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Author Topic: Steampunk isn't Punk...  (Read 20896 times)
Josh of Vernian Process
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« on: February 26, 2007, 09:22:34 pm »

Ok now for the hot topic that's been dying to be brought up... (This is all IMHO BTW)

I'm sure their are plenty of opinions on this, but I for one feel that Steampunk has nothing to do with "Punk" what so ever.

It seems a lot of people posting here seem to think that in order for something to be considered "Steampunk" it requires a rebellious D.I.Y. ethic.

While it is true that some steampunk stories feature rebellious factions and individuals fighting the tyrannical rule of victorian dystopian governments, that isn't a pre-resiquite for Steampunk. It's more of an aside, or an extension of the theme.

That's almost like saying that Fantasy without "Elves or Dragons" isn't "Fantasy". Or Sci-Fi without "Aliens" isn't "Sci-Fi".

The punk suffix merely came about because the core of the Steampunk authors were also mostly Cyberpunk authors at the time. It was simply a result of the media tacking on a name to describe these Vernian/Wellsian adventures these 80's authors were concocting.


The simplest definition I could come up with was this (quoted from my interview at The Aether Emporium a few months back):

"Steampunk simply embodies a time and a place. The time... the late 19th century. The place... a steam powered world, where air travel by fantastical dirigibles is as common as travelling by train or boat (or submarine). A place where national interests are vastly different than our own version of history. A place where the elegant and refined are as likely to get pulled into a grand adventure, as the workers, ruffians, and lower classes. A place where the idea of space travel is not so far fetched. A place where lost civilizations are found and lost again. A place where anything is possible, and science can be twisted to meet ones own ends. That to me is the essence of Steampunk. It can have political overtones and commentary, or it can be straight escapist fiction. Either way, if it meets these criteria. It is Steampunk."

Simply put Steampunk is an aesthetic, not a way of life. Not to discourage those of you that build your own steampunk inspired contraptions. By all means build away! That's awesome and I salute you. But at the same time don't look down on those that do save up a bit of money or happen upon some fancy threads that they enjoy waltzing about the supermarket in. Everyone has their own opinions, and I'm not saying this is the be all end all, just my opinion.

Now lets hear yours?
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« Reply #1 on: February 26, 2007, 09:39:36 pm »


It seems a lot of people posting here seem to think that in order for something to be considered "Steampunk" it requires a rebellious D.I.Y. ethic.
If it wasn't that, it would have to be "Neo-Victorian" instead of steampunk.
Where I have to state that punk -as in 1970's punkrock- is often misunderstood.

The core of steampunk is, IMHO, people being overruled by machines, or the upper class, or both, and thus have a punk-attitude in order to survive. It's an end-of-the-world doom-and-gloom kind of world, or maybe a fancy fin-de-siecle "dance till you drop" attitude found in the stories and other art. It's much like the 1980's but then 100 years earlier.
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« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2007, 09:46:44 pm »

See I agree that the rebellious thing is part of it as an extension. But look at the stories in Les Voyages Extraordinaire for example, those aren't exactly rebelling against anything. They are simply marvellous adventures with lots of fictional technology (by victorian standards). Neo-Victorianism to me lacks the sci-fi element that defines Steampunk.


It seems a lot of people posting here seem to think that in order for something to be considered "Steampunk" it requires a rebellious D.I.Y. ethic.
If it wasn't that, it would have to be "Neo-Victorian" instead of steampunk.
Where I have to state that punk -as in 1970's punkrock- is often misunderstood.

The core of steampunk is, IMHO, people being overruled by machines, or the upper class, or both, and thus have a punk-attitude in order to survive. It's an end-of-the-world doom-and-gloom kind of world, or maybe a fancy fin-de-siecle "dance till you drop" attitude found in the stories and other art. It's much like the 1980's but then 100 years earlier.
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« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2007, 10:18:14 pm »

Well, think about it.  It was an age where machines were being conceived to do anything and everything for us.  They are fully incorporated into our lives, melded with us, often, quite literally.

The "punk" atmosphere is a general apprehension feeling towards the machines taking over.  A classic fear that has been explored on many levels and in many genres.  But placing that fear in a time when Machines were almost seen as magical adds to the apprehension.

Many differnet rebellions can be considered "punk" if you apply the general "Few against the system" sort of ideal.  Even the American Revolution could have been considered Punk.
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Josh of Vernian Process
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« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2007, 10:28:11 pm »

Well you know what now that I think about it the messages in "Steampunk" stories are usually cautionary tales against a mechanized society.

Maybe then I am a fan of Fireside Fiction, or Romantic Sci-Fi? As I am much more interested in hearing stories about adventurers exploring the unknown, and finding lost civilizations, or airhips plowing the skies to discover ancient societies. Not so much into the socio-political aspects of sci-fi. Though to be fair Verne did have a fair bit of political themes in a lot of his work, but that's not what drew me to the genre.

I think I envision Steampunk in a similar fashion to Cory.

Well, think about it.  It was an age where machines were being conceived to do anything and everything for us.  They are fully incorporated into our lives, melded with us, often, quite literally.

The "punk" atmosphere is a general apprehension feeling towards the machines taking over.  A classic fear that has been explored on many levels and in many genres.  But placing that fear in a time when Machines were almost seen as magical adds to the apprehension.

Many differnet rebellions can be considered "punk" if you apply the general "Few against the system" sort of ideal.  Even the American Revolution could have been considered Punk.
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« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2007, 11:34:45 pm »

I'm afraid I don't quite understand your position, VP.  Just when I think I agree with a statement ("Steampunk is an aesthetic, not a way of life"), you say something that to me seems contradictory ("Not to discourage those of you that build...").  Oh, and let me clearly state that I'm not arguing, I'm just trying to figure out what your saying.  It's all smiles and listening over here Smiley

First off, has anyone really been down on your definition?  True, the focus of the posts has been rather pro-maker; but i haven't seen anything that was derogatory to others.  I think make-centric lean is more a result of its conversation-friendly nature than anything...

Secondly, your terminology has me confused.  Are you saying that the machinery is the "punk", and the clothing is the "steam"?  Perhaps it's just me, but that seems rather counter-intuitive...  To me, "steam" incorporates all that is actual, historical Victorian--be it fashions, technology, linguistics, or whatever.  "Punk" is the twist.  Now, what exactly that "twist" is is up to interpretation.  Personally, I like it to be more "modern scientific knowledge" than "crazy colored hair and piercings", but its all good.  I guess I'm just afraid of getting lumped in with the "Hot Topic crowd"...  Again, nothing against them--I just think some separation is good. 

As for dressing in an actual Victorian manner, well, I don't know--I guess I'd have to say it depends on where your intentions lie.  If you're doing it because you truly love the look, think it's the future of fashion, find it comfortable (pff!), or other such such reason, than you're my hero and I envy your confidence.  Doing it just to get attention or to freak out the norms, well, I think we've got enough of that already...  I mean, I'd LOVE to be able to walk around town in the dapperest of 19th century duds, but the fact that I'd get stared at by most and taken seriously by few keeps me from it. 
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« Reply #6 on: February 26, 2007, 11:45:18 pm »

Well I am stating that Steampunk (in my eyes at least) is simply an aesthetic. The building/tinkering/DIY aspect of it, is just an outcropping or extension of sorts.

My post was mainly geared towards a particular post where it was stated that Steampunk isn't Steampunk w/out the "Punk". Actually I think the post in particular I'm thinking of was deleted (I got notification of it, but when I went to reply it was gone).

But regardless, I guess it all comes down to ones own opinion on Steampunk as a Subculture. I used to think it wasn't possible, but with the number of inventors and craftsmen/women we have here now I have changed my opinion slightly. For me it still remains an aesthetic, more than a lifestyle. Even with all the tinkering it's still just a facade right? I mean how many people have working ornithopters, airships, monowheels, etc?

I do own lots of fancy victorian accounterments, but I don't wear that stuff to the mall, or work. I used to get all Deathrock crazy when I was younger (with a kind of circus twist), though at the time I couldn't afford nice tail coats or anything fancy (I was homeless after all). But now that I can, I have purchased these things, but reserve them for clubs, events, shows, and dressing up for press photos.

On a day to day basis I mostly wear my black hoody and black swiss engineers cap.

As far as what constitutes Steampunk, it isn't the machinery, or the clothes, or anything but the setting. It's a hard debate as Steampunk initially reffered to a genre of fiction, not a subculture.
« Last Edit: February 26, 2007, 11:47:00 pm by VernianProcess » Logged
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« Reply #7 on: February 26, 2007, 11:49:29 pm »

Quote
I mean how many people have working ornithopters, airships, monowheels, etc?

Not enough, is the answer to that question, I believe.  And if I'm anything to go by, it's not for lack of crossing fingers, either.  *sighs*
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Josh of Vernian Process
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« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2007, 12:03:47 am »

You know I just re-read my initial post, and I think my ADD kicked in, because I completely shifted the topic in the last few sentences... lol...

Anyways, what it comes down to is that Steampunk will never be a true lifestyle untill we have a society that exists in the 19th century, and people have access to fantastic inventions such as the ones mentioned in my last post.

Here's a good example:

You don't consider people that go to the renaisance faire, and re-enact medeavel battles to have their own lifestyle right? Why? Because they live in a 21st century world. The only viable way for them to have a lifestyle is if they bought some land out in the wilderness, built some castles, and completely cut themselve's off from the modern world.

Yet they still enjoy running around dressed like knights and wizards, playing make believe. But it isn't a lifestyle. It's a hobby, an interest.

Steampunk has the same problem. Second Life is probably the closest thing to a viable lifestyle for Steampunk fans.

I mean yeah I would love to live in Paris or London circa 1890. But the cold sad reality is that I don't. Obviously it doesn't stop me from using that period as inspiration for my projects. As it shouldn't stop any of you. But it still doesn't make it a lifestyle. It's a hobby, an interest, something I dream of, and not much more.
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« Reply #9 on: February 27, 2007, 12:09:21 am »

I note that Girl Genius uses the term Gaslamp Fantasy also.
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« Reply #10 on: February 27, 2007, 12:20:12 am »

Well I am stating that Steampunk (in my eyes at least) is simply an aesthetic. The building/tinkering/DIY aspect of it, is just an outcropping or extension of sorts.

For me personally I would have to agree with that. Steampunk doesn't at this point have either philosophical nor lifestyle content for me. It just so happens that some of my DIY ideas have been hard to classify and fit into other technology related hobbies. Then I stumbled upon the Steampunk idea/visual on the 'net and realized that my 'crazy' contraption ideas would probably fit right in (once I get my definitions cleaned up a bit... *Ahem*  Wink ).

This lack of lifestyle/philosophy feel may be due to either not having been around the subject for sufficiently long, or perhaps it is due to not having had the possibility of partaking in a Steampunk themed real life event. But in any case I don't even know enough about the Victorian era/late nineteenth century society to be able to form a qualified opinion on whether there may be political or social elements I would like to integrate into my life, and much less want to impress on others around me. All the time remembering that Steampunk is - as you mention - not really related to an actual part of past history but a fictional one we are making up.

For me the particularly interesting part about Steampunk, a true punk or otherwise, is that it is possible to take part on so many different levels, including but certainly not limited to being creative in as diverse fields as music, literature, technology, the making of garments and (fictional) politics.

It should be mentioned that I am impressed by the number of tinkerers and other creative individuals, who have been coming out of the woodwork over the course of the last few days. I had actually been wondering how the other parts of the group, who may be relating to things other than DIY, are seeing this level of activity. But that may be the subject of a completely different debate.

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« Last Edit: February 27, 2007, 12:33:40 am by Copper Sulphate » Logged

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« Reply #11 on: February 27, 2007, 12:21:49 am »

OK, VP, now that statement I agree with 100%.  I think folks should be free to do their darnedest to try to make it a lifestyle, so long as they leave me out of it! 

CuSO4, I'm not sure we could be more on the same page Grin
« Last Edit: February 27, 2007, 12:24:12 am by Jake of All Trades » Logged
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« Reply #12 on: February 27, 2007, 01:50:27 am »

Well, you all know what i think on the subject (being the starter of the subculture forum), though i do believe it is such last. I still say that if you say your steampunk you are. No matter how "Punk" or not you are. But i'd say that even you have the rebellious DIY ethic, VP. You were not trained musically  anywhere, if i am correct, and belong to no label. You are entirely self-producing, as far as i know, and don't follow musical trends. You just do whatever conjures up visions of airships and rusty cogs to you. I'd say that's pretty "punk", in the philosophical sense of the word.

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« Reply #13 on: February 27, 2007, 01:53:29 am »

Now this is just an idea but maybe there is the asthetic (hell absolutely) but pushing a little deeper there is (or be perceived to be) an ethic of effort behind it too. Steampunk may, by it's very nature require a reasonable level of effort to achieve a suitable asthetic look. Even if that look is bought into instead of made.

It also harkens back to a time when manufacturing was the mainstay of western economies. Something which has been some what lacking in more recent decades. In an age of digital everything, branding and intransigency is it any wonder people are romanticizing (I mean this in a good way) an age of physical construction? It's that cusp I think is important the machine without the commercialization, the quality without the mass production.

OK I'll admit this is a little half baked and rife with sweeping generalisation but I'm sure you get the jist of what I'm trying to get across. Maybe there isn't a word for it.
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« Reply #14 on: February 27, 2007, 02:03:23 am »

I think Steampunk is a bit like a Margarita,

Everyone one prefers differing percentages of lime juice, triple sec, tequila, and sugar.

Some salt the rim, Some even like them frozen (yuck).

But they are all Margaritas.


To self: "that's kinda vapid isn't it ?  . . . these smart people are going to skewer me . . . at least spell check it . . ."
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« Reply #15 on: February 27, 2007, 02:11:40 am »

You have a very good point (and yes you are correct on all counts). Though that wouldn't necessarily mean that anyone who produces steampunk inspired work would have to do it in a DIY fashion.

I do agree with the general idea that if a person feels steampunk, than who's to argue with them. it's only when those people try to define the style as something that it clearly is not (i.e assuming that pulp/retro-futurism is the same as steampunk) to me, or in a forum that I participate in . It is important (to me at least) to differentiate between the varying styles of anachronism.

Of course we more than likely all have a love of all kinds of anachronistic styles, but that doesn't make all of them steampunk.

This all comes down to why I have always preffered the term "Victorian Sci-Fi" to Steampunk. Because it leaves no room for mis-judgement. It just isn't quite as catchy as steampunk unfortunately.

LOL

 Grin

Well, you all know what i think on the subject (being the starter of the subculture forum), though i do believe it is such last. I still say that if you say your steampunk you are. No matter how "Punk" or not you are. But i'd say that even you have the rebellious DIY ethic, VP. You were not trained musically  anywhere, if i am correct, and belong to no label. You are entirely self-producing, as far as i know, and don't follow musical trends. You just do whatever conjures up visions of airships and rusty cogs to you. I'd say that's pretty "punk", in the philosophical sense of the word.


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« Reply #16 on: February 27, 2007, 02:29:24 am »

Josh, is it alright if henseforth I refer to you as my homeboy? ^_Q

The term "Steampunk" was invented by K.W. Jeter - who also wrote what is commonly regarded as the first Cyberpunk novel - as an admittedly tongue-in-cheek label for the historical fantasies that he, James Blaylock and Tim Powers were coming up with. It always was a joke on the term "Cyberpunk". After writing The Difference Engine, William Gibson expressed his hope that the term "Steampunk" wouldn't catch on. It did, but as any serious critic of Science Fiction (like John Clute) as noted, Steampunk is primarily an aesthetic category. Even those first novels for which Jeter coined the term were decidedly Punk-less.

The idea that Steampunk is supposed to be some kind of DIY counter-culture grounded in a rejection of modern technological values of planned obsolencence and whatever is a relatively recent phenomenon that wasn't even in the picture as little as 6 years ago (on the contrary, a love affair with obsolete technology, fashions and scientific theories is a fundamental part of Steampunk). I supect that it was smuggled in with the large number of Goths, Punks and Rivets who started being interested in it and wanted to import their "revolutionary ideals" to what is otherwise the Victorian Sci-Fi equivalent of Star Trek geeks and anime nerds. But the point is, this is a new phenomenon: this impositon of a DIY Punk aesthetic onto Steampunk is read onto it after the fact, and does not actually derive from the historical development of the term or genre.      

For myself, I am unappologetically of the Scienific Romance/Voyages Extraordinaires breed. I don't think I'm engaged in some kind of revolutionary act because I like playing with, and watching movies about, cogs and boilers. And I think Steampunks accusing eachother of being posers is as ridiculous as watching two Trekkies with red shirts and phasers accuse eachother of being being posers because one or the other doesn't believe in the viability of warp drive or the United Federation of Planets as a model of governance. About the only thing I'm worried of is that in all this attempting to make Steampunk anything but a "mere" aesthetic category, we're going to lose sight of the fact that above all else, Steampunk is supposed to be fun. If it isn't fun, then it has no point.

Maybe that observation makes me unfashonably un-Punk, but i get my meaning and purpose from my faith, my relationships, my politics, and my values. I get my fun from Steampunk.

And for the record, I wrote this entire post whle listening to the soundtracks of rides at Disneyland ^_Q      
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Josh of Vernian Process
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« Reply #17 on: February 27, 2007, 02:39:14 am »

Oh Cory you know you've been my homeboy for years now!  Grin

Oh and that emoticon with the monocle is absolutely adorable!
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« Reply #18 on: February 27, 2007, 04:16:45 am »

For me, the punk in steampunk does refer to the DIY attitude. If you can buy it in a store, I don't see it as steampunk, it has to be made, modified, and twisted into something new, something that reflects the skill and craftsmanship of the person themselves. It's the custom made machinery in a world where everything is mass produced and identical. The steampunk machines are one of a kind, even if there are two machines that do the same thing, they're not from a mold, they where changed by an actual person and I feel that is what makes it unique and special, that's what puts the punk in steampunk for me.

Though it would be interesting to comprehend how the Ramones would have played in the 1870's.... Tongue
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« Reply #19 on: February 27, 2007, 04:33:30 am »

If you want to live in a "past that wasn't" you are going to have to make some of it yourself so I don't think you can ever escape the DIY/Maker element until you can buy everything Steampunk at Target - and who wants that?

As for Johnny Payphone's take, I do think he was a little rough, but the man is a philosopher and artist and I respect the hell out of what I've seen from him so far.

Reverting to my geek self, I intend to view Steampunk as an extensible schema and I will compile in the modules that please me.

I encourage everyone do do the same, whatever Steampunk is now, it is very likely we here that will decide what it becomes.

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« Reply #20 on: February 27, 2007, 04:47:40 am »

Thats a great point, VanSlatt.

It should be about what it all means to the individual.

Personally I like the idea of a person wearing Victorian clothes with a mohawk or dreads or....what are they called....falls? Or the shaved head with waxed mustache and spectacles look (my personal favorite Wink)To me that takes it out of the "real" and puts it into an original place thats new, fresh yet familiar and classic.
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« Reply #21 on: February 27, 2007, 04:50:35 am »

And for the record, I wrote this entire post whle listening to the soundtracks of rides at Disneyland ^_Q      

Cory which ones?? I have quite a collection myself
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« Reply #22 on: February 27, 2007, 05:31:09 am »

Steampunk can't really be punk because really it's pre-punk.
It's a philosophy centered in the old Greek virtue of Ingenuitas,the human impetus to invent and to innovate which was embodied by the Greek god Mercury. It's not a cautionary. It is about the triumph of the ingenuity over ALL.

It kind of has to be about this, the genre and aesthetic would be nonexistent without the veritable multitude of fantastic mechanical wonders, and without invention at the helm that just doesn't happen.

I think this philosophy has it's own aesthetic, definitely but I also know for a fact that aesthetics don't just pop up on their own totally disconnected to anything else, so it can't just be an aesthetic, and it can also not be a JUST a genre, because what is a genre made of? think about it..it's made of Ideas, ethics, values, assumptions and very real human perceptions of the world and the universe at large.
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« Reply #23 on: February 27, 2007, 05:55:43 am »

This is pretty random.  I'm not sure if this is much of a connected thesis, rather just some ideas.

I think part of the problem with the term Steampunk is that it's a relatively modern term, and it's a derivative term.  It's comparing what we do to the Cyberpunk genre.  The issue for me is that there's a perfectly good term for works of the 'steampunk' type, that was more in use back when the technology featured was new and exciting.  The term is 'edisonade'.  There were some pretty consistant features of an edisonade novel.  The protagonist was a clean cut, intelligent, but misunderstood young inventor.  He or she (mostly he) worked with technology that was just a bit beyond what was currently available, but was still within the realm of believability.  I grew up with the first and second series of 'tom swift' novels, which are pretty classic examples of the genre. 

What I see in the modern steampunk genre is an appreciation of these old works.  Many of us are creative, some of us probably consider ourselves misunderstood, or otherwise don't quite fit in.  At the same time, we're not as attracted to the dystopian punk future as to the victorian past with its warm glowy nostalgia.  Even William Gibson referred to his characters as 'High tech low lives'.  We'd rather not be or even pretend to be low lives, when we can be the clean cut intelligent inventor.  I've noticed that plenty of us use the titles of nobility.  I'd rather be Tom Swift inventing my way out of a tight spot and winning the acclaim of the world than some Data Cowboy double crossing his employers and running from the Yakuza.

A.
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« Reply #24 on: February 27, 2007, 06:11:55 am »

I think I have to agree with that. My bitter Goth days ended when I was 15. Death obsession and depression don't really appeal to me...at all...now, give me a giant steam powered Vampyromorphida  and micromechanical attack spores and we'll talk.

I like my shoes to be Italian, my slacks heavy wool knit, my sunglasses customized antique goggles,my coats tweed, and my coffee black. I will leave the Absinthe to the folks dressed like hey are headed to a funeral, and I would rather own an African Grey than a crow.


what can I say? I don't think I'm the only one.
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