“The Bachelor,” otherwise known as: “Day-Old Cheese Pizza”

I have a confession: I watched this most recent season of “The Bachelor.” I have a gut-wrenching instinct to apologize for this because, “as a feminist,” I should be ashamed of watching something so terrible, right?

Too bad, “as a feminist,” I’m also learning how not to apologize for doing something people think I shouldn’t do. Too bad shame isn’t useful and learning to resist it is an invaluable part of my feminist journey to be a whole and happy human being. So here’s to empowered engagement with all of the horrible things patriarchy, capitalism, and oppression throw at us! I watched the whole season of “The Bachelor” and I’ve got a thing or two to say about it.

If you’ve heard anything about Season 18 of the show, you’ve probably heard all the talk about the bachelor himself, Juan Pablo Galavis, being a total jackass. Unfortunately, there’s a pretty good chance this is true. There are, for example, the homophobic remarks, the slut-shaming, and the other generally offensive things he’s decided to say to women.

But that’s not what I want to write about. While all of the above is totally gross and horrible, we have to take in to account that Galavis was the star of a reality television show, meaning, what we saw of him may not actually be a reflection of reality. It is also absolutely necessary to ask ourselves what it means for Galavis to be the first Latino bachelor to star on the show. Whether conscious of it or not, how did racial stereotypes of Latin American men as “macho womanizers” seep into the producers’ editing of the show? Despite being blonde and blue-eyed in true all-American fashion, Galavis’ Venezuelan accent marks him as “foreign,” as not/un-American, and it would be naive to think that this didn’t mediate the way he was perceived by both producers and audiences.

There may be a variety of reasons that the producers of “The Bachelor” had an interest in making Galavis the bad guy. However, the reason that stood out so starkly in the show’s final episode was that Galavis refused to buy into the premise of the show the way everyone expected him to.

On the show’s final episode, all the contestants get back together to discuss the highs and lows of the season. Galavis entered the stage to a chorus of booing. The show’s “winner,” Nikki, didn’t get the same negative reaction but that’s because, apparently, we’re all just supposed to feel bad for her. We’re supposed to feel bad not because she ended up with a (potentially) slimy guy like Galavis, but because Galavis didn’t ask her to marry him. To the outright horror of the shows producers and “Bachelor” fans far and wide, Galavis ended the season by telling Nikki that he didn’t want to propose because he wasn’t 100% sure he loved her. HOLD. THE. PHONE. HOW DARE HE??!??!?!?

Oh… wait… wait no. No, that’s actually a totally reasonable thing to say. Unless you’re the star of a show dedicated to making happily married folk out of conventionally attractive white people who’ve spent 2 months going on lavish and unrealistic dates involving 25 other people, of course.

The major issue here, was that Nikki had told Juan Pablo that she was in love with him several months earlier. “The Bachelor”’s host, Chris Harrison, was visibly distressed by this shocking turn of events. He spent the better part of his interview with the couple trying to coerce Juan Pablo into confessing his eternal affections. At one point, Harrison admitted, “I don’t know what I’m looking at.”

I don’t know what I’m looking at.In Chris Harrison’s world, any relationship that isn’t on a fast track to heteronormative monogamous marriage is a relationship with no name. 

I’m not naive. It’s not like I’ve ever expected anything radical or progressive from a reality show that buys into so many toxic notions of masculinity, femininity, marriage, family, and love that I wouldn’t know where to begin to catalogue them all. But I guess I just thought they’d try to do a better job of hiding it. I guess I expected them to spout propaganda about the inclusivity of “The Bachelor,” to claim that it tells the stories of real lives and real relationships. I honestly didn’t expect Harrison to be so glaringly obvious about the fact that it’s all a contrived fantasy. 

Because, really, which one of these resonates more with real life: falling in love and getting married after knowing someone for 2 months or falling in love in different and complicated ways and having to navigate the rocky terrain of human to human connection in an imperfect and messy way? I don’t know about you, but I’m voting for the second option. In the words of the Vancouver Sun’s Misty Harris,

“[the reason] why, days later, tongues are still clucking over the hit show’s controversial conclusion: not because ABC’s prince turned out to be a toad, but rather because that toad publicly, petulantly refused to jump at producers’ command – and pulled back the curtain on one of TV’s longest running games of make-believe as a result.”

Harrison outlines his rationale for allowing the show to be the exclusive fantasy it is in an interview about the potential for there to be a gay bachelor, or a bachelor who didn’t conform to normative standards of attractiveness. His response was this:

“Look, if you’ve been making pizzas for 12 years and you’ve made millions of dollars and everybody loves your pizzas and someone comes and says, ‘Hey, you should make hamburgers.’ Why? I have a great business model, and I don’t know if hamburgers are going to sell.”

THIS JUST IN: STRAIGHT PEOPLE ARE PIZZA. QUEER PEOPLE ARE HAMBURGERS. Whahaaaat?? Couldn’t we imagine it more in terms of the current “Bachelor” being cheese pizza and different adaptations of the premise being ham and pineapple, or pepperoni, or deluxe, or REALLY ANYTHING ELSE BECAUSE WE’RE ALL JUST REALLY SICK OF ONLY GETTING CHEESE PIZZA ALL THE TIME. Harrison continued to say, “is it our job to break barriers, or is it a business? That’s not for me to answer.”

Ahhhh. Well now we’ve reached the bottom of a deep well and capitalism is not about to throw a rope down and help us out. It’s okay to be unethical, or to ignore ethical considerations, when business is at stake. But, why isn’t it Harrison’s job to answer that question? Why can’t we hold him accountable to the ethical considerations regarding “The Bachelor” franchise? What might happen if we dared to imagine that we have a right to expect more representativeness from our media?

 

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What do “Her” and “The Social Network” have in common? A lot about him.

*Warning: Spoilers ahead for both Her and The Social Network*

Recently, in my “Introduction to New Media” class, we were talking about human connections to technology. The professor brought up the movie Her (a film that focuses on a romantic relationship between a human and a computer operating system) as the film depicts a reality that might not be so far in our future. After discussing Her, my professor referred back to the 2010 film, The Social Network (which is based on the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s founding of Facebook). She suggested that we could imagine The Social Network and Her as representing a progression between where we’ve been and where we’re going in regards to social technology. I was immediately interested in what it might mean to use these two films as cultural landmarks in this way.

For starters, if we are to learn anything from The Social Network, it is that technical innovation has been driven by exactly one thing – the sort of expectations and opinions about sex that we’ve come to expect from the teenage boys and young men of “coming of age” comedies: the same expectations and opinions that have been normalized through the rhetoric of “boys will be boys” and that rarely prioritize the agency, value, and/or pleasure of teenage girls and young women. Re-watching the film, an interesting (disturbing?) pattern came to light. The pursuit of sex and a sense of entitlement to women drives every major web-based innovation discussed in the film.

Facemash, the precursor to Facebook, allowed visitors to rate women against each other based on their appearance. In the film*, Mark creates Facemash as a sort of “wronged nice guy” self-care after being broken up with (and after using his public blog as a way to demean and humiliate his ex). The other site that inspired Facebook, the Winklevoss brothers’ Harvard Connection, is a lucrative idea because, according to the Winklevosses, “girls want to get with guys from Harvard.” Finally, there’s Napster, a site created by Sean Parker who explains that he created Napster because “the girl [he] loved in high school was going out with the co-captain of the varsity lacrosse team and [he] wanted to take her from him.” In regards to Facebook itself, it is the “relationship status” and “interested in” sections of the profile that cause Mark to declare the site as finished. Him and Eduardo discuss that what will get people to log on will be the opportunity to use these tools to “get laid” and “meet a girl.”

Furthermore, we never see women driving technological innovation in the film. This is solidified when Mark starts delegating to his newly assembled Facebook team and the two women in the room (having not received any tasks) ask, “is there anything we can do?” to which Mark quickly replies with “no.” In an article on Jezebel, Irin Carmon asks “in Mark Zuckerberg’s real-life world, women did more than give blowjobs… so why does The Social Network so badly want to pretend otherwise?” (Carmon also adds that “black people said more than ‘Is this guy bothering you?’” The lack of people of colour involved in the world of technical innovation is also a serious shortcoming of both The Social Network and Her.) Carmon goes on to say that Mark Zuckerberg “lived, and lives, in a world where, even if women were scarce in computer science classes, they were achieving as brilliantly as the men around them” and points to both Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook’s current C.O.O) and Randi Zuckerberg (Facebook’s former Director of Market Development and Spokeswoman) as evidence of this. Carmon’s article is important because it pushes us to ask why the filmmakers of The Social Network felt that it was so necessary to erase, stereotype, and objectify women in the film.

Her doesn’t have the same obvious lack of involved and developed women characters as The Social Network does. Both Amy Adams’ and Scarlett Johansson’s characters (Amy and Samantha, respectively) are complex and have a powerful presence onscreen (even if we never actually see Samantha). However, the primary narrative of the film still belongs to a man and the women who populate the story are there because of their relationships with him. Furthermore, Her also uses access to women (or woman) as being the major motivator for engagement with technology.

For what it’s worth, Her‘s protagonist, Theodore, does seem to genuinely desire a meaningful relationship with a woman and he does have a strong and mutually beneficial friendship with the character Amy (whereas the men of The Social Network seem solely interested in women for sex). I appreciated this about the film, not because I think all relationships need to be “meaningful,” but because depicting these strong relationships means that we also get to see women as important agents within the film as opposed to only imagining them as bodies that exist for male gratification.

What I also enjoyed about the film was the ending. The narrative of Her allows Samantha to develop to the point that her character moves past her relationship with Theodore and eventually leaves him behind for a new life. In a review on Bitch Flicks, Amanda Rodriguez explains why the ending is so redeeming,

I love that Samantha leaves him because she outgrows him, transcending the role of Manic Pixie Dream Girl in which Theodore has cast her, evolving beyond him, beyond his ideas of what a relationship should be (between one man and one woman), and beyond even his vaguest conception of freedom because she’s embraced existence beyond the physical realm. Not only does Samantha become self-aware, but she becomes self-actualized, determining that her further development lies outside the bounds of her relationship with Theodore (and the 600+ others she’s currently in love with). Samantha’s departure in her quest for greater self- understanding is… what finally redeems a kind of gross film that explores male fantasies about having contained, controlled perfect cyber women who are emotion surrogates.

Rodriguez puts perfectly both the reasons why the ending is important and the reasons why so much of the rest of the film is problematic.

The reality of Her is that Samantha is the “perfect cyber woman.” She’s an operating system, an object, and she’s been created and purchased for the sole purpose of being whatever, or whoever, Theodore wants her to be. In the words of Sady Doyle, 

there’s the unavoidable fact about Her: No matter how evolved or human-seeming Samantha is, she is also a possession. When Theodore tells Samantha he can’t commit to her after their first sexual encounter, she’s offended, but, at least at that stage of their relationship, she also can’t leave.

No amount of enjoying the film, or appreciating aspects of it, can magically turn it into a story of two equals who have the same capacity to choose to be with each other.

I was inspired to bring Her and The Social Network together because of the comment made by my professor that they create a sort of timeline of innovation in regards to social technology. But there’s larger connections between these films than that. While the representations of women in each film and the kinds of relationships prioritized are markedly different in each, both films depict the creation and use of technology as being driven in order to facilitate men’s access to women.

Guest blogger on Bitch Flicks, Lisa C. Knisely asks us to imagine if “Joaquin Pheonix had played Sam to Scarlett Johansson’s Thea” and she explains that “that’s the film I’m still waiting for someone in Hollywood to write, direct, and… produce.” I think the basic point of her comment is that, if we’re going to immortalize the cultural and social change driven by technological advancement through the world of film, we can’t be satisfied to only see women as existing to be accessed through it. In our daily realities, women drive innovation and are active participants in what it produces – why can’t this be true on screen as well?

 (images courtesy of http://imgfave.com/view/1374017 and http://0roborus.tumblr.com/)

*The Social Network is only based on reality and, as a consequence, much of what happens in the film isn’t reflective of real events. For this blog, I mean to refer specifically to only the events that happened in the film. 

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We are not a broken generation

Narcissism, self-indulgence, and, of course, the internet: for all the hope and promise attributed to “Millennials,” there seems to exist an underlying criticism that our “selfie-generation” is detached from reality thanks to lives lived on Facebook. Maybe I’m being a bit cynical, but I can’t help but gather from exasperations that texting has ruined our ability to spell, MTV has drained us of our critical thinking skills and shortened our attention spans, and a disproportionate lack of young voters signals the “death of democracy” that the time-honoured expressions of “young people these days” is starting to look a little bit like fear-mongering. Is this really just something that young people of every generation have to endure – an everlasting ageism that creates distrust in the capabilities of youth?

Yet, maybe there is really something unique about experiencing this as a Millennial. We might be the first generation in a long time to be worse off economically than our parents. When we’re constantly being told we’re too obsessed with ourselves to see past our noses, it’s easy to attribute high unemployment (for example) as a symptom of a generation of laziness. However, writer Dave Roos points out that “it’s less about the generation gap than the wealth gap” and that, consequently, it’s not “’kids these days,’ but the ‘economy these days’ that we should really be moaning about.” So, we’re a generation that’s recognized the inaccessibility of the “American dream.” Is it a fear that our lives, dreams, aspirations, and goals might be radically different from those of our parents that is fueling skepticism from older generations? If that’s where the fear is coming from, why is it that predictions that our futures will be different from our parents’ always seem to suggest that they will be necessarily worse? Who gets to measure the “acceptable output” of a generation anyway?

Yes, we might be concerned with the perfect Facebook profile picture; yes, we might be moving back in with our parents; yes, we might be unemployed. Yes, like generations before us, many of us face huge systemic barriers related to class, race, citizenship, gender, sexuality, ability… and, yes, there are serious social and economic issues that need to be addressed as we become middle-aged adults. But, no, we are not a broken generation. We are just a different generation.

As a young person who has made significant efforts over the last several years to be involved in my community and to actively work towards social change, I can say for certain that it’s pretty damn irritating to be told the world is going to end because I took a selfie in the bathroom before heading to work. I’m sorry if I zone out while you explain that (despite the fact that languages have evolved and changed dramatically throughout human history) “culture” is going to the dogs because I text my friends in acronyms. So forgive me, please, if I look bored when you lecture me about lazy, apathetic youth; I’m actually just mentally exhausted from all the online research I’ve been doing about pipelines, poverty, and the constant pervasiveness of rape culture.

Thinking about what often feels like endless collective anxiety about Millennials brings me to a recent article by Laurie Penny called “Girl trouble: we care about young women as symbols, not as people.” If Millennials are being framed as a broken generation, the young women who make up much of it are certainly being set up to fail in more ways than one.

In her article, Penny refers to a report by Girlguiding which “suggests that girls’ self-esteem is not just low but falling, year-on-year.” While it’s hugely important to talk about the struggles that girls face in a world of “less than” and “not enough,” Penny takes issue with this and other studies as being our primary point of reference regarding young girls’ lives. She calls out the Girlguiding report as being “as patronising as ever” and asserts that “the implication is that girls fret about their appearance, are confused about sex and consent and worried about the future because they are frivolous or stupid.”

In my years as a girl, I was aware that the world expected me to be defective. For me, the awareness came in my own forced normalization of insecurity, low self-esteem, and unhappiness as some sort of “right of passage” that naturally accompanies girlhood. Penny explains that

for all those knuckle-clutching articles about how girls everywhere are about to pirouette into twerking, puking, self-hating whorishness, we do not actually care about young women – not, that is, about female people who happen to be young. Instead, we care about Young Women (TM), fantasy Young Women as a semiotic skip for all our cultural anxieties. We value girls as commodities without paying them the respect that both their youth and their personhood deserve. Being fifteen is fucked up enough already without having the expectations, moral neuroses and guilty lusts of an entire culture projected onto this perfect empty shell you’re somehow supposed to be. Hollow yourself out and starve yourself down until you can swallow the shame of the world.

Swallow shame I certainly did: it is amazing to me, sometimes, that I, my peers, and women everywhere survive girlhood.

The thesis of Penny’s article is that girls continue to rise up and do incredible things despite a multitude of hands that claw away at their self-worth. Similarly, I have no doubt that Millennials will rise up despite being told we’re too lazy, too narcissistic, too apathetic. Here lies the connection between Penny’s article and my earlier discussion. Penny wants us to stop telling girls they’re not good enough, and this is a message that lies so close to my heart. However, while we’re at it, let’s stop telling an entire generation that they’re not good enough. Stop telling Millennials that we don’t care about the world around us, that we’re doomed because we won’t have single family homes with white picket fences (like this has even been a universally achievable goal for any generation). We’re inheriting a world full of social and economic inequality and enormous environmental degradation. In Canada, we find ourselves represented by a government that consistently cuts funding to social services, that considers activists as threats to national security, and that consistently disregards the demands and concerns of Indigenous communities. For so many, the impacts of oppression mean that every day is a fight for survival – the appeal to constructed standards of “economic achievement” is a complete erasure of this. As girls, as young people, as Millennials, we’ve got enough work ahead of us – we don’t need you to tell us we’re going to fail. 

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Feminist Christmas

If you hadn’t noticed, the holiday season is upon us. While the holidays mean different things for all of us, for me it means Christmas. Or, rather, it means getting together with family and food while a Christmas tree, some lights, and the odd nativity scene are scattered around us. While the religious aspect of the holiday is central for a lot of people, Christmas is important to me for cultural reasons. Namely, it represents a time when we all uphold the tradition of bending over backwards to coordinate our schedules so that we have time to come together and focus on enjoying each other’s company. For the most part I love the whole holiday season, but that doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot about Christmas that’s a total bummer. For example, the financial stresses of obligatory consumerism, the family-dinners-gone-wrong, and the inevitable groaning about hedonism taking the “Christ” out of “Christmas” is enough to make the jolliest of us want to spend the month of December in bed. However, because I’m determined to approach this holiday season with my positive foot first, I had the thought to take some things I associate with Christmas and use them to construct what I will hereby fondly refer to as Feminist Christmas. 

The number one thing I love about Christmas is that it obliges humans to spend time with other humans. Families travel great distances to be together, coworkers get the chance to really get to know one another, and friends realize they’re actually a lot like family. As I try to fit another holiday gathering into my schedule, I’m overwhelmed by the incredible people I know and the loving communities that I’m a part of and, as I reflect on the past year, I’m amazed to think about how lucky I am to be surrounded by people who inspire, respect, and encourage me. If, traditionally, Christmas is about spending time with family, than a Feminist Christmas is about understanding how all the communities we are apart of make up our extended families and how the holidays are the perfect opportunity to spend a little time cherishing everyone who improves our lives (be they relatives or the person whose name you’re not really sure of but you always have a lovely time chatting with in the elevator). Feminism has never been fond of the “nuclear family” for a million reasons, but in part because our lives aren’t so simple or so compartmentalized. Celebrating the holidays shouldn’t remain within privacy of our homes – not when there’s a whole world of people out there to express our love to, dammit!

Another tradition I associate with Christmas is generosity. While this tends to come in the form of gift-giving, I think we can use this emphasis on generosity and focus it on being generous with each other. As an integral part of Feminist Christmas, generosity teaches us to respect each other and cherish all of our differences. Big picture, this can mean respecting the ways we all do or don’t celebrate the holiday season without all the xenophobia, racism, and prejudice that often dictates what the month of December “should” and “shouldn’t” mean. On a personal level, being generous towards others means respecting that Christmas is about Christ for many of those close to me. While adherence to the sanctity of Christmas for me means never drinking eggnog that doesn’t have rum in it, for a lot of my family members it’s an important religious and spiritual celebration. Learning to engage with religious traditions in a respectful way is an enormous part of how I work to express my love for my family every year.

While we’re talking about generosity, Feminist Christmas also encourages you to be generous with yourself. Gift-giving may be the most tenacious of all Christmas traditions and I think it’s important to see yourself on your Christmas list. I don’t necessarily mean this in regards to retail therapy (although, if that’s a productive and healthy way for you to celebrate yourself, why the hell not), but I think there are always ways we can take time to respond to our own needs and make sure we’re caring for ourselves as much as we’re caring for others. Self-care has always been important to feminism and other forms of social justice work because burn-out is a real and daunting barrier to overcome when we’re faced with the enormity of oppression. Audre Lorde eloquently states that “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare” and her assertion reminds us that we do our best work when we are strong and we need to value ourselves in order to develop strength. I mean, if I plan on taking down the patriarchy next year I’m probably going to need to spend some time this Feminist Christmas making sure I’m my healthiest me.

In years past, I’ve found Christmas overwhelming, exhausting, and generally anxiety provoking. But I’m determined that Feminist Christmas is a possible, beautiful, and inspiring thing when we take what Christmas already gives us – like spending time together and being generous – and we use these values as a foundation for a holiday grounded in community, respect, and self-care. Maybe it’d be better titled “Feminist Holiday Season,” but Christmas is what I’ve grown up with and it’s what I’m passionate to reclaim and call my own. And, of course, Feminist Christmas would totally love to be best friends with Feminist Hanukkah, Feminist Kwanzaa, Feminist Winter Solstice, Feminist I’ve-Got-This-Week-Off-Work-Because-Statutory-Holidays?.. and whatever else you’re up to this December. I think, when it comes down to it, the whole point is to be compassionate towards one another and to hope for a holiday season that’s awesome and, at the very least, not totally shit. 

 

(images courtesy of http://skreened.com/wintercheer/ and http://www.lowendtheory.org)


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An Open Letter to My Beloved College Freshman Brother Regarding Consent, Illustrated with Personal Examples

by Kyla Jamieson.

Kyla is a writer in her fourth year at UBC. She is working on a memoir about modeling and can be followed on Twitter @kyjamieson. Kyla originally presented this piece at the March to Reclaim Consent at UBC Campus, unceded Musqueam territory, on November 22, 2013. 

Bro,

I know how you’re going to react to this—you don’t want to hear about your sister’s sex life. You don’t even want to know I have sex, as you made clear that time you threatened to kick me out of your car for mentioning a sexual partner. But don’t worry, this isn’t just about my sex life, this is about yours too.

You practice safe sex—of this I’m fairly certain, given the condoms I found in the console when I searched your car for parking change. So, at the very least, I know you know about safe sex, which is great. Keep wrapping it up. But do you know about consent?

I’m not here to point fingers or assume. For all I know, you give, ask for, and receive, enthusiastic consent throughout every sexual encounter. But while mom’s “birds and the bees” talk taught me she’s boss at drawing ovaries, it skipped over consent. So a little review seems prudent, especially as recent events in my own bed have shown that there are still some people in the dark about this essential aspect of safe, happy sex.

For example: the basketball player you almost kicked me out of your car for mentioning. He’d unwrapped a condom and was putting it on when I asked, “Aren’t you going to ask me?” He looked up at me, dumbfounded. He thought it was obvious I wanted to have sex, and I thought it was obvious that it is never obvious. It seems problematic that the basics of consent have flown over a few heads, given how essential consent is to not committing sexual assault.

At the very least, failing to ask will reveal you to have poor manners. At the very worst, it will make you a rapist.

“If a girl doesn’t say ‘No,’ I don’t understand how it can be rape.” A kind, gentle, well-intentioned man spoke that sentence in my bed. I found myself at a loss for words. But eventually I was able to explain: not saying “No” is not the same thing as consent. Because as you might imagine, the shock of being sexually assaulted can render one quite speechless.

One more example: my new boyfriend, a geography student. The first time we had sex, we were both a bit tipsy. We both wanted to get into bed, and we both wanted to have sex—the first time. Then he put another condom on, and before I could tell him that I didn’t want to do it again, he was inside me.

If we weren’t already friends, I would have written him off. Instead, I later told him that I’d wanted to have sex—but not the second time, not like that. His face fell; he hadn’t realized. 

The first few times he asked me, “Do you want to have sex?” were a little awkward. You might experience the same feeling, but don’t let it get to you. Keep checking in for consent the same way you keep wrapping it up. If they’re like me, your partners will say, “Yes, oh, please fuck me,” or, “No. Want some ice cream?” and in every case you’ll have established your fine manners and respectful nature.

You might think this is too much information, but until kids learn to ask “Do you want to have sex?” before they practice putting condoms on bananas, it looks like I’ll be teaching Consent 101, one person at a time. And who better than your big sister to offer examples from her own life? Just some things I thought you should know. See you at Christmas.

Love always,
Your sis.

 

(image courtesy of www.michaelkaufman.com)

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