Dec 29, 2013

Why You Should Visit Turkey Next July

I have always hated playing sports, but if I have no choice, I'll pick wrestling: no projectiles hurling at your head, no teammates to get all huffy when you miss a point, just you and your opponent in revealing singlets straining against each other's bodies.  Some of my first homoerotic feelings came when I was on the wrestling team in junior high.  Later, at Indiana University, I learned about bokh, or Mongolian wrestling.

When I moved to West Hollywood, Ivo, the Bulgarian bodybuilder who was insanely jealous of Michael J. Fox, told me that he played an interesting variation, common in Turkey and parts of the Balkans: yağlı güreş, or oil wrestling.  

The players, called pehlivan, are naked except for leather pants (kisbet).  They grease up with olive oil, and try to throw each other.

Since they're all greasy, the only way to win is by putting your hand inside the other guy's kisbet -- you know, where his sex organs are.

It's as if the sport was deliberately designed to be homoerotic.

Knowing the Ottoman Empire, maybe it was.

Guys of all ages participate.  You don't need to be muscular, but it helps.

I saw a local tournament when I was in Turkey, but not the Kirkpinar, the national tournament held every year in June or July in Edirne, near the Bulgarian border.  If you want to go, book your hotel room far in advance; the town fills up fast.

I can see why.

(But be careful; Turkey is one of the most gay-friendly countries in the Middle East, which means extremely homophobic by European standards, and for Americans, about as homophobic as the rural South).

The Triplets of Belleville: Jazz-Age Lesbians and the Androgynous M

In the animated Triplets of Belleville (2003), professional bicyclist Champion is kidnapped during the Tour de France, so his grandmother, Madame Souza, goes off to search for him.

In the bustling city of Belleville, she encounters the Triplets, a famous jazz act of the 1930s now fallen on bad times.   They eke out a living as a novelty "acoustic" band, making music with a refrigerator, vacuum cleaner, and newspaper.  Madame Souza joins the act with a bicycle wheel, and eventually they become successful again.

Oh, and they rescue Champion in a colorful chase sequence.  The movie ends much too abruptly, with the now elderly Champion reminiscing about the adventure.

There is very little dialogue.  The characters are drawn grotesquely, so there's no beefcake.  So what's the gay connection?

1. No one expresses the slightest heterosexual interest, ever.

2. The Triplets, who have been living and working together for 70 years, can be read as a lesbian family rather than blood relatives.

3. Flashbacks show them performing in a Jazz Age nightclub, along with gay and bisexual icons like Josephine Baker, Glenn Gould, and Hoagy Carmichael.

4. Androgynous singer Mathieu Chedid, known as M, recorded a music video of the song "Belleville Rendez-vous."

He tells a psychiatrist about various ways to spend the last years of his life: in Singapore eating petit-fours, in Katmandu playing a "dou," and most significantly, in Acapulco, dancing with a gigolo ( a male prostitute).  

The English lyrics closet the verse to "dancing cheek-to-cheek."

But then he decides that he wants to be "wicked, twisted, swinging," like a Triplet of Belleville.

This irks the psychiatrist, who straitjackets him and gives him a tranquilizer injection.  That's the fate of those who try to escape gender and sexual confomity, like the Triplets of Belleville.

Dec 26, 2013

David Barry Gray: Not as Homophobic as Chevy Chase, Probably

Chevy Chase may be one of the more homophobic actors in Hollywood, as his cast mates from Saturday Night Live and the National Lampoon's Vacation movies can attest, but the naked man on top of him, David Barry Gray, is not.  Not very, anyway.

Not as homophobic as Chevy Chase.

The New York City native, heir to the Pepsi Cola fortune,  has appeared on many tv series, beginning as a teenager with William Tell (1987-88); he played William's son, Matthew.  Other series include 21 Jump Street, The Client, JAG, Medium, Ghost Whisperer, and Rizzoli & Isles.

Not a lot of gay subtext vehicles, although you could include his role in S.F.W. (1994), as the brother of hostage-survivor Stephen Dorf, and the "rescuing people from Southeast Asia" movie Soldier Boys (1995), as Lamb, who steps on a land mine (sacrificial lamb -- get it?).

Man-mountain Michael Dudikoff stars.

No gay characters, although he did star in the mega-homophobic Lawn Dogs (1997):

A lonely ten-year old girl and her only friend, the reclusive Trent (Sam Rockwell), both have problems with unwelcome sexual advances from a couple of sleazoid roommates: the girl from Brett (David), and Trent from Sean (Eric Mabius).  Not to worry, the evil gay guy is killed, but the pedophile isn't.

So he played the teenage version of homophobic President Richard Nixon, and more recently, Todd Palin, husband of homophobic Alaska Governor and VP contender Sarah Palin.  That doesn't mean he's personally homophobic.

Does it?

His sister-in-law, Ariel Winter, stars in the gay-positive Modern Family as the brainy teenager Alex Dunphy.

Doesn't that suggest that David is gay-positive?


Well, at least he has a nicely toned physique.

Dec 23, 2013

Summer 1971: How to Catch a Fisherman

When I was a kid in the 1970s, whenever we visited my relatives, my Uncle Paul (of the Naked Man in the Peat Bog)  or Cousin Joe (whom I saw naked when I was seven) or Cousin George would announce "I'm going to take you fishing!"  and expect me to bounce around the room in ecstasy.

I didn't bounce around in ecstasy.

1. You sit in a rickety boat or on a rickety dock, with only a thin veneer of wood separating you from 40 feet of gross, dank water.
2. While the mosquitos eat you alive
3. You bait a hook with gross, squishy worms.
4. You dunk the worms in the water and wait.

5. And wait and wait and wait.
6. Eventually a fish takes the bait, and you pull it onto the dock or the boat, where it struggles wildly and finally dies.
7. Then you have to scale it and gut it.

But fishing had some advantages.

It got very hot, so shirts came off, and the ripple of shoulders and biceps as Uncle Paul or Cousin Joe battled Fish was a beautiful sight.

And we weren't alone.  There were lots of cute boys taking off their shirts to battle the fish, and they were surprisingly easy to catch.

When I was little, I played "inept," fumbling around with baits and lines, and waiting until a cute boy offered to teach me.  Hopefully a fish would take the bait, and he would put his arm around me while helping me reel it in.

But when I visited Cousin George in the summer of 1971, I caught a fish, and paraded around with it until a cute boy offered back-slapping, hand-on-shoulder congratulations and questions of how I did it.  I ended up with a buddy for the rest of my visit.

Cousin George was surprisingly nonchalant about me using fish to pick up guys.

I found out why a few years later.

From David Paetkau to Lars Slind: Finding a Gay Connection

One of the main things I like about writing this blog is the research: investigating gay subtexts in movies or tv series I never heard of before. Sometimes the research leads in unexpected directions:

6:00 am: I never heard of David Paetkau, who played a gay character in the Canadian ice hockey movie Goon (2011), so I looked him up on IMDB.  He's been in over 30 movies and tv series, including Final Destination 2 (2003), Whistler (2006-2008), and Flashpoint (2008-).  Nothing I've seen, and nothing with keywords "gay."

6:10 am: Google Images has pictures of him getting married, in a cop uniform, and hugging a number of guys, including Shaun Sipos.  I never heard of him either, but one blogger thinks he's cute.  So maybe Shaun Sipos is gay or plays gay characters?

6:15 am: Like David, Shaun Sipos is a British Colombia native who was in Final Destination 2.   He's also been on the tv series Melrose Place (2009-2010), Life Unexpected (2010-2011), and The Vampire Diaries (2013).  I haven't seen any of them either, but a keyword search for "gay" reveals that his Melrose Place character was involved with a bisexual woman.

 6:20 am: He's in a movie called The Michaels (2014), in post-production. I can't find a synopsis online, but with multiple Michaels, one must be gay.  And there's a character called Handsome Party Guy, played by Lars Slind.  Never heard of him.

6:25 am: Score!  Lars Slind, born in 1983 in Arizona, is an artist, actor, model, and writer with about a thousand shirtless and underwear shots on the internet.

He starred in the tv series The Cavanaughs (2011-2012) and has guest starred on Teen Wolf, True Blood, and Desperate Housewives, mostly in roles like "Hunky Guy."

6:35: He played Superman in Batman Hangover (2013), available on the Funny or Die website, and he's got a starring role coming up in the superhero comedy Real Heroes (2014).

 Let's face it -- no one with this kind of physique is going to be cast as a gay character -- Hollywood wants its gay men to be wispy bits of fluff. 

6:40: But Lars is gay or an ally (I can't tell which).  He posed for the gay magazine DNA and gave an interview to  The Gay Leaguea gay superhero fan blog.  

Finally a gay connnection!  And it only took 45 minutes!

Dec 21, 2013

Earle C. Liederman: The Grandfather of Modern Bodybuilding

Everyone's heard of bodybuilding entrepreneur, Charles Atlas, who sold thousands of "dynamic tension" resistance-training regiments from the 1930s through the 1960s with the comic strip ad, "The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac."

But few people, even bodybuilding aficionados, realize that before Charles Atlas, the mail-order muscle-building market was dominated by Earle E. Liederman (1886-1970), an associate of Eugen Sadow who advertised "Become a giant among men!" to the wimpy office boys of the Jazz Age.

The former physical education teacher, Vaudeville strongman, and professional acrobat began distributing his book, Muscle Development, in 1920, and continued with The Science of Wrestling and Secrets of Strength.  

But where Charles Atlas promised men that muscles would help them get girls, Liederman's ads were usually more inclusive, promising that muscles would make you "a business and social favorite."  And the health benefits of bodybuilding, he noted expansively, would apply to both men and women.

His lessons were typewritten, addressed personally to the student, and tailored to his/her individual needs (actually ghost-written by one of his army of assistants), with practical advice like "don't invest in many collars, as your neck size will increase dramatically."

One of his students, he claimed, was Charles Atlas himself.  Liederman himself provided the illustrations, displaying a massive physique even in his fifties.

During the Depression, he was eclipsed by Charles Atlas's graphic-savvy showmanship, and lost everything.  He hosted a physical-fitness exercise program, and in 1945 moved to Los Angeles to edit Joe Weider's new magazine, Muscle Power.  

His column, "Let's Gossip," with its dish on the sun-and-surf hijinks of the glitterati, is credited with drawing hundreds of young muscle enthusiasts to L.A., where many posed for the gay-vague Physique Pictorial and were discovered by gay casting agent Henry Willson.

After a falling-out with Joe Weider, Liederman went to work for a rival bodybuilding magazine, and died in 1970, the elder statesman of the bodybuilding movement.

I don't know if he was gay.  When you read his columns, he comes across as very fey, a drag queen Auntie, sweetie darling.  But he was married to Miss Alaska for awhile,  so I can't tell.

His course is still available online.

Dec 20, 2013

James Marsden: Former Teen Idol Plays Gay, with Kissing and Everything

You don't need a face shot to distinguish James and Jason Masden.  James has a more ripped physique, which he tends to display with constant semi-nude scenes, plus full nudity in Death at a Funeral (2010).  (Jason is cute too, of course).

A popular teen idol of the 1990s, James appearing on teencoms like Saved by the Bell: The New Class and its Canadian clone, Boogie's Diner.  His first starring role came in Second Noah (1996-97), a dramedy about a family (including the Torgerson Twins) who live near Busch Gardens in Florida.

His most famous dramatic role as a teen idol was Disturbing Behavior (1998): the new kid in town (Marsden) teams up with his new buddy (fellow teen idol Nick Stahl) and The Girl to uncover a plot to turn all of the kids into perfect Stepford Teens.

Gossip (2000) is about a college student (Marsden) and his roommates, a boy and a girl, concocting gossip for a class project. But are his roommates really his friends?

As an adult, he is probably most famous for the X-Men series, where he plays Cyclops, but he has also done some serious dramatic roles, such as The Notebook.

The Oklahoma-born actor was "a little uncomfortable" around gay people when he first moved to Los Angeles, but he soon got over it: he hangs out in gay bars, he's been interviewed in The Advocate and Out, and he's played gay characters twice, with kissing and everything.

The 24th Day (2004): Dan (Marsden) and Tom (Scott Speedman) have a one-night stand that goes wrong.

Heights (2005): a Manhattan lawyer (Marsden) about to marry a woman finds his world turned upside down when his photographer ex shows up with an exhibition about the men he's been with "on the downlow."

He also had a noteworthy appearance on Modern Family, as a free spirit who befriends Cam and Mitchell.

Dec 19, 2013

Living Hell: Gay Symbolism, Nudity, and Gore

I don't have much interest in the Japanese "guro" genre, which isn't about scaring you so much as displaying blood spurting out of disembowled people.  But some of them, like Shugo Fujii's Living Hell (2000) and White Panic (2005), have enough male nudity and gay symbolism to make them worthwhile...almost.

Living Hell (Iki-jikogu) stars teenager Yasu (Hirohito Honda), confined to a wheelchair due to "hysterical exhaustion," who lives with his older brother Ken (Kazuo Yashiro) and adopted sister Rumi.  The family is happy and "normal" until his senile grandmother Chiyo and her granddaughter Yuki, survivors of a grisly multiple murder, move in.  Grandma is a dour, expressionless, ghost-like creature who says things like "Children are the root of all evil."  Yuki doesn't speak at all.

Yasu is frightened of the women, but Ken tells him that he must accept family, no matter how odd.  Besides, they were traumatized by the tragedy.  They begin harassing Yasu when everyone else is out, first with minor pranks, then with painful torture, including hours of electroshock on his sex organs.

Ken doesn't believe him, and the women warn that if he tells Rumi, they will kill her.  The audience is led to believe that he may be just hallucinating.  Or maybe Yuki is real, but Grandma Chiyo is a ghost.

He tries to escape, but is captured.

Mitzo (director Shugo Fujii, left) who works with Ken at the newspaper, starts to investigate the original murders, and suspects that Chiyo and Yuki were responsible.  After some stuff involving a failed genetic experiment, he goes to the house, finds Yasu, and tries to rescue him, but then he, too, is captured.

Then Yasu discovers the awful truth: he belongs to a family of cannibals!

Yasu is soft, passive, androgynous, and sexual -- the camera loves his semi-nude body (there is also a brief frontal).  Mitzo is hard, tough, and masculine.  It is interesting that the director makes Yasu the object of the gaze and himself the hero, storming into the house for a homoerotic same-sex rescue from the depraved heterosexual family.

It's too late, of course.  Blood splatters everywhere.  This movie is not for the squeamish.

Dec 17, 2013

The Last Picture Show: Small Town Melodrama with Nudity and Gay Subtexts

I saw The Last Picture Show (1971) when I was trapped in Texas, and found it immeasurably depressing, in spite of the infinite number of gay subtexts.

It's about depressed young people in a dismal, windswept Texas town in the 1950s.  They try to find meaning in their sad little lives through tawdry affairs with people they hate and going to the movies, but they can't perform during the affairs, the movie theater is closing, and they're all leaving or dying.

Sad-eyed high school seniors Sonny (Timothy Bottoms) and Duane (Jeff Bridges) are obviously into each other, no matter how much they try to triangulate their romance with girlfriends whom they can't perform for and affairs with older women whom they hate.  They split up when Sonny goes off to die in the Korean War.

Sonny has an affair with the depressed middle-aged Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman).  Why is she depressed?  Other than being trapped in a horrible small town, I mean. Because her husband, Coach Popper (Bill Thurman), is unable to...well, you know, and likes to smack his student athletes on the butt.  Gay, right?  You couldn't state it openly in 1971, but it's implied.

For that matter, an awful lot of the men in town are unwilling or unable to...well, you know.  It's as if the quiet desperation of their lives has resulted in impotence.  And a lot of gay subtexts.

Rich boy Bobby (Gary Brockette) invites them all to his house for a skinny-dipping party (he has a famous frontal nude scene that got the movie banned as obscene in several places).  He wants a girlfriend, but not if she's a virgin.  He doesn't want to have to worry about any of that icky sex stuff.

They take the young street sweeper Billy (Sam Bottoms) to a prostitute to lose his virginity, but it doesn't work out, probably because he's not into girls.  He is into Duane, however.  At the end of the movie, he's killed as he sweeps the streets, thus convincing Duane to return to the girlfriend he hates.  Is it because the only two eligible guys in town are gone?

Several of the performers, including Timothy Bottoms, Cloris Leachman, and Cybil Shepherd (Jacey, who dates both Sonny and Duane), have become strong gay allies. Jeff Bridges went on to play in several gay-subtext dramas.

See also: The Fabulous Bottoms Boys.

Dec 9, 2013

Ted Wass: Bare-Chested Comedy

    Why was Ted Wass never a teen idol?  Soap (1977-1981) was an iconic 1970s soap opera spoof about a dysfunctional extended family -- including Jodie (Billy Crystal), the first gay character in a starring role on tv (also bisexual and transgender, depending on the plot arc).  Jimmy Baio, who played Jodie's "normal" cousin, became a teen idol.  But not 25-year old Ted Wass, who played Jodie's brother Danny, a lovable but dimwitted hunk: "How can a woman be gay?  They would cancel each other out."   His centric plot arcs included a mob connection and an interracial marriage.       In the 1980s Ted made use of his hunkiness and his comedic talent to star in a series of sex comedies, including I Was a Mail Order Bride (1982), Baby Sister (1983), and Sheena, a remake of the jungle girl serial (1984).  He also appeared in "straight" comedies, such as Oh God, You Devil (1984)  and The Longshot (1986), before landing his second iconic role on Blossom (1991-1995).          He played Nick Russo, dad of the unconventional teenager (Mayim Bialik) and her dimwitted brother Joey (future heartthrob and gay ally  Joey Lawrence).  As the stable center of the lunacy, he didn't have much of an opportunity to show off his comedic talent -- or his chest.  After Blossom, Ted retired from acting to become a director, including some gay-friendly movies and tv series such as Crumbs, with Fred Savage as a gay writer.          Ted posed nude in Playgirl in 1979.  No frontal shots, but these white rubber jeans leave little to the imagination.             

Dec 8, 2013

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

My partner is making me watch the entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) on DVD, in order, for the second time. And I already saw many episodes when it originally aired, so the third time. That's a record broken only by Seinfeld and maybe Gilligan's Island when I was a kid.

The premise: Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar), an ordinary teenager at Sunnydale High, discovers that she is The Slayer, one girl out of all the world given the super powers necessary to kill vampires and other demonic beings.  She and her allies make wisecracks and discuss trivial home-and-school issues as they fight the monster of the week.

Every season has a story arc with an Apocalyptic threat by the "the worst enemy we have ever encountered" (by the later seasons, the hyperbole becomes tedious).  Also lots of romantic entanglements.

Her team, facetiously called the Scooby Gang, includes (not all at the same time):
1.-3. "Regular guy" Xander (Nicholas Brendon, top photo), who dates snobbish Cordelia, and then Anya, a 1000-year old vengeance demon
4.-6.  Computer whiz/witch Willow, who dates the sardonic werewolf Oz (Seth Green), and then the mousy Wiccan Tara.
7.-8. Watchers (professional Slayer mentors) Giles and Wesley
9-11. Buffy's boyfriends, reformed vampires Angel and Spike and military vampire-hunter Riley (Marc Blucas, below)
12,  Her sister Dawn.

Beefcake: Quite a lot.  The boyfriend characters don't seem to own shirts, Oz is always naked when he finishes "wolfing out," and Xander displays a respectable physique.

Male bonding: Not much.  The primarily relationships are always male-female or female-female.  The male Scoobies treat each other as cordial coworkers.

Gay characters: Two minor gay male:
1. Larry, a football star, originally accused of being a werewolf in Season 2.  Xander discovers his "real" secret, and freaks out.  He reappears several times, out and proud, during Season 3.

2. Andrew, the only survivor of a trio of nerd-villains in the last season, becomes the gang's gay-vague hostage-mascot.  No one ever says that he's gay, but it seems obvious that that's how Tom Lenk is playing the character.

He appears in the spinoff Angel with a blatant crush on reformed vampire Spike (James Marsters, left).  But later, he appears surrounded by beautiful women and comments: "People change." Creator Joss Whedon explains that Andrew wasn't supposed to say the line -- it was to go to a female character, who was supposed to be surrounded by beautiful people.

Three major lesbian:

1.-3. Willow (Allison Hannigan, left) spent three seasons hot for guys, notably her werewolf-boyfriend Oz.  Then at the beginning of Season 4, she meets Tara, something clicks, and she's a lesbian.  But she hasn't discovered her true sexual identity; she states repeatedly that she has "turned" lesbian.  They're a couple through Season 6, when Tara is killed (I know, the gay person always dies).

In Season 7, Willow gets a new girlfriend, streetwise Slayer-in-training Kennedy.

Fall 1971: Cousin George: Only Fools Wear Pajamas

My Cousin George, son of my father's older brother, was just my age, tall and blond, with a hard chest, a thin belly, and a Southern drawl.  He lived in Walterboro, South Carolina, a thousand miles from Rock Island, so I only saw him twice during my childhood:

1. We drove out to visit in the summer of 1967, when I was six years old.
2. Grandma Davis took me down on the train in the summer of 1971, when I was ten.

And once as a teenager, when he drove up for my Grandma Davis's funeral in October 1975.

What I remember most about my visits was the sizzling heat, the humidity,
and the beefcake.  No one in South Carolina owned a shirt. I had never seen so many sleek muscular bodies.

We went swimming in the warm salty Atlantic Ocean.

At night Cousin George and I took our baths together together in scalding-hot water, and then slept naked together under thin sheets -- "only fools wear pajamas," he insisted.

 It was not erotic, like seeing my older Cousin Joe naked.  It was warm and soft and sensual, like falling asleep in the arms of my boyfriend Bill, back home in Rock Island.

The rest of the story is on Tales of West Hollywood.

Dec 6, 2013

Robert Gant: Gay Action Hero

In the 1950s, there were no "openly" gay actors.  To make a public proclamation was unthinkable -- even a rumor could mean the end of your career.

Today agents, casting directors, producers, directors, and costars still encourage gay actors to pretend to be heterosexual -- at least until they're famous.  Being "openly" gay will stall your career at the start.

Robert Gant was openly gay from the start.  A practicing attorney, he broke into acting in 1994, with some guest spots on Friends, Ellen, Silk Stalkings, Popular, and Caroline in the City.  

Mostly heterosexual or unspecified characters, but he played an iconic gay character in Queer as Folk (20002-2005): Ben Bruckner, college professor, partner of central character Michael (Hal Sparks).

And in Save Me (2007), he plays Scott, a resident of an "ex-gay" halfway house who starts a relationship with another resident, drug addict Mark (Chad Allen).

And in Kiss Me Deadly (2008), he plays Jacob Keane, a spy who happens to be gay -- probably the first "openly" gay action-adventure hero in movie history, and the only one to date.

There have been lots more tv guest spots since, on Hot in Cleveland, Bones, Mike and Molly, Baby Daddy, and Sean Saves the World.  Sometimes gay characters, sometimes not.  Sitcom casting directors don't seem to care who he's dating, as long as he has a square jaw, a muscular physique, and comedic timing.

Not a lot of movie roles.  Maybe movie casting directors are still thinking "our target audience is homophobic, so.."

Dec 5, 2013

The Electric Company: Bringing You the Power

Kids in the 1970s who were too old for the numbers and letters of  Sesame Street graduated to The Electric Company (1971-77).  Instead of "Come and play, everything's a-ok," they yelled "We're gonna turn it on, we're gonna bring you the power!"  They taught you words with Saturday Night Live-style parodies of everything from Julia Child to The Six Million Dollar Man.  

The cast included future superstars Morgan Freeman, Bill Cosby, and Rita Moreno.

I never saw it, but I imagine that, like Sesame Street, there was only limited gay content.  Maybe just Morgan Freeman naked in a bathtub.

In 2009, a refurbished Electric Company appeared on PBS.  Instead of sketch comedy, it specialized in adventure: four kids with superpowers take on the corruption in their neighborhood (through the power of words), notably an evil anti-literacy gang called The Pranksters. Sort of like Whiz Kids, or Ghostwriter.

The kids were:
1. Athletic Hector (Josh Segarra, left)
2. His feminine-coded sidekick Keith (Ricky Smith, right)
3. His sister, singer/dancer Jessica (P-Star)
4. Intellectual Lisa (Jenni Barber)
5. Young gun Marcus (Coy Stewart)

Unlike the 1970s series, there was significant buddy-bonding between Hector and Keith, as well as between the main Pranksters, the hefty Manny (Dominic Colon) and Danny (William Jackson Harper).

And beefcake.  These were teenagers and young adults, not kids.

And gay content.  Between the 2006 pilot and the 2009 premiere, Josh Segarra starred in the gay-themed comedy The Boys Upstairs off Broadway.

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