TIME celebrities

5 Things to Expect at This Year’s Comic-Con

The convention begins this Thursday, causing rumors to spread about what fans have to look forward to.

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Thursday marks the start of the 44th annual San Diego International Comic-Con, and fans are lining up to be a part of the highly-anticipated action.

The panel for the final installment of The Hobbit trilogy will be held on Saturday, and it is rumored that director Peter Jackson will release a trailer for the film.

The Marvel panel will be covering details on the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron. The sequel to the wildly successful Avengers film is expected to get some reveal during the panel.

A large number of the Game of Thrones cast, along with George R. R. Martin, have the show’s panel on Friday, where it is rumored they will discuss the show’s overlap with the novels.

TIME Pop Culture

Near-Perfect Copy of Action Comics #1 Will be Sold on eBay

Action Comics #1 comic book of 1938 is pictured on February 23, 2010 in New York which had sold for USD 1 million, making it the first ever million dollar comic book.
Action Comics #1 comic book of 1938 is pictured on February 23, 2010 in New York which had sold for USD 1 million, making it the first ever million dollar comic book. Timothy A. Clary—AFP/Getty Images

The copy being sold received a 9.0 out of 10 rating by the most trusted comic book rating company

In a little less than a month, anyone looking to get his or her hands on a copy of the comic book that introduced the world to Superman will have an opportunity to vie for the legendary relic.

Action Comics #1 will be auctioned on eBay from August 14 to 24 and may run you a fair amount more than the 10 cents that the original cost when it was released in 1938. In fact, the last issue of the Jerry Siegel/Joe Shuster-penned comic to be sold went for no less than $2.16 million.

According to Cnet, the issue of the 1938 comic being sold next month was given a 9-out-of-10 rating from the Certified Guaranty Company, a well-known comic ratings company, which is the highest grade a copy of Action Comics #1 has ever received. The issue that sold for over $2 million in 2011 also received a 9.0 rating.

The issue’s owner, Darren Adams, got the copy from a dealer, but the original was kept in pristine condition in part because it was stored for a while in a cedar chest in West Virginia.

“I felt this book deserves to have as much publicity as possible because of what it is,” Adams said in a video on eBay. “It is the cream of the crop and it doesn’t get any better than this.”

A portion of the proceeds will go to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Christopher Reeve played Superman in the iconic 1978 film. He became a quadriplegic in the 1990s after being thrown from a horse and died in 2004.

TIME Pop Culture

The U.S. Government Agrees With Jason Segel About Sandwiches

Food definitions are no laughing matter

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Jason Segel knows better than to joke about sandwiches. On the Tuesday night episode of the Late Show, the Sex Tape actor told David Letterman that a casual remark about the superiority of sandwiches to burritos caused such a firestorm on Twitter that it caused him to quit the social media service.

“Sandwiches are more diverse than burritos,” was the actor’s pronouncement. “I do know about burritos,” he added. “If they get too diverse, they’re a wrap.” Sandwiches, meanwhile, can encompass the wide variety seen within his top five list: from the BLT to the Reuben to the tuna melt to the grilled cheese to the PB&J.

But, though Segel has clearly given serious thought to the topic, he’s not the only one.

Last week, NPR covered one of the deep complexities of the sandwich vs. burrito debate: the fact that burritos may actually be sandwiches, by some definitions. According to the USDA Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, a sandwich (of the closed variety) consists of “two slices of bread or the top and bottom sections of a slice bun that enclose meat or poultry”; the meat has to make up 35% of the total sandwich. A burrito, meanwhile, is a “Mexican style sandwich-like product consisting of a flour tortilla, various fillings, and at least 15 percent meat or 10 percent cooked poultry meat”; whether or not the ends of the rolled tortilla are “tucked” doesn’t make a difference. A wrap is a ready-to-eat product that “is wrapped in a dough based component” and contains a minimum 2% meat or poultry.

The reason the USDA cares is that these definitions help determine how products are inspected, labeled and taxed. For example, if a company tried to pass something off as a “ham croquette” that had less than 35% ham in it — an actual example from the book — they couldn’t get away with it. Different foods are inspected at different points in being assembled, and some fall into different tax categories.

Which is where sandwiches and burritos come in. As NPR notes, the state of New York taxes burritos under the heading of sandwiches, asserting that burritos aren’t merely a sandwich-like product. So, in New York at least, Segel would be legally correct: sandwiches are more “diverse” than burritos because burritos are a subset of sandwiches; furthermore, even outside that state, a burrito that gets too diverse — i.e. one in which the variety of ingredients is either no longer “Mexican style” or is of such quantity that the amount of meat sinks below 15% — does in fact become a wrap.

But, though the government seems to generally concur with the comedian, that doesn’t mean they’re on the same sandwich wavelength across the board. After all, the USDA definition of a sandwich — that it must include meat or poultry — means that grilled cheese and PB&J aren’t sandwiches at all. Even a BLT is unlikely to meat the threshold, since it would have to be 35% bacon to fit the bill.

The USDA’s position on peanut butter and jelly, as set out by the labeling policy, is clearly ludicrous — nearly as ludicrous as the way that David Letterman says “taco.” So, though Jason Segel isn’t the only one thinking about sandwiches, maybe he’s the one who’s thought about them the hardest. And for that, he deserves a sandwich.

TIME Music

The Al Yankovic Paradox: He Doesn’t Seem That Weird Anymore

Weird Al
"Weird Al" Yankovic appears on NBC News' "Today" show on Sept. 26, 2013 Peter Kramer—NBC NewsWire / Getty Images

"Normal Al" just doesn't have the same ring to it

Al Yankovic — best known as Weird Al, the man who realized the “Amish” has the same number of syllables as “gangsta” — recently tweeted that he would be releasing eight new music videos in the eight days beginning July 14. The videos will feature songs from his forthcoming album Mandatory Fun (out July 15), the titles from which have not yet been announced. This move drew comparisons at Vulture to Beyoncé’s all-at-once strategy, and seems designed to capture some of the headline-grabbing buzz that she earned from deciding not to obey the usual music-release timeline.

But, as his new album approaches its release, Weird Al is in a weird place.

The reason? He just doesn’t seem so weird anymore.

Yankovic’s cultural penetration peaked in the late ’90s with platinum-selling albums like Bad Hair Day and Running With Scissors, which contained songs like “Amish Paradise” and “Pretty Fly For A Rabbi.” Around the release of his most recent album, 2011′s Alpocalypse, he told the AP that he had been “getting kind of cocky” at that point. Even though Alpocalypse broke the top 10 on the album chart, he acknowledged that sales were down and it was getting harder to get performers to approve the use of their music in his parodies. An artist experiencing declining album sales, compared to his ’90s high, is certainly not unique to Yankovich — and the parodist has been keeping fairly busy in the years between Alpocalypse and Mandatory Fun. He went on tour, he denied retirement rumors, he appeared on TV shows like Adventure Time and 30 Rock, he co-wrote three books (two for kids and one about himself) and he appeared frequently in Funny or Die videos.

That last credit is the interesting one. His most popular work was perfectly timed for the last days of pre-YouTube comedy. In the late ’90s, his music videos were some of the easiest-to-access sources of short comedy. Now, the kind of humor that used to make him seem “weird” is pretty much the most mainstream comedy out there. Countless Frozen fans have filled YouTube with “Let It Go” parodies and, since 2005, Saturday Night Live‘s Digital Shorts have been the professional equivalent. Yankovic is clearly aware of this change: in addition to Funny or Die, he’s participated in an “Epic Rap Battles of History” video — which has accumulated 11 million views in one month, versus 22 million for the official “Amish Paradise” video, which has been on YouTube for five years. In this season of Comedy Central’s YouTube-to-TV Drunk History, he plays Adolf Hitler.

All of which is to say that though Yankovic certainly wasn’t the first musical parodist or the most influential one ever — an honor that should likely go to Allan Sherman or Tom Lehrer — it looks like he may just be the last of his kind. In a world where any “weirdo” can rack up hits on a YouTube clip, the designation begins to lose its oomph. And, while it’s normally a good thing for an artist to have anticipated the zeitgeist, the exception is an artist who relies on being outside the mainstream — and “Normal Al” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

If Yankovic’s video-release strategy can make him stand out from the rest of the parody-song bunch, interest in funny clips could be great news for Mandatory Fun and for his weirdness level. It just might work: eight music videos in a week isn’t normal yet. For that matter, neither is his hairdo.

TIME celebrities

Hugh Grant on Phone-Hacking Verdict: Don’t Forget the Guilty Pleas

The 59th Hugh Grant Evening Standard Theatre Awards - Ceremony
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Hugh Grant the 59th London Evening Standard Theatre Awards at The Savoy Hotel in London on Nov. 17, 2013. David M. Benett—Getty Images

The actor has been an outspoken critic of the illegal reporting practices that led to the sensational U.K. trial

Hugh Grant would like to amend the score card being touted by most news stories about verdicts in the British phone-hacking trial this week. Most have noted that just one of the seven defendants, former News of the World editor Andy Coulson, was found guilty of conspiring to intercept calls. Six others, including Rebekah Brooks, who was editor before Coulson, were found not guilty. Grant, one of the most prominent victims of the phone-hacking in question, is concerned that coverage of the trial isn’t complete, because the tally is leaving out the guilty pleas of others charged in the scandal. In a statement issued to TIME, the actor, who in 2012 settled with the paper’s parent company, Rupert Murdoch’s News International, for damages over the hacking, wrote:

Some newspapers here are spinning these verdicts in the way you describe as “only one out of seven defendants found guilty.” This is deliberately to ignore the guilty pleas of others charged with the same offenses. These guilty pleas could not be reported during the trials and are not being widely reported now by some newspapers who are intent on minimizing the extent of criminality in their industry. The true figures are these (as per today’s Guardian): Of eight journalists charged with hacking, six have now been found, or have pleaded, guilty — one editor, three news editors and two hackers. Twelve more trials of News International (now rebranded News UK) journalists are currently scheduled.

And it may not stop there: In addition to the “dozens” of journalists who the Guardian says could potentially face charges related to this scandal, the paper also reports today that Murdoch, who owned the now-defunct News of the World, has been informed by Scotland Yard that they would like to interview him about the case.

TIME Television

Yang Lan, the ‘Oprah of China,’ Expands Her Reach

Yang Lan
Yang Lan at a benefit on May 15, 2013, in New York City. John Lamparski / WireImage / Getty Images

Yang Lan is partnering with MAKERS to bring the women's-stories platform to China

Correction appended June 23, 2014, 4:45 p.m.

Last year, MAKERS — the AOL-owned hub for women telling the history of feminism via their personal stories — made news with a PBS documentary. Now it’s going global.

MAKERS and AOL announced in April that they partnered with Sun Media Group to bring the initiative to China. This weekend, TIME premiered 10 of those stories, about women as diverse as an LGBT rights activist and an expert in traditional Chinese dance.

Though she’s not a subject of one of those videos, there’s one important Chinese woman whose story is in the subtext of all the others. That’s Yang Lan, a woman often referred to as “China’s Oprah.” She’s a co-owner of Sun Media, and serves as Executive Producer for MAKERS China. Though American audiences may be unfamiliar with her, the Oprah comparison doesn’t necessarily go far enough. Her personal and business reach is Oprah-like but on a Chinese-population scale — her own social-media account reaches 50 million people a day — and her TV personality is more in the Barbara Walters mold, with a serious interview show called One-on-One and a The View-style panel show, Her Village, which is also a supersized web platform. The latter reaches 300 million people a month between TV and online content. Her Village‘s website will be the distribution platform for MAKERS China; as a point of comparison, 2.6 million people watched the PBS documentary when it premiered.

“The Chinese Internet is developing at a breathtaking pace,” Lan tells TIME, noting that the urban/rural gap in broadband access has not held true for mobile Internet, with the result that there are more than 600 million mobile Internet users in China, which is about half of the population. “It’s opening a new area for us because we are a private media company while all the TV networks are highly regulated and government-owned. Suddenly the internet gave us this open space to reach our audience directly with no barrier in-between.”

So it’s not just that Internet usage is growing. Lan says that she the foreign fascination with Chinese censorships is fair — it’s a topic that often comes up when she appears in Western media, and she says that the attention is a good thing because it provides an incentive “to move China forward” — but that the full picture of life as a media mogul in China is a lot more nuanced than it might seem. She explains that, for instance, her company produces Her Village but the TV station is government-owned and can just choose not to show something. However, there are different “levels of censorship” and the Internet is more relaxed. “Nowadays for example when some part of my television show cannot be broadcast on television because of the censorship,” she says, “I can get the full version on the Internet.”

Lan’s insight and influence were crucial to helping MAKERS China happen. Exporting the American version with American producers and slotting in Chinese women and Chinese stories wouldn’t be the same thing, says McGee. “That’s a completely different experience from having [Lan's] team make them from a Chinese perspective,” she says. Though she and Lan both stress that MAKERS and MAKERS China share their goals and values — and an emphasis on stories of courage, breaking through, being true to yourself and giving back to the community — there are differences between what the two audiences expect.

Take, for example, “leaning in.” Though it’s still the catchphrase of the moment for a lot of MAKERS-style feminism in the U.S., it doesn’t quite jibe with the Chinese experience. “In the case of Chinese women some of them were pushed in,” Lan explains. “When Mao Zedong said women should work, “holding up half of the sky,” suddenly every woman worked. For my mother’s generation, that was the case. Nowadays it’s all about free choice. What I always try to emphasize is if it’s based on your true love, your true passion, your true talent and your free choice, being a full-time housewife is just as challenging and respectable as being a woman CEO.”

And the number of people poised to hear that message, and the message of MAKERS, is about to get even bigger: Lan tells TIME that she’s expanding Her Village from a weekly TV show to a daily show, and — perhaps more significantly — launching an app version within the next few months.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the relationship between AOL and MAKERS. AOL owns MAKERS.

TIME Music

Ed Sheeran: “Taylor Swift is a middle-aged woman trapped in a 24-year-old’s body”

Ed Sheeran
Ed Sheeran onstage on June 17, 2014 in Burbank, Calif. Kevin Winter / Getty Images for Clear Channel

The "Sing" songster talks to TIME

When Ed Sheeran talked to TIME for this week’s issue, the full conversation ranged from his go-to karaoke song (“Pony” by Ginuwine) and what will happen to his puppet alter ego for his “Sing” video (it will be used again, and then he’ll eventually keep it at home in a display box), to dealing with a break up (writing a song beats crying at home) and worrying that his album will leak (if it happened to Kanye, it could happen to anyone).

And, of course, the infamous Drake-lyric needlepoint.

The “started from the bottom” stitch sampler was created by none other than Taylor Swift, and was shown to the public in the Sheeran-centric MTV doc 9 Days and Nights of Ed Sheeran, which premiered June 10. It caused some Internet swooning among fans, but Sheeran tells TIME, there weren’t any other crafts exchanged:

Did you make Taylor Swift anything in return for the Drake needlepoint?

No, but I’m not a very crafty sort of person. She’s very crafty.

Obviously.

I know she’s 24 but she’s a sort of middle-aged woman trapped in a 24-year-old’s body. She hangs out with her cat and sews things.

How old are you, at heart?

My soul age differs from day to day. It can be 8 or 80.

Can you tell when you wake up which it will be?

It just depends on what I’m doing. If I’m working it’s usually pretty spot-on for work, but if I’m with my friends and the clock’s off I’ll go back to being young.

Sheeran’s new album, x,drops June 23.

TIME movies

VIDEO: Space Aliens Meet iPhones in an Exclusive Clip from Earth to Echo

Unlike E.T., today's aliens want to use the phone to do something other than call home

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The idea that aliens might choose to communicate with Earthlings via our technology is far from a new one. It’s in movies from Close Encounters of the Third Kind to Contact, and — sort of — in real life, as the choice to send vinyl records on the Voyager space explorer shows. But none of the people involved in those stories had something that almost everyone has today: a cell phone.

The upcoming movie Earth to Echo, out July 2, changes that. A bit of family-friendly sci-fi in the E.T. vein, it’s about a group of friends who — after receiving strange cell phone messages — suspect that something fishy is going on in their neighborhood, right before the area is to be bulldozed for a highway construction project. And, as the exclusive sneak peek above shows, the kids at the center of the story are more than proficient when it comes to their phones.

The phones are also how first contact takes place—as seen in a second clip, below—and how some of the movie’s scenes are presented, mixing a found-footage style with the first-person GoPro aesthetic.

The idea that cell phones would ruin the plots of older movies isn’t a new one — for example, the entire plot of Home Alone could have been avoided if Kevin could call his folks at the airport — but not everything is messed up by constant communication. As Earth to Echo shows, sometimes the cell phone is the plot.

TIME Television

The Best (and Worst) TV Dads

Some are great role models, some not so much.

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Father’s Day is just about here, so here’s TIME’s roundup of the best (and some of the worst) fathers that have graced the small screen.

From Bill Cosby to Archie Bunker, all classic dad traits are on display — from unquestionable authority, to care and compassion and all the other characteristics that make a good father.

So, as you think of your old man this Father’s Day, whether he’s more Peter Griffin, or Homer Simpson, or even Al Bundy, he’s the man who raised you.

TIME Pop Culture

Chuck D, the N-word and the Problem With Trolling

Chuck D
Rapper Chuck D attends the Record Store Day LA press conference 2014 held at Amoeba Music on March 20, 2014 in Hollywood, Calif. Tommaso Boddi / WireImage

A Twitter debate about a radio station makes a point about the power of language

Fighting the power is nothing new for Chuck D, the rapper best known as a part of Public Enemy. Recently, however, he’s been waging a new kind of war, largely online.

It started at Hot 97′s Summer Jam, the annual concert thrown by the New York hip-hop radio behemoth. The Summer Jam has been the site of controversy in the past — in 2012, it was the site of Nicki Minaj’s cancelling a show when a D.J. accused her of a lack of realness — and this year’s, which took place on June 1, was no exception. Following the concert, which Chuck D did not attend, the rapper tweeted that the event constituted “cultural crime”:

Though the initial accusation was somewhat vague, it soon became clear that his problem was with the way that the radio station represented the genre and, in particular, the casual use of racial slurs at the event. Hot 97 told Billboard that his criticisms of the programming on the station didn’t make sense in terms of the role of radio today, to which the artist responded that if there were a festival allowed its hosts and guests to use slurs about any group other than African-Americans, the result would be very different.

Hip-hop aficionados are likely to focus on the question of the proper function of a radio station and use of the n-word in pop culture, but there’s another aspect to the debate that affects pretty much everyone involved in online conversations. (So, pretty much anyone who’s ever been on the Internet.) That’s the question of whether Chuck D was trolling Hot 97, something that prominent on-air personality Peter Rosenberg brought up during a segment about the rapper’s tweets. “If all you’re doing is trolling on Twitter, you ain’t doing that much,” he said.

Part of the problem is the variety of meanings the one word can carry. According to a rather exhaustive “brief history of trolls” at The Daily Dot, the term is a relatively new turn of phrase for annoying provocation of several different stripes. There’s patent trolling, the practice of holding onto broad patents with the intent of suing companies that use similar technology rather than actually making the product yourself. There’s full-on bullying, and then the less cruel meme-based 4chan subculture of deliberate mischief, like Rick Rolling.

And there is, as in this case, disruption for the sake of attention, an attention-grabbing burst of negativity. More and more, that’s the definition that matters.

Late last year, Daniel D’Addario at Salon asked whether the Internet had reached “peak troll” as a wider swath of consumers became aware that lots of online content was being created with the express purpose of making them angry and thus engaged. If we’re onto the trick, the idea went, trolling will stop working. While few would argue that a decline in purposeful agitation would be nice, perhaps there’s such a thing as overawareness.

A March Deadspin article about the parallel term “clickbait” — used to refer to overblown headlines that encourage readers to click on the story — made the point that there a logical problem with saying that wanting people to read what you wrote makes that thing bad; some people who want attention for their ideas want that attention because they care about their ideas. And, by extension, argued that piece, using “clickbait” as a criticism doesn’t do justice to the critic either, as “[a] universe of concerns, each one as specific and unique as what it’s addressing, is entirely subsumed into a single meaningless word that functions as nothing more than the expression of an attitude of superiority. I’m too smart for that to work on me.

In this situation, though Rosenberg and Chuck D have also participated in a somewhat more nuanced conversation about the radio station, the idea that the latter is “trolling” a popular station in order to get attention just dismisses the concerns wholesale without granting them the legitimacy of real ideas. In some ways, it’s another side of a conversation about privilege that has been going on for far longer: though the two sides in this particular debate come from different positions of power within rap and hip-hop, the ability to push aside someone’s criticism as mere trolling is a privileged one. A respected pioneer of hip-hop analyzing the intersection of music and race may deserve attention from one of the genre’s most listened-to outlets — whether or not his beliefs about a radio station’s job reflect the realities of broadcast media — but the online mantra of “don’t feed the trolls” says to do exactly the opposite. Call something trolling and you’re free to ignore it.

Based on a tweet from yesterday, it seems clear that Chuck D understands why that matters:

There’s no way to know for sure the degree to which drumming up attention played into the rapper’s original statements, and he did not respond to requests to further discuss the subtleties of trolling — but, even for people who have no opinion about what kind of music Hot 97 should play, his point about language is worth remembering. Clickbait and trolling do exist; that’s obvious to anyone who spends any time online. But not everyone who makes you mad is trolling you. And, as Hot 97 is learning, sometimes not feeding the “troll” just feeds more anger.

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