Metallica sues, chads hang, and Survivors survive: 19 pop culture windows into 2000

Gif: Natalie Peeples

The world didn’t end. The lights stayed on, airplanes remained in the sky, and when the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000, the world’s computerized systems were properly primed to handle the roll over from years that started with “19” and years that started with “2.” Not that the 365 days that followed needed any help with being eventful: The Y2K bug was a bust, but computers still managed to wreak havoc, as their increasingly connected users rode increasing broadband speeds into one another’s music libraries, accessed through a piece of software that would become the recording industry’s public enemy No. 1 by midyear. You could argue until you’re blue in the face about when a new decade, century, or millennium actually begins, but with Peanuts set to end in February of 2000, the old standbys and security blankets of the 20th century were already starting to fade away. Meanwhile, the United States was on the precipice of picking a new president—though nobody could’ve suspected that Decision 2000 ultimately rested with the U.S. Supreme Court.

But lists of incorrectly labeled MP3s, comic strip panels, and the holes of oddly punctured ballots are just three portals to see 2000 through. As is tradition for The A.V. Club’s annual summertime throwbacks, we begin Y2K Week by reconstructing the year that was 20 years ago through the pop culture works, figures, and events that defined it. It’s not a comprehensive timeline, but a mosaic of the art and media that still scream “Y2K!” today. To paraphrase an old Late Night With Conan O’Brien bit that carried on during (and even after) the year in its title: It’s time, once again, to look into the past.

The past?

That’s right—let’s look into past. All the way to the year 2000.

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Dave Eggers, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Chris Ware give lit bros a lot to be insufferable about (February, March, and September)

Dave Eggers, Mark Z. Danielewski, and Chris Ware give lit bros a lot to be insufferable about (February, March, and September)

The year 2000 didn’t invent the sad lit bro—a fine tradition of postmodern mopery that dates back to days when “modern” meant, like, Ancient Rome. But it sure did offer up plenty of fuel for the morose fire, whether in the form of Dave Eggers’ meta-earnest “memoir,” A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius; Mark Z. Danielewski’s novelistic labyrinth, House Of Leaves; or Chris Ware’s technically impeccable monolith to his own misery, Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid On Earth. Genius works of literature all, laser-directed at the kind of (typically male) reader for whom “genius” is the ultimate compliment, all three books have undeniable worth and merit. After all, it’s not their fault that they were released so close to each other, or that seeing all three on a single person’s bookshelf constitutes a red flag so massive that it’s visible from space. Call it a literary perfect storm—for people who’d never be caught dead seeing something so “pedestrian” as that summer’s The Perfect Storm in theaters. [William Hughes]

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The Sims gives PC users a new way to play god (February 4)

The Sims gives PC users a new way to play god (February 4)

During a year when forecasts called for chaos and uncertainty, The Sims arrived in timely fashion, offering a digital salve for the PC gamer who craved control. Electronic Arts managed to tap into the general public’s innate desire to play god with a Sim City spin-off that allowed users to build artificial lives that ran the gamut from the completely mundane to utter bedlam. In its immediate popularity, The Sims served as the great equalizer among budding and expert gamers alike: Every player had theories on mapping out the ideal home, securing the perfect job, and mixing up the right cocktail of personality traits in order to create the most prosperous character. What’s more, it was the rare game that positioned PCs as the “console” of choice, and laid the foundation for one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time. [Shannon Miller]

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Peanuts ends (February 13)

Peanuts ends (February 13)

Following a series of small strokes and a colon cancer diagnosis, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz announced his retirement in November 1999. But such is the work-ahead regimen of writing and drawing a daily newspaper strip that new slices of Charlie Brown and friends’ lives continued to appear in newspapers for a few months afterward, into the year of Peanuts’ 50th anniversary. When the calendar pages turned, there was a New Year’s Day snowball fight, Schulz’s hand too shaky to render the lettering, but his handiwork unmistakable in its contents. (Snoopy stares inquisitively at his ammunition above the caption “Suddenly the dog realized that his dad had never taught him how to throw snowballs.”) Two days later, a heartfelt sign-off from the cartoonist they called “Sparky” expressed gratitude to his readers, editors, and characters—a letter reproduced in the final original Sunday Peanuts, surrounded by some of the strip’s indelible images and gags: the World War I Flying Ace, Snoopy running away with Linus’ security blanket (with Linus still attached), and good ol’ Charlie Brown, frozen in mid-air as Lucy swipes the football out from under him. Schulz had mordantly joked that these avatars of preternatural wisdom and late-20th-century ennui would outlive him, and they have, occupying a spot in the funny pages and seasonal television lineups even today. But there’s also this: Charles M. Schulz died at the age of 77 on February 12, 2000, one day before Snoopy sat down at his typewriter for the very last time. [Erik Adams]

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“Say My Name” video introduces new members of Destiny’s Child (much to the surprise of former members of Destiny’s Child) (February 15)

“Say My Name” video introduces new members of Destiny’s Child (much to the surprise of former members of Destiny’s Child) (February 15)

Bands break up and replace members all the time, but it’s hard to recall a public shakeup as brutal as Destiny’s Child: Fans of Beyoncé Knowles, LeToya Luckett, LaTavia Roberson, and Kelly Rowland’s “Bills Bills Bills” and “Bug-A-Boo” excitedly tuned in to MTV and BET to watch the debut of the “Say My Name” video only to find two new faces—Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin—in place of Luckett and Roberson. News that Luckett and Roberson had been replaced after accusing the group’s manager (and Beyoncé’s dad), Mathew Knowles, of withholding group profits was a shock to everyone—including Luckett and Roberson, who have said they didn’t realize they were out until they saw the video on TV like the rest of the world. And as it would happen, Franklin would only last six months, and by the release of “Independent Women (Part 1),” the new quartet was officially a trio. [Patrick Gomez]

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Jennifer Lopez steals everyone’s thunder at the Grammys, inspires Google Image Search (February 23)

Jennifer Lopez steals everyone’s thunder at the Grammys, inspires Google Image Search (February 23)

Celebrity can be a chicken-and-egg sort of scenario: Do the words “J. Lo’s dress” conjure up layers of strategically draped silk chiffon because Jennifer Lopez is famous, or is Jennifer Lopez famous because of that plunging Versace dress? Lopez was in the midst of her transition from well-regarded actress to global superstar in 2000, and although she maintains that the sensation she caused when she stepped onto the Grammys red carpet that year was unintentional, her PR must have been thrilled by the world’s gobsmacked reaction to her outfit. The parodies were immediate, as South Park’s Trey Parker paid tribute to “the dress” by dropping acid and going to the Oscars wearing the same design a month later. But its most lasting contribution to pop culture takes the form of Google Image Search, which according to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, was inspired by a spike in searches for photos of Lopez in that diaphanous jungle print the day after the ceremony. [Katie Rife]

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Stephen King gives this internet thing a shot (March 14)

Stephen King gives this internet thing a shot (March 14)

Stephen King’s been hailed as something of a prophet over the past few years, first for having depicted the dangers of a Trump-like president in 1979’s The Dead Zone and then for his take on a government’s catastrophic pandemic response in 1978’s The Stand. But King was also at the forefront of another modern-day phenomenon: digital publishing. In 2000, King’s Riding The Bullet became the world’s first mass-market e-book, going on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Inspired by its success, the author thought to see what might happen if he uploaded a book to the internet without the help of a publisher. That’s when he started dropping chapters of a new novel, The Plant, online. “My friends, we have the chance to become Big Publishing’s worst nightmare,” he wrote on his website. Fans were asked to pay $1 for each chapter downloaded, though they could also download it for free, and if at least 75% of readers paid, he’d keep writing. The experiment started strong, but according to The New York Times, King bailed after less than half of readers paid for the sixth installment. A failed effort, perhaps, but one that reverberates today—the number of authors self-publishing digitally grows every year. [Randall Colburn]

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Making The Band premieres (March 24)

Making The Band premieres (March 24)

Before Survivor whisked audiences away to Borneo, it was Making The Band that ushered in the new era of reality television, transporting viewers to a place just as unforgiving: Orlando, Florida. From Bunim/Murray Productions—the team behind Real WorldMaking The Band applied the voyeuristic lens of the MTV staple to the world of boy bands, specifically producer Lou Pearlman’s Sunshine State-based Trans Continental Records, which birthed the Romulus and Remus of turn-of-the-millennium pop, Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync. Telegraphing his media savvy and penchant for (often illegal) scheming, Pearlman was the series’ unlikely anchor as young men competed for five slots in his next formula-proven boy band. Though the show’s second season moved to MTV (and, later, gave the reins to Diddy), Making The Band represented network TV’s pioneering foray into narrative, unscripted programming, bringing the genre to the mainstream while also crystallizing our obsession with teen pop idols. It should be noted, the fruit of Making The Band’s season-one labors was O-Town, whose most lasting mark on pop culture is “Liquid Dreams,” an innuendo-laden hit that can still make a listener blush. [Cameron Scheetz]

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Metallica files suit against Napster (April 13)

Metallica files suit against Napster (April 13)

Hindsight’s 20/20: The past two decades have given Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich enough perspective to recognize that showing up at Napster HQ and delivering an estimated 335,435 usernames that were believed to have downloaded Metallica tracks on the service was “maybe not the smartest PR move of all time.” But that’s just how things escalated in the strangest, most perception-flipping musical beef of 2000, when the anti-authority likes of Ulrich and Dr. Dre seemed to side with their labels (or at least their lawyers) over their fans, testifying before the Senate and in the courtroom that recorded music’s biggest evolutionary leap since MTV was robbing them of album sales and royalties. Never mind that the headlining act on the Mission: Impossible II soundtrack (which is how any of this came to Ulrich and company’s attention in the first place) was the last ones who’d actually be hurt by the online free-for-all; forget that the satirical barbs from either side of the Metallica v. Napster divide made all parties involved sound like they’d been watching too much South Park. Ultimately, the publicity stunts and the VMA sketches just distracted from the actual culprits who killed the commercial single, jacked up CD prices, and went on to strike a more intense litigious pose than Ulrich’s “street fight” tactics. [Erik Adams]

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Oprah Winfrey’s media empire expands with O Magazine (April 17)

Oprah Winfrey’s media empire expands with O Magazine (April 17)

By 2000, Oprah Winfrey had made her mark on TV, book clubs, and the occasional movie ticket. So why not the magazine rack, too? The media mogul launched O, The Oprah Magazine with an understated cover featuring Winfrey herself relaxing in a chair. The headline read, “Live Your Best Life / Start right here, right now,” which worked as a mission statement for every issue to follow. O featured some of Oprah’s favorite things, like ottoman trays and comfy pajamas, as well as recipes, book recommendations, and various ways to eat healthy, communicate better, and de-stress, all in service of leading her readers (especially women) to their most ideal existence. O transformed Oprah from TV personality to lifestyle guru, and very successfully: It was outselling more established women’s magazines within months of its launch, and has lasted in an age when many print publications have downsized, if not disappeared altogether. Oprah underlined her involvement in the magazine by appearing, solo or with a special guest like Michelle Obama, on every single cover over the past 20 years—with one notable, recent example. The September 2020 O cover features a portrait of Breonna Taylor by artist Alexis Franklin, alongside the descriptor “Killed by police / Her Life Matters,” and a quote by Winfrey herself: “When you turn a blind side to racism, you become an accomplice to it.” [Gwen Ihnat]

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David Arquette wins WCW title, while WCW loses the Monday Night Wars (April 26)

David Arquette wins WCW title, while WCW loses the Monday Night Wars (April 26)

Is David Arquette responsible for the sad death of WCW? You’ll hear that. The company, after all, was acquired by the WWE less than a year after the actor became its World Heavyweight Champion. To say that, however, is to ignore the other factors of its decline. The reckless, overinflated paydays, for example. Or its top stars’ lack of oversight. Or, hell, that Jay Leno match in 1998. David Arquette did not destroy the WCW, but his title win and its subsequent fallout is indicative of that era in wrestling’s overindulgence of celebrity—and the audience’s growing distaste for it. What made Arquette’s title win so egregious wasn’t that it was Arquette, but that it was little more than a marketing stunt for Ready To Rumble, a forgettable comedy that, in the name of consumerism, took precedence over consistent booking. Still, the outrage over Arquette’s win almost feels quaint two decades on. These days, WWE regularly sacrifices its workaday wrestlers to celebrities—be it semi-retired legends like The Rock and Goldberg or actors like Arrow’s Stephen Amell—who won’t be there the next night. Arquette should’ve been a lesson, but today’s WWE is just as in love with celeb-first booking as WCW was. And the numbers just keep dropping. [Randall Colburn]

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Jack and Ethan’s passionate kiss on Dawson’s Creek makes history (May 24)

Jack and Ethan’s passionate kiss on Dawson’s Creek makes history (May 24)

TV’s history of onscreen gay kisses only spans a few decades (its history of openly gay characters doesn’t go back much further), starting with the modest same-sex peck exchanged between L.A. Law’s bisexual character, C.J. Lamb, and a straight colleague; that pairing went nowhere. Mariel Hemingway planted one on a disinterested Roseanne in 1994, but it was mostly played for laughs. It wasn’t until 2000 that primetime viewers witnessed a gay kiss that looked even remotely passionate. The teen drama Dawson’s Creek saw Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) tentatively explore his sexual orientation early on, but in the season-three finale, “True Love,” he shared his feelings with his crush/prom date, Ethan (Adam Kaufman), and sealed the admission with a kiss. It was chaste compared to what the guys on Showtime’s Queer As Folk adaptation would get up to later in the year, and it was depicted by two straight actors—but it was still a significant step forward in LGBTQ+ representation on TV. And it almost didn’t happen: The WB initially fought showrunner Greg Berlanti over airing the kiss. It wasn’t until he threatened to quit that the network relented, and another barrier was broken. [Danette Chavez]

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Survivor premieres on CBS (May 31)

Survivor premieres on CBS (May 31)

No one—including executive producer Mark Burnett—knew what to expect when they placed 16 Americans in Borneo and asked them to survive in the wilderness. Or rather, Burnett expected Survivor to play out a little more like the Swedish series it was based on, Expedition Robinson, on which contestants judged each other more on their survival skills than their strategy. But when Survivor premiered on May 31, it was clear American competitors were going to value alliances over merit when voting their way to a $1 million prize. Reality-competition strategy was in its infancy (one contestant actually voted people out alphabetically), but viewers quickly became invested in the alliance-building and backstabbing—with 51.7 million people tuning in on August 23 to see, as bitter juror Sue Hawk phrased it, Richard “The Snake” Hatch devour Kelly “The Rat” Wiglesworth. Forty seasons later, and it’s still hard to top that first outing. [Patrick Gomez]

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X-Men ushers in the modern superhero blockbuster (July 14)

X-Men ushers in the modern superhero blockbuster (July 14)

At the end of the ’90s, it seemed like superhero movies were strictly kids’ stuff, with Joel Schumacher’s camp-fest Batman & Robin seeming to drive the last nail into the coffin of cinematic comic book heroes in 1997. (Give or take a Blade.) So it’s a minor miracle that X-Men got green-lit—and an even bigger one that it was as good as it was. Sure, the effects have aged poorly, and its pacing is downright lumpen compared to today’s MCU hits. But as our own Tom Breihan said of this nimble, mid-budget introduction of mutants to the big screen, “It basically created a rough-draft model for the Marvel Cinematic Universe eight years before that would come into existence. And it showed that there was, in fact, room for this, for the slick and serious-minded superhero blockbuster.” Wolverine, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and Rogue were superheroes for a more modern era, with their mature dialogue and wannabe-cool black leather outfits—honestly, what would you prefer, yellow spandex? [Alex McLevy]

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Rage Against The Machine rages against the DNC (August 14)

Rage Against The Machine rages against the DNC (August 14)

“Apparently there’s some other show going on across the street here, but it’s all sold out.” The speaker: Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha. The “other show”: The 2000 Democratic National Convention at Los Angeles’ Staples Center, for which the politically minded band provided counter-programming, playing a free concert in the fenced-off “Protest Zone” that served as a buffer between demonstrators and the delegates. Despite a massive police presence (some loaded up with tear gas canisters) and throngs of moshing concertgoers, everything seemed pretty peaceful—until authorities ordered the crowd to disperse at the end of the show, citing “unlawful assembly.” The ensuing clash between the cops and the crowd resulted in what was later called a “mini riot,” with officers shooting rubber bullets at fleeing fans. At the time, observers likened the event to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago; in 2020, it’s impossible to watch the footage and not think of protestors being attacked by police and unidentified federal forces in cities across America today. Different decade, same soundtrack of dissent: While citizens took to the streets this summer demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other victims of state-sanctioned violence, Rage Against The Machine’s self-titled 1992 debut re-entered the Billboard 200 album chart. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Blockbuster passes on buying Netflix for $50 million (September)

Blockbuster passes on buying Netflix for $50 million (September)

Illustration for article titled Metallica sues, chads hang, and iSurvivor/is survive: 19 pop culture windows into 2000
Photo: Darren McCollester (Getty Images)

The next time you feel like a failure, think of it this way—at least you aren’t the Blockbuster executive who passed on buying Netflix. This regrettable moment in media business history was made public by former Netflix CFO Barry McCarthy in 2008, when he revealed in an interview that he and a handful of Netflix executives had flown to Dallas to meet with then-Blockbuster CEO John Antioco in 2000. There, they offered to sell Blockbuster the Netflix name, and have Netflix manage the video chain’s online presence. The asking price? $50 million. Blockbuster said no. Fast-forward 20 years, and Netflix is valued at $194 billion, while Blockbuster limps along with a single retail location in Bend, Oregon. That’s not even the most humiliating part of the story, however: After rejecting Netflix, Blockbuster signed a 20-year exclusive video-on-demand contract with Enron (yup, that Enron), which, when it wasn’t camouflaging its cooked books beneath Star Wars references, was hoping to break into telecommunications. Feeling better about your choices yet? [Katie Rife]

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Britney Spears ascends to the VMA throne (September 7)

Britney Spears ascends to the VMA throne (September 7)

While you are certainly free to litigate the validity of MTV’s Video Music Awards, the annual spectacle has long stood as a solid chance for artists to unleash their grandest, wildest ideas—the ones likely too risqué or unwieldy for the stuffed shirts at The Recording Academy. The roster of performers for the 2000 VMAs was a microcosm of some of the most enduring pop acts of the time, including ’N Sync, Christina Aguilera, and Nelly. But it was Britney Spears who made the biggest mark that night (give or take Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford scaling the scenery in protest of Limp Bizkit’s Best Rock Video win), arriving at Radio City Music Hall on a mission to shed her innocent image and enter a new era of pop stardom. And she accomplished as much by casting off a tearaway suit to reveal a bedazzled, flesh-toned bra before singing an equally stripped down arrangement of “Oops… I Did It Again.” Though the costume was then considered a controversial choice for a still-nascent Princess Of Pop, the gutsy performance, aged-up choreography, and her ability to command such a large-scale production cemented her status as an industry icon. It also established a high bar for that particular stage, one that only she was equipped to clear. After that, it wasn’t a matter of if Britney would grace the VMA stage, but how she would top herself—and what she’d wear while doing so. [Shannon Miller]

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“Stan” gives the internet a new term for excessive fandom (November 21)

“Stan” gives the internet a new term for excessive fandom (November 21)

Although Eminem was all too happy to use his more radio-friendly contemporaries as fodder for his notorious takedowns, the rapper was more like them in 2000 than he’d care to admit. The signature bleached buzz and white tank top? The outsized alter ego known as Slim Shady? He had fashioned himself into a pop star, and the record-breaking success of The Marshall Mathers LP only cemented his transition from incendiary pariah to mainstream paragon of disaffected (white) men. For better or worse, Eminem was acutely aware of his public perception and attempted to unpack the newfound fame in perhaps his best feat of storytelling. Sampling Dido’s “Thank You,” “Stan” employs dual perspectives to tell the story of a Slim Shady devotee who spirals out of control when his fan mail goes unanswered, ignored by the person he cares about the most. The song’s tragic conclusion makes it all the more ironic that this dark parable of celebrity obsession has given an Oxford- and Merriam-Webster-approved name to intensely loyal fandoms. Devoid of its original context, to be a stan is now a point of pride, which says as much about Eminem’s waning cultural significance as it does our culture of noxious celebrity worship. Stars may fade, but “Stan” is eternal. [Cameron Scheetz]

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“Hanging chad” becomes the punchline of the year thanks to Bush v. Gore (December)

“Hanging chad” becomes the punchline of the year thanks to Bush v. Gore (December)

America was not far enough down the road of blending politics and celebrity to elect a reality-show host president in 2000. But a few more bricks were laid when Bush v. Gore became the biggest political story of the new millennium in November 2000. As news of the Florida recount disseminated, first through news channels and then late-night monologues, two humble specks of paper emerged as the stars of this drama: the hanging chad, or a paper punch that didn’t completely separate itself from a paper ballot, and the pregnant chad, or a punch that didn’t go all the way through the paper, leaving only an indentation. As often happens, over time these technical terms became pop culture punchlines, gradually transforming from an existential crisis for the American electoral system to a recurring bit on How I Met Your Mother by the end of George W. Bush’s first term. [Katie Rife]

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Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon begins its historic run (December)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon begins its historic run (December)

There had never been a hit quite like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and there hasn’t been one since either. Ang Lee’s sweeping, romantic, wire-work throwback to the wuxia genre hit U.S. theaters a couple weeks before Christmas, eventually expanding into wide release and grossing more than $100 million at the domestic box office. Had The Matrix, released one year earlier, whetted America’s appetite for balletic kung-fu spectacle, regardless of what tongue its martial artists spoke? Or could no language barrier extinguish the smoldering star power of Chow Yun-fat, Michelle Yeoh, and a young Zhang Ziyi, in her breakout performance? Whatever the explanation, a country historically averse to subtitles came out in droves to see a talky, meditative, unabashedly old-fashioned adventure epic performed entirely in Mandarin. Twenty years later, no film made in another country and in a language other than English has come within a pebble’s throw of Crouching Tiger’s unprecedented American grosses—not even that other, recent, runaway crowd-pleaser from Asia. (Parasite will have to settle for a different historic benchmark, one to which Lee’s blockbuster can’t lay claim; it lost the big one to Hollywood’s old-fashioned swordplay spectacle of the year, Gladiator.) [A.A. Dowd]

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