Participant Abstacts

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Abstracts of seminar participants, Blowing Up the Brand II, Cultural Studies Association Conference, Berkeley, CA, 19 March 2010

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Participant Abstacts

  1. 1. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts TRESSA BERMAN TITLE: The Problematic of the Signature ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the “problematic of the signature” as a way of examining the meanings that signatures, or the absence of signatures, convey in their application to cultural properties, such as works of art. The paper takes its approach from the intersecting fields of arts law and cultural heritage, and how the legal approaches of Indigenous intellectual property rights increasingly inform a wider range of artistic and cultural practices. At the same time, the limits of IPR will be explored in order to forge a more inclusive theoretical approach to the diverse artistic expressions of cultural heritage. Where some scholars work to re-author the law, others look to customary practice as a form of extant “law” to be judiciously invoked in matters of Indigenous cultural heritage (e.g., Maori application of tikanga and copyright). While the question of “Who Owns Culture?” rises above embedded questions of “rights” and customary practices addressed in the literature, only recently has there been an attempt to synthesize the arts in relation to their various forms of protections and appropriations as a singular focus for theory building. Indeed, the seemingly bottomless archive of ‘public domain’ accessible through the World Wide Web and only recently contested by authors and artists, has lent itself to new ways of framing an international discourse, such as that which merges unlikely arenas of protection of Indigenous arts with other forms of new media arts on the Internet. This paper addresses conversational and theoretical gaps among diverse fields of practice and cultural production by building on my expertise in Indigenous arts and the law in order to establish certain generalizing principles about the efficacy of property law and its underlying assumptions. The approach I take is to look at historical and social constructions of ‘the signature’ as forms of cultural marking that have serious implications and consequences for ‘ownership,’ ‘identity,’ ‘authenticity,’ ‘copying,’ and ‘originality.’ By following how the signature, and acts of signing, denotes agreements with certain codes of social conformity, we can see how what becomes encoded as property, thereby serves property relations. These social relations (of property) in turn define or upset what gets to count as art and who has the right to claim it. 1
  2. 2. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts BROOKE DUFFY TITLE: Manufacturing Authenticity: The Rhetoric of “Real” in Women’s Magazines ABSTRACT: Against the backdrop of a promotional culture where marketing imagery and discourse circulates throughout the public sphere, it is perhaps not surprising that consumerism is easily conflated with self-actualization (Lewis and Bridger, 2001). Ostensibly, contemporary marketing and media producers deploy tropes of “authenticity” in response to consumers’ desire for individuality in a secular, fragmented social world. This movement to integrate authenticity into the commercial sector is indicative of a larger cultural moment centered on the lives of “real” individuals. At the same time that the internet has opened up participatory space for the “newly empowered consumer” (Jenkins, 2006), the ongoing success of reality TV is attributed to the perception that audiences enjoy watching ordinary people and feeling as though “that could be me” (Andrejevic, 2003). What is more, “real”—seemingly authentic— individuals are also being incorporated into advertising campaigns (e.g., the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, the Doritos user-generated Super Bowl ad contest). Such examples are inherently contradictory: they suggest that an individual’s internal quest for genuineness gets implicated through the promise of authentic experience in the external, material world. An interesting site where this tension plays out is within the realm of women’s magazines, where females are encouraged to engage in aspirational consumption to improve their inner-directed selves. As Gilman (1999) explains of beauty culture, the question of how to become more beautiful is hard to distinguish from that of how we can be “happy” with our selves. This collapse of the internal and external self is expressed in the ways in which women’s magazines negotiate the space between natural and artifice. Indeed, recent years seem to have brought the contradiction between real “authentic” women and “fake” supermodels and celebrities to the fore. In addition to including advertising from companies like Dove, several popular women’s titles now feature articles and fashion spreads of average-looking and sized women; Glamour, for example, has a regular “dress your body” feature to help “real women” of different sizes find clothing. Despite these tensions between authentic and inauthentic, between natural and artifice, and between ordinary and extraordinary individuals, little work has been done on the ways in which magazine producers balance these oppositions. The aim of this paper, then, is to explore the rhetoric of authenticity that is used in women’s magazines through a qualitative textual analysis of American fashion and beauty titles. Editorial and advertising content is examined to make sense of the ways in which authenticity is articulated among executives and advertisers, how the magazines seem to navigate between authentic and inauthentic, and how readers are encouraged to balance these notions in their everyday lives. Not only do these findings add a new layer of insight to existing research on authenticity in consumer culture, but they also help us to move beyond the traditional producer/audience/text triad in mass media scholarship. In particular, by problematizing one of the many sites of consumer participation in the 21st century, this study indicates how interactivity is deployed to perpetuate the same ethos of consumerism. 2
  3. 3. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts LOREN GLASS TITLE: Counter-Culture Colophon: Grove Press and the Democratization of the Avant-Garde ABSTRACT: This paper will analyze how Grove press leveraged its early promotion of European modernism in the fifties into a commitment to sexual and political revolution in the sixties, thereby becoming the representative publisher of the counter-culture. When Barney Rosset bought Grove in 1951, the literary world was entering an era of conglomeration during which publishing, which had remained relatively insulated from the broader culture industry during the modern era, was gradually absorbed by it. Under Rosset, Grove was a hold-over from the earlier era of the book industry: an independent publisher modeled on a modernist disregard for the bottom line and using modernist standards of aesthetic evaluation. Grove’s promotional efforts democratized these standards, thereby helping to translate avant-garde subversion into revolutionary practice. At the center of this process was the paperback book. At the time, most paperbacks were reprints, but Grove published original avant- garde texts by authors such as Samuel Beckett and Alain Robbe-Grillet as cheap paperbacks. Using instantly recognizable Abstract Expressionist covers designed by Roy Kuhlman, Grove aggressively marketed these Evergreen Originals, as they were called, to an academic audience, establishing its colophon and the Evergreen imprint early with the generation that would swell the ranks of the counterculture. I will discuss two examples of Grove’s promotional practice: their organization of an “Evergreen Book Week” in Berkeley, CA during the week of May 1958, and their nationwide campaign to “Join the Underground” by subscribing to the Evergreen Review in March 1966. For the Evergreen Book Week, Grove organized a series of readings and discussions at local bookstores and community theaters in order to establish that “EVERGREEN BOOKS are a vital force on campus today” and “The Best in Modern Literature Comes to You From Grove Press.” For their “Join the Underground” campaign, Grove placed full page ads in papers and magazines across the country, on stickers they distributed free to subscribers, and on posters throughout the New York City subway system. Building on their success challenging Comstock era censorship laws, Grove claimed, “If you’re over 21; if you’ve grown up with the underground writers of the fifties and sixties who’ve reshaped the literary landscape; if you want to share in the new freedoms that book and magazine publishers are winning in the courts, then keep reading. You’re one of us.” Together, these campaigns reveal Grove Press and its Evergreen Imprint as a brand identity that both transcends and resists any simple correlation to consumer culture. This paper examines a specifically literary deployment of the brand, which complicates traditional practices of promotional culture. As an industry, publishing has always had a vexed relationship with advertising, as it was conventionally assumed that every title is unique, rendering a general promotional scheme untenable. To the degree that a general promotional scheme was practicable, it was usually developed around author or genre, as readers rarely purchase books based on the identity of the publisher. Grove would flout this rule by establishing a distinct identity as a publisher of revolutionary literature for a specifically collegiate audience. Their success reveals that a literary brand can function as a cultural conduit channeling sensibilities that potentially subvert the system in which they circulate. 3
  4. 4. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts LESLIE MEIER TITLE: Promotional Ubiquitous Musics: New Identities & Emerging Markets in the Music Industry ABSTRACT: The relationship between music and corporate branding today has become so cozy that mainstream media and commercial spaces are permeated with music whose intent is not only to promote itself and its artist, but also a sponsoring brand. Popular music is used strategically and promotionally in television programs, advertisements, film, video games, ringtones, and in retail spaces. Indeed, as the music industry looks for new revenue streams, and consumer product brands seek out new means to differentiate themselves from one another amid a torrent of marketing communications, the music and advertising industries have come together as perhaps unlikely partners. The aggressive audio-visual and spatial deployment of popular music by marketers and media producers has translated into a condition of what I term promotional ubiquitous musics, drawing on Anahid Kassabian’s (2002) term “ubiquitous musics.” Jonathan Sterne argues that music deployed in malls “produces consumption, because the music works as an architectural element of a built space devoted to consumerism” (Sterne 1997, 25). This paper will examine the ways that promotional ubiquitous musics serve as part of the architecture of contemporary capitalism—something I will situate within debates regarding the relationship between the social, economic, and cultural matrix of relations we call Fordism, and the similarly comprised matrix that we have more recently come to call post-Fordism. I will present findings from my PhD thesis, which combines theoretical analysis (drawing on Harvey 1990; Wernick 1991; Lash and Urry 1994; Lash and Lury 2007) with an interview program with music and advertising executives headquartered in Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. I will discuss: 1) marketing managers’ perspectives on the role and value of popular music as promotion; 2) the consequences of the music industry’s increasing reliance on cross-promotional and licensing agreements with advertisers, television, film, and so on; and 3) the relationship between promotional ubiquitous musics, popular music production, and a purportedly flexible and increasingly precarious promotional hypercapitalism. As popular music and musicians are used by marketers to build the “emotional surplus-value” of brands, it behooves research such as this to consider how marketing strategists themselves understand terms like branding and brand equity, the latter being “an intangible asset of added value or goodwill that results from the favorable image, impressions of differentiation, and/or the strength of consumer attachment to a company name, brand name, or trademark” (Belch and Belch 2001, 60). In order to understand the relationship between particular business trends and theories of transition, however, branding and promotion must also be understood more broadly. I use the work of Andrew Wernick (1991) to understand promotionalism as the cultural condition under which this union of bands and brands, though not without precedent, has emerged as industry “common sense.” Also, following Henry Giroux, I investigate the ways that “the educational force of culture actually works pedagogically to produce neoliberal ideology, values, and consent” (Giroux 2008, 174-5). Thinking of pedagogy as a form of cultural politics allows for the development of critical perspectives that traverse and unite studies of industry, text, and audience. 4
  5. 5. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts MADS MORDHORST ABSTRACT: The idea that the nation state would soon become a thing of the past, like unlimited monarchy and feudalism in the 19th Century under the present influence and discourse of globalisation, has been falsified. Instead nationalism is changing patterns, forms and fields. So the question is not whether nationalism still matter in the age of globalisation. Instead is the question how, where and in what ways can we see the changing patterns of nationalism? This paper argue that one place where you can see some of these changes is in the concept of nation-branding. In the last decades have we seen new hybrid-concepts that try to grasp the contradictory process of globalisation. Among those concepts are nation-branding where an approach from the field of commercial marketing is applied to nations and the politics of state. The discourse of nation branding is closely connected to the discourse of globalisation. It is sold to political leaders as a national response to the threatening clouds of globalisation. The link that unites the marketing and branding paradigm with the political field is what Olins calls the “trading identities”, i.e., identities that mediate between companies and nations. When companies and nations become more alike, the idea of taking the tools that have been useful in companies and applying them to nations seems logical. To the extent that the concept of nation branding has been discussed up to now, it has primarily been within the paradigm of branding and marketing. The questions that have been asked have been tool- oriented, instrumental: How do we brand nations? How can we measure the effect of the brand? And when the concept has been criticized, it has been from a practical viewpoint: for example, the reason to it is so difficult/ impossible to brand nations is that nations are large and have many stakeholders. The paper will instead view nation-branding in the broader perspective of the blurring borders between globalisation and the nation-state and between business and identity. Rather than proceeding from concrete cases, as is usually done. I will draw primarily from the nation-branding literature, and discuss the branding tools to nation-branding suggested in the literature. This will be discussed from the perspective of the critical research field in nation studies and nationalism. This tradition offers a possibility to change the discourse. Instead of asking how to brand nations, a questions form an academic point is: How and when did nations emerge and how have they become brands? Through this I will argue that it is not so much the content as the form of nationhood that is changing. Since the 18th and 19th centuries, nation-states have been built up round a constructed identity, both internally and externally; they have been shaped by images that distinguish nations from each other. What has changed in the last decades is the degree of integration of business, economy, culture and politics and the efforts to use the images and identities in a broad strategic manner. 5
  6. 6. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts RADHIKA PARAMESWARAN TITLE: Animalizing India: Emerging Signs of an Unruly Brand ABSTRACT: Analyzing the rise and fall of Indonesia's status in globalization's economic imaginary, cultural anthropologist Anna Tsing notes that an "economy of appearances" drives the search for new economic frontiers at historic moments when global capital seeks wild creativity rather than stable reproduction. In the creative logic of globalization's economy of appearances, profit must be imagined before it can be extracted; a nation's possibility of economic performance must be conjured like a spirit to motivate an audience of investors, politicians, lawmakers, and citizens to believe in the promise of a linked global future. Borrowing from Tsing’s formulation of a promotional economy of appearances, this paper’s analysis of globalizing India in the iconic images of magazine covers argues that research on promotional culture must take into the account the ways in which seemingly non-commercial editorial representations— magazine and book covers as opposed to magazine advertising—are powerful agents of branding precisely because they carry the endorsement of a credible and legitimate corporate magazine brand. Disembodied cover portraits floating in cyberspace—untethered from the magazine’s print edition and sometimes, the cover story itself—become part of a larger pool of promotional images that brand a nation. Traveling from America to India, Newsweek’s cover images of global India, for example, end up as framed pictures in upscale restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai, offering triumphant neoliberal evidence of India’s transformative journey through a series of geopolitical and economic binaries, from third world to an almost first world nation, from a closed quasi-socialist to an open capitalist economy, and from an overpopulated nation to a burgeoning emerging market that provides a tantalizing glimpse of an insatiable consumer thirst that will rescue America from its financial crisis. How is India's potential as an emerging market and a serious player in the global economy being conjured in the popular aesthetics of magazine and non-fiction book covers? Even as an outpouring of verbal discourse from academics, journalists, and business and policy pundits has hailed an India that is either “rising, ascending, levitating, and soaring” or “falling, descending, tumbling, and receding,” a steady stream of popular illustrations has also sought to illuminate the vicissitudes of India’s newfound economic recognition. Drawing from a larger historical project’s archive of still images, this paper will focus on recent artistic portraits of global India as an animal—an elephant or tiger—that wanders alone or sometimes with another animal companion—dragon or panda bear—called China. My analysis will attempt to make sense of different metonymic and surreal representations of a bestial India that circulate in an unpredictable economic ecosystem already inhabited by capricious bulls and bears. Bringing the literature on soft power and global nation branding in conversation with studies of animals in popular culture, the paper seeks to get inside a visual economy of appearances in which zoological embodiments arbitrate an emerging market’s unruly prospects for success. 6
  7. 7. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts ELEONORA PASOTTI TITLE: Political Branding in Bogota, Naples, and Chicago ABSTRACT: Drawing on the experiences of three cities on three continents, Naples, Bogota and Chicago, this paper will show how cities suffering for decades from poor government, entrenched patronage, lack of development, and social conflict made a transition to a new form of governance: brand politics. Facilitated by the joint presence of direct elections, low party discipline, and high rates of municipal fiscal self-reliance, brand politics broke, for a time, a vicious cycle of skepticism and inertia and opened the window for a broad set of reforms. Under brand politics, mayors turn their attention from payroll patronage towards corporations that are able to finance mass media campaigns. Hence, both campaigning and policy making adapt to this constituency as mayors combine mega-projects and identity building with fiscal austerity. The theory of brand politics shows mayors emulating marketing mavericks: in commerce, consumers aspire to become different people by acquiring products; in politics, citizens support mayors’ brands because they seek to become carriers of the same values. Voting and buying have thus become increasingly synonymous in citizens’ primal search for a means of expressing their identities. 7
  8. 8. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts JOEL PENNEY TITLE: 'Walking Billboards' for Change: Campaign T-shirts and the Politicized Promotional Body ABSTRACT: This paper investigates the growing phenomenon of campaign T-shirts—made most recently visible by the extraordinary popularity of Obama T-shirts in the 2008 U.S. presidential election cycle—as a case study of how the promotional body and the “branded self” of post-Fordist neoliberal capitalism (Hearn, 2008) is being re-articulated to the field of the political. Following from Cohen’s (2003) groundbreaking historical study outlining the hybridization of consumerism and citizenship in the twentieth-century United States, I argue that a parallel development is now taking place in which the imposition of promotional culture (Wernick, 1991) on the body to perform as an advertisement for itself is negotiated and reworked for civic as opposed to strictly economic ends. In fact, both of these parallel trends are observable in the medium of the contemporary campaign T-shirt, as it exists simultaneously as a consumable object offering citizen-consumers the opportunity to channel their dollars into a political cause (e.g. the online candidate merchandise “store” as a campaign fundraising mechanism), and also as a promotional object transforming the T-shirt buyer/wearer into a virtual 'walking billboard' for the campaign's message. The latter can best be described as a process of quite literally 'donating' one's body and its promotional potential for a cause larger than one's self, putting an unexpected twist on a long-term trend first identified by Erich Fromm (1990 [1947]) as the “marketing orientation” of the modern capitalist subject. On the surface, the introduction of political content into the 'text' of the promotional body may be interpreted as a rather uncomplicatedly optimistic rejoinder to arguments critical of the extension of branding onto the space of the body (for example, Klein’s (2000) famous excoriation of Tommy Hilfiger clothing as producing “talking life-sized Tommy dolls, mummified in fully branded Tommy worlds”). Yet just as Cohen astutely recognizes the ambivalences inherent in the conflation of citizenship with consumption and the delimiting of political campaign-building to the terrain of the marketplace, we must also take seriously the potential for promotional culture to undercut substantive democratic participation by turning the bodies of citizens into mere repositories for the trivializing slogans and corporate-styled logos of mainstream political parties. In other words, we must not forget Benjamin’s (1973 [1936]) warning of the dangers that can come with the aestheticization of politics, when citizens are given “not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves.” For Benjamin, this ritualized expression (which he associates with Fascism) provides only the illusion of political engagement, and is hollow, disempowering, and ultimately of service only to the powerful elites who organize such aestheticized political spectacles. Using data drawn from the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, combining textual analysis of hundreds of T- shirt designs, ethnographic observation of candidate rallies, and six long-form interviews of college students who wore Obama T-shirts during the election cycle, I argue that fears of trivialization are only partially founded. While many campaign T-shirts sold by both formal campaign organizations and commercial T-shirt vendors do indeed reflect the empty expression Benjamin warns of, others produced within the emerging online-based customizable T-shirt industry tell a different story, more closely resembling Benjamin's alternative ideal of “politicizing art.” The T-shirt, with its low production costs and potential for personalization, can provide a public platform for citizens to both embody—and promote— their views about the broader political world. The medium itself is neutral; it all depends upon how the promotional body is put to (re)use. 8
  9. 9. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts H. CECILIA SUHR TITLE: Raising Popularity on MySpace: The Power of Tila Tequila's Brand ABSTRACT: With the rise of social networking sites, gaining fame has become easily attainable. Convenient access to networking websites has favorably impacted yet-unknown musicians since popularity on such sites can provide many career opportunities. Tila Tequila, who is a musician, model, author and reality T.V. star is the embodiment of celebrity success won through networking on Myspace.com. However, her mainstream fame is the result of soaring popularity on Myspace. Since then, Tequila attracted national attention: she was given her own reality television show, Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, on MTV for two consecutive seasons; she was featured in Stuff magazine; articles about her were written in countless magazines; she also recently published a book, titled Hooking up with Tila Tequila. Remarkably, Tequila’s celebrity status had little correlation with her music career. After all, she was at one time ranked number one on the Myspace music chart in the unsigned artist category. While this disconnect may seem unusual, it allows us the opportunity to critically examine the nature of Tequila’s celebrity status and her quick rise in fame. I argue that there are number of factors that influenced her success besides her overt sex appeal. In order to analyze the evolution of Tequila’s fame, this chapter will draw on two distinct issues: 1) her popularity as a result of immaterial and free labor; 2) the affective labor of branding herself on social networking sites. The outcome of this study will explain the multiple factors that have contributed to Tequila’s fame--foregrounding on the relationship between social networking site and the notion of celebrity. 9
  10. 10. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts HEATHER TURNBACH AND LOUISE WOODSTOCK TITLE: Authentic Commercialism: How Reality TV Dissolves the Traditional Divide Between Creativity and Commerce. ABSTRACT: Both common sense and scholarly inquiry reveal that reality TV’s claim to be “real” is tenuous at best. Given its compromised nature, reality TV programming becomes a rich site for investigating how authenticity, originality, and creativity are constructed within this commercialized realm. To explore the inherent tensions between commercialism and authenticity, we’ve conducted a case study of Project Runway, a popular American reality TV program about fashion design. This particular program is an apt choice, as fashion must confront the same challenges as reality TV, namely the problem of inauthenticity generated by overt commercialism. Yet, we argue that despite many inauthentic elements, the programming cultivates a new meaning of authenticity in which commercialism itself is recast as authentic. Drawing on Bourdieu, we argue that Project Runway attempts to change the cultural codes of authenticity, art, and commercialism and offers lessons in the decoding of these reconfigured concepts that audiences then echo. 10
  11. 11. Cultural Studies Association Blowing Up the Brand II Seminar, 19 March 2010 Participant Abstracts EMILY WEST TITLE: The New Advertainment and the Proliferation of Promotional Registers Advertainment, as the components of the word suggest, is media content that blurs advertising and entertainment. It can be roughly divided into two categories: when promotional content is presented or regarded as legitimately entertaining, and when entertainment content contains, or conceals, promotional intent. It’s nothing new, and yet new media technologies and the accompanying changes in audience behaviors call us to look at the category of advertainment anew. There are conspicuous contemporary media trends that speak to the transformation of advertainment, such as the precipitous increase in brand placements and brand integrations with media content; the explosion of branded viral web material; the shift from brand sponsorship of content to brand production of content; and the way some brands invite audiences to see them as a destination for entertainment, even to be “fans” of a brand. As brands have become disarticulated from products and articulated to lifestyles and meanings, they have gained the flexibility to re-define their mission and the array of symbolic activities available to them. This resurgence in the advertainment model is due to a number of structural factors in the media environment. Fragmentation, both within a medium like television and with the introduction of new media, means that media organizations need to work harder to attract advertisers than ever before, and provide more customized selling environments. Media fragmentation has also meant an increase in advertising clutter and a corresponding audience resistance to ads, motivating brands to come up with promotional models that are “resistance-proof.” Finally, advertising clutter, along with the industry shift from an “advertising” to a “branding” mentality, has meant greater industry interest in audience engagement, rather than merely audience attention. Advertainment is designed to achieve greater audience engagement with brands, be it emotionally, or through actual audience activity with branded material, such as passing on a viral video. This paper describes how advertainment as an “old” phenomenon manifests itself in the “new” media environment. If the brand is a discrete piece of intellectual property, then in the age of advertainment “promotion” is any creative activity emanating from the corporation that owns that brand, whether it is recognizably “promotional” according to our existing cultural codes, or not. The age of advertainment vastly expands what falls under the category of promotional culture, not just because there is more of it, but because it appears in a wider array of promotional registers, including much subtler, more implicit ones. As Dan Neil of the Los Angeles Times commented about a recent piece of branded entertainment by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, “In its effort to gather online eyeballs and appeal to a marketing-allergic population of young people, GSP has created work so oblique that it ceases to be commerce at all.” This paper uses the linguistics concept of register to map new and emerging forms of advertainment, the modes of audience engagement they invite, and the analytic tools they require. 11

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