s best efforts to welcome women, it still struggles to achieve gender parity. “I think women are represented in higher rates in sci-fi writing than in some other fields like procedurals,” says TV writer Espenson. “But we’re still vastly outnumbered.”

On the convention floor, “booth babes” still persist, beckoning fans to events like sirens in skimpy outfits. And some female fans mimic this look. “Yes, you’ll see girls dressed in sexy costumes,” says Eckstein of Her Universe. “But part of that is that these classic characters in comic books are dressed in sexy costumes, and it’s really important to the fans to be accurate.” That’s beginning to change: As part of Marvel’s effort to incorporate more women in the last several years they’ve redesigned their costumes to be more “modern” (read: a bit less objectifying).

And fans are choosing a wider range of costumes than ever before. “I would say you won’t just see Princess Leia in the gold bikini,” says Eckstein. “You’ll see Endor Leia and Leia in the white dress and girls dressed as fighter pilots.”

Many of those fans — especially teens — are donning outfits similar to those Scarlett Johansson wears as Black Widow in The Avengers films. “They’re obsessed with her,” says Eckstein. Underlying all my interviews was this cautious optimism surrounding the Black Widow character, who is perhaps the most likely female superhero to get her own franchise in the near future. As Lucy—an action film also starring Scarlett Johansson—premieres this weekend, the industry is holding its breath, waiting to see if Johansson can carry the movie and therefore merit a shot at her own Marvel film. “I can’t speak to any of our movie stuff,” says Schaefer at Marvel. “But obviously as a fan, I want [Lucy] to succeed. I want people to go out and vote with their dollars.”

A Black Widow film could pave the way for a long-awaited Wonder Woman movie (Wonder Woman will appear in Batman v. Superman in 2016, but isn’t a main character) and perhaps even an X-Men spinoff starring Mystique. But Hollywood still thinks that betting on female leads is a risk, even though they’ve proven through shows like Buffy to succeed on the small screen.

“Issues of sexism and misogyny still plague a lot of online culture, including geek culture,” says Plait. “One way to help that is to simply mainstream the issue, to stop ‘othering’ women. That’s why this isn’t a panel about being a woman in science fiction, it’s a panel about science fiction that happens to have all women on it.”

Placing these women writers and actors front and center is sure to inspire another generation of women hoping to join the industry and create their own female characters. Schaefer says every year she gets questions as to how she broke into the boys’ club. “When I was a kid, I thought it was all dudes making comics,” says Schaefer. “And then one day I saw a woman’s name and thought, ‘Wow, there’s a woman doing this. I can do this too.'”

TIME Culture

What a Man Who Knows Nothing About 50 Shades of Grey Thought of the Trailer

"I didn't even know Grey was a person"

+ READ ARTICLE

I’m a 30-year-old, single, heterosexual male and I’ve never read 50 Shades of Grey. I’m approaching this trailer as someone interested primarily in what this book, and now movie, reveals about women, so take it for what it’s worth.

Before I press play, here are the two things I know about this book/movie.

  1. It’s very popular among women.
  2. It’s NSFW and something to do with sadomasochism.

I watched the trailer straight through once and my only discernible impression is that this movie looks aggressively boring. So, I decided to watch the trailer again while pause-play-pausing my way through it and annotate my reactions in the moment.

00:12 - Newspaper????? What!? That is the fanciest newspaper office ever in the history of news. Or paper. Are they hiring? (JUST KIDDING, TIME)

00:13 – Oh wait SHE’S the reporter interviewing HIM. OK, never mind. I know other offices are that fancy.

00:30 – The girl is reciting adjectives in a voiceover: Polite. Intense. Smart. Really intimidating. In context, I have to interpret this as a list of attributes for some kind of man-of-my-dreams fantasy, so, obviously, I’m measuring myself against it. I’m pretty polite and I may be uncomfortably intense sometimes and I’m smart enough to fake it around smart people for at least a few minutes but I don’t think I’m very intimidating. Looks like I need to get a mega form-fitting suit. And a giant office with tons of windows and a weird little white chair for visitors.

00:54 – Eye contact. Obviously. Solid reminder. Thanks, 50!

00:58 – My God, is this a horror movie? Suddenly the soundtrack is screeching and the elevator doors are closing in on her eye and then there’s some kind of photo shoot for some reason. OK, unpausing.

1:04 – “I exercise control in all things.” Here we’ve come to the central question posed by the 50 Shades phenomenon: A man who professes to exercise control in all things becomes (I think? Right?) a cultural symbol for sex god, but isn’t the same basic impulse the foundational evil in stalkers and abusive partners and etc.? That line could literally have been lifted from 1991’s Sleeping With the Enemy, which is like proto-50 Shades but the dark side. Also I’m forgetting that I’ve never read or seen this and I actually know nothing about it but just saying.

1:24 – “I had a rough start in life, you should steer clear of me.” Lame the first time someone said it. Now just…ugh whatever. Moving on. Nice Rocky hoodie running scene though.

1:35 – Leg under table thing: Hot. Maybe I’ll see this after all.

1:44 – Why are they in an airplane? This feels like one of those scenes in Entourage where the gang randomly goes to Vegas or a tropical island or wherever for kicks. Which looks fun, I’m not complaining. I did a trick plane ride like that once. It was pretty rad. Moving on.

1:51 – If you have bondage equipment in your house it feels against the rules to keep it in a locked dungeon-ish room, but maybe that’s why I’m not in the subculture because it also seems obvious that you would do just that, so.

2:01 – Flickering images of naked backs and whips and then he’s carrying her and then she’s tied up and heaves herself forward in apparent ecstasy and I must say this sadomasochism all looks exceedingly gentle and sweet and not painful at all. Is that what the book is like? I guess that would explain the mass appeal.

2:12 – Cool soundtrack. Pretty much safe for work though, and I was really hoping an editor would walk by and gasp as I watched that. Thanks for nothing, 50!

TIME Music

Weird Al: Pop’s Last King

Weird Al Visits Visits Music Choice's "You & A"
"Weird Al" Yankovic visits Music Choice's "You & A" on July 14, 2014 in New York City. D Dipasupil—Getty Images

Pop music has shattered. Parody is now the language that transcends cultural and generational boundaries.

When Michael Jackson died, people mourned the death of a giant but they also mourned the death of the cultural consensus he represented. They mourned the passing of a figure so huge and so central to pop culture that seemingly everyone knew him, no matter where they fell in the cultural divide. In that respect, I suspect that part of the tidal wave of excitement greeting the release of Mandatory Fun, the ecstatically received new album from preeminent Michael Jackson parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic, comes from the re-emergence of a figure whose popularity transcends cultural and generational boundaries, who can truly be said to be a household name. The album charted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 in its first week, a first for the artist.

The mainstream that Jackson personified doesn’t seem to exist anymore. The pop culture world has fractured too violently into too many different warring factions for the center to hold. If a mainstream exists at all anymore, it can be pieced together, makeshift, from the base components of an album like Mandatory Fun. The album cements Yankovic’s status as an invaluable uniter in a wildly divisive music world.

Yankovic’s music unites his older fans with their past, with the MTV or radio-obsessed kids they used to be and the central role he played in their musical education. But it goes beyond that; Yankovic’s polka medleys are a brilliant microcosm for his take on pop music. Mandatory Funs obligatory polka medley, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka,” is essentially Girl Talk for the middle-aged and out of date, a high-energy mash-up of seemingly every inescapable single of the past three years.

One of the overlooked benefits of growing older is the freedom from having to follow pop music closely, from feeling obligated to have an opinion on every important new act or flash in the pan. Part of the brilliance of Yankovic’s albums is that he follows pop music and the rampaging idiocies of the pop chart so that his often middle-aged fans don’t have to, content that dear old Uncle Al will translate the ephemeral ditties and one-hit wonders of the day into language they understand, the musical vocabulary of the genially wacky spoof.

Mandatory Fun might just be the ideal way to experience contemporary pop music. It offers the catchiness of “Blurred Lines” without the rapey gender politics, leering sexism and Robin Thicke’s pervy personality; Miley Cyrus without the twerking and lascivious tongue wraggling; and LMFAO without, well, everything that makes them obnoxious, which is everything.

Yankovic famously released eight videos from the album in eight consecutive days, including the zeitgeist-capturing smashes “Tacky” and “Word Crimes.” It’s a strategy that allowed the savvy and prescient Yankovic to leverage his connections with Internet dynamos like Nerdist, Funny Or Die and College Humor (needless to say, at least some of those kids who grew up worshiping Al ended up in positions of power inside corporate suites), who helped produce the videos and publicized the album, while highlighting the broad-based appeal of an album that includes not only relatively timely hits of smashes from the likes of Lorde, Imagine Dragons, Iggy Azalea and Pharell, but also brazenly untimely homages to Southern Culture On The Skids, The Pixies, Cat Stevens and both a polka and Yankovic’s first-ever March (“Sports Song”).

The every-song-a-single approach is particularly savvy given the central role singles play in the pop landscape. People aren’t buying albums the way they did before; Robin Thicke’s new album Paula, for example, is flopping while the infectious beat for his signature song is doing great things for a man who is impishly using it to play grammar bully to a delighted populace.

YouTube was to supposed to maim, if not destroy, Yankovic’s career by flooding the site with a slew of younger, hungrier and lewder parodists who didn’t need a major label to put out parodies, just a video camera and some goofy new lyrics to a familiar song. Yet in 2014, the parody market is still “Weird Al” Yankovic, followed distantly by everyone else. Considering the ways the industry has changed over the past 10 years, it’s remarkable how little progress everyone else has made. Nostalgia undoubtedly plays a role; the release of a new “Weird Al” album can’t help but inspire wistful memories of long-ago days watching Al goof his way through videos spoofing Madonna, Nirvana, Kurt Cobain and countless other giants who are either gone or irrevocably changed, whereas Al never seems to age.

For all of the changes in the industry, and outside it, a “Weird Al” Yankovic parody of a hit song still feels official and important in a way no other spoof does. For all the pretenders on the Internet, when it comes to parodies, it sure seems like folks still want the 54-year-old they grew up with and still represents the gold standard for funny music.

Pop music parodies occupy one of the smallest, least respected ghettos in pop music. Yankovic has never been one to think small, however, and from the very beginning his domain has been all of popular music, not just the tiny little subsection devoted to his particular specialty. That mindset is paying enormous dividends right now. It is a halcyon moment for an inveterate uniter with a view of pop expansive enough to fit the totality of recorded music snugly inside one of his fat suits.

Nathan Rabin is a staff writer for The Dissolve and the author of Weird Al: The Book (with “Weird Al” Yankovic) and You Don’t Know Me But You Don’t Like Me.

TIME Culture

5 Things to Do While You’re Waiting for 50 Shades of Grey to Come Out

Unleash your inner goddess with these recipes, books and vacations

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The trailer for the new Fifty Shades of Grey film dropped Thursday, leaving fans to count the days until it’s released on Valentine’s Day 2015. For those who can’t possibly wait that long, here are five ways to get your 50 Shades fix before next February:

Try on some Grey-inspired lingerie

Designed in part by 50 Shades author E.L. James, this collection of bras, briefs, negligées and stockings comes in a variety of colors: Black, red and (of course) gray. Customers can also purchase the title-inspiring gray tie that Christian wears in the book and a black mask to take things to the 50 Shades of Grey level.

Drink a glass of 50 Shades of Grey wine

E.L. James has created an entire industry around tiding over her impatient fans. The business-savvy author (who has already made an estimated $100 million from the trilogy) teamed up with California winemakers to blend a collection of wines specific to 50 Shades of Grey. The collection has both red and white, and the red “has flavors of black cherry, cocoa powder, creamy caramel and vanilla, leather and clove spice.” Leather? Well, at least one flavor stays true to the book.

Cook up a recipe from 50 Shades of Kale

“What’s the sexiest handful of foliage? A fistful of Kale battles cancer, inflammation, and low moods,” the 50 Shades-inspired cookbook’s website reads. It features 50 recipes centered around the sensual vegetable, fit for vegans and gluten-free fans alike. And for those fans worried that a cookbook won’t help them get their 50 Shades of sexy fix, the authors assure, “50 SHADES OF KALE is a fun and sexy romp powered by kale.”

Take a 50 Shades of Grey vacation

Seattle is so beautiful this time of year. Why not enjoy the city by staying at the Hotel Max, which previously offered guests a special package featuring perks from billionaire Christian Grey’s lavish lifestyle? Don’t forget to drink a bottle of Bollinger Rosé (Anastasia Steele’s drink of choice) before taking a helicopter tour around the city (unfortunately not piloted by Christian Grey).

Just reread the books

It never gets old reading a dozen different descriptions for Christian’s copper-colored hair while Anastasia continually insists that she isn’t pretty. You should have a refresher on which sex scenes come when anyway, so you’re ready to critique the film for its accuracy. After all, there’s a pretty high standard to uphold.

TIME Business

Take a Ride on The Newest Record-Breaking Wooden Roller Coaster

Goliath, the Six Flags Great America ride, takes wooden coasters to new heights and speeds

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It may not be as tall as some steel roller coasters out there, but Goliath at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill. brings the fear factor to another level.

“It’s really, really intimidating to get on something that looks like it’s made of toothpicks,” says TIME’s Deputy Culture Editor Sam Lansky, who went on the ride not once, but twice.

Goliath, with its 180-foot drop at 85 degrees and top speed of 72 miles per hour, broke three world records for wooden coasters.

Not breaking a sweat yet? Take a look at the video, then see if you think you can handle going on the ride yourself.

TIME Culture

This is What ‘Bae’ Means

Recording artist Pharrell Williams performs onstage during Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2014 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 17, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Recording artist Pharrell Williams performs onstage during Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards 2014 at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion on July 17, 2014 in Los Angeles. Alberto E. Rodriguez—Getty Images For Nickelodeon

TIME gives you a primer on slang that Pharrell likes enough to put in the titles of his songs

On Wednesday, Pharrell dropped a video for his new single, “Come Get It Bae,” which may immediately raise some questions, such as “Come get what?” and “What in the world does bae mean, anyway?”

The short answer: Though this word was used in the 1500s to refer to sheep sounds, today bae is used as a term of endearment, often referring to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Or perhaps a prospect who might one day hold such a lofty position.

 

Say, for instance, you post a picture of you on a yacht with Beyonce and you just so happen to be Jay-Z. You might give that photo a caption like, “Just another Tuesday with my bae. #surfbort”

There is no doubt that more people are encountering this word and wondering what it means, as evinced by this handy chart from Google Trends:

Screen Shot 2014-07-23 at 2.38.53 PM

But there are some competing origin stories.

One tale supposes that bae is in fact the acronym BAE, standing for “before anyone else.” But people often like to make up such origin stories that linguists later discover were absolute poppycock, like the idea that the f-word is an acronym dating back to royal days when everyone needed the king’s permission to get in the sack—so they would be having “fornication under consent of the King.” Great story. Totally untrue.

Others argue that bae is simply a shortened version of babe, which would similarly account for the rare ae juxtapostion. Slangsters do love to embrace the “dropped letter” versions of slang words. When cool gets old, there is coo. When crazy gets tiresome, there is cray. You could do me a solid, or just do me a sol.

The term’s usage took off in 2013 and continues to rise. And as more people say bae, it’s likely that the meaning will shift in any case. When words get popular, one of two things tends to happen, as computational linguist Tyler Schnoebelen explains: “As it gets picked up by more people, its meaning will either calcify or bleach.” That is, harden into meaning only one very specific thing, or expand to embrace a range of meanings.

Take the word weird, as in Weird Al Yankovic, the man who has had such fun parodying Pharrell of late. When first used, that word meant “having the power to control the fate or destiny of human beings.” And that is certainly not the meaning we invoke when referring to Mr. Yankovic.

A good rule of thumb for now at least: if you would use the words boo or babe in some circumstance, you can probably use bae.

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