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Archive for the ‘TV & Media’ Category

Aziz Ansari and Russell Peters in Chicago

Posted by litdaily on June 12, 2011

South Asian comedian Aziz Ansari will be performing at Genesee Theatre in suburban Waukegan on June 14 as part of his “Dangerously Delicious” comedy tour.  Ansari’s  roles as Tom Haverford in NBC’s Parks and Recreation and as stand up comedian Randy in Judd Apatow’s Funny People have received critical attention. Both Haverford and Randy are annoying characters, but Ansari makes them funny and memorable through his characteristic deadpan delivery. His material and characters play around with racial identity in interesting ways: his racial status is never denied but also never seems central to his roles…more>>

Russell Peters will be performing with George Lopez at the Rosemont Theatre on June 18 as part of the 2011 TBS Just for Laughs Chicago Festival…more>>


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Tiger Organizers

Posted by litdaily on May 6, 2011

Two recent profiles of Ai-jen Poo and Bhairavi Desai, Asian American community organizers, have received none of the media attention and publicity lavished on the provocative story of  “tiger mother” Amy Chua. Media is much more open to news stories and personal narratives that portray Asian Americans as exceptionally successful in well-paying professions and as model minorities who discipline themselves (and their children) into self-improvement, through harsh means if necessary, instead of complaining about their life conditions. The attention devoted to financially successful Asian Americans is used to disavow the concerns of Filipina maids or South Asian taxi drivers.

These profiles remind us of the history of Asian Americans in activism and their fight for social justice as part of working class inter-racial coalitions. Stories of Asian American labor organizers are invisible because they do not fit neatly into the model minority rubric that defines Asian Americans in public discourse. Barbara Ehrenreich profiles Ai-jen Poo, the founder-director of National Domestic Workers Alliance, and finds her political trajectory an unlikely path for the daughter of Chinese immigrants:

My image of a union organizer, based on extensive personal experience, is a big, loud guy with a bullhorn, not a slender, soft-spoken former women’s studies major whose reflexive response to a crowd is to melt into the sidelines. Nor does Ai-jen Poo look like a typical D.W.U. member, at least no more than Jennifer Lopez looked like a housecleaner in “Maid in Manhattan,” and the incongruities only multiply as you get to know her. She’s the daughter of Chinese immigrants, a neurobiologist and an oncologist, and her original career plan was to be not the scientist or lawyer you might expect from such a lineage but a potter.

more >>

Asian Americans have always been involved in politics and activism, and their participation has increased significantly over the past few years. But this involvement has done little to dislodge the perception of community organizer as an unlikely career for Asian Americans—a testimony to the power of the model minority myth. The myth feeds into the media frenzy that privileges the representation of tiger moms, and denies the labor of domestic workers that makes it possible for the “tiger mom” to sucessfully “juggle” career and children. Poo’s organization fights for the rights of domestic workers, who are mostly immigrants, women, and racial minorities.

There are interesting parallels between the details that Ehrenreich draws on to write about Ai-jen Poo and Lizzie Widdicombe’s profile of Bhairavi Desai, the executive director of yellow-taxi drivers’ union New York Taxi Workers Alliance, in The New Yorker issue of April 18, 2011. Like Ehrenreich, Widdicombe chronicles Desai’s struggles in terms of organizing employees in an industry where individuals work for themselves rather than in a shared workplace. The taxi drivers are mostly men, immigrants from South Asia and Africa, and the task of organizing them includes navigating racial strife. Both Poo and Desai arrive at their advocacy roles through their academic background in women’s studies. The profiles also note that Poo’s and Desai’s presence in labor activism carries the element of unexpectedness on account of both their race and gender. Widdicombe writes the following about Bhairavi Desai:

The T.W.A. first came to prominence in 1998, when Desai initiated a strike that, to protest new rules imposed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, kept most of the city’s twelve thousand yellow cabs off the street for a day. Since then, her group has grown, and it now claims fifteen thousand members, almost a third of the city’s licensed cabdrivers. Desai can often be seen on the local news, or at public hearings, making passionate arguments on behalf of cabdrivers that are seasoned with statistics and left-wing rhetoric. She is an anomaly in the male-dominated taxi industry (she has a degree in women’s studies and history from Rutgers). A girlish thirty-eight, she is five feet two, with big eyes and a high-pitched voice (72).


So the next time people ask me about the “wealthy and professionally-qualified” Asian American doctors and engineers that they encounter everywhere, I will be happy to point out these latest media profiles of women labor organizers, two recent additions to a long but mostly invisible history of Asian American activism. And then perhaps I can imagine the day when tiger organizers’ work would be considered not anomalous but significant, valid and visible, and as much a marker of Asian American success as wealth and professional qualifications.

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Dharun Ravi’s Indictment

Posted by litdaily on April 21, 2011

The media has reported that Dharun Ravi is facing a 15-count indictment regarding the suicide of Tyler Clementi.  He has been charged on accounts of bias, invasion of privacy, and witness and evidence tampering…>>

There are a lot of different kinds of conversations that this has invoked and I think that the outcome of his trial will determine the boundaries that we want to set up in the virtual world.  He will be tried for his crimes, go to jail, not go to jail, or be forced to pay some other penalties. For me, the case is bigger than Ravi and sentencing — it’s really about boundaries and what they mean in our virtual world.

People valorize social media (Tweeting, Facebook, etc) without really knowing that there’s a dark side to it.  It’s not just about “connecting” with every random person you can, it’s also about recognizing that individual and social rights still need to be present and tangible in our virtual reality.

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Muslim Americans and Border Security

Posted by litdaily on March 10, 2011

NPR gives voice to the plight of Muslim Americans who cross U.S. borders…>>

While the article is certainly interesting (and nothing new in the state of affairs for Muslim Americans or those who appear Muslim), I think the picture they have posted captures it all.  A white, male, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, looking larger than life itself, polices the border.  While his formidable expression, determined gait, and giant presence may make Americans feel more secure, it presents a threatening figure for the Others that want to encroach upon American soil.

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The E-book

Posted by litdaily on February 28, 2011

Last year, my husband bought me a Kindle even though I raised multiple objections. I protested that “scholars” and “academics” and anyone who’s serious about literature will not read an electronic book.  I tried to explain the thrill that goes through me whenever I see a book — hardcover, paper, old, new, borrowed, bought — that’s waiting to be read, sitting on my nightstand.  I thought I would be the last person in the world to advocate e-reading.

But I was wrong.  Although I’ve downloaded only three books on my Kindle, I carry it in my purse and read it whenever I can.  When I surf Amazon, I always look at the Kindle prices, which are half the cost.  And the best part is that reading electronically hasn’t really changed my experience of reading at all.  That’s why Dan Agin’s article in Huffington Post makes so much sense…more>>

Agin, who has been in the American publishing world since 1945, says that American publishing has always followed the principles of marketing and selling books. American publishing believes that people, much like what I used to believe, want to purchase books based on the “feel” of a printed book rather than the words.  He states, “what the public wants is the blood and guts of the author, the contact of the reader’s mind with the author’s mind — and the most efficient vehicle for that contact is now the electronic book, the E-book.”

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New Alderman in Town — Ameya Pawar

Posted by litdaily on February 25, 2011

Ameya Pawar, a program assistant at Northwestern, has won the title of the first Asian American alderman in Chicago…>>

Over the past several months, there have been many “first” positions in politics that have been filled by Asian Americans.  What does this political visibility mean for Asian Americans who have typically been behind the scenes, so to speak?

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American Media and India’s Success Story

Posted by litdaily on February 3, 2011

Anand Giridharadas was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last week, promoting his book India Calling, which we had blogged about here. His optimistic narrative asserts that the capitalistic American dream is alive and well…in India:

Vodpod videos no longer available.


Although people usually mention India and China in the same breath as “rising powers,” American media has been much more willing to celebrate the story of India’s success while portraying an economically powerful China as a threat. Giridharadas’s story of India as a land of oppression for his parents that has now transformed itself into a successful capitalist economy fits the narrative that American media might be more comfortable pushing. You can contrast Stewart’s reaction to Giridharadas’s book with his coverage of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s recent visit to the U.S.:  satire stirred with fear of manipulated exchange rates and trade deficits.

Vodpod videos no longer available.


You might argue that the difference in coverage of India’s and China’s economic success can be attributed to real differences between the two, such as India’s democracy or the Indian state’s sense of fair play. In a NYT op-ed that appeared a few months ago, Pankaj Mishra precisely dismantles the argument that India’s economic success has been infinitely better for its people and the world than China’s:

It has helped our self-image, too, that Indians have many democratic institutions that are missing in most non-Western countries. Thus the major narrative that has developed internationally about democratic India in recent years assumes it to be more “stable” than authoritarian China. Yet Beijing faces no political problems as severe as the many insurgencies in central India and Kashmir, or tragedies as great as the waves of suicides of tens of thousands of overburdened farmers over the last two decades.

Certainly, the narrative of India as vibrant democracy and booming economy suppresses more than it reveals. Business-lounge elites around the world revel in statistics about economic growth and Indians rising up Forbes’s rankings of billionaires. At the same time, they simply ignore the alarmingly deep and growing inequalities of income and resources in India.


In the article, Mishra also draws a parallel between Indian and Chinese states’ violence against their own poor in order to service the needs of global capital. Mishra, thus, provides an important counterpoint to Anand Giridharadas’s portrayal of India, but it is a story that American media does not want to hear.

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Chicago Literary Events

Posted by litdaily on February 2, 2011

Since it’s a “snow day” for fellow Chicagoans, I thought I would post some local literary events that might compel us to make plans outside our homes. Even though it’s been such a cold, dismal winter, there have been several interesting literary events and there are more still to come.

On February 17th, Elizabeth Taylor will interview Amy Chua at the Chicago Tribune Tower.

On March 31, Joyce Carol Oates returns to Chicago to discuss her memoir at Harold Washington Library.

For more on these events…>>

I attended the SAJA event last Saturday, which featured a panel of very successful South Asian journalists in the media, such as Ameet Sachdev, Bobby Ghosh, Ravi Baichwal, and S. Mitra Kalita.     In particular, there was one interesting point made about race and occupation. While one panelist said that he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed as the “South Asian” journalist that works on South Asian news, another felt that his identity as “South Asian” helped in getting certain assignments.

For me, it was nice to get out of the world of academia and see how writers in the “real” world engage with the cultural issues that I’m interested in exploring.  But always from behind my desk and from endless piles of theoretical texts.

Kudos to those who can get the stories and bring them to us.  For anyone interested, SAJA has a really interesting set of media covers they’ve archived, which details how South Asia has been imagined in Western media…>>

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Asian Americans: “Missing in History”

Posted by litdaily on January 20, 2011

A new website Fuck Yeah Asian/Pacific Islander History takes to heart Helen Zia’s suggestion that Asian Americans have been rendered MIH or “Missing in History,” and seeks to secure their rightful place in American history through photographs. The website’s juxtaposition of pictures is compelling because it conveys the range and depth of Asian American contributions, from excellence in sports to struggles in labor movements. For example, the following photographs of California Sikh Community parade in Stockton, California on May 11, 1945, and that of Asian Pacific Sisters from 1994 highlight a sense of pride and community.

The photographs are an appropriate collage of Asian/Pacfic Islander (API) diversity, documenting various ethnic groups—Chinese, Filipino, South Asian, Hmong, Cambodian, Vietnamese—in a way that makes us think about why such distinct histories are also the basis of a connected racial experience as Asian Americans. I always feel the need to emphasize to students that we should not view Asian American history (or the history of minority racial groups) as just an add-on, and therefore external to “American history.” Instead, we should examine how analysis of Asian American experience fundamentally transforms our understanding of American history. In other words, Asian American history is not additive but transformative.

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Silencing the “Tiger Mom” Story

Posted by litdaily on January 18, 2011

When I opened my web browser this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were no new articles on Amy Chua’s memoir, her parenting style, and/or just her in general.  I didn’t receive any more emails about her and in the past 24 hours, no one has mentioned her name to me as a topic of conversation.  Yes!

I’m hoping (and not very secretly) that her sensation will die down just as quickly as it swallowed America. Obviously, this whole ordeal is a cash cow for Chua and her family.  But for the rest of us, what does this exactly mean?  I’m not referring to her parenting style here or the difference between “Chinese” parenting and “Western” parenting (come on people, can we be more essentialist??), but why we are so enamored , obsessed, and/or threatened by Chua and her memoir.

It’s not as if parenting is a new topic or that people haven’t yet noticed the different stereotypes between “Asian” parenting and “Western” parenting. It’s also not as if she and her daughters are the only notable, accomplished Asian Americans in the United States.  So why is print/press/media so interested in upholding and displaying their model minority status? Does this possibly have something to do with the broader place that Chinese Americans occupy in the American imaginary? Would the hype be the same if an Indian or a Japanese mother/Yale professor wrote the same memoir?

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The Endless Scandal of Arundhati Roy

Posted by litdaily on December 22, 2010

Every few months, the global media reports on the controversial politics centering around Arundhati Roy. Since publishing God of Small Things, Roy has been a force to be reckoned with, not just in the literary field, but also in the parameters of the Indian national government and/or world politics.  In many ways, she is what Salman Rushdie couldn’t be – a celebrity that disturbs the boundaries of cultural production and capitalizes on her sudden literary fame for the masses.

Roy has often been attacked by the Indian government and media for advocating violence.  Recently, Hari Kunzru posted an article on his blog about Roy’s response to the way that the media colludes with parties actually responsible for violence.  In her letter to Kunzru, Roy discusses the relationship between mobs and media…>>

And a couple of days ago, Rupa Dehejia, a blogger on Wall Street Journal, hypothetically asks what it would mean for someone like Roy to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She reports on the numerous objections that people had regarding her comparison of Roy to Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo…>>

Dehejia obviously seems reluctant to be outright supportive or critical of Roy but does make a strong claim for interrogating the role of violence with regards to an oppressive state in the realm politics, and not just philosophy and political theory.  She asks: why is Xiaobo a worthy recipient and not Roy, since Roy is ranked as one of the “world’s most inspiring women” (apparently, she is just behind Angelina Jolie, which seems like a joke and needs its own blog entry)?

My own question about Roy is very similar to Dehejia’s question. What is so threatening about Roy?  Why is the violence that she advocates different than the violence that someone like Frantz Fanon advocated in order to overthrow oppression?  I agree that Roy is much hailed in the First World as a political activist. In academic terms, she might be considered a revolutionary figure – a “Third World Marxist Feminist” providing a voice to the subaltern.  Regardless of how we term or categorize her, it doesn’t matter because she isn’t located in the First World where the internet has taken the role of protest movements and donating some coins in the grocery store counts as making a difference.

Maybe what’s so threatening about her (aside from being a woman) is that she is not afraid.  There is no fear in her voice when she combats the violence of the state, the media, or international government. She has never backed down from questioning norms and in this way, her voice does have power.

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Asian Americans Get Less Pay

Posted by litdaily on December 8, 2010

Toronto Sun reports on the gap in pay between Asian American men and white men…>>

Asian American men get:

(1) Overall, up to 29% less than white men

(2) About 8% less for U.S. born citizens who speak fluent English

(3) Up to 30% less for U.S. citizens, born and educated abroad

What’s really interesting about the article is not the disparity in numbers simply because all ethnic minorities should be aware that their labor is valued less than labor produced by white men.  This fact is part of American history – one that our nation doesn’t overtly acknowledge or want to redress.  The interesting part is that the researcher doesn’t know what causes the discrimination even as he relates it to anti-immigrant sentiment.

My question is this – is it too simple, too obvious, or too hard to say that the discrimination in work places are due to racism? All this rhetoric about immigration seems to evade the crux of the matter, which is that we are a racist, exploitative society.

Why would Asian Americans assume that the pay scale is the same when Asian Americans have been orientalized, stigmatized, and marginalized for over a century. Is it because Asian Americans think that their “educational success” erases racism?

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“In Treatment”: Creation of Sunil’s Story

Posted by litdaily on November 29, 2010

Irrfan Khan’s role as Sunil, a Bengali widower living in Brooklyn, on HBO’s In Treatment is picking up critical acclaim. The New York Times presents interviews with the playwright Adam Rapp, actor Irrfan Khan, and author Jhumpa Lahiri who consulted with the series for Sunil’s character, as overlapping excerpts to highlight their collaboration in creating Sunil’s story…more>>

The interviews point out that Jhumpa Lahiri’s role in this collaboration was that of a “cultural insider” or “native informant,” brought on board to take playwright Rapp and mainstream American TV production “through the scenario of a man coming over from Calcutta, what he would eat, what he would smoke, what kind of novels and poetry he would read.” It is indeed problematic that such cultural consultation assumes that there is a singularly identifiable way that an immigrant from Calcutta would eat or that “naturally” such an immigrant would read particular novels and poems. In making such an assumption, the media industry obviously forgets that the so-called “Third World” is very much a part of the world, and that a city like Calcutta has always had a vibrant culture as it has both influenced and been influenced by movies, literatures, and art forms from around the globe. Jhumpa Lahiri herself steers away from such easy cultural assumptions in the portrayal of Ashoke Ganguli in The Namesake (also played by Irrfan Khan in the Mira Nair movie adaptation).In the novel, Ganguli, raised in Calcutta, feels a strong connection to the Russian author Nikolai Gogol, not the first writer that comes to mind when thinking about the kind of literature an American immigrant from Calcutta would read.

In contrast to these simplistic assumptions, a more compelling analysis of the power of literary and media cultural texts to function cross-culturally comes from the interview with Irrfan Khan: “I’m from Bombay, I’m Indian, I have no cultural reference in this country. But I come here, I do a part, and everyone relates to it. That’s magical.”

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Why Bhangra?

Posted by litdaily on November 16, 2010

Last week, whenever I turned on the television, I was flooded with media coverage on the Obamas doing Bhangra in India with an indiscriminate group of “brown” people.  The scene wasn’t as shocking as it would have been if any of our other presidents (let’s say, Bush) had been dancing to Bhangra simply because it’s easy to align Obama with Indian cultural awareness. After all, he did hire Kal Penn to be his “ambassador” and the only significant White House dinner to be aired on Real Housewives of D.C. centered around Indian subjects.  One particularly despised housewife proudly displayed the bright red Indian sari on national television.  In other words, the link between Obama and “Indian” has been visible since the beginning of his public presidential life in the United States.

This media coverage, however, of the couple dancing obscures significant global political issues that center on East-West and East-East relations.  It hides very real conflicts between India and Pakistan and makes light of United States’ role in their relationship.  It provides a humorous distance from the strategic alliances that the United States’ is trying to foster in a geopolitical climate that is on the verge of drastic change.  Robert Grenier focuses on this very issue in his article, “The U.S. is dancing to India’s Tune”…more>>

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“In Treatment” on HBO Features Irrfan Khan

Posted by litdaily on October 25, 2010

The third season of HBO series In Treatment premieres tonight with Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan playing the role of Sunil, an Indian immigrant facing alienation in America. Sunil is a Bengali professor, a role familiar for Irrfan Khan. Khan had earlier played another Bengali professor, Ashoke Ganguli, in Mira Nair’s movie The Namesake, adapted from Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel of the same name. Lahiri is also connected with this season of In Treatment as she served as a “cultural consultant” for Sunil’s story…more>>

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It’s so Fishy…

Posted by litdaily on October 18, 2010

Last week, Stanley Fish wrote about the removal of French, Italian, classics, Russian and theater programs from SUNY Albany.  The elimination of these programs marks a defined moment of crisis in the humanities for Fish…more>>

I have been musing over this article, and not because Fish’s claims about politicizing the value of the humanities to administrators is new or even radical, but because his article carries an odd tone and combination of optimism, hope, melancholia, and nostalgia. Fish’s simple solution seems like a cop out. Of course, if the administrators value the humanities, then these programs may have a chance of survival. But the question is: how do we get the administration to value the humanities??

I think it’s a lost cause, and not one that only American universities face.  It’s a global phenomenon based on the fact that worldviews have shifted.  It didn’t happen overnight or in the course of a presidential term or even over a decade. It’s been coming – this slow and gradual erosion of knowledge that centers on humanism.

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Race and Reality TV

Posted by litdaily on October 13, 2010

In an article posted on Colorlines yesterday, the writer breaks down racial representation on mainstream media and reality television…more>>

Lately, many blogs that lean towards race and gender have focused on racial identity of actors and actresses on television. Although mainstream dating shows like “The Bachelor” have failed to incorporate people of color as candidates, other reality television shows such as “America’s Top Model” often depict stereotypical roles of Asians, Africans, and Latinos.  Either that, or in the case of Asians, these actors are whitened.

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Outsourced (sigh…)

Posted by litdaily on October 7, 2010

So far, there have been two episodes of Outsourced. The TV series has been reviewed all over the place, from mainstream media such as New York Times to small blogs.  Regardless of the site, it seems that critics don’t really know what to make of the show.  Is it funny? Is it offensive? Is it boring? Is it accurate? What is it???

I’m inclined to think that it’s all of these, all at once.  It’s definitely funny to see Parvesh Cheena dance to a Pussycat Dolls song. It’s offensive to see the Indian girl who can’t speak up to save her life (I’m trying to picture her calling for help). It’s also offensive that there are non-Indians playing “Indian” roles.  The head-bob scene last week was just boring.  And how accurate can the portrayal really be if the background setting looks like cardboard boxes designed like buildings or a small alley in Vegas with cobblestone walkways?

Like everyone else, I am waiting to be surprised.  I am still waiting to really laugh, and not uncomfortably.  Either way, I’ll give it one more shot tonight and see what happens.




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Is it Gay Bashing, the Lure of Technology, or Both?

Posted by litdaily on October 5, 2010

In English class yesterday, the Clementi tragedy came up.  When a student asked a question about dangers of technology with regards to society, I couldn’t help but inform them of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year old student who jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

One article regarding this tragedy caught my eye.  The article, originally posted in New American Media and then reprinted in Hyphen, actually claims that Dharun Ravi exposed Clementi’s personal live due to the lure of technology…more>>

My students were not only shocked to hear about this particular case, but also disturbed that online networks such as Facebook and Twitter are blamed for Ravi’s lack of humanity regarding his roommate, whose homosexual relations he attempted to videotape and broadcast to a virtual world of thousands.

Several students rightly noted that technology is easy to scapegoat. What about individual responsibility, decency, and morality? Have ethics shifted or transformed with the advancement of technologies that erase boundaries, not just between private and public, but right and wrong?

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Your Weekly Moment of Seriousness

Posted by litdaily on September 12, 2010

In this week’s clip, MADtv’s Bobby Lee offers his comic point of view on being a Korean American:

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