Fictional power of reality television: in between media coverage of society and social integration of television?
La polémique née autour de la télé-réalité depuis son avènement, en avril 2001, en France, n’a pas paradoxalement empêché qu’un regain d’intérêt naisse simultanément à son sujet et conduise, au fil des jours, à ce que l’on pourrait qualifier de succès de la télé-réalité, qui lui aurait permis notamment d’influer sur l’agencement scénographique de la télévision.
The controversy which surrounds reality TV in France has not stopped a renewed interest from simultaneously emerging and leading, over time, to accentuate what we could qualify, rightly or wrongly, reality TV success, a kind of hegemony which could be attributed to this new style of television.
Table des matières
1We are in the middle of spring 2004. The diffusion of the show Star Academy III has just begun on TF1. A good amount of teenagers of large French cities, according to Médiamétrie (2001, 2002.2003), chose to get Paxti-style haircuts. Paxti, the youngest participant of all the candidates selected, was known for his mop of hair from the 1930s, with a line cut into the right side of his hair. How can one explain that a young man of around twenty, with no apparent charisma or exceptional qualities, is influencing the social practices of a whole generation? What has happened since the broadcast (which made him famous) that could explain the influence of this, on society and its apparent anchoring in the habitus in France?
2More than a decade has already passed since reality television appeared. Strongly disputed and disapproved even at its beginnings as well as being subject to various controversies and the object of multiple polemics since its advent (Mamère, Farbiaz, 2001: 9), this new style of televisual emission covered a series of non-glorious adventures which could have disappeared just as quickly as they had appeared. This could possibly explain why its operators did not skimp on means, at that point in time, to try and camouflage the affiliations of their various shows to this new style of television ridiculed by a part of French and international opinion alike: sometimes nicknamed real fiction (Jost, 2002, Dupont, 2007), docu-fiction (Destal, 2001; Jost, 2002; Teased, 2003), or even sitcom or real TV for English specialists like Derek Komparé (2005), or, docu-soap-opera (Jost, 2005; 2009: 3-11; Dupont, 2007), the path towards its legitimacy was long and strewn with all kinds of obstacles… (Kajabika, 2010: 11).
3However, one cannot incontestably affirm that since its launch, reality TV has been completely and indefinitely rejected by French society. If public opinion did not easily warm up to its arrival in a way that would bear witness to various private and public debates about it, it appears nevertheless, paradoxically, that after a few months of existence, reality TV started to seduce, acquire legitimacy and – in all likelihood – gain respectability (Russet-red, Teyssier, 2003: 17-38).
4Curiously, only a few months after its launch (Kajabika, 2004: 27-29), its name surprisingly risked being a catch-all, so much so that a significant number of audiovisual and televisual producers precipitated towards this televisual typology that decidedly attracted the general public. It qualified as audio-visual work and therefore was authorized access to loans, multiple types of financial aid, a multiplication of programming time slots, (80% of them showed in primetime), its number becoming more and more important (Kajabika, 2004: 19; 2010: 289) according to Laurent Fonnet (2005 of it: 48-52). Television channels faced tough competition to broadcast the most original possible concept (Wangermée, 2004: 58; Kajabika, 2004: 7-21; 2010: 307; Destal, 2001; Haddou, 2001).
5After eleven years of regular programming and great media presence (particularly in France) and only being subject to minor modifications, reality TV seems to have won over public opinion, according to Dominique Roux and Jean-Pierre Teyssier (2003), Robert Wangermée (2004), Jean-Louis Missika (2009) and Vindicien Kajabika (2004: 5; 2010: 13; 2011: 7). Despite its various forms, reality TV continues to raise questions despite several kinds of proven expression and significance. By what precedes, it is necessary to wonder whether TV-reality has veritably influenced the audiovisual landscape as much as contemporary French society as a whole. And if so, how?
6I will try to answer this by dividing this article into three parts. The first, “Reality TV and the evolution of the fictional mode of television and cinema,” will try to understand what the media influence of reality TV consists. Then, in the second part, “The influence of reality TV on society”, the mission will consist of trying to understand how reality TV would have influenced society overall (Cluzel, 1985; 1988). Finally, in the last part, “Evolution of social behaviours after the success of reality TV,” I will examine the attitudes which one can compare to induced effects of and by reality TV.
7For that purpose, I will rely on some shows of daily reality TV: Star Academy (TF1, 2001-2007), Loft Story (M6, 2001) and non-daily ones: Ile de la tentation (TF1, 2003-), La Ferme Célébrités (2003-), Koh Lanta (2003-), Pékin Express : sur la route d’Himalaya (M6, 2008-), La vie de Bruno (M6, 2008-), La vie d’Eve Angeli (TF1, 2008) broadcasted in France between 2001 and 2007.
8Better than in informational genres like the news and magazines in particular, the tension between reality and fiction appears in the evolution of fiction programs. If the treatment of reality makes a point of using fiction as a starting point, we note, following Robert Wangermée (2004: 56) that the treatment of the fictional very often draws closer to reality (i.e. the famous world of reality TV) which nourishes the ambition to not distance itself from reality. The status of heroes in televisual fiction, the context of their positioning and certain elements of their filming – favourable shots, cuts and movements of the camera - in particular, have illustrated for a few years this decline in televised fiction, a downward trend which is considered more and more by directors of current cinematographic fictions, judged by the number of films released after the advent and success of reality TV. Moreover, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the first programs considered reality TV were conceived like the docu-soap, at the border of reality and fiction, according to Robert Wangermée (2004: 77) and François Jost (2005), inter alia.
9For a long time, one has started to observe the emergence of a style close to reality TV or a style which claims to be, while presenting particular characteristics between several fictional forms and reality TV. It is extremely probable that the success collected by the broadcasting of reality TV induced the prevalence of these characteristics to bring freshness to TV programs. A series from Germany that has been translated in several languages, the French version being Le destin de Lisa, was broadcasted during all of 2007 on TF1, and is one of the eloquent examples. But before its airing, in 2006, Un Dos Tres, a Spanish series based on a microcosm of a university campus bringing together students in music and theatre in Madrid, had a long stay on French television. This situation tends to reinforce the understanding that there would be a new type of program that would easily compare to one of the alternatives of reality TV (Kajabika, 2010).
10As television viewers and public film enthusiasts in particular relate to media coverage of the daily routine, seeing themselves as ordinary heroes, would this primarily be because of these audio-visual products profiting from a regularly encouraging audience? Without yielding to precipitation, and basing themselves on the work of Alain Ehrenberg (1991; 1995), it is credible to support that in this increasingly individualistic contemporary world full of uncertainties, according to Luc Boltanski (1985: 15), man finds and bolsters allusions of his pseudo-heroism in what one can call the mirror of his existence, being translated through these films and shows of another style which are influenced by ingredients established and exploited by reality TV to refresh its contents, to attract viewers and to win their loyalty. Would this therefore be through this trend which man seems to succeed in projecting himself onto the exploits of heroes who are similar only to his image (Thoveron, 2004; Kajabika, 2010: 312)?
11Everything would lead us to think that it is, among other reasons, because of characteristics probably borrowed from the operation of reality TV that these shows would encourage the idea, and would reveal the impression of exceeding the operation of television… But to observe scrupulously, one can support that these impressions and perceptions would result in particular from the evolution of television, or at least, of its fiction on influence of reality TV. Indeed, while M6 was launching two new reality TV shows, Pékin Express : sur la route d’Himalaya (2009 -) and La vie d’Eve Angeli, its rival, TF1, prepared Le destin de Bruno (TF1, 2009 - 2010). What is the characteristic of these shows to be able to understand the evolution reality TV shows seem to follow, or the influence that they can continue to exert on television?
- In Pékin Express : sur la route d’Himalaya (M6, 2008 -): it’s a question of another type of reality TV. If there are always what are said to be surveillance cameras, there is no more, on the other hand, isolated microcosm cut-off from the world since the show takes place over a long distance of more than 10,000 km between metropolitan France and continental China; a journey that each candidate will have to take with a budget of 10 euros. Saving, saavy, begging, and jugglings of all kinds, hitch-hiking, etc, the candidates must show ingeniousness and tenacity to arrive at the Chinese capital, coming from Paris. The engineering team covers the action of these Robinson Crusoes of the 21st century (Kajabika, 2010; 2013). The production only assures major logistics (plane tickets, administrative processes, visas, authorizations), medical care in the event of health problems, financial support and material for the engineering team, evacuation in the event of emergency, elimination or abandonment, etc... The participants are in contact with the external world - even if it is completely foreign for them - as is the case of these French who discover the Chinese people, culture, language and territory. They are from time to time aided to carry their backpacks, beg for a cigarette, knock on the door of a nearby villager - even in the middle of nowhere - to ask for a glass of water, something to eat or a place to sleep.
12It would be necessary to underline the evolution of reality TV whose first generation did not authorize any contact with the external world; insulation being the golden rule of the show. If the show seemed like a realistic film, it is no less true that the technicians of the show attributed characteristics of a documentary or a entertainment show Fort Boyard (France 2, every summer) according to Thomas Valentine, vice-president of M6, at the time of its presentation to the press before its launch with the newspaper 20 minutes of September 4th, 2007. One could deduce from it that the (re)structuring of reality TV is a televisual attempt to rework another track and give it a breath of fresh air. Since in trying to distinguish itself from traditional television while at the same time resembling it (as with the tendency to remove the isolated microcosm or the exchange between the candidates from Pékin Express and the external world) one could say of it that television draws a new punctuation from the innovations introduced in reality TV to guard itself from the boredom of the public; which can bore often, and in large part, result in monotony of the programs and the “already seen and heard” which preceding TV programs have already been accustomed to, in general… (Kajabika, 2012: 38).
La vie d’Eve Angeli: Eve Angeli is an artist-musician who, in 2004, had participated in the first edition of reality TV La Ferme Célébrités (TF1). This show is based on the exploitation by celebrities on a farm in the countryside far away from the centre of town. Known for her clumsiness and slow reasoning, she was usually distinguished by her weak general knowledge and uncommon naivety. But instead of her defects and weaknesses -brought to the forefront- displeasing the public, it became an asset to attract viewers’ sympathy. As proof: her long participation in the show thanks to the votes of the public allowing her to reach the semi-finals of the 2003 edition. In La vie d’Eve Angeli, she agreed to play her own part by revealing her life, even intimate parts, with the indiscretion of cameras.
13It should be noted, starting from preceding analyses, that from the moment that televisual production passes the mark of the realization of auto-role products, a new defiant stage passing traditional televisual autobiographical productions (even cinematographic ones) is under way. This required exceedance is confirmed and is imposed as a palliative on stereotype shows from the moment that the televisual autobiography - even in the form of a documentary - is set back by the mixture of reality, participation of the actors playing their own parts, and fiction, by the participation of other actors playing the parts of the characters who are not present. This mixture of fiction and reality, for as long as these facts have existed and whose principal protagonist is present, constitutes a remarkable stage in the evolution of televisual and even cinematographic operation.
14It is probable that if the media coverage of private life had not been a success, thanks to reality TV, these shows, productions or cinematographic and/or televisual series, waltzing between on one hand, “all-reality” or “reality-fiction” and on the other hand, “any fiction” would not have come out. It would also be convenient to affirm that as the evolution of televisual and cinematographic fiction, thanks in particular to the various changes obtained by the crossings of reality with virtual reality, reality with fiction, fiction with virtuality, fiction with pretence - i.e. a mixture of the imaginary inventions of things and tricks intended to mislead - pretence with virtuality, reality with pretence in particular (Levy, 1995) would be there, one of the repercussions of the extreme to go farther and farther which reality TV shows continue to pursue in order to constitute a capital of sympathy, demarcation, seduction, development of consumer loyalty and of fanaticism - because only fanatic people would be ready to consume without counting or doubting - capital likely to garner dividends necessary to successful economic marketability and to overcome the crisis of traditional universal television (Moeglin, Tremblay, 2005; Moeglin, 2005: 117; Bouquillion, Combes, 2007; Bouquillion, 2008).
15Moreover, the emergence of auto-roles seems to be a new approach of television which comes to concretize the transparency of man as reality TV makes him (re)live daily life for some time. Consequently, it is thus like a search and achievement of television: in search of a second breath to answer challenges that new social aspirations impose in a world covered more and more by the media, thanks in particular to communication and information technologies, each individual becoming a market share that needs to be invested in, as much from the personal and intrinsic point of view as from a profoundly intimate one (Ehrenberg, 1995: 6; Lacroix, 2001: 27-36).
16Also, by mixing real characters with fictitious ones, cinematographic and televisual producers, following those from reality TV, act as if they were tracing new scenographic routes on which audiovisual productions had hardly walked on and who could probably bring the media into a new dimension; a dimension likely to effectively integrate scenographic and aesthetic approaches as much as socio-economic and cultural ones.
17With what precedes, it appears that reality TV, starting with the successful formulas that it developed, influences television more, to the point that several shows have imitated it or continue to do it (Kajabika, 2010: 373). This influence, which can be observed, inter alia, in the operation of the preceding shows, is conveyed in particular by three principal manners, namely:
Firstly, one sees on television, since the advent of reality TV, shows which are permanently and quasi-systematically marketed beyond their period of programming on television (Kajabika, 2010: 339). This socio-economic approach (which was reinforced and consolidated starting from successful operation of reality TV) has an impact on traditional TV programs developing henceforth a newly-commercial activity, allowing for televisual production and broadcasting to make a profit like reality TV does, while being based more exclusively on publicity, as is the case under the socio-economic model wave (Moeglin, 2005: 57; Moeglin, Tremblay, 2005; Bouquillion, Combes, 2007).
18It would also be necessary to raise the fact that if bursts of economic valorisation had been observed in the operation of some broadcasts of traditional television before the advent of reality TV, it was a question of a very short-lived attempt without much financial implication. Such is the case in the sale of some mediums (magnetic tapes, for example), of best-off broadcasts; an activity in decline under the socio-economic model of reality TV shows, of the editorial (Moeglin, 2005: 33; Moeglin, Tremblay, 2005; Kajabika, 2011: 42). With reality TV shows, commercial activity takes on a perennial and permanent dimension. Concretely, this activity goes beyond the programming of shows, affecting multiple sectors that are close and naturally far from the field of informational and communication industries (Moeglin, 2005), a field in decline under several socio-economic models in order to increase the possibilities of economic profitability of TV programs (Bouquillion, Combès, 2007; Kajabika, 2010).
- Secondly, the encouraged removal of the intermediary. More and more of traditional TV programs, such Koh Lanta, Ferme Célébrités,… following the example of documentaries, encourage and take part in the removal of intermediaries to give the impression that, strictly speaking, production doesn’t exist. This attempt to remove intermediaries makes it possible to build and consolidate the idea - and to strengthen the illusion – from reality TV like a televisual style without preliminary scenarisation in which man, the viewer, determines things by his vote-sanctions. For the one who knows the economic impact of this interactivity, by public vote in particular, it will be understood why this illusion of absence of scenario and, consequently of censure, is very important to continue to maintain the passion of the public to take part in the profitability of reality TV. This impression of absence of production (which also maintains the idea according to which editing and censure do not intervene in the production and the broadcasting of a reality TV show) would like to give the impression that the viewer is the master and single recipient of the events that follow without interference, technical interface or censure of the operator (Jost, 2002: 68).
19While exploiting this register, it would be a question for the operators of reality TV to surf on the illusion of the public in order to call upon their participation through a process of interactivity that is likely to gather people together, and the audience and financial revenues that go with, as well as those that come from calls and telephone messages from the public. This register reinforces the illusion that the public is the decision-maker throughout the course of the show: a successful formula, it is reality TV that has consecrated it in a durable and credible way. The traditional TV programs which are inspired from it do not necessarily show the dominant characteristics; the finality of this inspiration to reality TV being of course the success sought by the public. The show launched by Alexia Laroche-Joubert of ALJ Productions in November 2009 on TF1, Le grand Quiz de France answers this second characteristic. This show encourages the removal of intermediary, while accepting despite everything an intermediary: the producer of the show himself. The combination of the voice-off and the presenter seems to bring this play show closer to traditional television of reality TV. It needs to be noted that this tensioning and cohabitation between a thing and its opposite is consistent with reality TV, a kind of oxymoron which fiction and reality coexist, test and pleasure… so as to stimulate the narration and to permanently generate the tension and curiosity of the public, while sacralising the rising suspense for situations, however, of an almost alleviating banality.
Thirdly, since the recipe has had success in reality TV shows, several traditional TV programs cover the private life of celebrities through the media. This media coverage is done through a kind of audio-visual autobiography in which there is simultaneously a mixture of fiction and reconstitution by a dramatization and role-play maintained by actors.
20Parallel to these productions of auto-roles, other emissions have appeared which one qualifies as alternatives to reality TV although in reality, they are just traditional TV programs being inspired abundantly by reality TV, in particular for its proximity, its media coverage of banality and intimacy, and in particular its predominance of cameras comparable to those known as - and functioning like - surveillance. These shows which thus belong to traditional television are inspired by the concept of putting the appearance of private space in the public setting. Among these, I will quote in particular the show Harry Roselmarck part en immersion. This show, broadcasted on November 24th, 2009 on TF1, in primetime, had a large audience, that is to say more than 28% of audience shares on average according to Médiamétrie. This format which comes from the United Kingdom has already had success in other places. The first emission of this type broadcasted on 11/24/2009 was shot in Villiers-le-Bel, a city of the Val-d'Oise (95) where riots involving young people in the suburbs took place more than a year earlier. For this occasion, Harry Roselmarck went to live, in a sublet, in an apartment across from the home of the one of the young people who was killed car chase with the national police force.
21I have to reiterate that this show intervened in a particular context: it was a question of judiciary current affairs. Indeed, it broadcasted shortly after a judgment from the Court of Bankruptcy of Pontoise which pronounced a case dismissal in favour of two police officers pursued for the death of these two young people of Villiers-le-Bel, in the department of the Val-d'Oise (95), in August 2008.
22Following the example of the camera - which functions almost like a reality TV-style surveillance camera, almost nothing makes it possible to compare this show and the reality TV as I had described it previously. One doesn’t see in particular the insulation of a group made up of a social microcosm, nor of the media coverage - pushed - from private life, nor the tendency of the removal of media coverage. On the contrary, it is one of the favourite presenters of the French, according to several surveys (BVA, IPSOS, 2009, 2010, 2011) who is made a star, but in his public life.
23To what point would reality TV have influenced society? To answer this question, I would like to proceed by stages, all the more so, as reality TV is a complex phenomenon, several reasons and factors of various fields could, consequently, explain its influence on society in general.
24From all the situations likely to be regarded as influences of reality TV, it appears adequate that the transgression of the border between the private sphere and public space is one of most significant. With the social effects being important to society, it is paramount, within the framework of an analysis of the influence of reality TV, to approach the publicizing of the intimate life of contemporaries, an element that is more exploited nowadays. Here, I will try to analyze in priority the question of the border between the private sphere and public space to identify what one could regard today as contributions of reality TV; a contribution having been used to evolve the operation of TV programs as much as the social practices.
25In regards to the transgression of the border between the private sphere and public space, many things have been said and observed for several years. It is undoubtedly true that the irruption of private life did not start with reality TV shows. Several years earlier, with making private life, even human intimacy, a spectacle from and on television, often nourished talk and reality shows; even if the exploitation that these shows make does always not go too far in the examination of this hidden facade of the human life. Umberto Eco (1985) reflects on neo-television and paleo-television, a distinction completely interpellant at the time when a new manner emerges of making television, based on the spectacle that is life saturated in media coverage (Charaudeau, Ghiglione, 1996: 33-41).
26Gradually, in the relationship between protection of private life and its irruption in public space, the tendency has started to reverse. Without matching the sulphurous British tabloids, some magazines, like Elle and Voici, have started to track the intimacy of their business assets. At this time, it is not yet very unknown whose life would interest the media. It has only been a question of celebrities whose smallest mishap and activity are idolized by the paparazzi (in particular, newspaper columns) and gradually certain TV programs. More and more of the public is drifting towards this press which one describes all the same as “gutter press.” For millions of readers, over the course of time, everything that did not normally capture attention started to interest them: from the greatest confession to the simplest banality of celebrities, everything becomes captivating.
27However it should be stressed that when reality TV appeared, the media coverage of private life had not yet taken on the proportions which were present just after its advent. When there was a disclosure of an image or information concerning private life, the shock of a certain opinion was perceptible. With reality TV, not only is the banal one shown and covered through the media but also one’s innermost being and private life are standardized to the point of being able to be integrated in the public sphere. The idea which seems to be gradually established is to no longer be overly shocked by discovering something which would have formerly concerned the private sphere.
28With reality TV, it is a new manner of seeing and making what reaches televisual public space. A new social category of the publicized appears: it is the anonymous people, the people at the bottom; in short, people forgotten by the television of yesterday, or perhaps those who were likely to be popularized through the media only in the event of reports on the dark points of society (diseases, plagues of any kind, promiscuity, thefts, rapes, vandalism, illiteracy, crime).
29On what condition would the broadcasting and the success of reality TV have influenced social behaviours? From the preceding analyses, it appears from this point on that the broadcasting of reality TV would have induced a certain number of social behaviours, following the example of the ambition for any type of program to sustainably exploit derived products, as well as those resulting from their field of predilection as those distant from these fields. The marketing in and from TV programs, inter alia, is one of the consequences of the extraordinary economic activity put in place by the operators of reality TV for purposes of exceeding the operation of traditional television (Russet-red, Teyssier, 2003: 37-42).
30It would be also important to note, among these social inductions ascribable to reality TV, the publicizing of private life not only of celebrities but more so unknown people, who are numerous and everywhere. So throughout this article, I largely tackled this question, with nothing preventing me now from evaluating - even briefly - the impact which one could in this case identify as reality TV influences on social behaviours. I concentrate on social networks, and more particularly, the subscription to the Twitter network. Why analyze Twitter to evaluate and assess the impact of reality TV on social behaviours?
31Two theses can be put forth to answer this question. First of all, the Twitter social network was set up right after the advent and the success of reality TV; Twitter was created on March 21st, 2006 by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Biz Stone and Noah Glass. Then, once reality TV began and succeeded, Twitter, at its beginnings, gave media coverage to opinions, lives and activities concerned with the private setting in particular; but it covers them through the media, of course, in the public sphere, for the benefit especially, as for reality TV, of unknown people, just like celebrities; and this, irrespective of origins, social categories, levels of studies, territories of residence, etc... Indeed, during its creation in the years 2003-2004, Twitter, following Yahoo, Facebook, and others, was more distinguished in the exchanges of private summaries, plans and opinions on the most banal subjects of everyday life of young people of any origins and statuses. As the network carried on, the world continued to come together and communicate a little more. Through its flourishing success, Twitter, following the example of other networks, was essential as a platform of socialization and intergenerational division on subjects struggling to find niches in traditional public spaces. Over the years, taking into account its increasingly important audience, notable celebrities and other political personalities or members of the business world were invited to this forum in which they had much to gain, and which offered to them, in addition, an opportunity of carrying high and far their convictions and ideals from their movements and commitments.
32Finally, what can one draw from all of these developments? It would become clearer notably from the preceding analyses that as the violation of the border between the private sphere and public space deepens, the better it is, as much for the audience of reality TV as for the rallying of the public forming the community of the Twitter network. Said differently, I would like to maintain that in the unrestrained search for revelations of the inner being and private life, men are brought together more when they hope to enjoy, even by chance, an unedited image, a confession made by a celebrity or even an unknown. It is this human attitude which would explain in particular the success of reality TV shows because in particular of the voyeurism of the public (Ehrenberg, 1991; 1995); it could, in a credible way, also explain current success which certain social networks have, more particularly Twitter.
33One could even weave a relation of cause and effect between the rallying of the audience and the violation of the border between two spaces: the success of a show, of an unspecified audio-visual product being proportional to the degree of transgression of this border between public space and the private sphere. This relation of cause and effect would be proven as much for television as for the Twitter social network, inter alia. When the content of the show has no mishaps, scandals or other incidents likely to garner the attention of the public, the audience is disinterested. Once an event starts, regardless of the register, audience interest starts to escalate. The results of Médiamétrie (2003, 2004,2005,2006,2007) had to verify it in the audience reports of televisual channels over more than a five-year period.
34It seems, moreover, that the idea is reinforced; that it is notably because of this human predisposition that the Twitter network, following the example of other social networks, has had positive feedback which seems to be justified and prolonged, following the success obtained by the revelations of private life by reality TV. One can notice, consequently, all the social implications and the incidences - even minor - of a practice induced and/or encouraged by reality TV on the society in general. It is thus in particular through the prism of the publicizing of private life and the formerly-challenged opinions in traditional public space that reality TV, probably the first to have tested this practice, would have influenced society for which from this point on there is less and less embarrassment to bare all in front of the public space and/or the media.
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