Danaerys is the villain, I mean come on everyone, that’s the whole point

Dany is the villain. That is the point of her arc.

She is turning into Mad King Aerys. We are explicitly told that when a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin: genius or madness. Dany's coin is starting to land the wrong way. Like her father, who was charismatic in his youth, Dany is likeable right now, but she is slowly strarting to enjoy the fire burnin' just a wee bit too much.

On discussion forums I've seen many a misognyst talk about how tired they are of seeing her "smug" face. In Episode 4 of Season 6, however, that was part of the point. 

She was smug.

She was enjoying her self.

And that's ****ed up.

She was enjoying herself roasting a bunch of people alive. 

We were not supposed to cheer for her.

(I mean, sure, on the one hand, screw those guys. On the other, that doesn't make it less messed up. This isn't Dexter.)

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Jaime's monologue in the bath with Brienne about Aery's obsession with wildfire is crazy on-the-nose if you apply it to Dany. 

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"He burned anyone who was against him."

Yeah, that sounds familiar.

What's Dany's go-to strategy again? Oh.

It's just that we've been lulled into rooting for Dany, only to slowly come to grips with the fact that what she's doing is not okay, and we're rooting for her only because we're reading her through standard fantasy tropes, rather than through what the text is showing us.

The difference between Aerys and Dany is that Dany didn't burn in the fire. Aerys didn't expect to die, and Dany didn't expect to die. Dany just happened to actually survive, and happened to "rise again" — not as a dragon, but with three baby dragons.

But let's be real: this doesn't justify everything she does.

Like if ol' "Mad" King Aerys had just… not died when he tried to burn everything with wildfire, that wouldn't make him right. It's just that the the form of the story — that of a fantasy or romance — invites us to interpret Dany in precisely this fashion.

Sure, there's a certain amount of awe that everyone shows her immediately after that scene, but it's no longer a "oh this seemingly helpless girl overcame all the odds and survived fire, and now magic is real and maybe we'll actually survive this, hurrayyyy…." like it was when her dragons were born at the end of Season 1. 

It's awe in an old Testament, fear-inspired kind of way. Even her lover, Daario, isn't mesmerized by her in the sense of oh wow, this woman I'm with is amazing; instead, it's a genuinely fearful kind of awe. 

What we just witnessed in that scene, and immediately after, was mythic violence, in the Benjaminian sense of the word. It was the performance and display of state power that keeps the populace in check.

That's uh… that's not a good thing.

Also, that's before you bring her dragons into the picture. 

They're pretty much the metaphor for state power and mythic violence par excellence: "Do what I say because I have the magic dragons."

That's a terrible justification, and I think both George R. R. Martin and the showrunners are aware of that.

The criticism that the Khal-burning scene in Season 6 echoes the end of Season 1 is missing the point. The point is that yeah, she's doing it again–except, oh wait, maybe burning a bunch of people alive and taking control of an army isn't really that great.

Maybe "miraculously surviving the flames" actually isn't a very good justification for doing whatever you want, even though we're trained to read fantasy and/or medieval romance texts in that manner.

A typical medieval romance, upon which 99% of fantasy is based, usually serves to entrench the aristocracy in their aristocratic positions: the rightful king is discovered and restored, everyone is happy. Heck, it even happens in Lord of the Rings. (Seriously, doesn't that "blood of Gondor" stuff make anyone else uncomfortable?)

The books and the show subvert a lot of fantasy and medieval romance tropes because the books and the show are not A-OK with what those tropes represent. That is, fantasy and medieval romance tropes are the way they are because they are connected to the political climates which gave birth to them. This is the argument of Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious. The idea of the rightful king being restored to the throne as the "solution" to the standard problems of medieval romance comes from a very specific political climate. 

That's why in the books and show, a lot of time is spent emphasising just how much the War of the Five Kings is screwing over the country side, and now there's a bloody Marxist revolution being run by the church. Also, Dany's entire arc in Mereen is an allegory for hundreds of years of colonialism: British, American, take your pick. It's also a subversion of, you guessed it, more fantasy tropes (the white savior, etc.) which — yep, you guessed it again — stem from very specific political climates.

Here's my prediction for how the rest of Dany's arc will play out:

Instead of "stabilizing" Mereen, she'll use her new Dothraki army, her Unsullied (whatever's left of them, I guess?) and her dragons to burn the hell out of both Yunkai and Astapor. So instead of "getting rid of slavery yayyyyy!!" what she'll "accomplish" before finally (finally amirite) going to Westeros will be a terrible swath of death and destruction. 

"Hey Westeros I just screwed over half a continent. Now I (think) am the rightful heir to the throne, and I've got magic on my side (in the form of weapons of magical mass destruction). This is totally cool, right? Right? I'm justified in starting yet another war that screws over the populace? R… right?"

Readers and show watchers have been clamoring for her to "finally" get to Westeros.

Why hasn't she?

Because first she needed to leave a path of death and destruction. The dragons growing up is minor. (It could have been explained with "magic" anyway.) What was more important was that we needed to see that "Fire and Blood!" isn't a call of the people, it's a call-to-arms given by the privileged elite, the ones with all the power and the (magic) weapons.


Final Thoughts (+ Predictions)

If you don't believe me, juxtapose the arc I'm claiming Dany is having to the one Jaime has already had. It's just that Dany is going in the opposite direction. Jaime started out as a child murderer and obvious villain, but the books and show refused to deny him his humanity. This isn't "relativism," or anything like that, just an acknowledgement that human beings are human, even the shitty ones. Jaime is still a terrible person. But he's a terrible personIt's also similar to how the Khals were obvious jerks who in between sessions of raping and pillaging just spouted nasty misogynist absurdities, and yeah they probably deserved to die far more than most people in this series (which is saying something), but still: at the end of the day, burning them alive with a look of glee on your face isn't really the mark of a hero. Sorry. It just isn't.

On the opposite end of the spectrum to Jaime, Dany started out as the heroine. And yes, she does have good intentions, but she's got just a wee bit of the Targaryen craziness and a sense of aristocratic entitlement in her, from her father, Aerys. 

The character I'm not sure about is Jon Snow. Like he seems like he should be… worse, somehow. Here's what I mean:

Dany is subverting her role as a pure heroine, as I argued above. Well and good. She's a real person, not an empty vessel of wish-fulfilment.

In the books, Tyrion has had his privilege shoved in his face, and he's been shown to not be very perfect (e.g. Shae was handled differently). He's mostly not a standard hero, either. 

Ned was the "standard male hero" from a typical fantasy story–and it got him killed. Cool. 

Bran is also doing nasty things, and is clearly not the hero. The way he takes over Hodor sometimes is NOT AT ALL OKAY. Note that I actually feel like Bran is the Northern equivalent of Dany. If she's the human villain of fire and the Doom of Valyria in the South, Bran is the human villain of ice and the Others beyond the Wall. It's just there's less interesting stuff to say about him. Like he seems a bit innocent and might become a cool wizard, but then he does a thing that is obviously not okay (taking over Hodor, not to mention probably feeding on people via Bloodraven, etc.). Dany's arc is more subtle, and more interesting.

But Jon seems to be getting away kind of unscathed, and I'm not sure why.

I have two ideas:

1. When he's resurrected in the books he won't be the same. The show, so far, has yet to really show the consequences of this. Maybe it'll move towards that direction.

2. If Dany is the villain from the south, the villain of fire, etc., and the daughter of Mad King Aerys, and Bran is the villain of the north, the villain of ice, etc., and the son of a Stark (oh hey the Night's King is actually a Stark), then Jon is in the middle: the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, he's the song of ice and fire. That's why he's a hero without the fantasy-tropes deconstruction we see everywhere else in the series. (Yet.)


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Mad Men and Desire

I’ve been re-binging through AMC’s Mad Men. I caught up, having missed the last season and a half, and then decided to hell with it–I’ll just start over. Watching it now, I think the interplay between desire and condemnation in Mad Men is really where a lot of the meat of the show is, and that’s also where it gets difficult to unpack.

What do I mean here? A common (bad) criticism of Mad Men might be, “Oh, but look at all the drinking, racism, and sexism! That stuff is bad!” to which the obvious response is a somewhat confused, “Uh, okay, but it’s obviously condemning all those things, so I don’t know what your problem is?” The former criticism seems, at first glance, to be a bit like thinking the writers of the Sopranos are pro-murder, or that the writers of Breaking Bad are in favour of drug trafficking, and destroying your family and those around you in order to ensure your ego is satisfied. The criticism is stupid, and it comes up again and again with any form of art that portrays “bad” things, or has an anti-hero, or whatever. Hell, even Dickens received that criticism. But just because a given behavior or ideology is depicted does not mean it is being advocated. Duh.

But with Mad Men there’s more to it than that. Yes, we’re condemning Don Draper’s adultery and lifestyle choices, the drinking, the rampant sexism, the consumerism, and so on, but doesn’t the camera like to play with the fact that we also desire (many aspects of) this lifestyle? Don’t we ogle over those perfectly tailored suits, those perfectly trim haircuts? Even the drinking and the sex in the office? And don’t we admire the “legend of Don Draper” (to quote a character in the show) such that, when the really troubling stuff comes up with him (the racism, the sexism) it’s a bit jarring? (As opposed to when Pete or some minor character shows they’re a massive, privileged bigot, which is just par for the course.)

I’m not just saying there are people who don’t “get” Mad Men, and that these people just sort of tune out the fact that maybe the show isn’t always advocating Don’s lifestyle. (Though I’m sure these people exist.) No, I’m saying that according to the logic of the show, you should feel a bit of desire for everything Don has, for what Dick Whitman has become, the man he has turned himself into. He’s not just something to condemn. If you find yourself, like various characters in the show, occasionally lured in by the myth of Don Draper… well, good. You’re paying attention.

First, Don knows he’s selling something that’s unattainable–the objet petit a, in Lacanian terms. As Don says, “What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” The fact is, we want to be like Don, we want that lifestyle, even as we condemn it for being ultimately empty. Don understands this, but when Dick Whitman is given a new name, and can construct any identity he wants, what does he pick? Being a successful creative ad man, a partner in a firm, wearing the latest fashions, but without being too obviously a slave to fashion trends (note that in Season Six Don hasn’t yet adopted sideburns, unlike Pete and Roger). Don is fully aware of who and what he is, that he’s totally just a part of the machine, workin’ for the man, or whatever, but at the end of the day that’s exactly where he wants to be.

In 2013 we’re obviously still living in an age very much created by the self-styled “mad men” of Madison Avenue. Now we want to think we’re sophisticated, and that we’re totally aware that all this consumerism stuff is just “phony” (side note: I loved Sally’s recent use of this word, plus her visit to the New York Museum of Natural History — has she been reading her Salinger?), and yet, there we are, all the same, often participating in the very same aspects of our culture we tend to criticize. Ironic distance doesn’t really solve much; it just keeps us in a social position from which we can criticize the thing we don’t really want to change, because if it did change, the social position from which we are free to criticize would be upset. Just look at all those times in Mad Men Season 1 where Don calls out members of the counter-culture for being just as hypocritical as he is, if not more so.

I’m reminded of two Zizekian ideas. First, Zizek’s “subject supposed to believe,” the idea that Oh, no, I don’t really believe X–I just fake it, because that other guy believes X. But if everyone’s pretending, putting on a performance (like, say, Dick Whitman), what’s the difference? Even if you don’t “believe” in X, you’re still enjoying it. You’re still enjoying that position from which you’re free to pretend you don’t believe in it. We all condemn consumerism — seriously, who doesn’t do this, to some extent? Isn’t it even just a bit obscene when someone is fully invested in it, without that bit of self-conscious distancing? — but then, in real life, it’s like, goddamn, look at those sweet jeans! And they’re on sale!

Secondly, I’m reminded of Zizek’s dialectics. First you have the stupid appearance (boy, Don Draper is cool!), then you have the ingenious correction, the contradiction inherent in the initial proposition or appearance (but wait: everything that makes Don cool is ultimately presented as empty!), but then, finally, you have the return to the initial, stupid appearance (I know that lifestyle is supposed to be empty, and yet… I still want to enjoy all of it, and I still go to my hair stylist and ask for “the Mad Men cut”).

One of the solutions to ironic distance (which is really just the occupation of that final position, where we’re free to enjoy) is the New Sincerity, which can be seen in the refreshing earnestness of Parks and Recreation (at least, Parks and Rec is my favourite example; the author of the link above lists Wes Anderson). But maybe, just maybe, it can be seen in Mad Men as well, at least in terms of the way the show calls us out on that which we claim to condemn; it calls us out on the insincerity of our condemnations.

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HBO’s Enlightened: some intitial thoughts on the Pilot

I just watched HBO’s pilot for Enlightened, after some suggestions from the Onion’s A/V club that apparently the second season is brilliant.  And frankly, I really liked just the pilot.

Dern’s character, Amy Jellico, is really nuanced, and the show is walking a very fine line with her, balancing satire and empathy very well. Like, you look at that title, “Enlightened,” and thinks, is it just an instance of dramatic irony? Well, no, of course not. First, Amy’s “enlightenment” isn’t completely trite, nor is it totally off the mark. She’s not wrong, per se, even if she can be totally insufferable, manipulative, and solipsistic (you know, the opposite of enlightened). The title probably also refers not just to her own change in Hawaii, but to the journey she actually begins — rather than achieves — in the pilot.

For example, you can see how Amy’s experience with the sea turtle in Enlightened’s pilot is kinda trite, and why someone like her ex-husband would scoff at such an experience. After all, don’t we, a bit? But you can also understand how that would be very profound for her, and think, hey, maybe that isn’t so crazy. Even if it is just a very surface-level engagement with various New Agey bullshit, does that make it totally wrong?

Here’s J.D. Salinger summing up the same thing in his short story, “Teddy”:

Life is a gift horse in my opinion.


“I was six when I saw that everything was God, and my hair stood up, and all that,” Teddy said. “It was on a Sunday, I remember. My sister was only a very tiny child then, and she was drinking her milk, and all of a sudden I saw that she was God and the milk was God. I mean, all she was doing was pouring God into God, if you know what I mean.”

It’s the same thing, only in “Teddy” we don’t laugh. (We’re puzzled and confused, as though we’ve read a Zen koan rather than a short story.)

I’ve actually seen comparisons between Enlightened and HBO’s The Wire. My opening guess (again, having only seen the pilot, so take it for what it’s worth) regarding any Wire comparisons would be to say that The Wire is to the realities of city life as Enlightened is to the the realities of corporate America. Amy Jellicoe is McNulty, but also the opposite of McNulty. Someone can correct me on this quite probably insane analogy.

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First seasons of TV shows without *that* character

Ever begin a binge through a TV show that you haven’t watched in a long time, only to realize, Hey, wait — what? OH RIGHT. That guy wasn’t on the first season! Weird.

Well, I’ve noticed that a lot. And it is really weird.

Just look at all these shows:

  • The first season of Lost without Ben Linus or Juliet.
  • The first seasons of Parks and Recreation without Ben and Chris.
  • The first few seasons of Supernatural without Castiel, or the first season without Bobby.
  • The first season of Stargate: Atlantis without Ronon Dex.
  • The first seasons of Star Trek: Voyager without Seven of Nine.
  • The first four seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine without Worf and/or Sisko’s goatee.
  • The first seasons of Vampire Diaries without Klaus, or various other Originals.
  • The first season of Battlestar Galactica without Sam Anders or Cavil.
  • The first seasons of True Blood without Alcide, and with Jessica as only a guest star.

By contrast, some shows get weird later on.

  • The later seasons of Stargate: SG-1 without O’Neill.
  • The later seasons of The X-Files without Mulder.
  • The later seasons of The West Wing without Rob Lowe.
  • The last season of Highlander without Duncan McCleod’s glorious ponytail.

And then, finally, there are the oddballs:

  • Because of the huge changes in cast due, basically, to the show’s premise, Friday Night Lights is the only show that seems to achieve both effects: at the end of the show, you miss characters A,B,C, but if you re-watch it, when you begin the show, you’re like, “Oh, yeah, right, characters X, Y, Z aren’t even on the show yet.”
  • One time I watched the pilot of Buffy and was surprised to see that Angel was there right in the first episode. He seems like he would have been added later on, but nope.
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Gimmick episodes on television shows (Supernatural, Fringe, X-Files, etc.)

I’m binging through Supernatural on Netflix, and I just got to Season 4, episode 5, “Monster Movie.” (Slight spoilers for jokes ahead.) I just wanted to let everyone know that this episode includes the 1931 version of Dracula (corny accent and all) driving off on a moped to escape the main character, Dean, and as Dracula is driving off you hear a little *beep beep*! That’s pretty much all, though. That’s the meat of this post. I’m just mentioning a joke that happened once. Everything that follows is all filler.

Anyways. This show does gimmick episodes really well. Here’s a later exchange from the same episode:

*ding dong*! [Dracula opens the door]
Dracula: Good eee-vening!
Bored Pizza Boy: [pause] Uh, pizza… delivery.
Dracula: Ah! You’ve brought a repast! Excellent! Continue to be of such service and your life will be spared.
Bored Pizza Boy: Uh huh. That’ll be $15.50
Dracula: Tell me… is there… garlic on this pizza?
Bored Pizza Boy: [pause] I don’t know. Did you order garlic?
Dracula: [offended] No!

The jokes are obvious, but they work.

I want to put together a binge list of just multiple shows’ gimmick episodes, including shows like The X-Files, Supernatural, Fringe, etc. (Though what that “etc.” includes is up for debate.) The hard thing would be determining precisely which gimmicks to include. Options for breaking it down would be something like this:

  • All the gimmick episodes for a few specific shows.
  • All the Halloween or Christmas episodes (although in this case just doing every, say, Simpsons Halloween special would be, like, 23 episodes or whatever just by itself).
  • Multiple variations of “the episode in black and white” (i.e. the “riff on old movies” episode).
  • Multiple variations of “the episode that’s a cartoon” (possibly the “everyone takes drugs” episode).
  • Multiple variations of “the Rashomon episode.”

And, since this post is basically just an ad for Supernatural, I’ll mention that the next episode features a wishing well. It includes a kid who wishes for super strength then uses it to terrorize the other kids who were bullying him, at one point screaming, towards the sky, arms upraised, “Kneel before Tod! KNEEL BEFORE TOD!

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Holden Caulfield Offers Some Random Thoughts About Battlestar Galactica

  • All those Cylons, they’re just a bunch of phonies. What’s their “plan,” anyways, for God’s sake? They don’t have a plan.
  • Every time the pilots walk in and out of the ready room they touch this black and white photo of a viper pilot on his goddamn knees or something. It’s funny, you know, but it’s also kind of sad.
  • I’d like to get real sexy with Number Six, I really would. I’m not oversexed or anything, but I can see why Gaius Baltar really likes her. Old Baltar, he’s a real sexy bastard.
  • Christ, I think I know how Lee and old Adama feel about Zak, Lee’s dead brother. I had a brother who died named Allie. Allie was a wizard. Allie never would have failed flight school, like Zak did. Boy, what do you do when you find out something like that about your dead brother, though, and that that’s why he died? Christ.
  • You know what I love? How all the corners of all the pieces of paper in the show are cut off. Every single one of them. That kills me. What’s the goddamn point of that, anyway? It kills me, it really does.
  • Sometimes when there’s a bad episode, and the writers know it’s bad, they’ll present everything in reverse order. They’ll show you an exciting scene right from the goddamn climax, and then jump back twenty-four hours or two days or something, as if that creates a bunch of extra tension. It’s so phony. I bet that’s what D.B. is doing in Hollywood right now. D.B.’s my brother. He’s out there prostituting himself, writing a bunch of television shows backwards.
  • I just watched the episode where Lee and Kara finally sleep with each other. In the movies, you’re always supposed to feel sexy when the two actors finally get together, like when Clark Gable finally gets with Carole Lombard. But I didn’t feel very sexy when Lee and Kara got together on New Caprica. I felt much more depressed than sexy, really.
  • Jeez, this fourth season, it depresses the hell out of me. Old Bill Adama, he’s just depressing. He’s not a bad guy or anything, but you don’t have to be a bad guy to be depressing. All you have to do to depress somebody is go from being the hardest, sternest and most dependable old guy in the fleet to puking all over yourself in your own goddamn bathroom right before you start crying. That’s depressing, it really is.
  • When Adama sat on that hill in the series finale, and Roslin had finally passed away because of her cancer, and you knew Adama and Roslin wouldn’t be able to live in that cabin together, I realized I was crying. I really was. But then after that scene there was this goddamn bit with Head-Six and Head-Baltar and some dancing robots for Chrissake! It was all really stupid and phony, so I got up and turned off the DVD, but I was still sort of crying. I swear to God I was. I don’t know why, but I was.
  • Everyone’s been asking me about the ending, especially this one literary academic guy who focuses in psychoanalysis. Even D.B. keeps asking me about it, but I don’t know what the hell to say to anybody. I sort of miss the show, now that it’s over. Even old “Black Market” and “The Woman King,” for instance. I think I even miss all those goddamn episodes that were edited backwards. It’s funny. You think you don’t care about a show during its final seasons, but then you start writing about it, and you start missing everything about the show all over again.
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My genius idea for a House reboot

My idea for a House reboot is actually just House, but every character (except the patient of the week) is literally House. It’s never explained why the different copies of House exist, or why they have to take on different roles on the team or in the hospital, or why one copy of House would agree to take orders from another. They just do. Also, the patient of the week never comments on the fact that he or she has entered a strange reality where every other human being except him or herself is Hugh Laurie. They just have, okay? Even the patient of the week’s significant other is another copy of House.

Because of the new format, there are obviously no annoying attempts by every character to “diagnose” the personality quirks of every other character, because everyone is House, and House knows what makes House tick, so what’s the point? The show is one-third House playing pranks on other versions of himself, one-third him dealing with the patient of the week, and one-third clinic hours.

A hockey team full of Wilsons can guest star, sometimes.

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Stargate SG-1: It’s a sitcom

I’ve been binging through Stargate SG-1 recently, and my theory is that the show is secretly a sitcom.

The sci-fi ideas in the show are not that innovative; some of the plot lines are quite bad; the effects are definitely not anything to write home about; the villains are just plain silly. But (but!) the show is occasionally very self-aware, and at the end of the day, you’re really just hanging out with some cool, amiable dudes explorin’ other planets (i.e., the forest just outside Vancouver). That’s it. That’s the heart of the show.

Do you want to watch Richard Dean Anderson chill out with his friends? Sure you do. The very best episodes are just O’Neill and the recurring character, Maybourne, going on wacky adventures around town, riffin’ on each other. There aren’t any stakes, no real danger. Oh, sure, Maybourne says he does lots of *bad stuff* and kind of hints towards some of the secret organizations he’s involved with, and for most episodes there is some lip-service paid to the end of the world or the threat of the Goa’uld or something, but we don’t really care. O’Neill and Maybourne might as well be trying to get to White Castle, since no one actually cares about whatever random MacGuffin they’re supposedly looking for (random ancient Egyptian artifact #56), and we don’t actually believe the earth is about to be invaded or destroyed in the middle of the season. (I should add, though, that we’re at a point now in television where I could imagine a show that would be able to make me believe this, which is pretty awesome, when you think about it.)

Mostly, it’s not O’Neill and Maybourne, unfortunately, but O’Neill and the rest of the SG-1 team: Carter, Daniel Jackson, and Teal’c. But the structure of the show is the same, and we watch for the same reasons. Sometimes the show tries to get serious for an episode, and sometimes it does indeed aim to pull on the heart strings. And it’s not always unsuccessful. But it earns those moments (when it does earn them) only via a bunch of episodes of banter between some friends that we learn to care about.

I haven’t watched Stargate: Atlantis of Stargate: Universe, and I’m debating whether to bother. I’ve heard that SGU gets a bit dark, relative to the rest of the franchise, but that it actually finds its own feet and gets pretty good in its second season, only to be cancelled. So, uh, I dunno.

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