Popular Culture


GetAHorseHace como un mes, fuí a ver la película Frozen (Una Aventura Congelada). Antes de la película la audiencia fue entretenida con un cortometraje animado de Disney llamado, Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo). En el corto vemos a Mickey y otros personajes cobrar vida gracias a la magia de la tecnología en 3D. Uno puede decir que la caricatura tiene cualidades artísticas excelentes, pero para muchos de nosotros que crecimos mirando caricaturas de Disney, el contenido no fue nada nuevo. ¡Eso fue lo que exactamente me hizo pensar en que @$%#^& estuvo pensando Disney cuando creo este corto en el 2013!

¡La trama va más o menos así: Mickey es felíz siendo Mickey bailando y jugando con sus amigos hasta que Minnie (la compañera de Mickey) es sexualizada y secuestrada por un villano! El despliegue visual del cuerpo de Minnie siendo mal manejado y maltratado por el secuestrador fue perturbador. La caricatura entera fue violencia sexual vendida a nosotros como arte. A pesar de aquellos presentes que estábamos conjeturando como lograr que el proyector dejase de continuar, también muchos se encontraban riendo fuertemente y golpeando los pies en el suelo con deleite.

Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo) ha sido nominada para un Oscar, y de ganar, será más promovido, será aclamado artísticamente, y podría inclusive inspirar a la creación de otros cortos con contenido similar. Tú podrías optar por ver esta situación como algo benigno, solo una caricatura animada, y que no amerita mucha preocupación. En ocasiones yo también opto por ignorar mi radar feminista y miro cosas que son violentas o tratan a la mujer como un objeto. Sin embargo, todavía espero un nivel más elevado de responsabilidad. Espero que cuanto más educación reciba la gente acerca de cómo la violencia afecta a nuestra comunidades, ésta será erradicada o por lo menos no tolerada. Lo que me deja sintiéndome sin esperanzas es ir al cine y ver que Disney, con la ayuda de la tecnología de hoy, reintroduce la trama sexista y de violencia sexual de algunos de las caricaturas de los años 70s (setenta). Todos los comentarios que he leído acerca de Get a Horse (Consigue un Caballo) han sido positivos. La gente parece amar la idea de que sus hijos y nietos sean introducidos a los personajes animados con los que crecieron. Yo puedo entender el de gustar e inclusive amar algunos de los personajes y películas de Disney. Sin embargo,  creo que es imperativo que los adultos demanden tramas que no perpetúen o normalicen la violencia sexual a nuestros niños. Se lo debemos a ellos y a nosotros mismos.

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A month ago I went to the movies to see Frozen. Before the main movie, the audience was treated to a short film called Get a Horse. In the short we see Mickey and several other characters come to life with the magic of 3D technology. One can say it had amazing artistic qualities, but for those of us who grew up watching Disney cartoons there was nothing new about the plot. Which is exactly what made me wonder: What the @#$% was Disney thinking when they created Get a Horse in 2013?

The plot goes like this: Mickey is happy being Mickey and dancing and playing with friends until Minnie (his gal pal) gets sexualized and kidnapped by a villain! The visual of Minnie’s body being mishandled and mistreated by the kidnapper was very disturbing to me and others around me. The whole thing was sexual violence sold to us as art. Despite those of us who were wondering how to stop the projector from going any further, there were many laughing out loud and stomping their feet with delight.

Get a Horse has been nominated for an Oscar and—if it wins—will get more promotion, be artistically lauded, and may even inspire other shorts with a similar plot. You may want to choose to see this as something benign, just a cartoon, and not worth the fuss. I do sometimes turn my feminist radar off to watch things that are violent or objectify women. However, I still expect a higher level of accountability. I hope that the more educated people get about what violence does to our communities, the more it will be eradicated or at the very least become intolerable. What leaves me feeling hopeless though, is going to a movie theater to see Disney bring back the sexist and sexually violent plots of some of the 70’s cartoons with the help of today’s technology. All of the comments I have read about Get a Horse have been positive. People seem to love the idea of the characters they grew up with being introduced to their children and grandchildren. I can understand liking and even loving some of the Disney characters and movies. However, I think it is imperative for adults to demand plots that don’t perpetuate and normalize sexual violence to our children. We owe it to them and ourselves.

Did you watch the Golden Globes? I did. I used to watch because I LOVE movies and television and was always caught up with who’s who and what’s what. Now I have 2 small children and I’m lucky if I know the names of the characters on Super Why. I watched because I might just be a liiiiitle fanatical about Amy Poehler, and she was hosting along with Tiny Fey. (Squeee!) I thought they killed it—it was great. tinaandamy

However, some people took issue with the amount of estrogen at the event. Seriously. It’s an event celebrating an industry that has a terrible track record for treating women equitably and with dignity, and some folks can’t handle it when women have the mic. Talk about silencing. Whether we like it or not, the media has a powerful influence on how we think and act in the world. And unfortunately, the Golden Globes illuminated those issues—sexism, racism, heterosexism to name a few—that create the conditions in which violence thrives. From Michael Douglas who half-jokingly worried about how his role might make him seem gay (message: It’s not OK to be gay, folks) to the complete lack of women represented in the nominations for writing or directing (message: Women aren’t good at this job).

It’s a reminder that women and girls are receiving negative messages everyday that objectify and degrade us. They limit us and wear us down. And they influence and train men and boys to disrespect women.

But there are some good things happening out there in media-land! Amy Poehler (yes, I maybe have a huge crush on her) has a series of Ask Amy clips that send great messages to girls. The folks that brought you the documentary Miss Representation are regularly calling out the media when it behaves badly with their #NotBuyingIt campaign. And check out this PSA from the Geena Davis Institute of Gender in the Media. Speak out about the deluge of negative images the media sends us. We don’t have to buy it!

Thanksgiving weekend I found myself in a long line at the movie theater, waiting to see the newest Disney princess flick, Frozen. So much of the movie buzz was about whether boys would watch a “princess movie.” Conventional marketing wisdom has been that girls will watch movies about boys, but boys won’t watch movies about girls. I saw it with a ready-made focus group—five boys ranging from preschool to pre-teen. Their reviews were glowing (“awesome!” “hilarious!” “the snowman said ‘butt’!”) and had nothing to do with the gender of the main characters. But let’s get real: on day 7 of a 10-day school break, none of us were that picky.

So what is it about “girl movies” that boys supposedly find so unappealing?

My guess? The girl protagonists we are used to being served up are just boring. It’s not their fault—they have been imprisoned in the towering failure of imagination that is the “princess movie” formula. It isn’t really a fair comparison. Boy characters (be they humans, cars, monsters, whatever) have their own story arc complete with character motivation, challenges to overcome, and quests to fulfill. Even in title roles, girls are more often objects than subjects, serving as the motivation, prop, or reward for someone else’s heroic deeds.

The question isn’t why don’t boys relate to these movies, but how can anyone?

It is amazing to me we are still having this conversation. That it is actual news when a girl character is a person instead of a prop. Girls as objects; boys as subjects. Snooze.

Another person who can’t believe we’re still talking about this is the namesake of the Bechdel Test, a set of three criteria for movies that have women characters who are more than mere objects. It first appeared in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For. To pass the test, a movie must (1) have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other about (3) something besides a man. In case it isn’t obvious, this a low bar. It doesn’t make a movie feminist, or worth $8 at the matinee. It just means the women in it are people.

Although being famous for the rule doesn’t do Alison’s work justice, it is fitting. What made Dykes to Watch Out For revolutionary and revelatory in the 1980s is that its cast of characters are lesbians who are fully formed human beings. The relevance of the “test” shows just how little has changed. After a recent round of media attention, Alison pointed out that her critique is at least as old as Virginia Woolf. Frozen’s head animator pointed to the technical challenge of creating female characters who are expressive and individual, yet faithful to the “pretty” princess mold.

But Frozen promised to be different. So I watched the movie in actual suspense: Would the princess (once again) be rescued by the heroic prince? Or does she get to be the hero in her own story? Is happily ever after defined as romance and marriage? Or is there another story about happiness, friendship, and love? If two women share the same space, does one have to be evil?

Spoiler alert: The girls are people. Two sisters are the main characters; the boys are sidekicks. A major plot twist turns on the idea that fairy tale romance is a scam. The act of true love doesn’t climax in a shimmery wedding scene. And the snowman says “butt.”

Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin)

One of the things that I love about anti-violence work is that anyone can do it, anytime, anyplace. You don’t need to have special training or education to start addressing the issue (though I’m always impressed by and thankful for those folks who’ve gone deeper in their learning).

Case in point: cons. For those who don’t know, cons are fan conventions, most frequently focused on things like comics, gaming, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Probably the most well-known con is Comic-Con in San Diego, but we have several cons right here in our own backyard, like Sakura Con, PAX Northwest, and GeekGirlCon (full disclosure: I am a volunteer staffer for GeekGirlCon). Cons are a fun way to connect with others who share your geeky interests, show off your cosplay, and maybe even meet some of your favorite artists/designers/actors/writers/etc.

hollaback-coverUnfortunately, cons—like the larger world—can often feel unwelcoming and sometimes even dangerous to women, to LGBTQ folks, to people of color, and others. A little bit of internet searching will bring up plenty of stories and history that I won’t go into here, because what I really want to focus on is what people are doing in response—actions people are taking to make things better!

HollabackPHILLY partnered with artist Erin Filson to create the anti-street harassment comic book Hollaback: Red, Yellow, Blue. They use the comic in workshops addressing street harassment, as well as starting conversations about harassment at cons and in the gaming community.

Con or Bust helps people of color/non-white people attend sci-fi and fantasy conventions, with the goal of increasing ethnic and racial diversity at these events. While this work may not seem to some folks like it is directly addressing harassment, it actually makes a big difference to have larger numbers of folks who are typically underrepresented.

WisCon, GeekGirlCon, and BentCon all took a slightly different approach: they decided to make their own darn cons, focusing on feminism in speculative fiction, women in all aspects of geekdom, and queer geekery, respectively. This type of DIY convention helps create safer spaces, and the effects of those safer spaces often ripples out into the larger, more mainstream cons.

Author John Scalzi wrote about why he won’t attend cons that don’t have anti-harassment policies. He used his influence as a popular writer to take a firm and principled public stand. Not only that, he opened it up for other individuals and organizations to co-sign on his policy—to date, well over 1,000 people have co-signed.

I know these examples are just scratching the surface; please share any additions (or other thoughts) in the comments below!

Lopez photo public domain; Paltrow photo by Andrea Raffin

Lopez photo public domain; Paltrow photo by Andrea Raffin

Tal vez estás pensando dinero, fama, o quizás que las dos fueron novias de Ben Affleck. Todas estas respuestas son correctas, pero aún tienen algo más. Durante el pasado mes de Abril Gwyneth Paltrow fue la más buscada en todas la páginas web debido a lucir un vestido súper transparente. Por esta misma razón Jennifer López fue la más buscada en el 2000. Era prácticamente imposible navegar el intranet sin ver todo el comentario y furor acerca del vestido transparente de Paltrow. ¿A este punto tal vez te estas preguntando, porqué debiera de importarme esto a mí? ¡Esa fue exactamente mi primera reacción! Yo me encontré molesta con toda la atención que los medios de comunicación le estaban prestando a la estrella de Hollywood y sus piernas largas, para más tarde darme cuenta cuál era la razón por la me encontraba tan molesta Todo el comentario de la media era acerca de que tan perfecta era “ Paltrow. ” Perfecta de acuerdo a los estándares de bellezas impuestos por los medios de comunicación. Inclusive Paltrow hizo broma de su situación contando que para poder lucir el vestido transparente su asistente tuvo que salir a las apuradas a conseguir una afeitadora. También Paltrow comento que se sintió avergonzada por no haberse afeitado el día anterior (no solamente se refirió a sus piernas).

Habiendo sufrido horas de dolor por vestir unos tacones altos en mi boda y solamente porque lucia bien con mi vestido, me puedo identificar con  el deseo  de satisfacer las expectativas. ¡Mejor dicho… las expectativas de presentarnos  convencionalmente femeninas! Algunos pueden decir que ésta manera de conformarse a estos estándares de belleza son opcionales para las mujeres en el 2013. ¿Pero es esto verdad? Las bromas acerca de las mujeres que no se afeitan las piernas o las axilas continúan siendo muy comunes. ¿No te preguntas que tan larga y que tan profunda es la lista de expectativas que nos acompaña por el hecho de ser mujer? Cosas que van desde afeitarse las piernas hasta dejar que tu pareja tome control de la relación. Yo trato de transformar mi relación con esa lista de expectativas cada vez que algo interfiere con mi capacidad de ser un ser humano completo. ¿Cuál es la expectativa de roles de género que afecta tu vida que te gustaría cambiar empanzando hoy?

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You may be thinking money, fame, or even Ben Affleck as an ex. These are all true, but there is more. Last April Gwyneth Paltrow made the top of every search engine with her see-through dress, just like Jennifer Lopez did back in 2000. It was practically impossible to go online without seeing the uproar about Paltrow’s dress. You may be asking, “Why should I care?” That was my exact reaction! I was really annoyed by all the media attention to the Hollywood star and her long legs. Then I realized why I was so annoyed: all the commentary was on how ‘perfect’ she was, according to conventional standards of beauty imposed by the media. In fact, Paltrow made a joke about her assistant running to get a razor to eliminate the unwanted body hair and how she felt ashamed for not having shaved the day before (hint: she was not just referring to her legs).

Having experienced hours of pain myself standing in tall heels during my wedding just because it looked good, I can totally relate to feeling like you have to live up to certain expectations. Specifically, a conventional feminine look! One can argue that this is optional for women in 2013, but is it really? Jokes about women who don’t shave their underarms or legs are still common. Doesn’t it make you wonder how long and ingrained the list of expectations is that we carry through our lives as women? Things that range from shaving your legs to letting your partner take control of the relationship. In my life, I try to challenge those expectations whenever they interfere with my ability to be a complete human being. What is one gender expectation that you want to challenge starting today?

Day one of my 60th swing around the sun. I’m pretty excited about it.

So I hope you will forgive me as I indulge in a brief feminist retrospective of my first six decades. I was thinking about it on my way to work today, specifically about:

SPORTS. Huge progress.

I missed Title IX by only a smidge. This is a great sadness to me. People often mistake me for a coordinated person (and a vegetarian). Sadly, I am neither, but I often think that I would have benefitted enormously from playing full court basketball, hanging in the outfield, diving headfirst, slaloming a steep course, running fast. I live vicariously through my friends’ daughters who joyfully play, experiencing the rough and tumble, the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat. This is no idle nostalgia or longing. Girls today are healthier, safer, and more self-possessed because they play sports. And it was not an accident. It was not an idea whose time had come. Women fought for and won the right to play.

JOBS. Pretty good progress.

Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason - Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows

Della Street, secretary, Perry Mason – Jessie Brewer, nurse to Dr. Hardy, General Hospital – Victoria Winters, vampire victim to Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows

In the 1960s, my dad encouraged me to be an oceanographer. I thought he was nuts. I knew my only real options were secretary, nurse, or vampire victim. An enduring love of office supply stores is all that remains of this particular personal legacy, because the women’s movement flung hundreds of doors wide open to us. It’s not all roses. We know that, but oh, what a difference half a century makes.

RAPE. Standing still.

I am sure people are going to disagree with me here, because we have so many laws on the books now about rape. Right? But functionally? How much have things really changed? When I was a young teen, my dad’s lone foray into sex ed was an off-hand warning—something like “once a man gets started, he can’t stop.” Start? Stop? What? I didn’t have the foggiest idea what he was talking about. But he was very much speaking from fear for his daughter, and the social norms of his day. These norms have not changed in significant enough ways. There may be more talk, but there is also a wider variety of fail. That we have made so little progress in ending rape is the biggest disappointment of my feminist career.

And finally PINK AND BLUE. Going backwards.

Come on now. This is ridiculous. This whole pink and blue genderfication thing is just plain wrong-headed. Two good books make this point. Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America and Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It. As gender becomes more nuanced, more complex, we get nervous and try to get all binary again. This is not good for girls and women. It’s not good for boys and men. It’s not good for intersex and trans people. It does not help us express our humanity as individuals and it’s not good for our relationships.

Perhaps if I live to be 70, or even 80, I’ll be able to shop for baby presents in all colors of the rainbow. Maybe all genders will give and get consent. Maybe there will be a Madame President. Maybe I’ll get my knees replaced and run a marathon (just kidding).

patrickstewartStar Trek: The Next Generation began when I was twelve; always a sucker for fantasy and sci-fi, I remember watching it, and the spin-offs, avidly. Twenty-five years later, the writing can often feel heavy-handed and stiff (not to mention sometimes downright offensive), but I still enjoy the shows—and Sir Patrick Stewart’s acting chops (especially as compared to most of his cast mates, bless ‘em) as the fearless and capable Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

I’ve known for a few years now that Stewart identifies as a feminist, and that he has spoken out about issues of domestic violence, due in part to his own family history. I’ve written before about the role of men in ending domestic violence, and Stewart is an outstanding example of this. He is not just talking the talk, he is walking the walk. He uses his considerable celebrity in service to domestic violence organizations in his own country, and he doesn’t hold back when it comes to discussing the issues publicly whenever he can.

With this video, my sci-fi-world and my domestic-violence-movement-world collided, in the best way. At the Comicpalooza convention in May, an audience member commended him for his work on domestic violence and asked him what he was most proud of achieving, other than acting. In his response, he eloquently makes connections between his personal experiences, the need for safety for survivors of domestic violence, the role men must play in ending violence, and the lasting impacts of war and PTSD on soldiers. It’s well worth the seven minutes—if you’re anything like me, you may find there’s something in your eye, probably more than once. Sniff. And big kudos to the survivor who asked him the question and shared her story!

(scroll down for English translation)

El otro día, mi pareja y yo estábamos mirando una comedia en la cual uno de los personajes principales iba a ser la dama de honor en la boda de su ex pareja. La women-slapcomedia continúa a través de una series de incidentes cómicos cuando de repente la dama de honor abofetea a su ex (y futura pareja al final de la película). Yo me encontré a carcajadas por la bofeteada e incluso pensando que la otra persona se lo merecía por haber sido tan desconsiderada. Pero segundos después comencé a cuestionar mi reacción. Ignorando mi propio consejo de que tenía que relajarme porque es solo una película, me puse a analizar la situación. ¡De todas maneras cuestionar mi posición acerca de quien se merece una bofetada me parece razonable! Me molestó que esa bofetada sea tan casual—casi normal. Nadie se disculpó. ¡Solamente sucedió! El hecho de que se trataba de una pareja del mismo género no cambio la sensación incómoda por la agresión. No es la primera vez que veo una  bofetada ocasional, al contrario estuvo presente en todas las telenovelas que seguí de adolescente y adulta. Incluso he visto bofetadas en novelas americanas como All My Children (Todos mis Niños), General Hospital (Hospital General) y también Modern Family (Familia Moderna).

Me puse a pensar de cuando hablamos de abuso en las relaciones, siempre hablamos de la presencia del poder y control como patrón de conducta. Algunos de nosotros creemos que un solo incidente de abuso no es suficiente para calificar a la relación de abusiva. ¿Sería entonces apropiado que nos riéramos si una persona recibe una bofetada sólo una vez? ¿O estas bofetadas ocasionales que vemos en las telenovelas y películas nos llevan a aceptar la violencia que ocurre en las relaciones reales? Personalmente, yo creo que las bofetadas ocasionales que vemos en la televisión promueven violencia y en algunos contextos contribuyen a varios sistemas de opresión. Ahora, ¿deberíamos de parar de mirar las películas y telenovelas que tanto nos gustan porque esto ocurre? Independientemente de la respuesta, me gustaría alentar a las personas a reconocer la bofetada ocasional la próxima vez que la vean. Incluso tal vez puedan hablar con alguien acerca de ello. Quizás pueden decir, “que buena película o episodio pero ¿qué pensaste de la bofetada?

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My sweetie and I were watching a romantic comedy the other day in which one of the main characters was asked to be the Maid of Honor for her ex—a woman she is still in love with. The plot continues through a series of comic events that lead to the Maid of Honor suddenly slapping the bride (her ex- and future lover)! I caught myself laughing and even thinking that the person at the end of that slap deserved it for all the pain she had caused. But then I started to question my reaction. I decided to ignore my own advice that I should relax because it’s just a movie. After all, questioning one’s judgment of who deserves to be slapped seems to me to be a reasonable standard to have. It bothered me that the slap seemed so casual—almost acceptable. It just happened. No one even apologized! The fact that it was a same-gendered couple did not make it any less troublesome to me. I am not unfamiliar with the occasional movie slap—they are ubiquitous to the telenovelas I watched growing up. I have also seen them on All My Children, General Hospital, and even Modern Family.

It got me thinking, when we discuss abuse in relationships we always talk about power and control as a pattern of behavior. Some of us believe that a one-time incident is not enough to call a relationship abusive. So, is it ok to laugh if someone gets slapped just one time? Or do these occasional slaps in the movies and telenovelas lead us to accept real-life violence in relationships? Personally, I believe that the occasional slap does promote violence and oppression. Now, should we stop watching the movies and soap operas that we enjoy so much because of it? Either way, I would encourage you to acknowledge a slap the next time you see it. Maybe talk to someone about it. Say, “What a great movie/episode, but what do you think about that slap?”

My newly minted high school teenagers just attended their first homecoming dance and complained grinding was the dominant form of dancing (video spoiler alert—parents prepare to be perplexed or horrified). I’m glad to know there are some good suggestions out there of how schools can prohibit grinding and promote equitable relationships among teens. Yet, as a parent, talking to teenagers about grinding is difficult and frustrating.

I do it because I want to them to believe in their own power and know that they deserve respect. But talking about grinding with your mom is gross, awkward, and not appreciated. I want to yell “No, no, no! Those boys do not deserve to touch you in that meaningless way!” or something equally unhelpful. Instead, I say things like, “Grinding treats you like a body part, not a person; and he doesn’t even have to look you in the eye.”

While I can’t protect my children—gone are the days I could literally lift them out of harm’s way—I can have influence. I can ask the school why they don’t have a no grinding policy, instruct the DJ to play a variety of music, ask kids who are grinding to leave (not just momentarily separate them with a beam of a flashlight), and openly talk about the policy at school.

I think the attitude “kids will be kids” is an excuse for parents to avoid the whole issue. Yes, you do have to talk to boys about their power, objectifying girls, curiosity and arousal, and the best ways to build friendship and intimacy. Yes, you do have to talk to girls about all of these same things. Oh, so much easier said than done. But if we are willing to initiate a conversation about grinding then hopefully our kids will continue to talk to us about things that make them uncomfortable.

Have you heard about the documentary Miss Representation? It’s a film about how women are portrayed in the media and the effect it has on every last one of us. This is not news to me. Probably not news to any woman out there. But I watched the film anyway, because I was wondering how it might inform my work on behalf of battered women.

I was not prepared for its emotional impact. Like I said, this is OLD NEWS. I thought I had moved beyond the hurt and into a place of toughness, channeling my feelings into productive work for women! WRONG. The way the film so clearly illuminates the media’s systematic degrading of strong, intelligent, powerful women in our society hit me like a freight train. This is hurting all of us. Women and men. Girls and boys.

I also just saw Tony Porter’s TED talk about the “Man Box,” his term for the collective socialization of men. Take a few minutes to watch this video. It’s 12 minutes very well spent. He explains that forcing boys to fit in to the “Man Box” (boys don’t cry, boys are in charge, boys don’t act like girls) creates the conditions that make violence against women acceptable. The media’s incessant barrage of negative images and remarks about women do the same. So the bad news is—this stuff still makes me sad and angry. The good news is—it still makes me sad and angry!

And here’s what I want you to do about it. What makes Tony Porter so powerful is that he tells stories. Relatable stories. And it really challenges the way people think about things. So go on Facebook and tell a story about how the media’s take on women or the “Man Box” has affected your life in a concrete way. We’re not going to start any revolutions talking about things in the abstract.

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