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Why We Need to Stop Labelling People

‘Describe yourself in three words’: a sentence which never fails to elicit a few groans and eye rolls in a room full of strangers, but something which we are probably all guilty of doing when we first meet someone.

What colour is their hair? Where are they from? Is that the girl with the glasses, or the man with the bald patch?

As humans, we love putting other humans in little boxes. We like compartmentalising these new acquaintances. It helps us to make sense of an otherwise confusing blur of faces and voices and bodies. It makes us feel comfortable, assigning characteristics to people who, in reality, we know nothing about.

The author James Baldwin was once famously described in three words: black, poor, and gay. The journalist conducting the interview not only took the liberty of describing Baldwin in this way, but then asked Baldwin directly: ‘You must have said to yourself, “Gee, how disadvantaged can I get?”’

Baldwin laughs this off and replies: ‘No, I thought I had hit the jackpot’.

Despite his good humour, Baldwin didn’t really believe this to be true. Society had put him into a box which he spent his whole career trying to fight his way out of. His whole identity became condensed into these three reductive words.

Being black, poor, and gay is not a bad thing; it is simply that Baldwin wanted people to see him for more than that. He wanted to be known for more than three of his characteristics. He didn’t want to be unfairly stereotyped or compartmentalised just for the colour of his skin, his sexuality, or his economic background.

Baldwin felt so plagued by the public image that had been painted of him in America that he moved to Europe aged 24, stating that he just wanted to be seen as himself. As he claimed in The Last Interview and Other Conversations: ‘I was not born to be what someone said I was. I was not born to be defined by someone else, but by myself and myself only’.

Unfortunately, Baldwin’s legacy is yet to rid itself of these particular labels. Put people in boxes, and they often never escape them. If we constantly tell people that they are something, they sometimes start to believe it.

In fact, this self-fulfilling prophecy is well-documented in recent psychological studies. In one such study, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson selected completely random students in an elementary school, and told their teachers that they had passed a test designed to determine ‘academic bloomers’, (children who would supposedly flourish academically over the next year).

A year later, they returned to find that the children who had been randomly selected as the supposed ‘academic bloomers’, especially the younger children, had now actually overtaken their peers by an average of 10-15 IQ points. Because their teachers had believed these children to be more promising than their peers, and had treated them accordingly, the experiment became a clear example of the self-fulfilling prophecy of labelling.

Tell children they are more intelligent, and they actually become more intelligent. This might not seem like such a bad thing, but the practice of labelling often has far more damaging results.

Take the case of Tawny Garcia’s Labels and the Effects on Deviance, for example, in which Garcia demonstrates that young people who are more prone to internalising labels become more likely to involve themselves in deviance. ‘Deviance’, in Garcia’s terms, covers anything from petty theft to terrorism.

Telling someone that they are less worthy, less capable, or inferior in any way to their fellow people can have an extremely damaging effect on their psyche. In short, we need to stop labelling people. We need to stop confining them to restrictive boxes, and describing identities in a few inane words.

No person can ever really be done justice in three words. If we allow people a little more room to grow, they might flourish. Or in James Baldwin’s words: ‘If one’s to live at all, one’s certainly got to get rid of labels’.

Cover image: Literary Hub

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7 Things You Didn’t Know Were Invented by Women

Have you ever found yourself driving down a dark road in the pouring rain and thinking: ‘Goodness me, it’s a good job I’ve got these fantastic windscreen wipers attached to my car or else I wouldn’t be able to see a thing! I just wish I knew who to thank!’ No, you say? Perhaps you opened your fridge this morning and wondered who was responsible for the deliciously cold milk sitting on those oh-so-icy shelves? Another no? Maybe you just took a well-deserved gulp of a nice frothy pint last night and wished you could shake the hand of the person responsible for the sweet nectar that is the modern beer? Who could these people be, you ask?

In answer to your question: they were all women! So join us in celebrating the lives of inspirational women everywhere, and read on for a list of seven underappreciated female powerhouses who changed their world for the better (in no particular order because we love all women):

1. The windscreen wiper: Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson (born in Alabama in 1866) was visiting New York one day when it started to snow. She noticed that the driver of the trolley car she was riding in had to keep opening and closing the windows of the trolley as he struggled to clear his windscreen, so Mary got her think on. She soon came up with a rubber clearing device which could be controlled by a lever inside the car, and was granted a seventeen-year patent in 1903. Frustratingly, this patent ran out just two years before the windscreen wiper became widely used by Cadillac in 1922, meaning that Mary never made any money from her invention.

2. The first effective treatment for leprosy: Alice Ball

Chaulmoogra oil had been used to treat leprosy before Alice Ball stepped in, but without much success. Ball revolutionised the use of the treatment by developing a technique to isolate the fatty acids in the oil, so that it could finally be administered effectively to patients.

3. Kevlar: Stephanie Kwolek

Kevlar is the material used in bullet-proof vests, so you can imagine the number of lives it has already saved. It was discovered in 1965 by the chemist Stephanie Kwolek. It is also five times stronger than steel, proving that women are not simply made of strong stuff, but that they also discover it!

4. Caller ID and telecommunications technologies: Dr Shirley Ann Jackson

Theoretical physicist Dr Jackson was the first African-American woman to be awarded a PhD from MIT, and her research paved the way for a whole host of telecommunications technologies, including caller ID, fibre optic cables, the portable fax, and solar cells.

5. The computer algorithm: Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron, but just as significant in her own right) is hailed by many as the first computer programmer. Working alongside Charles Babbage, who described her as ‘The Enchantress of Numbers’, Lovelace developed the first ‘Analytical Engine’ at the University of London in the early nineteenth century. Lovelace’s algorithmic programs were far more elaborate and complete than Babbage’s, so it was her notes that provided the basis for Alan Turing’s work on the modern computer nearly a century later.

6. The modern refrigerator: Florence Parpart

Florence Parpart was awarded a patent in 1914 for the modern refrigerator, which ran on electricity for the first time. She was also a highly successful entrepreneur, marketing her fridge herself.

7. Beer: Ancient Mesopotamian women

Next time you head off to the pub, raise your pints to the women of ancient Mesopotamia. Beer Historian Jane Peyton, (yes, this is a viable career), has claimed that these are the generous souls responsible for sharing the gift of beer with the world.

Image via Planoly.com

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The Questions of Jessie Burton’s ‘The Muse’

I recently finished reading the latest book by Jessie Burton: The Muse. The plot is woven around two different artists at two different moments in time. The first is Odelle Bastien, who works in 1960s London as a typist at an art gallery, whilst secretly harbouring a great talent for writing herself. The second is Olive Schloss, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Harold and Sarah Schloss, living in Civil War Spain.

Olive is a painter; Odelle is a writer. But the real difference between the two girls lies in their attitude towards their own work. Odelle is initially hesitant to let people read her stories, but her ultimate ambition is to become a published author. Olive, on the other hand, is happy for the world to see her work, but not for the world to know that it has come from her. This is partly due to the fact that she does not believe that a female artist will be taken seriously in a world full of Picassos and Dalís and Mirós, but it is also partly due to the fact that, for both girls, there is something intensely personal wrapped up in the process of creation, something which neither one, at first, feels the need to share with anyone else.

The book in its simplest essence, then, revolves around such ‘musings’ upon the importance of the creation of an artwork, and of the place of the creator within that. If a tree falls in a forest but no one is there to hear it, perhaps it doesn’t make a sound. So does an artwork lose something of its value if no one is able to appreciate it but the creator?

Why is it that, more often than not, we feel that we end up forging some sort of personal connection with unknown literary heroes, with anonymous landscapes a world away from our own? What is it that makes a work of art; whether it be a book, a poem, a painting, or a drawing, speak differently to different people? Is it a personal relationship with its creator, or simply with its content: the writer, or the written, the painter, or the painted?

Upon reading The Muse, you can’t help but feel a strange, almost personal sense of indignation that Olive doesn’t receive any credit for her work. But if this is her choice, why should we see it as unfair? The art is hers, and so surely she should choose how it is presented, if at all. As you gradually come to accept that Olive may simply prefer anonymity, Burton makes you realise just how much importance society continues to place upon the cult of the creator: upon the fabled genius behind the pen, or the tortured soul behind the paintbrush. If a work of art is detached from the person who creates it, does it change? Why should we hunt for the hidden secrets of a ‘beautiful mind’ within that which is already beautiful in its own right? For as Oscar Wilde once put it, (and a fair deal more eloquently than I could ever hope to): ‘It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearance. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible’.

The Muse is a very good book. You can find it here.

Cover Image: Curt Merlo on curtmerlo.com, Text Image: Picador

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Quiz: Which Wes Anderson Film Should You Watch Tonight?

Keep track of your answers and add them up at the end for your results! (All outcomes based upon a highly scientific algorithm).

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Buena Vista Pictures/ Tenor

1. Pick an accessory…

  • a) A red woolly hat
  • b) A fur coat/ cigarette combo
  • c) A set of personalised luggage
  • d) A beret
  • e) A moustache
  • f) A Davy Crockett hat

2. What do you like to do in your spare time?

  • a) Deep sea diving
  • b) Write plays
  • c) Travel
  • d) Any extra-curricular activity you can find
  • e) Bake cakes
  • f) Paint watercolours

3. Pick an artist…

  • a) David Bowie
  • b) Van Morrison
  • c) The Kinks
  • d) Faces
  • e) Alexandre Desplat
  • f) Francoise Hardy

4. Pick a colour…

  • a) Blue
  • b) Red
  • c) Lemon
  • d) Navy
  • e) Pink
  • f) Mustard

5. Pick a book…

  • a) Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
  • b) Franny and Zooey, by J. D. Salinger
  • c) The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper
  • d) The Powers That Be, by David Halberstam
  • e) The Post-Office Girl, by Stefan Zweig
  • f) The Girl from Jupiter, by Isaac Clarke

Are you ready for your results?…

Mostly a)s – The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou

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Buena Vista Pictures

Mostly b)s – The Royal Tenenbaums

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Touchstone Pictures

Mostly c)s – The Darjeeling Limited 

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Fox Searchlight

Mostly d)s – Rushmore

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Touchstone Pictures

Mostly e)s – The Grand Budapest Hotel 

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Focus Searchlight

Mostly f)s – Moonrise Kingdom 

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Focus Features

Reading the Language of Love: Body Language Explained

Have you ever been out with someone and wished that you could poke around inside their mind to see what they thought of you? Now you don’t have to! The signs are right under your nose (or theirs); all you have to do is learn how to read them. Every little helps, after all.

According to ‘behavioural investigator’ Vanessa Van Edwards, the fundamentals of this category of body language boil down to two key factors: openness, and fertility (we were all cavemen once). You’re probably familiar with the most common manifestations of these categories: are they leaning in, are they smiling at me, are they making direct eye contact, and so on. Van Edwards also notes a few less familiar examples, however, so we’ll stick to these for today:

  • Bags

Apparently, if you’re keen to get a gauge on how your date is feeling, one of the easiest ways to read them is by looking at their bag. If they are clutching it tightly, or holding it in front of their body in a shield-like way, they ain’t keen (sorry to be the bearer of bad news). It’s a surefire way to see how comfortable and open they feel around you, and if they don’t feel comfortable or open, then the date isn’t going too well.

  • Whites of their eyes

This might be a little bit trickier to judge, but if you’re attracted to someone the whites of your eyes allegedly become whiter. This is all to do with blood flow, which increases in order to demonstrate your fertility to your potential partner. The more you know…

  • Feet

These boots were made for talkin’! If they like you, their feet will be pointed in the direction of your body. If they don’t, they will be pointed towards the fire exit. Although I would avoid frequently ducking under the table to check…

  • Hands or fingers?

Following a similar logic, look at their hands. This is especially interesting in the case of existing couples who are drifting apart: it is often argued that these couples will begin to touch each other not with their whole hand, but with the tips of their fingers instead. This is an attempt to distance themselves from their partner, which Joe Navarro claims is indicative of ‘psychological discomfort’.

What is that, you say? You want to see an example? Just take a quick glance at this photo. (Hint: the Obamas like each other)…

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Feature image by Alan Rogerson, via https://baggelboy.wordpress.com/about/

5 Ways to Spruce up a Student Room

Whether you’re in university halls or nestled in the depths of a student house, everyone knows that student bedrooms can be dismal at best. So without further ado, here are 5 ways to add a bit of life and colour back into your student living experience!

  1. Washi tape, washi tape, washi tape. Not only is it pretty, it is also extremely functional. Unlike normal sticky tape, washi will hold up your photographic treasures without ever marking your walls! Hurrah! Pro tip: create your own makeshift photo frame using four longer pieces on each edge.
  2. A cliché, but fairy lights. Especially the super-fine wire variety, so you don’t even notice the cable. Lighting in student accommodation always seems to teeter on the verge of flickery-blue-horror-film-lighting, which doesn’t exactly scream ‘hygge’ in those chilly winter months.
  3. Another cliché, but houseplants! Millennials rejoice! Not only are they very pleasing to the eye, but they will also fill your room with that sweet, sweet, air juice: oxygen. It’s also strangely fulfilling to look after these little green fellas; think of them as tiny green children for those of us not quite ready to have human babies of our own just yet.
  4. Fake candles. I decided to become a candle woman in my second year of university, only to discover that my beloved candles had created a giant soot mark on my white wall. The mark did not come off. This is a story for another day, but needless to say, I have avoided candles like the plague ever since. Instead, I have recently invested in some fake LED candles, which flicker very realistically with no risk of soot stains or of setting your house on fire! A nice warm glow for a fraction of the risk, these come highly recommended.
  5. Blankets. At some point in your student life, one housemate will become very angry about the heating bill. Pre-empt your ensuing sub-arctic existence by bringing lots of blankets with you. They’re also a great way to add a bit of colour to a white bed, and work well as a makeshift bed skirt (if your bed is as ugly as mine but you don’t want to pay money for a real one).

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life Review/ Whatever Happened to Rory Gilmore?

Yes, there are currently a mere nine pieces on this website, and yes, one of them has already been devoted to Gilmore Girls, but I have just finished the long-awaited Gilmore Girls comeback, and now I must vent.

I appreciate that a lot of effort went into the making of the four-part Netflix series. Long-lost cast members returning from relative obscurity, writers brushing off the old writing pens, once-abandoned sets being tended to once more. There was a lot of hype. I felt a lot of hype. This hype was misplaced.

Innocent Rory, in a purer time.

First of all, Rory. (Beware, spoilers). Rory was always a very nice person. She worked hard, she cared about people, she was driven, she had a sense of humour and a quick wit and a firm sense of what was good in the world. She was entertaining. She might have made a few bad decisions here and there (*cough* Jess *cough*)  but she was, in her very purest essence, well-intentioned. Why then, I ask the creators, has Rory become a cold-hearted, rude, and vaguely infuriating character? What has happened to Rory?! Rory doesn’t drag men along because she has apparently forgotten their very existence. Rory doesn’t look down on Thirty-Something-Club members, Rory doesn’t have affairs with men only to get angry that they’re (remarkably) marrying their fiancée. Rory has better things to do than perform in flash mobs with her slightly washed-up college friends. Rory doesn’t need a man to be her saving grace or come up with her ideas for her! She has things to write and people to meet and places to be! I know life has its ebbs and flows, and everyone has a slump every so often. But this Rory is a mere vacuous husk, a shell of the Rory that once was.

The same goes for Lorelai. She was still entertaining, but seemed to have developed a similar harshness. The old Lorelai was like a breath of fresh air entering a room. Brutally honest, perhaps, and ridiculous at times, but never cruel. Why has such a fate befallen two of the warmest, wittiest, sharpest female leads in television? This is not the Stars Hollow of yore.

The ending was good, I’ll give them that. I may or may not have cried. The poetic irony was clever. Stars Hollow felt refreshed whilst maintaining its timeless small-town charm. The Lorelai-does-Wild was slightly bizarre and slightly unnecessary, but it was memorable. The death of Richard and the growth of the character of Emily were very well done and deservedly heart-wrenching. But at least in my humble opinion, the thing that really kept people drawn to Gilmore Girls was always the Lorelais, and I miss them. I miss them very much.

Image credit: Netflix/ TenorGifs

The 18 Stages of Trying to Leave the House for a Night Out

You’ve planned a night out, but you’ve stopped for a few drinks at someone’s house beforehand. The tunes and the drinks are in full flow, everyone is having a good time. The trouble is, they’re having such a good time that they won’t leave. If you don’t get going in the next ten minutes, you’ll miss free entry. A lot is at stake here.

  1. You glance at the clock and realise that time’s getting a bit short, so you ask if anyone’s keen to get going soon. A couple of them nod, a few make some vague gesture of approval. The majority do not stir.
  2. You let it rest for a few minutes, then ask if you should think about booking a taxi soon? It’s fine, we’re happy to walk, they say. This could be tricky.
  3. You try ambushing people individually instead, and successfully gather a few extra recruits.
  4. The word is spreading. This is good.
  5. Some people look like they may be getting up. Your hopes are raised.
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  6. Your hopes are dashed. They sat back down again.
  7. Now even your trusty recruits have given up and sat back down. You’re on your own.
  8. You give up and sit back down.
  9. You eventually decide to go and get your things, and then stand expectantly by the door. All you need is one person ready to leave and the rest will follow, no?
  10. Nope.
  11. Someone is joining you!
  12. Now someone else is, too!
  13. This is it! Everyone is here. You thought this moment might never come, you-
  14. -Karen is sitting back down.
  15. Karen?
  16. And she’s up again. Success at last! Is everyone here? Yes? What a day to be alive.
  17. You arrive at the club.
  18. You lost Karen.
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Image sources: Giphy/ sharegif.com/ Deforest: Tumblr. Cover image by Shana Frase via Pinterest.

The 13 Painfully Awkward Stages of Navigating a Coffee Shop

Ah, the coffee shop.

  1. You make your way to the door and begin to open it. It appears to be stuck, but there is actually just a very tall man standing directly behind it, because the café is so crowded inside. You only realise this after trying to open the door into his back for a minute or so. You hope that he is too far from the ground to have noticed.
  2. You’re in!
  3. Do you just sit down or is it one of those coffee shop/ food hybrid places where you’re supposed to wait to be seated?
  4. Not that it makes much difference, there are no tables anyway.
  5. To leave, or to hover expectantly, in the hopes that someone will take pity on your poor, awkward looking soul?
  6. You hovered, it worked. The nice old couple by the window let you in. Thank you, nice old couple.
  7. Now does someone come to take your order, or do you go up to the counter? So many questions. You stare longingly at the cake.
  8. You wait for a while and occasionally try to catch a waiter’s eye by sitting up a bit taller in your seat, raising your eyebrows expectantly and opening your mouth as if to speak, but never actually achieving more than a single ‘um’, whenever they walk past.
  9. You give up and go up to the counter. They tell you that someone will come and take your order. You return sheepishly to your table. You feel ashamed.
  10. Eventually someone comes to order. You are very happy. So happy, in fact, that you forget what you actually wanted in the first place, and panic order a double espresso and a large coffee cake. You don’t like coffee, but you consume all of it, because it was expensive.
  11. You start to enjoy the atmosphere. Children are laughing. ‘This is nice’, you think to yourself. ‘I like it here.’
  12. Eventually you leave, having forgotten all about the stresses of your earlier experience. You decide to come back again soon.
  13. The cycle repeats.

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Quiz: Which Gilmore Girl are you?

Anyone who has ever seen an episode of Gilmore Girls will have dreamt of living in Stars Hollow. From its perfectly twinkling fairy lights to its omnipresent troubadour, the town has it all and then some. But the real question is, which Gilmore Girl would you be if you did live there? Take this quiz to reveal the truth. Keep track of your answers as you go, and add them up at the end for your results!

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Gilmore Girls/ Entertainment Weekly

1. You have been sat in a restaurant for nearly twenty minutes, but no one has come to take your order yet. What do you do?

  • a) Sit patiently until you’re served. The restaurant is busy and you’re in no rush, anyway.
  • b) Steal some snacks from a passing tray and hope no one will notice, before coughing loudly and persistently to attract the waiter’s attention.
  • c) You’re already halfway out the door in disgust.

2. You notice that a police car is signalling for you to pull over. You stop, but you don’t think you’ve been driving illegally, so…

  • a) You apologise profusely and promise never to break the law again. You still feel bad about it sometimes.
  • b) You smile coyly at the police officer, give him your best innocent face and bat your eyelashes a few times for good measure. He even stops to wave you goodbye.
  • c) You explain, very courteously, that you have somewhere to be, before slamming your foot on the accelorator and driving away. 

3. The new cashier at Doose’s Market has charged you the wrong amount for the bag of potatoes you just bought. You heard someone mention that it’s his first day. Do you…

  • a) Just pay the extra money. It was only a dollar, anyway. You don’t want him to feel bad on his first day.
  • b) Go back and explain the problem reasonably. He’ll understand. You’ll make sure to tell him not to worry about it.
  • c) Go back fuming, demand to speak to the manager and suggest that he train his staff properly next time.

4. You have a very important exam coming up soon. How do you prepare?

  • a) You have already been planning and preparing for weeks, if not months, in advance. You know you’ll ace this one.
  • b) Exam?!? How much time do I have left?! After finally accepting your fate, you will pull an all-nighter, the night before.
  • c) You begrudgingly prepare, but you can’t help but think that you could be paying someone to do this for you.

5. You just got home from a long day and you realise there’s no food left in the house. What do you do?

  • a) Order Chinese food from Al’s Pancake World. Naturally.
  • b) Order a burger and fries, a pot of ice cream and a jug of coffee from Luke’s to get you through the midnight movie marathon you’ve been planning all day.
  • c) Have the maid whip you something up, sharpish.

6. You have a party tonight, but you’re still not sure what to wear. What do you go for in the end?

  • a) Something pretty, but not too bold.
  • b) Are sequins okay?
  • c) Timeless and elegant.

7. The Stars Hollow Knit-A-Thon is tomorrow, but someone’s just dropped out and they’ve asked if you could take their place?

  • a) You guess so, if you’re doing them a favour. It could be fun, anyway.
  • b) You’ve already been signed up for weeks!
  • c) You have better ways to spend your time than participating in this ridiculous small-town hooliganism. No, thank you.

Ready for your results?

Mostly As: Rory Gilmore. Kind, clever and a lot more sensible than most, you make sure to look out for the people around you. You don’t want to make a fuss, but you can stand up for yourself if you really need to. You have life well and truly under control.

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Warner Bros/ Tenor

Mostly Bs: Lorelai Gilmore. Larger than life and quick with your wits, you know what you want from life and you reach out and grab it by the horns. Sometimes you make it up as you go along, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work. Just keep doing you.

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Warner Bros/ Tenor

Mostly Cs: Emily Gilmore. You refuse to let anyone mess you around, and you like your standards kept high. Somewhere in there there’s a soft side, too. Deep down.

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Warner Bros/ Tenor smitty233