Tag Archives: television

Late Night with Stephen Colbert (?)

13 Apr

late-night-talk-show-hotsI subscribe to the New York Times on-line. Twice this week I received notifications that there was breaking news. My fear was that the “Breaking News” was something about the United Soviet Socialist Republic restructuring and that the Ukraine was now part of the New USSR — shades of Uncle Joe Stalin.  But, no. The breaking news was that David Letterman had announced when he would retire from Late Night with David Letterman.  This news was then followed up a few days later that Stephen Colbert was the appointed heir apparent.

So now we have witnessed two major late night television shows that have recently replaced their hosts.  I have nothing ill to say about either Jimmy Fallon or Stephen Colbert. What does sadden me is that we have all now experienced continued white heterosexual male domination in who we can see for late night television. Was there a dramatic shortage of  LGBT folk and women and of people of color, thus the only population to pull from to fill these two spots was white heterosexual men?

I am exceedingly sad here because I can think of a number of amazingly talented and exceedingly witty potential hosts who are black and or women.  Why not replace Letterman with Arsenio Hall? He already has a proven track record as a host of late night TV.  Why not give the phenomenally talented Mo Gaffney a try? I am hard pressed to think of someone who is equally witty.  Speaking of witty and amazing, what about Whoopi Goldberg?  What about Julia Sweeney — another personal favorite of mine, or Chelsea Handler who is leaving her late night show on E. I wonder if either network even thought about giving one of these shows to our Margaret Cho? Even the charming Neil Patrick Harris was floated as a possibility, but I guess gay folk only get to host daytime talk.

Sadly, NBC and CBS have already made their respective decisions — decisions that have demonstrated that Late Night Television is reserved for white heterosexual men only. I wonder when this glass ceiling will be broken.

Women’s History Month 2014: Rosie O’Donnell

21 Mar

RosieToday I would like to wish a happy 54th birthday to a woman who has always used the power and voice of her celebrity status for social justice. Rosie O’Donnell was born in Commack, NY, the third of five children. She was popular in high school, known to be outgoing and funny. She began exploring comedy with Gilda Radner impressions and took that passion with her to college.

After stints at Dickinson College and Boston University, she left college to build on her promising standup career. She got a slot on Star Search and won several weeks in a row, giving her a national profile. O’Donnell built that opportunity into a series of TV and movie appearances. After 15 years of increasing success, she launched her own daytime talk show. The Rosie O’Donnell Show (I really loved this show) quickly took over, with her outspoken, open personality and sense of fun capturing the hearts and minds of millions of viewers.

During this time, O’Donnell became a foster parent, adopting her first child, Parker, just before her show took off. A strong advocate for children’s rights and quality foster, adoption, and care programs, Rosie always took time to share her views and her dollars to support these causes. She gained additional fame in 2002. After appearing as a lesbian single mother on Will and Grace (fantastic episode), she announced at a comedy show to support Ovarian Cancer Research, “I’m a dyke!” While her coming out was not a huge surprise, she was among the first of the early 21st Century wave of celebrities to come out.

Once she was out, she became a strong vocal advocate for the LGBT community, building on previous quietly visible support. She especially focused on the challenges of LGBT parenting, notably shining a harsh light on Florida’s rabidly anti-gay adoption laws (and others like it). After ending her show in 2002, she wrote a book and launched a magazine, donating significant proceeds to children’s charities and cancer research. She also started a family-friendly LGBT travel company, increasing her focus on parenting for all.

Rosie joined The View in 2006. Somewhat ironically for a woman called “the Queen of Nice,” her outspoken views and willingness to speak truth to power ruffled many feathers. She regularly spoke out against the tragic residue of the George W. Bush administration and made sure the chats on the show were informative and thought-provoking. As a former Catholic and strong supporter of children, she came under fire for speaking out about the abuse scandals in the church. Undeterred, she famously observed,

I hope the Catholic Church gets sued until the end of time. Maybe, you know, we can melt down some of the gold toilets in the Pope’s Vatican and pay off some of the lawsuits because, the whole tenet of living a Christ-like life, has been lost in Catholicism.

She also gained attention for questioning Donald Trump’s attempts to assume a position of moral authority when his Miss USA Pageant faced scandal. Never mean but always willing to be honest and direct, her approach eventually led to her departure from The View — a significant loss.  Thank goodness they at least have our Whoopi!

Rosie O’Donnell is very present in the public eye with her wife and children, helping put a familiar, human face on LGBT parenting. She donated all the proceeds from her second book to her children’s charity and continues to spend millions on improving the world for the vulnerable and marginalized. She also donates her talent, helping headline Cyndi Lauper’s True Colours tours.

A strong voice, a fierce advocate, a caring parent, and a great example — Rosie O’Donnell is an easy woman to celebrate. Happy Birthday, Rosie, and thank you!

Happy Birthday, Leslie Jordan

29 Apr

LJordanToday I want to celebrate a person who makes the world more delightful by his presence. Fifty-eight years ago today, Leslie Jordan was born in Chattanooga, TN. Growing up small — his adult height is 4’11” — and effeminate in the South was no picnic, so he learned to use humor to cope. With a personality and sense of joy far larger than he looks, he eventually burst free and moved to Hollywood where he began his very successful career.

Jordan is notable for being openly gay since he got started, something pretty unusual in the early 80s. He’s also been happy to portray gay characters, preferring to have fun with a role than worry about stereotyping. By being himself, he’s made a wonderful success based on integrity as well as talent, thus opening the door for LGBT youth to see themselves represented in the media.

As with many, my first encounter with Jordan was in his Emmy-winning role as Beverly Leslie on Will & Grace. As Karen Walker’s charming, co-dependent nemesis, he was one of the brightest spots on the series. He and Karen traded barbs in an amazing style; one of my favorite lines is this greeting:

Why Karen Walker! I thought I smelled gin…and regret.

Jordan amazed and amused me again when my husband and I saw Sordid Lives, one of our favorite films. His turn as Brother Boy is a testament to the challenges of being true oneself. That he manages to make the character strong rather than pathetic is a testament to Jordan’s talent (and perhaps his love of Tammy Wynette).  If you have not seen Sordid Lives, I strongly urge you to rent it from the Netflix. It also stars Olivia Newton-John and Delta Burke.

I was fortunate enough to see his delightful one-man show, Like A Dog On Linoleum, in Atlanta a few years ago. I laughed ’til I cried and then had a chance to meet him in person. He is gracious and witty with or without a script.

In his many wonderful performances, his autobiography (and second one-man show) My Trip Down the Pink Carpet, and his willingness to be honestly and unabashedly himself, Leslie Jordan has made the world a better place. Happy Birthday, Leslie, and thank you!

Women’s History Month 2013: Melissa Harris-Perry

27 Mar

harris-perryToday we honor and celebrate another wonderful voice for equality. Many thanks to my friend and regular TSM commenter Christine for recommending Melissa Harris-Perry. Melissa is multi-racial, having  a black father and white mother.  She is originally from here in the Northwest, Seattle. The family moved to Virgina when she was young, with both parents involved in education.

Harris-Perry is an author, scholar, and professor as well as host of a successful, thought-provoking program on MSNBC. She received her B.A. in English from Wake Forest University and her PhD in political science from Duke. Due to her interest in the influence of the black church on political movements, she also received an honoris causa doctorate from Meadville Lombard Theological School and was a Master of Divinity student at Union Theological Seminary.

While at Wake Forest, she encountered her mentor, the wonderful Maya Angelou.

As her student I watched as she influenced public discourse, taught students, and shared ideas in a way that seemed to truly matter for people’s lives.

Harris-Perry taught political science at the University of Chicago, then moved to Princeton where she was an associate professor of politics and African-American studies. She is currently a professor of political science at Tulane, where she is founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

She is the author of Barbershops, Bibles, and BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought on the methods African Americans use to develop political ideas through ordinary conversations in places like barbershops, churches, and popular culture–sounds like good social work to me. Her book won the 2005 W.E.B. DuBois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists and the 2005 Best Book Award from the Race and Ethnic Politics Section of the American Political Science Association.

After years as serving as a commentator, she was offered her own MSNBC weekend show a year ago. She looks at the program as a way to expand her education career, focusing on issues of politics and equality.

All I’ve ever wanted to be is a teacher. Phil Griffin and MSNBC are giving me the chance to have a much bigger classroom.

She is also an outspoken advocate for gay rights and marriage equality. Her work in this area won her an Ally for Equality award from the Human Rights campaign last month.

As a biracial woman with a passion for education and a fascination with religion, Harris-Perry has a firm understanding of the intersections of oppression. She has made it her mission to share that understanding with others with a firm commitment to social justice. Thank you Melissa Harris-Perry for being such a strong advocate and ally!

Women’s History Month 2013: Rachel Maddow

18 Mar

RachelMaddowToday we honor and celebrate Dr. Rachel Maddow, a woman who is trying to bring real discussion back into television journalism. Maddow was born in California in 1973. While a freshman at Stanford University, she was outed in a campus paper interview before she was able to tell her parents. I always love papers that out people just for the sake of outing them–my what code of ethics does that follow?  Fortunately, they were supportive, and she has been out and proud ever since. After receiving her degree in public policy from Stanford, she was awarded a Rhodes scholarship, becoming the first openly LGBT Rhodes scholar. She received her Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University with her thesis entitled HIV/AIDS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons.

These early events clearly hinted at her outspoken nature and her dedication to open discourse. She won a contest to become a radio announcer shortly after returning to the U.S., launching her broadcast career. She worked in radio for local Massachusetts stations and then joined Air America. Unabashedly liberal, she has observed the rightward drift of this country’s politics with the quip

I’m undoubtedly a liberal, which means that I’m in almost total agreement with the Eisenhower-era Republican party platform.

While still on Air America, she began regular guest spots on MSNBC’s nightly programs. Soon she was offered her own show, a TV version of her radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show. This made her the first openly LGBT host of a major prime-time news show in the U.S. She also routinely has her network’s most highly rated show–in what still remains a “white hetero male dominated” industry.

Her program is a wonderful mixture of straight news, opinion, and interviews–all offered through a social justice lens. In fact, I’m not sure there are other national programs that stand in such solidarity with those that are marginalized and oppressed by those in power and charged with the task of representing all Americans.  I love that Maddow holds these hypocrites’ feet to the fire. She has no tolerance for liars or people who put talking points above reality. Her no-holds-barred approach to discussing critical events is very refreshing. The media need more people who stand up and say “that’s not right!” Hooray for Rachel Maddow for showing that caring about the truth can still matter to the viewing public.

Women’s History Month 2013: Valerie Harper

15 Mar

Valerie_HarperToday I would like to honor another remarkable woman who has been a big part of my life for the past 40 years. As regular TSM readers know, I have always loved the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Part of me wanted to be Mary, but I’ve always had a lot of Rhoda in me. I actually put this in my essay when I applied to the school of social work. Her bold, outspoken nature and very human insecurities made her a wonderful character, and no-one could have brought her to life other than the incomparable Valerie Harper.

She was born in Suffern, NJ in 1939; her family moved frequently for her father’s work (including a couple of years here in Ashland, Oregon). When they left NJ, she moved to New York to pursue her dream of dancing. She obtained her degree and began chorus work, rising to lead roles and eventually moving into television after a bit part in the film version of a Broadway show she had appeared in. The casting agent for MTM saw her and knew that she had found her Rhoda. Nine years later, Harper had four Emmy awards, one Golden Globe, and seven nominations for her groundbreaking role.

More significantly, she had shown another kind of independent woman. Unlike Mary’s clear career path, Rhoda was always more of a free spirit. She had her own life and lived it proudly. She also went through one of the first prime time divorces, showing the difficulties of relationships in an honest way while retaining her quirky charm and joy. Harper also notes proudly that she was one of the first actors to use the word “gay” on prime time network television, on one of my favorite episodes of MTM, My Brother’s Keeper–a must see episode!

While acting on stage and television, she was also a strong advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s rights. She was as outspoken as her famous television persona and helped put a familiar face on these important issues. She also co-founded L.I.F.E. with Dennis Weaver, an LA organization that provided meals for the underserved and marginalized. In recognition for her work, the Women’s Film Institute awarded her their Humanitarian award in 1987.

Sadly, Valerie Harper is back in the news for tragic reasons. A lung cancer survivor, she recently discovered that the cancer has returned in a rare and nearly untreatable form of brain cancer. Rather than retreat, she is using her personal struggle to encourage others. In print and television interviews, she stresses how lucky she has been and encourages everyone to live their lives to the fullest while they can.

Don’t go to the funeral until the day of the funeral!

She also notes how lucky she is to have great health care through her union. Never shy, she reminds everyone that universal health care should be a right and expectation and that unions work hard to create a level playing field for all workers. Yes, it is obvious I love our  Valerie Harper.  I am confident that she will prevail.  I  thank you for your great work and thank you for allowing me to celebrate you during Women’s History Month!

Women’s History Month 2013: Soledad O’Brien

6 Mar

soledad-OBrien-Today we honor and celebrate a woman whose recent push to restore journalistic integrity to cable news may have cost her her job. María de la Soledad Teresa O’Brien was born on Long Island in 1966. Her parents — an Afro-Cuban mother and Australian father — met in the Washington, DC area a decade earlier. They lived in Maryland, which did not allow mixed-race marriages, so they wed in DC and soon moved to New York. Soledad is one of six children (all of whom received degrees from Harvard).

She began her television career as an associate producer and news writer in Boston. She joined NBC in 1991 and worked a variety of on-camera and production jobs over the next decade. She settled into regular roles on MSNBC and as co-host of Weekend Today. She contributed reports to NBC Nightly News, honing her desire to move away from soft news.

Soledad joined CNN in 2003 as co-anchor of their morning news program. Smart, likeable, and possessing good journalistic instincts, she helped that show rise above standard morning fare, even as the rest of CNN began to devolve into FOX-light in a desperate ratings grab. Confused network executives moved her out of the morning show in 2007 and she spent the next few years contributing reports to other CNN programs and doing In America documentaries. When CNN scrambled to re-re-redesign their morning show in 2012, they brought Soledad back to host the two-hour news program Starting Point.

A stark contrast to most CNN programming and other morning “news” offerings, the show featured engaging conversations and showed her strengths as a real journalist. Numerous guests complained about their treatment (including the odious John Sununu), a sign that she was actually doing her job rather than letting them spew talking points. Sadly, that success — even combined with good ratings — seems to have been too much for CNN to take–JEERS to CNN. Ms. O’Brien was the only reason I watched CNN. The new network President, Jeff Zucker (who spent the previous decade destroying NBC) wants his soft news, so Soledad is out.

Her new documentary, Latino In America, will be out soon. After that, Soledad O’Brien will find her next role in broadcast journalism — not, as she put it, “cooking salmon and doing fashion shows.” Wherever she lands, her colleagues will be lucky to have her talent and mature confidence in doing journalism right.  I hope NPR is able to secure her journalistic prowess.

A Big Boy Night: Downton Abbey

7 Jan

DowntonAbbeyAs most TSM followers know, my husband and I are somewhat nerdy and don’t watch the television much, save for the Modern Family and Chopped.  Honestly, we are usually in bed by no later than 9:00 pm, but are up by 4:00 am.  I usually like to roll my hair in my tomato cans by 8:00 and be ready for bed by 9:00 after my dental hygiene routine, which is part of the Gay Agenda. With that being said, we have become addicted to the PBS soap opera that is Downton Abbey.  So you can imagine what a “Big Boy” night it was when we had to stay up past 9:00 to watch the premiere of Downton Abbey Season III.

We actually used the machine on the tv to tape Downton Abbey, but we already watched the special feature with our Angela Lansbury, who looks absolutely stunning at 87!  While it is our Dame Maggie Smith, the Dowager Countess, who is a primary reason we are avid fans of the show, albeit I actually know a real life Dowager Countess, we are addicted to the story line.

Our biggest disappointment in Downton Abbey is the unacceptable homophobia of writer Julian Fellowes!  In his screenplay for Gosford Park, Fellowes depicts the gay characters played by Bob Balaban and Ryan Phillippe as hedonistic self-serving loathsome people.  Sadly, he has now done his worst in portraying the only gay character in Downton Abbey, Thomas, as a sociopath.  What is that about?  Has our Fellowes not ever met any good gay folk?  Is our Fellowes struggling with some demons of his own?  I’m afraid at this point, there are no redeemable traits in our Thomas, so we are left to further vilify gay folk and bear witness to the inexcusable homophobia of Fellowes.

Both Fellowes and Rob James-Collier (who plays Thomas) have promised a more complex and sympathetic portrait of the valet in Season III. We shall see. In the meantime, the season began on a high note, with the welcome addition of Shirley MacLaine.  The multiple storylines and rich characters continue to weave a tapestry of intrigue that showcases class and privilege in rapidly changing times. It’s also — as good television ought to be — great fun wrapped in touching humanity. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store!

Hero of the Week Award: November 30, Thomas Ricks

30 Nov

Hero of the Week

It is a real pleasure to celebrate a journalist who stands up for truth and integrity in the media. Thomas Ricks is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and expert on defense issues. He has written a number of books on military history and strategy; as he tours with his most recent book, many news programs have asked him on to comment about the attack on the Benghazi consulate.

Earlier this week he appeared on FAUX news and was asked about the attacks on U.N. ambassador Susan Rice for her comments about Benghazi right after it happened. He replied, “I think that Benghazi generally was hyped by this network especially.” The stunned anchor asked him how he could consider four deaths hype, and got a strong reply.

How many security contractors died in Iraq, do you know? … No, nobody does, because nobody cared. We know that several hundred died, but there was never an official count done, of security contractors dead in Iraq. So when I see this focus on what was essentially a small fire fight, I think number one, I’ve covered a lot of fire fights, it’s impossible to figure out what happens in them sometimes. And second, I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political partly because Fox was operating as a wing of the Republican party.

With that last line, the anchor suddenly thanked and dismissed Ricks, less than halfway into the interview’s allotted time. Poor old sad old Fox doesn’t like to hear the truth. What’s more, their VP in charge of news, Michael Clemente, immediately told the Hollywood Reporter that Ricks apologized for his comments. Not so fast! says Ricks.

Clemente is making it up, and it is sloppy of Hollywood Reporter to not ask him for specifics (what exactly am I alleged to have said?) and also to seek a response from me. Why is Fox doing this? Because their MO is that when the facts aren’t on their side, they attack the person.

Nothing could be more true. Thanks for standing up for truth and calling out media bias, Mr. Ricks.

Honorable mention goes to progressive talk radio host Stephanie Miller for admitting and correcting her own error. Wanting to raise money for the needy over the holidays, Miller partnered with an organization for her listeners to donate to. Sadly, she didn’t do her research and chose the homophobic horrors at the Salvation Army. When her listeners called her on the mistake, she quickly fixed it. She devoted a segment of her show to describe the SA’s bigotry, cancelled the partnership, and set up a more progressive donation site for the rest of the season. More than that, she matched the $1500 already given with a donation to the Trevor Project out of her own pocket. Nicely done!

Of Celebrities and Closets: Cooper, Quinto, Cruise, and Company

4 Jul

One of these celebrities is not like the others?

Journalist Anderson Cooper made headlines this week by surprising no-one. The award-winning reporter and television host announced, “The fact is, I’m gay.” This was long-suspected by most people and well-known by his family and close friends. Given the turbulence of gay rights issues today, however, the explicit statement gives the LGBT community another friendly, familiar face. Cooper’s message, via friend Andrew Sullivan on the Daily Beast, is a powerful and articulate statement of both the personal and the political.

Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life. Part of that has been for purely personal reasons. I think most people want some privacy for themselves and the people they are close to. […] Recently, however, I’ve begun to consider whether the unintended outcomes of maintaining my privacy outweigh personal and professional principle. It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand. The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.

Cooper’s announcement is part of a larger — and relatively new — trend of out celebrities. Fifteen years ago, Ellen DeGeneres’ coming out story was a major media event beyond even what she expected. Today, of course, she is blithely invited into millions of living rooms every day. The past five years, however, have seen a massive spike in celebrities outing themselves, so much so that Entertainment Weekly made the topic into a cover story.

There are as many ways to come out as there are people, and it’s no different for celebrities (although they have to choose a press strategy too). Up and coming star Zachary Quinto simply dropped the phrase “as a gay man” into an interview. Emmy magnet David Hyde Pierce, late of Frasier fame, used the common mention-the-partner strategy. Comedian and activist Wanda Sykes chose a marriage equality rally for her announcement. Neil Patrick Harris opted for an exclusive interview with People, often seen as a friendly environment for LGBT stars. Singer Clay Aiken used the same strategy to defuse the swirling rumors about his sexual orientation.

Because celebrities are by definition in the public eye, gossip and rumors often play a critical role in their coming out stories. Recently, celebrity chef Anne Burrell acknowledged that she was a lesbian after Ted Allen accidentally outed her. Burrell echoed Cooper’s concern about balancing a personal life with a public life, especially as it affects her partner. Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons’ orientation was such an open secret that his coming out was treated with a distinct lack of fanfare.

Other celebrities treat the rumor mill with open hostility. Queen Latifah has a famously “none of your damn business” approach to her sexual orientation. After her recent appearance at a gay pride event had stories about her coming out swirling, she was adamant in her stand.

I’ve never dealt with the question of my personal life in public. It’s just not gonna happen.

That kind of balancing act is getting harder to manage. Just ask John Travolta, a long-time subject of gay speculation, who recently faced a new round of gossip and scandal including same-sex harassment charges and an alleged long-term affair with a male pilot.

Perhaps the champion when it comes to hostility to gay rumors is Tom Cruise. With his third marriage coming to an end, the speculation is amping up again, so much so that gay dating site Manhunt has offered him a lifetime membership. Certainly multiple celebrity marriages do not indicate sexual orientation (just look at Elizabeth Taylor). What dogs Cruise is the intensity of his opposition to the rumors. He has even sued people who suggested he was gay, winning one famous case and getting an out-of-court settlement in another. This strategy won’t work much longer, since a Federal judge has recently ruled that “gay” is not defamation. It is also interesting to compare the way Cruise is treated with another star who gets a lot of speculation.

George Clooney, who has said clearly that he is straight, is also very easy-going about the whole issue. Rather than jump on furniture and file lawsuits, Clooney treats gay rumors casually, saying

The last thing you’ll ever see me do is jump up and down, saying, ‘These are lies!’ That would be unfair and unkind to my good friends in the gay community. I’m not going to let anyone make it seem like being gay is a bad thing.

A celebrity’s field of performance also makes a difference. In general, singers and dancers have a much easier time being out, although this is much less true in country music. Openly LGBT athletes are extremely rare, especially during their active careers. Despite jibes from the right hinting falsely at bias on LGBT stories, Don Lemon and Rachel Maddow are still very successful journalists.

Times are clearly changing. Adam Lambert was comfortable coming out at the very beginning of his career just a few years after Clay Aiken delayed his announcement until after the hits started flowing. Neil Patrick Harris actually saw a spike in his popularity and his hit show has hardly suffered for his being out. This is a stark contrast with someone like George Takei, who heartily embraces his status as a gay icon now but would likely have lost his Star Trek gig if he’d been openly out in the late 60s. Just barely pre-Ellen, Rupert Everett has famously declared that being out has been a major hindrance to his career.

The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business. It just doesn’t work and you’re going to hit a brick wall at some point. You’re going to manage to make it roll for a certain amount of time, but at the first sign of failure they’ll cut you right off.

Everett’s career certainly stalled after one dud film in a way that Travolta’s or Cruise’s did not. The rapid rise in out and successful celebrities indicates he may be wrong about how much impact being out has today. The booming trend in honesty and success should help things get better, not just for celebrities, but for LGBT people in all walks of life.

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