tv Hate Speech and Censorship in America CSPAN October 23, 2016 3:00pm-4:01pm EDT
c-span appearances by supreme court justices at www.c-span.org . >> coming up next, author alison kibler looks at images of irish americans and african americans used in popular culture, as well as the backlash to the book "the klansmen," the basis for the movie "birth of a nation." the kansas city public library hosted this hour-long event. >> hello. good evening. thank you so much for being here. i am the deputy director of affairs for the kansas city public library. it seems all you need to do these days is turn on the television, and you can quickly hear what alison kibler talk about what we will talk about tonight, hate speech. reality television to the nightly news, we see examples in the headlines that show that hate speech is alive and well in our country.
some would argue hate speech has a long and difficult history and our country, but also has a long way to go for improvement. others say it pits equality and free speech against each other. alison's book is examining how our society has changed since the early 20th century to verbally recite, the country we live in, one nation, under all. hate speech is a complex issue and i am proud to be part of the kansas city public library, a place where, every day, offers a forum and an opportunity to engage and examine complicated issues, and debates, especially about free speech and the quality. it is what a library is designed to do. alison kibler's book is a great place to start. she is a professor of american studies and women's and gender
studies at franklin and marshall, can -- currently at work on another project that is focused on second wave feminists and television reform. particularly, their use of the federal communications commission's fairness doctrine, pressing television stations to improve the representation of women and feminism. please help me welcome alison kibler. [applause] dr. kibler: i want to thank the library for inviting me. i am from relatively far away, lancaster, pennsylvania. when i mentioned i have the privilege of coming here, my colleagues had heard about how wonderful the kansas city public library is, so you do have a great institution here. to show that this topic is relevant today, i want to start by asking you to take a short quiz. it is about some controversies surrounding hate speech in the
news. it is a very short matching quiz. what i'm asking you to do is match the controversial expression with the way that the expression has been regulated recently. these are within the last 2-3 years. give me a couple eat -- a couple minutes, then i will take responses from the audience. you can talk to your neighbor, if you want. [laughter]
dr. kibler: ok. let's try to get some answers out there. does anyone want to get started? let's go through all three? ok, go ahead. >> the second one down matches the redskins' name. dr. kibler: that's true. what is at stake is something called the lanham act, which forbids the trademark, a trademark cannot be disparaging to a group of people. that has happened, and is being appealed. there is an appeals court recently, it struck down that act, but it will continue to be litigated.
the redskins issue is kind of in play. does anyone else have one that they feel certain about? ok. correct. remember what university and was? ok. the university of oklahoma expelled the fraternity, and the students who sang the song. and that is due to a federal law, title vi, of the civil rights act of 1964, which forbids the creation of a hostile educational environment, a racially hostile educational environment. ok. so that affects speech. the last one, does anyone remember this? a few years ago, this actually comes up on a regular basis, but school districts can have dress codes that ban the confederate flag for fear that it will disrupt the school day. ok. great. very well-informed audience.
the quiz, i hope, shows that controversies over hate speech are in the news today, and i will show you that there is a long history of the efforts, there is a long history of efforts to censor hate speech, or what, from the time i am come -- talking about, most people would call that racial ridicule, not hate speech. these controversies have lasted over centuries. because they pitch two deeply held american values together, free speech and equality. in my presentation tonight, i will try to demonstrate three points. the first, that americans have regularly supported legislation against hateful speech. although the context of the regulation has shifted dramatically over the course of the 20th century.
the second thing i want to try to demonstrate is that when we think of censorship, we tend to think of conservative or right-wing sensors working to stop sexually explicit images. this is a limited view. censorship has long been about race, and sensors have often -- censors have often been progressive. the third point i want to demonstrate is that the efforts to ban particular acts or productions often have surprising results. from that, i and trying to state more generally that you can never be sure what is going to happen as a result of the censorship. sometimes, the result was not what was intended by the censors. in some cases, when activists succeeded in banning an offensive production, they found out that their victory was short-lived and turned against them.
i hope this presentation will reveal the long history of hate speech as a struggle among many races, with unpredictable outcomes. now for a story. on a bitterly cold january night in 1907, two tried and true vaudeville performers, john and james russell, took the stage at a new york city theater. they wore long dresses with aprons over top. james had a red wig. they started their well-known act, the irish servant girls. it had been on stage for years, with no trouble. james called up to his brother, john, maggie, maggie. and batted at him with a broom. they winked at men and women in the audience. they leaned back, lifted up their skirts, and showed the crowd their underwear.
in the midst of these hijinks, a group of protesters began to hiss and whistle. after the first wave of catcalls subsided, one man, a prominent irish nationalist, political activist, and a war veteran, rose to his feet and addressed the management, the audience and the russell brothers. stop it, stop it. or, by the eternal, we will stop you. the curtain came down on the russell brothers' act early that night. wait, i thought i had -- ok. early that night. these protesters kept their promise. as the russell brothers' tour continued, irish protesters stepped up their attack. they pelted them with eggs, rotten vegetables.
they drove the brothers out of vaudeville. their career ended. the irish-american protesters bragged that they had succeeded in practical censorship. that was the phrase they used. i skipped over an earlier slide. this is to show you that, the image of the kind of hulking irish woman that you see with the russell brothers. it shows up in other places, and irish activists are also mad about that. whenever it appears, whenever there is this kind of masculine, rough, irish woman onstage, they are often there to try to ban that, or get it off stage or out of the newspaper. that is just to show you that it is more widespread than just the russell brothers.
that is the depiction in the irish-american newspaper, of the riots that followed the russell brothers until they leave vaudeville. the story of the russell brothers is intriguing to me for several reasons. it introduces us to the popularity of stereotypes of minority groups in theater and film in the early 20th century. in vaudeville, which was the most popular live theatrical venue of the early 1900s, every program featured several caricatures of african-americans, irish, jewish citizens, german, sometimes these were jumbled together in confusing ways. joe weber and lew field exemplified this. here we are, a colored pair, they explained in a thick yiddish accent. al jolson's brother explained the confusion of racial types in his career, when he acknowledged
that he mistakenly used a yiddish accent in place of an irish accent. he was assigned an irish part and used his yiddish accent anyway. things got confused. these comedy routines were known, i will give you another example of, here is some sheet music from the early 20th century, late 19th century, and african-american performer named ernest hogan. the sheet music on your left shows you kind of how he had to dress up in vaudeville, to dress up in black caricature. that is how he looked.
the one on the right is also subject to protest in the early 20th century, african-american activists start to react against songs like that. so ernest hogan gives you an idea of some african-american stereotypes in the early 20th century. these comedy routines were known as racial comedy, not ethnic comedy. all the groups considered here that i will talk about today, irish, jewish, and african-americans, consider themselves races in this time, over 100 years ago. around this time, scientists and politicians acknowledged european races, including hebrews, celts and slavs, as races. although they were white according to some purposes,
unlike the chinese and japanese immigrants, jewish and irish immigrants were in between african-americans and whites in terms of popular culture and scientific classifications. they used the term racial ridicule to describe offensive images of them on screen. i do not describe, they don't refer to irish and jewish americans of this timeframe as ethnic groups. ok. the last thing i want to underline about my opening anecdote is that the attacks on the russell brothers by the irish activists who stand up in the auditorium and basically shout them down, they are significant because they are part of a broader multicultural protest against racial ridicule.
irish, jewish, and african-american citizens rose up against these images. jewish and african-americans were alarmed at images of their group as sexually depraved. jews said that images of the scheming firebug insulted them. irish americans and african americans were shown to be childlike and incapable of orderly democratic participation. irish and african-americans also objected to images of bridget, the irish maid. african-americans were also concerned about images of the manny. all three groups leave disparaging representation impaired their social standing and political equality. the used direct actions, including disruption of acts onstage, to protest in front of theaters.
they used backstage lobbying. they used state censorship to stop racial ridicule. by looking at the three campaigns together, we can see these early struggles against racial ridicule were not an oddity. it is not just, one case with the irish got angry about the russell brothers. there was a common language of protest across three different races, 100 years ago. all right. we started with the story about the russell brothers and the irish maid. now i want to talk about a controversial play that were the country around the same time.
that toured the country around the same time. almost every thing about talk about today is within a few years of each other, to illustrate a bigger thing. in 1905, thomas dixon cosplay "the klansman" premiered. his work formed the basis of the most famous hate speech movie film of all time, "the birth of a nation." "birth of a nation" appears in 1916, and it is written about in relation to the history of race and popular culture. i spent some time in my work going back to the earlier play that is considered the basis of
the film "birth of a nation." it is a decade before. the play "the klansman" premiered in virginia in 1905. dixon portrayed the suffering of whites during reconstruction, and celebrated and advocated a return to white supremacy through vigilante violence. the play featured white robes and hooded figures who administer justice, what is seen is justice in the play. dixon saw himself as rebutting harriet beecher stowe's famous work, "uncle tom's cabin." critics of the play challenged thomas dixon's claims of historical accuracy. one critic called the play a perverted mixture of truth and falsehood. so the play faced criticism for being an inaccurate representation of african-americans, and inciting violence.
it depicted violence on stage against african-americans. in the first year of its tour, neither of these claims was the basis for censoring the play. the play is not stopped, although there is significant criticism. so the play was controversial for inflaming racial antagonism, but it was not banned in any city until the aftermath of the atlanta race riot in september 1906. "the klansman" may have played a role in stirring up violence in atlanta. when the play appeared in atlanta in 1905, near the end of 1905, the audience became unruly and police worked to silence the racial hostility in the audience. after the atlanta riot, african-american citizens had more success asking local
officials to stop the play. city governments were now more likely to agree to censor the play after this context of racial violence that seemed to be associated with the play. in philadelphia, in october 1906, a large group of african gathered outside of the walnut street theater when "the klansman" was scheduled to appear. 2000 african-americans came to protest and 1000 whites came to observe the protest. at the start of the play, an african-american man threw an egg at this stage. people ran from the theater. the police arrested who they thought the egg thrower was.
the philadelphia mayor, as a result of the uprising, banned the play because he believed it was calculated to produce disorder and endanger lives. it doesn't stop there. thomas dixon tries to override the mayor's ban. dixon ends up in a courtroom, trying to get an injunction to stop the mayor's ban on the play. so begins a little moment of theater in the courtroom. dixon and covers this judge, a jewish civic leader, in philadelphia. the courtroom is jammed to suffocation. a large group of african-american spectators,
many of whom had been involved in the protest, so the hearing was a showcase for the key arguments for and against the play. dixon upheld the accuracy, the historical accuracy of his play. he criticized the protesters for causing disorder. thomas dixon, the author of the play, read some of the play out loud, with considerable dramatic flair. the judge is impatient and interrupts. "what do we care for that? history may be as false as a lie. don't weary us with such matters. many spectators cheered for the judge. dixon and the judge then debate,
whether the protesters are the play was the source of danger. the playwright said the judge, "it is a great commentary on civilization, that a mob of colored rioters can constitute themselves as censors of drama and close an historic theater." the judge had none of that. he told dixon he didn't like the conclusion of the play, in which the ku klux klan apprehends the african-american villain. he is searched by a body of citizens. dixon complained about the egg thrower. the judge disagreed. "the audience may applaud, but may not show disapproval?" it goes on like that. the judge backs the african-american protesters and
upholds the ban on the play. i can just imagine it, though. the fight in the courtroom. the debate about who or what pose the danger to the social order is significant. plays and movies that protesters identified as racist and hateful were sometimes banned because of concern about protesters' behavior. this rationale for censorship usually reasserted the stereotype that the protesters were trying to challenge. african-americans succeed in censoring "the klansman" because people were trying to say, the protesters were dangerous. in 1915, when the play reemerges as the film "the birth of a nation,"
one of the naacp tactics in getting the film censored was to refer to this disruption, this up evil surrounding "the clansman" in philadelphia. censorship was successful, then, at what cost? the confrontation between sulzberger and thomas dixon is important because it shows an early alliance between african-americans and jewish leaders. sulzberger may have been sympathetic to african-american protesters in philadelphia, because he was involved in organizations that were becoming active with anti-semitic publications.
this was around the time of "the clansman" protest, looking to ban through new york city, new york state civil rights law, the jewish community was working to ban publications or advertisement of jewish exclusion. so when hotels and resorts in new york, there were often advertisements that would say, gentiles only, or no hebrews allowed. so the civil rights law in new york state made it so you could no longer advertise that. that is the innovation of these jewish leaders. and by 1926, those laws are in the books in seven states. so they become popular outside of new york. all right. the third and final story i want to tell tonight is an intriguing
coincidence, which again involves jewish and african-american activists. it underscores the overlapping interests of african-american and jewish leaders. in 1907, an african-american lawyer in des moines, joe brown, succeeded in getting the city council to pass an ordinance banning any exhibition or performance that created a feeling of antipathy against any particular race. he was hoping to stop thomas dixon's play. the timing does not turn out exactly right and the censorship of the play does not work, but that was the underlying motivation. just a few months later, around the same time, a lawyer and civic leader in chicago drafted the nation's first motion picture censorship ordinance in
chicago. motion picture censorship, by the way, is basically legal. it is not considered a violation of the first amendment until 1952. he is a jewish civic leader, involved with -- he is a newspaper editor, civic leader, and his ordinance does not just outlaw obscene or immoral films. again, that is what most people think about when they think about censorship 100 years ago comments about up sanity or sexually explicit materials. but kraus' ordinance also banned films that exposed racial or religious groups to contempt or derision. not what many people note is
that it was also a hate speech law. so what motivated kraus to ban racial ridicule in motion pictures? he was probably concerned about "clansman." "the chicago tribune" endorsed the censorship of this controversial play. but kraus was probably also thinking about the regulation of the advertisements of jewish exclusion that jewish groups are working on, trying to ban those advertisements. he is also thinking about violence against jews in europe. all of those things are in his mind when he writes his censorship law. five years after kraus' law goes in effect, in 1913 -- it's ok with me if anybody wants to name
their band the funkhousers, i think that would be a great name. he becomes chicago's new moral guardian. he is the film censor in chicago in 1913. he quickly gained the reputation as being a very strict censor. one critic called him a prudish old maid. he allegedly rejected three times as many films as his predecessor. one anti-censorship activist said about him, funkhouser is a menace to what made this country free. this kind of criticism prompted funkhouser to look around for some cover, basically, and he kind of looked away to set up some systems of censorship that deflected attention from him.
a few months after his appointment, funkhouser began to seek out groups of citizens to review plays and movies. he believed particular groups should rule on films that featured them. what he had in mind were racial minorities, members of a particular profession, women. in one case, a group of army officers reviewed a film that featured a drunken army officer. so he wanted to say, well, if you think it's ok, i will pass it. all right, so he called these teams of reviewers citizen juries. that has kind of a democratic sound to it. it takes a little of the spotlight off of him.
citizen juries were a key opening for a new jewish organization established in chicago in 1913, the anti-defamation league, which is part of this. the anti-defamation league was established to the same year that funkhouser took up his new position and started to form the citizen juries. the anti-defamation league, although it used other tactics, the anti-defamation league referred to state censorship as part of its arsenal from its founding. so a text from the league's opening statement of purpose -- "immediate object is to stop by appeal to reason and conscious and, if necessary, by appeals to the law the defamation of the jewish people." funkhouser search chicago for citizen sensors.
jewish advocates were ready to step forward and enforce the race bait censorship rules that adolf kraus had drafted. the anti-defamation league also rallied for funkhouser, but funkhouser reached out to jewish leaders to ask them about films they might find offensive. this is how the anti-defamation league explained the process in chicago. to wait for the picture to be shown and then register a protest was of course quite useless, as but very few theaters book a film for more than one days run. the opportunity was accorded us by the courtesy of the mayor and major funkhouser, who permitted the managing board of the anti-defamation league to inspect all films which had jewish characters in the cast.
the anti-defamation league's first success was the suppression of a film called "rebecca's wedding day" in late january, 1914. jewish citizens decided it was odious and a potential cause of prejudice against jewish people, so funkhouser revoked the permit. this decision is then attacked. "this was just a comedy. no one but a few individuals could possibly take exception to this," some people said about the censorship. all right. all right, chicago's founding censors wrote a law that benefited many minority groups, not only jewish citizens.
chicago's experiment in representing racial minorities within censorship seems remarkably inclusive and democratic, with this apparatus called the citizen jury. but there were no african-american juries that i know of. african-americans were often disgruntled at the relationship with the censorship system. some films that seemed very insulting to african-americans were passed. one movie passed the censors without any editing, even though it included a carnival game called "hit the n-word." the group felt the african-americans were the last group left that filmmakers could make fun of. it used to be "hit the jew" or
"down with the irish," but members of those groups watched like hawks at any attempt to belittle them. "birth of the nation" is basically approved in chicago without any citizen jury watching it and without -- funkhouser does not make any fuss at all. "birth of the nation" airs after the mayor approves it in any regular way. then a new mayor stops discrimination in chicago just a few weeks later. then that mayor's ban on "birth of the nation" in chicago is overturned in a court. in this courtroom decision that basically allows "birth of the nation" to show, the judge questioned the wisdom of hate-based regulation in the first place.
so he questions the censorship of any film. he says, "any race or nationality so offended can best give the lie to the characters presented by continuing to conduct themselves as law-abiding citizens who do not expect a greater right from the law than it allows all other men or nationalities." so that kind of hurts the laws for hate speech regulation. but it also shows that a lot of films with jewish themes and characters are edited or abandon chicago, and really the same treatment is not really given to films with themes about african-americans. the unevenness of censorship in chicago and ongoing doubts about protecting any racial groups through censorship led to complaints about the unfairness of censorship in chicago.
one critic of censorship said, "restriction is often the result of the organized zeal of minute minorities rather than the consensus of public opinion." even when i minority gain power, as jewish citizens did in chicago, they are sidelined at the same time because they don't represent a community. they only represent themselves. they only comment on films with jewish themes. so the seem inherently partisan as censors. they represent division, not censorship. i'm not saying that is a fair characterization. i'm saying that is how it played out.
the censorship of racial ridicule actually helped fuel a growing free speech movement in the early 20th century. opponents of censorship cast race-based censorship is a sign of corruption of any government censorship in which a small group could gain power and sway censorship decisions. over the course of the 20th century, racial ridicule became hate speech, and the context of the regulation of racist speech shifted from theaters and motion picture houses to education and employment. what federal civil rights law today protects students and employees against racial and sexual harassment. in this light, hate speech is not a contemporary crisis of political correctness. it is a conundrum that has lasted well over 100 years, with tension between racial equality and freedom of expression. thank you. [applause]
dr. kibler: i'm so happy to take questions. >> just within the last day or two, i saw an article online relating to prescreening of online materials, and there was one site involved with this, and i'm sorry to say i don't remember what the name of it is. you may be familiar with it. but nevertheless, the article said this to their knowledge was the very first time, or one of the very few times, this is going to be attempted in order to prevent individuals from expressing hateful materials online. so i wonder if you can relate this to your work, and do you
have an opinion of the effectiveness of this, considering it is just like one site being involved with this? dr. kibler: i don't -- i don't know exactly what site you are referring to, but what your question brings up i think are a couple of big teams in the history of censorship. for example, pre-exhibition state censorship -- so the government censoring something prior to exhibition, is really frowned upon today. i cannot think of -- the government cannot, like, intervene in stopping a facebook post, as far as i know. but on the other hand, the first
amendment only applies to state actions. so what applies to your local school district. it applies to state government. it applies to the federal government. but it does not apply to facebook, walmart. so facebook actually has a hate speech component to the regulation of its content, and sometimes when people want to get that enforced, i would say it is unevenly enforced on facebook. they pressure advertisers on various social media sites to say, did you know your advertising is appearing next to something i consider hateful or offensive? and there has been some effectiveness surrounding that kind of protest. but there are definitely private entities in the world of social media that are trying to regulate, you know, keep a lid on some kinds of hateful speech. so i don't know if you're talking about facebook, perhaps.
>> you brought up the example of the film censorship in chicago. did that lead to the hayes, or how did that come about? dr. kibler: it's interesting that these questions are bringing up great issues about the history of censorship. one way to think about censorship is in a very narrow way that you can talk about censorship only being about what the government does. but other people say that you should have a broader definition of censorship that would include how hollywood has regulated itself, you know, over the last century or so.
so even though that is not -- motion picture censorship has involved the government up until the 1950's, but even without government censorship, hollywood established its own code for regulating motion picture material. so there are several different versions of that. an early version included some hate speech provisions, and in the later version, a lot of the discouragement on racist material fell away and what's left is a ban on miscegenation and hollywood films. most of what i'm talking about in terms of motion pictures in the theater, that kind of controversy and regulation drops away in the 1930's. there is kind of a resurgence in
the 1930's and 1940's about something called group libel law, but i would say that is relatively short-lived. i think the trajectory is racial ridicule, where people try to regulate defamation of groups, not individuals. it's not very successful in the long term. and then to hate speech or harassment. today, the term people would use his racial harassment and sexual harassment as conduct is what people would say is being regulated by title ix and title vi, for example, in education. ok, i feel like that of urged a little bit from your question, but they kind of overlap. i would describe hollywood's regulation of itself as a form of censorship, and it does get involved in the earlier versions with some hate speech, and then that kind of falls away. that's a good question.
>> dr. kibler, you see a relationship between various groups as they achieve various privileges and political power, and then being able to push for better depictions or not as derogatory depictions? dr. kibler: that is a great question, and i do definitely see that as an issue in my book, which compares irish, jewish, and african-american campaigns. so, african-americans are less concerned about how their images of them insult their reputations, as much as they are concerned about images on screen and in theaters really being a source of violence against them.
so african-americans in this period are struggling against a real crisis of lynching and constitutional segregation. so some of that overlaps with jewish-american concerns. so frank is lynched in 1915, but violence against some jewish citizens is nowhere near as extreme as violence against african americans. and jews experience segregation in resorts and hotels, and there is some common cause with that with african-americans, but when these jewish groups look at their segregation from resorts and hotels, they put their focus on trying to ban these
advertisements of that segregation. and that's not really where african-americans put their concerns. they are actually working, trying to get these public accommodations desegregated. they are organizing lawsuits to try to desegregation theaters and restaurants. so there is some overlap, but you can see how different group situations and how what they are struggling against determine how they prioritize some of these issues. so when african-americans are looking at popular culture, they see it as part of the anti-lynching campaign they are undertaking, and that's really not the same as the jewish framework or the irish framework.
so it is a little bit of a luxury to be up to criticize their depictions on screen or in the theater. >> i just wanted to remark that the role of humor in all of this is so subtle in the different interplay. a while back, i read something about jack benny. by the way, my great uncle performed with him in vaudeville many years ago. i never thought about this as a child watching "the jack benny show," and his interaction with his butler, rochester, was one of the first tv shows. rochester always won and wound up being the smarter, and that was a deliberate thing of trying to shift the balance of always showing african-americans as
dumb and making bad choices, and i never thought about that until i read something a year or so ago. but i think effort like that, as subtle as they are, have made a big difference in changing our perceptions. dr. kibler: you raise a good point, and i think part of what you are saying is there are elements of live theater where you cannot really fully recapture that 100 years later. some of the most famous performers, like a west indian performer, he was a very high paid comic star, dark skinned, but he had to "black up," that was the term, putting himself into the caricature.
so he "blacked up," even though he was dark skinned, but some critics have said the kind of inflection that he gave in his performances, even though he was reasserting a derogatory caricature, he was able to add some subtlety and richness to the character that made it less offensive. >> as these groups declined as sources of ridicule, what took their place? so it moved from racial ridicule.
were there other groups like the disabled or homosexual or -- what were the groups that filled in as racially motivated ridicule declined? dr. kibler: right. well, i'm not sure that these kind of caricatures ever really completely go away, but it is true that a lot of the protests go away. so my work has been primarily trying to track the protesters and the campaigns against the images. i do less of a history of the images of these groups. that's -- other people do that work really well, but i've been trying to trace the political actions organized in some of these images, to try to understand why people made particular choices about what they didn't like.
but in relation to that, one reason that some of these groups kind of stopped doing these kind of protests is they get caught up in their own free-speech cases, so that irish nationalists who are super interested in getting particular acts kicked offstage, banned, they are invested in motion picture censorship, too. in world war ii, they find their irish nationalist newspaper banned, so they become free speech defenders. the naacp is involved in a protest, naacp activists get arrested for violating a kind of anti-littering law in a city and find themselves saying, really, this violates our free speech rights. we should be able to leaflet, so
they get more invested in free speech than they were before. so some of that dampens down this approach to controlling racial ridicule. but it is interesting, for a while i thought about writing a book that really cover the whole 20th century, because you can think of protests in, you know, feminism in the 1960's and 1970's. they do a lot of protests against what they perceive as sexist in popular culture, and there is a lot of the gay liberation movement that fights against significant hollywood films like in the 1980's. so you can add and subtract groups who take on this activism over the course of the 20th century, i think.
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