Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
Panel Description: While James Cameron's film Avatar contains a strong anti–imperialist message, it is yet another movie where a white character joins an indigenous people (the Na'vi) and then becomes the "most awesome" member of that group. Adding to this dynamic, most of the Na'vi are portrayed by actors of color, and much of the Na'vi culture seems to be appropriated from indigenous cultures on Earth. What are the effects of cultural appropriation in this film, and what is the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural sharing? How is the militarism in the film related to race and gender? How are issues of environmentalism raised in the film, and how is concern for the environment linked to racial and social justice?

Panelists: Cabell Gathman, Nick Murphy, Annalee Newitz (moderator), Terry Bisson, Nnedi Okorofor

Annalee gives some background on her io9 story (When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like "Avatar"?), white guilt and its American history. But also how people who aren’t Americans are taking the story for their own.

Cabell hated Avatar, but wants to learn how to talk about it without offending people.

Nnedi went to the movie not knowing anything about it except that people kept telling her it reminded them of her book Zahrah the Windseeker. She ended up loving everything about it.

Annalee asks the panelists for their thoughts on the colonialist themes of the movie.

Terry Bisson: Deeply informed by American themes. Not just colonialism and white supremacy, but also Intelligent Design. “The whole movie is a refutation of evolution.”

Nnedi doesn’t see the white supremacy in the movie. She sees Jake as being acted upon as well as being an actor in the drama. Jake knew he couldn’t die in his Avatar body, so he had a different approach to taking risks.

Cabell felt there was a “wannabe Indian” vibe to Avatar. She decided she hated the movie when Jake got to ride the turok instead of Neytiri.

Nnedi: He was the only one dumb enough to do it.

Annalee: Except for their great leader who did it generations before.

Nick quotes the Playboy interview with James Cameron where he says that Neytiri had to have tits, even though it makes no sense because the Na’vi aren’t placental mammals.

Nnedi says that’s funny, because Neytiri actually wasn’t that well endowed. Being a tall, thin person, she identified with her freakish physique.

Nnedi says that even though the story wasn’t new, it wasn’t the worst version of it. She lists various things she liked about it, including the leaders being both male and female, Jake’s joy in his avatar body after being paralyzed -- she has been paralyzed before, and wept watching this scene.

Another woman of color in the audience says that she hated Dances with Wolves, and was surprised to love Avatar. She identified with the Na’vi and felt represented on screen in a way she never had before.

Terry: “As a piece of science fiction, it takes us back to Burroughs.”

Nick Murphy: Jake asks how he will know which ikran he should bond with, and is told, “It will be the one who tries to kill you.” To me, that implied that the flying creature did not give consent.

Terry Bisson: Cameron is really a green activist. That is the real message of this film.

Claire Light: great overview of the messiah concept and how Jesus was actually one of the colonized. Real stories of colonizers who have “gone native” and helped the natives to triumph don’t exist. Instead, anyone who goes in with a crusading impulse inevitably ends up writing narratives of total despair, because they realize they can’t fix the problems.

Na’amen in audience: There’s a scene at the end where [Neytiri] sees [Jake's] human body, and I kind of wanted her to say, “You’re so damn ugly.”

Annalee asks if people think the movie is successful as an environmental story?

An audience member mentions the movie Yanomamo, a musical documentary about a Brazilian rain forest tribe and the destruction of their way of life.

Terry: What’s the emotional message of the film?
Cabell: Strip mining is bad.

tags: %l
Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
Panel Description: Love it, hate it, love/hate it, Joss Whedon's Dollhouse definitely has feminist and racial issues worth talking about. What were its good points? Its bad points? Does the good outweigh the bad, or vice versa? Was it canceled too soon or not soon enough?

Panelists: Kater Cheek, Sigrid Ellis, Anastasia Salter, Charlie Jane Anders (moderator), K. Tempest Bradford

Rundown of people’s reasons for being on the panel. Anastasia and Charlie Jane both loved the show, while acknowledging that it had its problems as well. Anastasia was particularly intrigued by the show’s dissociation of identity from body. Kater loved Firefly, but got fed up with Dollhouse and didn’t even watch it to the end. Tempest watched Dollhouse because she was reviewing it for Fantasy Magazine, but she never liked it. Sigrid is mostly in the “liked it” camp, but has quite a few criticisms as well.

Sigrid explains the concept of the “Big Sexy Hospital”, a show that fans watch because they love the actors and want to see them play an essentially similar character with different notes. “Helo’s playing another big dumb hunk of meat, tries to do good and makes bad decisions.”

Someone asks how the professor (from “Belle Chose”) could afford the Dollhouse’s services. Tempest says he’s probably one of those professors who assigns a single text book to all the freshman, and there’s a new edition every year. Audience LOL.

There is a lot of ragging on Eliza Dushku on this panel, which I don’t think is really fair.

Charlie Jane asks: Was the show feminist? Was it trying to be?

Anastasia says yes, and that the treatment of sexuality was usually supposed to be harrowing. Tempest says she doesn’t think Joss Whedon’s feminism is as developed as people say. An audience member points out that Tempest already admitted she hasn’t seen a lot of Joss’s shows, implying that she might not be in a position to make an informed judgment on this question.

Tempest lists three levels of “getting it” regarding racism:

1) Totally racist.
2) I was taught that racism was bad, but it’s still there in my head and I haven’t really examined it.
3) Personal and social examination leading to true ally behavior.

Tempest says the same breakdown applies to sexism, and says she thinks Joss Whedon is at level 2. Others disagree. Charlie Jane relates an account of a conversation with Joss in which he said that we ought to root for Echo and the other dolls because they have been disempowered and are going to get their identities back.

Tempest says that there have already been enough shows that depict female exploitation, and that there is absolutely no reason to do any more. They just aren’t feminist.

A woman in the audience gives an impassioned rant about how Dollhouse doesn’t have to be a female empowerment show to be feminist.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Boyd was screwed over. His character arc didn't make any sense, and some think his early depiction as one of the few men who isn't attracted to Echo is kind of racist. Because of course a black man who is attracted to a white woman would be too threatening.

I gave up on trying to take notes. Too many people talking over one another, and too much annoyance at ill-informed opinions.

However, this panel featured my favorite quote of the weekend. In response to an audience member who said that Echo’s empowerment came from a man (Alpha), not from herself, Charlie Jane countered with, “Well, she had midichlorians.” A perfect summary of the show’s muddled concept that tripped it up time and time again.

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Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
Panel Description: In some ways, the gaming industry is the last glass ceiling of geekdom; in spite of its increasing diversity, gaming culture has largely assumed white, male, able–bodied, and heterosexual biases. Gaming communities like XBox Live, MMORPGs, D&D groups, and even retail stores can be noninclusive or even hostile environments to women, people of color, gay people, or the disabled. There are exceptions: Bioware's Dragon Age: Origins was highly lauded by for its inclusion of same–sex romantic relationships, and won's Most Accessible Game of 2009. This panel will discuss how games can get it right (and why they often don't). We'll also explore ways to make the gaming community more accessible, and brainstorm strategies for surviving hostile encounters in the gaming world.

Panelists: Chris Hill (moderator), Jacquelyn Gill, Anastasia Salter, Robyn Fleming, Nonie Rider

Robyn says she started role playing at age 6, when her brother’s friends needed someone to play a paladin, and none of them could do the lawful good thing. She also learned to type at age 12 in order to MUD. She is also one of the founders of Cerise, an online gaming magazine for women.

An audience member quotes a game developer explaining the priorities: “If we made a female character, we wouldn’t be able to have crumbling walls.”

Chris asks the panelists how important it is to them to have representation in video games. Anastasia says that the white men in video games don’t actually look like real people, so realistic representation doesn’t really exist for anyone. Robyn points out that there are some games that allow you to customize your character extensively (e.g. Mass Effect, although you can’t make your character fat).

Nonie is happy that RPGs these days don’t seem to essentialize goodness or evilness by race (because everyone likes playing orc shamans or drow priestesses).

What has gotten better and what still needs to be improved? Everyone agrees that there is better representation of women in general, and racial stereotyping has decreased. But there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Elizabeth stands up in the audience and describes her experience of playing Dragon Age: Origins. It seemed so good, and was getting everything right! And then they totally blew it at the end with the vilely misogynistic and fat-phobic depiction of the broodmothers. And the expansion is even worse. Argh!

Robyn says that Kotaku claimed credit for the creation of Cerise. Paraphrased quote from Kotaku guy: “The editor of Kotaku has a penis, and they [the creators of Cerise] hated that, so they had to make their own magazine.” Lies, damned lies!

tags: %l
Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
Panel Description: Back for a second go–round, by popular demand! Writers of color working in F/SF face unique challenges, it's true. But, at the end of the day, being a "person of color" is only one aspect of what makes up our identities as writers and, while it's very flattering to asked to be on panels, most of these panels never crack the ceiling of Race 101. With that in mind, wouldn't it be nice for multiple writers of color to sit on a panel that isn't about race at all? Here's our chance to do just that. So, what are we gonna talk about, instead? Practically anything! Presented in game show format, REVENGE OF NOT ANOTHER F*CKING RACE PANEL brings together writers of color to get their geek on about any number of pop culture topics—none of them race related.

Panelists: Yoon Ha Lee, Cecilia Tan, Shveta Thakrar, Julia/Sparkymonster (moderator), Andrea Hairston, Amal El-Mohtar

Panelists introduce themselves while the topics are taped to the wall. Topics are as follows:

1) Apocalypse A-Go-Go
2) Super Michael Jackson Ballerina
3) Zombie Care Bear Stare
4) What would Johanna Do?
6) [Blank] in spaaaaace!
7) Sparkle Pony
8) We welcome our robot overlords!

“What is your favorite Michael Jackson song?” (topic 2)

Amal: “Free Willy”, Andrea: Can’t remember the name, and is reluctant to try singing or humming it. Julia: “Beat It”; Shveta: an Indian video version of “Thriller”; Cecilia: “Beat It”, because of the unstated masturbatory reference: Yoon Ha: “Ben”. (she only knows two MJ songs)

“Slow zombies or fast zombies?” (topic 1)

Amal: she is sick of slow zombies, she wants fast ones like velociraptors. Andrea: “I hate binaries.” Julia: slow zombies, because she isn’t a sprinter. A nice old-fashioned, shambling, parts-falling-off zombie. Shveta: “I’m still hung up on the idea of eating brains. Brains are smelly.” Amal: “they’re also delicious!” Cecilia: As a science fiction fan, she finds herself wondering: why are they slow or fast? They’re slow at first because of rigor mortis, then they loosen up and are faster, until they slow down again because their limbs have fallen off. Yoon Ha: Fast zombies would make for a better apocalypse, so she’s in favor of them.

“What small furry animal would make the best zombie?” (topic 3)

Julia: a badger. With Linux installed. Andrea: wallabies or kangaroos, something that can hop and has pouches for body parts. Amal: Bunny zombies. She is trying to imagine them bounce-shambling. Yoon Ha: Ferret. Small, cute and vicious. Cecilia: She also goes for ferrets. Shveta: A peacock zombie.

“How many bad fics did you write after reading Mercedes Lackey when you were a child?” (topic 7)

Some back history on the blue-eyed telepathic sparkling ponies that choose the saviors of the kingdom. Amal: “I didn’t realize this was the bare-all panel.” She wants to read Mercedes Lackey now. She never wrote fantasy fanfic; Star Trek was her stuff. She used to write stories about being BFFs with Deanna Troy. Andrea: She used to act her fanfic. She does her Spock imitation. “Fascinating, but incorrect. Why would you think of making such an assumption with so little data?” Julia: she has a long history of embarrassment with Mercedes Lackey. She summarizes the plots of some of the books to much laughter from the audience. Shveta: she is not sure if she is happy or unhappy to have never read Mercedes Lackey. She used to write stories about getting together with Link from the Zelda video games. Cecilia: she came to Lackey too late and was just fed up with it. When she was younger she used to play Batgirl/Catwoman with a friend. There was a lot of tying each other up. Amal (sarcastic): “That was not an indication of anything to come.” When Cecilia was in high school, she was the president of the largest Menudo fanclub in the world! Ricky Martin was pretending to be asleep in the next bed when she lost her virginity. Later he said that that was what turned him gay! Yoon Ha: Pern fanfic. Unicorn riders who fought dragons. The dragons were mutant unicorns.

“Tell me about mutant unicorn dragons.” (topic 7 again)

Julia: I am concerned about how this affects the children. I think they should practice safer riding. Andrea: they were the results of artificial insemination. They are circling the convention even now, waiting to have their way with us! Amal: “I made this mutant to please you, but you don’t seem to like it. What’s with all the screaming?” Shveta: I AM a mutant unicorn dragon. Cecilia: It is totally plausible that dragons are mutant unicorns, just like orcs were mutant elves. Yoon Ha: Does this count as talking about race?

“Can you remember a time you tried to adapt a recipe to make it vegan or gluten free, and it went horribly wrong – or surprisingly right?” (topic 4)

Julia: Yes. Her mother is celiac, and she made a cake soaked in bourbon that her mother didn’t want to share with anyone else. Andrea: Her father was a red meat fan and hated bananas. Rather than catering to his desires, she made him a tofu meal with banana cream pie as dessert and didn’t tell him what was in the food. He ate large amounts without knowing what was in it, then acted sickened when he found out. His wife called him on his bullshit! Amal: She is only a vegetarian by association. A lot of her friends have a lot of other dietary restrictions besides being vegetarian. One friend is a vegetarian, but hates vegetables. She subsists on pasta and cheese. Shveta: she has no funny stories; she passes. Cecilia: in charge of making dessert for a seder for vegans. Almond cookies with vegetable shortening. The cookies looked beautiful, but tasted like nothing… until drenched in chocolate! Yoon Ha: she is a terrible cook, but managed to make a vegan meal out of only three ingredients. She has learned not to disrespect cornmeal!

“If the robot overlords come and insist that we all get a cybernetic enhancement, what would you choose?” (topic 8, and also a repeat question from last year)

Amal: “Is it too much to ask to have a Tardis inside me?” Now that the show is getting crappier, the Tardis is all she cares about. Andrea: I want to BE a robot overlord, so fuck just having a single enhancement. I want to go all the way! Julia: She wants a jack in the back of her neck. Yoon Ha: A gun. Shveta: She’d like some eye implants so she can read in boring meetings and look like she’s paying attention.

“In your favorite SF TV show, who do you think is hard done by, and why?” (topic 5)

Amal: a toss-up between Guinan and Worf. They both have war-torn backgrounds. Guinan was an underused character with an amazing backstory who should have gotten more development. Andrea: “I feel for the redshirts. If you’re going to die for me, I’d like to have at least 30 seconds of backstory.” Julia: she was just rewatching the Wrath of Khan: Carol Marcus, the mother of Kirk’s son, and the pathetic son who dies. Uhura. She has untapped depths of awesomeness. Cecilia: Sulu. The only guy on television besides Bruce Lee who looked like her father. Yoon Ha: incomplete data, because Star Trek aired at 1:00 AM when she was a kid, so she hardly ever got to watch it. She wanted to know more about Geordie. Shveta: she has only seen a couple of episodes of Star Trek! Does this mean she loses her geek cred? The audience says yes. Doh!

“What will be the first fast food franchise in space?” (topic 6)

Julia: A Dunkies (as they call it in Boston). Amal: Starbucks. She hates them and boycotts them, but she thinks they’ll be first. Andrea: This company doesn’t yet exist. It will go closer to the speed of light. It will not need to be ingested, it will be an experience of calorie enhancement. Shveta: A huge ugly megacorporation, a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. Cecilia: Something like In-and-Out Burger that continues the Gernsback tradition of transportation and eating. No… it will be Soylent Green. Yoon Ha: something non-Western. Cecilia interjects that Pizza Hut is the most popular restaurant in China.

“A Khaaaaan! yell that isn’t Khaaaan? Go!” (topic 5)

The unanimous answer is “WisCoooooooon!!!!”

“Tell us something about Finland.” (topic 4)

Reindeer meat. Lots of Finnish people. Light and dark at different times than we are familiar with. Nokia phones and lots of booze. (I lost track of who said what on this one.)

tags: %l
Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
Panel Description: There is a perception that there weren't many women in Doctor Who fandom before the New Series was launched. This is patently false. Women have had a major role in Doctor Who fandom since the inception of the show. Do women approach and experience their Doctor Who fandom (or other media fandoms) differently than men? This panel explores different approaches to media fandom by the women involved in it, functioning within an assumed male–dominated fandom. Approaches to fandom discussed will range from feminist critique to costuming to fan fiction.

Panelists: Evelyn Brown, Lynne M. Thomas (moderator), K. Tempest Bradford, Kathryn Sullivan

The Chicks Dig Time Lords book was intentionally positive in focus, in defiance of the reality that women are quite outnumbered in Doctor Who fandom. Lynne says the fandom is 80% male!

Opinions on the show. Best show ever? Tempest says no, but probably the best thing on television right now. “Which isn’t hard.”

Kathryn: “I like the Doctor because he thinks; he doesn’t always solve things with a gun.”

Evelyn: “I love the scope of it.” If you don’t like the show, you can just wait, and it will soon be doing something different.

Tempest: She likes that it’s an adventure show, and isn’t full of emo stuff like the shows on Syfy. She got into it because one of her roommates was a huge fan, then quickly caught up on the new Who via torrents.

Lynne: She likes the overwhelming positivity of the show and its openness to change.

A poll of the audience is taken to see how many fans there are of each Doctor. I fear I am the only one who never raises a hand at all!

Leah in audience asks the panel to list their favorite companions.

Lynne: Favorite: Ace. Least favorite: Peri.
Kathryn: Favorites: Zoe, Leela & Donna. Least favorite: Adric
Tempest: Favorite: Donna & Martha & Ace. Least favorite: Rose (2nd series)
Evelyn: Favorite: Jamie & Zoe; Tegan and Turlough. Least favorite: Rose, maybe. She likes when there are crowds of companions who can talk about the Doctor behind his back.

Lynne likes the show’s flexibility about sexuality, but recognizes that the treatment of bisexuality (for example) has been problematic at times.

Tempest: “I hate sexual tension! …in fiction.” Whining and pining. David Tennant era bothers her. Why was Martha bothering with this skinny, crazy dude? Everyone agrees that her emotional arc with the Doctor was handled badly and didn’t seem in character.

Lynne asks a question of the audience: “What’s the Tom Baker episode where he fellates an alien?” There is amazed laughter from the crowd.

Someone asks Tempest what she thought of the end of the Martha story (pairing off with Mickey.) She hates it, because it doesn’t follow anything that came before. She wants to interrogate Russell T. Davies about it.

Discussion about historicals. An audience member wants to know if any of the older shows depict historical events in countries besides England. Some examples are given, but Tempest thinks it’s better if the show’s producers don’t even go there, given the amount of fail the show has demonstrated towards brown people. Lynne argues for the story limitations of an extremely small production budget.

Verity Lambert was given production duties on the classic series because she was young and female, and the BBC fully expected her to fail. Here we are 46 years later…

An audience member who is studying media in England reports that she has been told that the reason the new show focuses so much on Britain is because market research says that is what their audience wants. And also that the BBC is trying to target it to children. An audience members protests that the British Empire is pretty big! “Didn’t they own three quarters of the globe at one point?” Chris Hill (English fan) in audience: “We’re sitting right here!” Much laughter.

Tempest gives a hilarious rant about how the Daleks keep coming back again and again after supposedly being exterminated. She wants Davies to stick to the story he has set up.

The doctor’s daughter steps out of the “people making machine with mascara on”. Evelyn says she got it from her father, because he regenerated complete with hair gel.

Sex in Doctor Who. Lynne: “Some say there is no sex in Doctor Who. Others of us say, 'Uh uh. You don’t dress Leela like that if there is no sex in Doctor Who.'”

Lynne: “A millennium-old person might have gotten over some of his hangups about sex.” Tempest: “Or developed more.” Laughter.

Mention of “The Curse of the Fatal Death”.

Chris points out that most British shows at the time of the classic series were asexual. Even the “companion” concept was fairly common, and was usually treated as a father-daughter dynamic.

Last 15 minutes of panel are reserved for discussion of the Matt Smith series.

Tempest: “I’m just tired of people jumping the Doctor’s bones.” referring to the episode with Amy coming on to the Doctor

Lynne’s husband has a theory that Steven Moffat has a checklist of story elements that he would like to correct from the Davies era. For example: Rory as apology for Mickey.

Tempest gives a run-down on Steven Moffat’s issues with women. His two shows before Doctor Who (Joking Apart, Coupling) both based on his own life.

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06/26/10: WisCon 34 Report

Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
It's been nearly a month since WisCon 34, so it's high time I posted my con report and panel notes. Once again, it was a stimulating and overwhelming experience, with the one big difference from previous years being that my co-conspirators Laura and Liz both couldn't make it. I missed them and hope they can make it next time!

This post is a narrative of what I did over the course of the con, with the detailed panel notes separated out into their own posts. More below the jump.

» Continue reading this entry...

05/24/08: At WisCon

Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
It's a couple of days into WisCon, and I'm struggling to keep up with all the programming, people, and basic physical needs like eating and sleeping. But I'm hanging out with Liz and John and getting reconnected with lots of other folks and blogging, and it is good. I plan to write something up after the convention, but in the mean time I've been posting to Feminist SF -- The Blog! Go there if you're interested in up to the minute reports.

tags: %l
Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
I'm back from the convention. I spent some quality time with Laura Q, and we met up with Angry Black Woman for a pleasant breakfast on Saturday, but overall this was a much less social experience for me than WisCon. Nevertheless, I did enjoy it, particularly all the exposure to Karen Joy Fowler, who I had never heard speak before, despite her presence at several other conventions I've been to. She was an absolute delight, a person who always had something interesting and thoughtful and frequently funny to say, and who spoke in complete, well-constructed sentences!

My lengthy notes are behind the link.

» Continue reading this entry...

07/05/07: Conned again

Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
In just a couple hours, I'll be off to another SF convention: Readercon. This will be my fourth time at this convention (my two previous con reports can be read here and here), but it's been quite a while since my last one, so there should be a good sparkle of the new. And Laura Quilter and I will be sharing a room again -- fun!

The schedule has been posted on the web site, so I've been thinking a bit about what I want to attend. The Maureen McHugh kaffeeklatsch is a no-brainer; Rosemary Kirstein is tempting, too (not least so I can ask her when the next Steerswoman book is coming out). Turns out Laura is on a panel, too: "What's On Your Bookshelf?: LibraryThing" which I feel a strong inclination to go to, being a Librarythinger myself. Though "Fantasy as Inner Landscape", scheduled against it, is very tempting as well. (I've been thinking a lot about the "a few special people decide the fate of the world" trope in fantasy lately as I read Laurie Marks's Elemental Logic series.) Some panels promise to be quite heated and controversial: "The Slipstream / Fabulation / Magic Realism Canon" -- because there's no clear agreement about what slipstream IS, and some people don't think it's a meaningful label, let alone something that can be summed up in a "canon"; "The Singularity Needs Women!" -- because it seems to float the possibility that this entire subgenre is sexist; and "Hunted Jaguars: Fiction In Another Land" -- because, judging from the panel description, no one on the panel seems to have a clue about the cultural appropriation controversies that have been raging throughout fandom for the last year.

There are a couple of film panels that are also intriguing. Then there's the traditional Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition, which always makes me bust a gut laughing; author book signings; and various parties that may or may not be serving alcohol (the hotel's rules about this seem draconian in comparison to the Concourse in Madison). In short, lots of fun things to do! Look for a report after I return.

A final note: I've been writing enough of these posts lately that I've created a new category for them: Fandom.

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Category: Fandom
Posted by: Therem
I was just trolling my bookmarks list looking for other people's reactions to WisCon, and this one from Eleanor Arnason made me burst into laughter:
I am slowly digesting Wiscon, like a python which has eaten a really big goat. The feeling of uncomfortable fullness is gone and now I am beginning to fondly remember. I have moved from "that goat was way, way too big, how could I have eaten it?" to "that was a very tasty goat."
She is a funny woman! I wish I had seen more of her than a rushed exit from an elevator.

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