TIME Television

Mad Men’s Final Word on the 1960s … And Today

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC Jon Hamm as Don Draper in 'Mad Men'

The final season will show if Don Draper is, at heart, Dick Nixon or Ronald Reagan

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

April 5 marks the beginning of the end for Mad Men, and viewers anxiously await a final coda to creator Matthew Weiner’s tale. Will advertising executive Don Draper’s tumultuous peaks and valleys experiences of the 1960s conclude with happiness or tragedy?

The 1960 film, The Apartment, and presidential history during that decade, may hint at an answer.

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has cited this Academy Award winning movie as an important inspiration for his serial drama. Since The Apartment ended on a positive note with the main character finding love, viewers might expect a similar conclusion to Weiner’s production. More significantly, The Apartment stands as a cultural symbol of the youthful optimism for social change that many Americans associate with the 1960s. Along with the defeat of Richard Nixon by the youthful, vigorous John Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election, The Apartment’s director, Billy Wilder, helped create today’s conventional wisdom that the year 1960 represented a break from the staid conformity characteristic of the 1950s.

In The Apartment, Director Wilder presents protagonist C.C. “Bud” Baxter as a young, bored number-cruncher (played by Jack Lemmon) in the accounting division of a corporation known as Consolidated Life Insurance. There are two primary settings where the characters interact—the vast 19th floor of seemingly endless rows of desks in the skyscraper where Baxter works, and Baxter’s small apartment in New York City.

The story’s problem emerges when Consolidated Life’s personnel director Jeffrey Sheldrake asks Baxter if the rumors are true that married senior executives have borrowed Baxter’s apartment to conduct secret extramarital affairs. Sheldrake’s intent, we soon discover, is not to reprimand Baxter, but to borrow his key so that Sheldrake may have exclusive privileges to bring his own mistresses to Baxter’s den of iniquity.

Although Sheldrake rewards the junior executive with a 27th floor private office and a bowler hat to boot, Baxter soon regrets the decision when he finds himself having to choose between his career and his love for Fran Kubelik, an elevator operator (played by Shirley MacLaine) in his company’s building. When Baxter discovers that Kubelik is one of Sheldrake’s conquests, he must either cling to his newfound place on the corporate ladder or fight for this damsel in distress. In witnessing Baxter’s decision to abandon the company in exchange for romantic love, we recognize a rejection of the 1950s culture of conformity which sociologists, novelists, and journalists portrayed in books such as The Power Elite, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, and The Organization Man.

The Apartment concludes with Baxter’s rejection of conformist and debased corporate culture, but Mad Men presents Don Draper as still engaged in the struggle to maintain individual autonomy in the complacent, risk-averse, and conformist white-collar world. In order to carry the drama forward through the 1960s, Weiner created a character more complex than Wilder’s Baxter. Viewers balance Don’s misogyny against his elevation of his secretary Peggy Olson to a position of copy editor. His infidelity is placed in the context of his troubled past growing up in a whorehouse. In the Darwinian jungle of corporate America, furthermore, Draper’s ambition and authoritarianism appear somehow necessary for a man who began without inherited wealth or business contacts.

In Season One, Weiner used the Nixon-Kennedy presidential contest as a Hegelian thesis-antithesis recasting of The Apartment’s theme. Nixon hires Draper’s advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, to help publicize his 1960 presidential campaign. The upstart Kennedy’s victory appears as a tragic defeat for the company’s corporate elite that seeks to perpetuate the conformist 1950s. The image of a triumphant Kennedy symbolizes the hope for change in the new decade, and Draper appears to represent this icon of youthful optimism. In one episode, a character describes the youthful, handsome, and decisive Draper as Kennedyesque—distinct from the common corporate type–saying “You’re JFK!”

But Draper identifies more with Nixon. Somewhat surprisingly, Weiner’s protagonist thinks Nixon’s defeat says more about how the candidate’s handlers failed to present his background than about the spirit of the age. When Draper sees Nixon, he says, he sees himself—a self-made man of the people. Draper’s self-image is not as a member of the power elite, but neither as an idealist. He is a working class man pursuing the American Dream. While many of the Mad Men characters—including Draper—appear to admire Kennedy, the president’s tragic assassination in 1963 casts a pall over the ebullient optimism which Draper, his family, and work associates embodied in the first three seasons.

Given that the program is concluding during 1969—Nixon’s first year as president–Washington Post opinion writer Alyssa Rosenberg has posited that Nixon was “the key to understanding Don Draper.” In Rosenberg’s view, Nixon’s ability to come back from multiple political defeats—including the 1960 presidential campaign and a failed 1962 bid for governor of California—appeared as the model for Draper’s similar skill at surviving setbacks by reinventing himself.

The Kennedy-Nixon dialectic certainly serves as one way of understanding the tension between hope and cynicism in Mad Men, but another politician–Ronald Reagan—may provide the model that Weiner has in mind for Draper’s ultimate fate. Draper’s creative genius and macho cool seems more similar to Reagan’s Hollywood confidence and calm than to Nixon’s calculated professionalism. While Nixon and Draper certainly reinvented themselves multiple times, Draper does not seem to share the dark side that Nixon’s closest aides identified in the former president.

Reagan’s sunny optimism wedded to “tough love” conservatism seems to embody the synthesis that Draper will need to embrace in the years following the Kennedy and Nixon administrations. Similar to Reagan, who was elected governor of California in 1967 (and again in 1971), Draper survived by balancing artistic and practical responses to challenges. Hollywood plays an important role in Draper’s professional and personal lives. Reagan’s divorce and remarriage serve as another parallel with Draper (and not with Kennedy or Nixon). Finally, Reagan’s penchant for concealing his inner self appears akin to the mysterious Draper, who hides his true identity as Dick Whitman from even his closest friends, who are few.

If The Apartment served as a Muse for Weiner’s Mad Men, viewers can expect Don Draper to walk off the screen this year facing a sunny future. Just as Billy Wilder’s film portrayed the protagonists as rejecting 1950s corporate conformity, Mad Men began in 1960 with a theme of individual liberation. The Apartment did not require C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik to sacrifice the ideal of romantic love, and Mad Men has vindicated that choice by celebrating the 1960s office culture as a space of social revolution.

But as 1969 draws to a close, Draper will need to engage with the rise of corporate power during the Age of Reagan, as historian Sean Wilentz has characterized the 1974-2008 United States. Indeed, one of the subtexts of Mad Men has been the rising importance of work in the lives of Americans. Weiner’s narrative has shown how corporate America’s adoption of the 1960s liberation movements strengthened rather than weakened capitalism’s roots in the United States. In many cases, Don Draper and his colleagues Pete, Ron, Joan, and Peggy formed closer relationships with their colleagues and their firm than with their own wives, husbands, and children. Weiner surely knows that the show’s fans want those bonds to last a lifetime.

Thomas J. Carty, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Springfield College.

 

TIME celebrities

Why Jon Hamm Can’t Escape Don Draper

Celebrities Visit SiriusXM Studios - May 9, 2014
Taylor Hill--Getty Images Jon Hamm visits the SiriusXM Studios on May 9, 2014 in New York City.

The actor is constantly scrutinized, though he tries desperately to stay private

As Mad Men winds down, with the final set of episodes starting April 5, lead actor Jon Hamm would seem to be in an enviable position. He’s the Golden Globe-winning star of one of the most critically-acclaimed dramas of all time, and an actor who’s able to get cast in big-screen dramas (last year’s Million Dollar Arm) and the cultish comedy he seems to prefer (recently, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt). But Jon Hamm is also a celebrity—and one who is treated with unusually probing curiosity by the public at large.

The revelation that Hamm recently completed rehab treatment for alcohol abuse is only the latest incident of the needle Hamm has been trying to thread for years. He’s an object of greater-than-usual curiosity from fans, curiosity he can’t help but fuel with each development in a fairly enigmatic life. The rehab information was divulged through a publicist who requested “privacy and sensitivity” for the actor, the same goal he’s been striving for, to little avail, throughout his career.

Consider Hamm’s relationship, with actor/director Jennifer Westfeldt. The pair keep whatever goes on between them at arm’s length from the public, giving rise to predictable (and often cruel) lines of questioning about why the pair isn’t married and what might be the dynamic between two people at different levels of fame. The commentary about Hamm and Westfeldt every year at the Emmys comes close to recappers’ debating Don and Megan Draper’s relationship in its tone. And then there’s the question of Hamm’s anatomy; his physical form has been subjected to extreme and frequently grotesque scrutiny online by fans who delight in Zaprudering the area between his navel and his knees. “They’re called ‘privates’ for a reason,” Hamm has said, complaining about “a broader freedom that people feel like they have—a prurience.”

In part because he’s so closely identified with a character whose opaque inner life and sexual allure are intertwined, Hamm has come in for among the closest scrutiny of any male actor working today. He is, in other words, treated like any actress. And it’s clear that the world of fame makes him extremely uncomfortable, from his comments on his anatomy to his self-conscious, seemingly unnecessary history of criticizing Kim Kardashian. There’s no reason why the drama actor even needs to comment on the reality star, but to make a distinction: “She and I are very different.” But to a public whose extreme interest in him necessitated revealing his stint in rehab before the gossip blogs got to it, Hamm and Kardashian are the same.

Whenever a popular show ends, the question of what the stars will do next becomes fairly pressing. After Friends, Jennifer Aniston parlayed her fame as Rachel Green into movie stardom; Bryan Cranston brought his serious-actor cred from Breaking Bad to Broadway, and won a Tony. Hamm seems to have planted the seeds of a long and robust post-Mad Men career playing against his good looks and charm, negating his celebrity. On Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, he was a villainous cult leader revealed, more and more, to have nothing behind his charm; on Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock both, he did guest stints as bumbling incompetents; in Bridesmaids, he was a cad. His public statements are largely unrevelatory or else they don’t exist, so what we have to go on is his work: He wants to not be famous in the way that he is. It seems increasingly likely that Hamm will not work in drama much after Mad Men, both because he’s so closely identified with Don Draper and because getting identified with a character—doing a good job, in other words—has brought him plenty of grief.

In the same interview in which he complained about the scrutiny of his genitals, Hamm said, “I feel like that wasn’t part of the deal.” He thought he could play a character who was sexy and intriguing and have everyone watching understand that it was completely fiction—that the real Jon Hamm would never be known to them. That’s a level of sophistication he shouldn’t have presumed.

TIME

Here’s What Bryan Cranston Told Jon Hamm About Ending Mad Men

14th Annual AFI Awards - Cocktail Reception
Kevin Winter—Getty Images for AFI Actors Bryan Cranston (L) and Jon Hamm attend the 14th annual AFI Awards Luncheon

Jon Hamm talks about leaving Don Draper behind

As AMC’s Mad Men enters its final seven episodes April 5, series star Jon Hamm has been reflecting on how it will be to end his eight-year run as Don Draper.

In the April cover story of GQ, Hamm revealed that Bryan Cranston, who played Walter White in AMC’s Breaking Bad, talked with him about the transition out of a long-term role. “It’s hard, man. It’s hard to let it go. It’ll hit you a couple of different ways at different times,” Cranston told Hamm.

Hamm compared the feeling of leaving the show to graduating from high school. “The whole last season was like senior year in high school,” he said. “‘We’ll stay in touch!’ ‘I’ll text you!’ ‘We’ll see each other all the time!’ And it’s like, Will we really?

[GQ]

Read next: Watch the Nostalgic New Trailer for Mad Men’s Final Season

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Television

Watch the Nostalgic New Trailer for Mad Men’s Final Season

Revisit the show's highlights before it returns for a final bow April 5

Before going forward with its new season, Mad Men wants viewers to take a trip down memory lane.

AMC premiered a new trailer for the Season 7, Part 2 during Sunday’s Oscars. Aptly called Nostalgia, the minute-long teaser shows key clips from throughout previous seasons.

There are no spoilers for what’s to come, of course — although we’re sure fans with a lot of time to kill before the show’s April 5 premiere will be busy dissecting the relevance of the video footage AMC chose to show. Could Peggy and Pete be revisiting their past?

TIME Television

Watch the Trailer for Mad Men’s Final Season

Roger Sterling has killer sideburns

AMC released a trailer for the final seven episodes of Mad Men Thursday with the appropriate title, “The Party’s Over.”

While the teaser for part two of season seven doesn’t give a lot of hints as to what’s in store, we are certainly excited for Roger Sterling’s killer ’70s sideburns:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 2.06.58 PM

And Megan’s belly chain:

Screen Shot 2015-02-19 at 2.01.29 PM

Mad Men will be back for its final run of episodes on AMC on Sunday, April 5.

TIME Television

What These New Mad Men Photos Say About the Show’s Final Season

Probably nothing, but it's fun to speculate

Mad Men returns for its final run of episodes on April 5, and the AMC show with a reputation for secrecy isn’t revealing much about its last season in a new set of promotional pictures released this week.

The pictures aren’t taken from actual episodes, so they don’t directly foreshadow any of the final season’s storylines — not that AMC’s actual episodic shots did much of that anyway — but there are insights to be gleamed… maybe.

From the looks of things, Don (Jon Hamm) and Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) seem to be in good spirits after working out the kinks in their mentor-mentee relationship at Sterling Cooper & Partners, so it’s likely they’ll kick butt as the advertising world’s dynamic duo.

Sally (Kiernan Shipka) and Betty (January Jones) are physically close to each other in each photograph without looking particularly touchy-feely, so don’t expect their mother-daughter relationship to get wrapped up with a bow.

And Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and Roger (John Slattery) seem to have found a shared taste in plaid blazers, so maybe the bitter and entitled Pete has finally found some common ground with his coworkers after all.

Read next: John Oliver Has the Perfect Idea for Who Should Take Over The Daily Show

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TIME Television

Here’s the New Trailer for Season 5 of The Walking Dead

"Survival is all that matters" in this teaser for the hit zombie drama's next season

Better Call Saul isn’t the only heavy-hitting AMC show premiering on Feb 8. The Walking Dead comes back to life that day, too.

Not much in the way of plot spoilers there, but rest assured: there’s plenty of drama and mayhem ahead in Season 5.

AMC has a big lineup ahead, with The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul coming up in February and Mad Men coming back in April.

TIME Television

Cristin Milioti on How I Met Your Mother’s Ending: ‘There’s No Way to Please Everybody’

Cristin Milioti
Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP Cristin Milioti

The A to Z star talks Tinder, her worst date ever and the nipple episode of Mad Men

Proving that television really is becoming the go-to place for romantic comedies, NBC’s new sitcom A to Z tells the complete story of Andrew and Zelda, who date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. Mad Men’s Ben Feldman plays Andrew, the eager romantic; Cristin Milioti, otherwise known as How I Met Your Mother‘s titular mom (or sexy-baby-voice girl from 30 Rock), plays Zelda, who’s more eager to put the brakes on their relationship’s whirlwind beginning.

TIME caught up with Milioti to talk about the show (premiering Oct. 2), online dating and why you should still make mixtapes for your crush.

TIME: How does the show keep viewers on their toes when we know that the main characters break up?

Cristin Milioti: Gosh, it’s interesting, because your guess is as good as mine. They won’t tell us how it ends. Which I actually really like, because that means we don’t know how to play anything other than what the episode is. We’re not playing toward an ending. Ben and I differ in what are opinions are. I think they’re going to break up, he thinks they’re going to get married.

I was going to guess that there would be some bait-and-switch or reset that allows the premise to keep going.

Right? I thought that too. They have to go through the friendship of it, and we start the alphabet all over again. I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I think what the show does beautifully, as I’ve been working on it, is examine what it’s like to let someone into your life when you’re falling in love, which is the most incredible feeling in the world. But also terrifying.

You mentioned the alphabet — are there 26 episodes for each letter?

I think it would be 22, but I think they would combine some of the letters. I only say this because I heard [creator] Ben Queen say this at the TCAs. “LMNO” is — God, I sound like a grandma — texting code for “laughing my nuts off.” Those are his words.

Well, you learn something new everyday!

I always thought it was LMAO, which is “laughing my ass off.” That’s the one that I know. And obviously good old standard LOL.

I’m partial to ROFL.

I’ve seen that one too!

It’s almost onomatopoeic — that’s what I imagine rolling on the floor laughing sounds like.

Rofl-rofl-rofl. Yeah!

So this is the second show you’ve been on where the ending is somewhat known and what happens in the middle is the real meat of the story.

It’s interesting because I never thought that, not even for a second. And then we were doing the TCAs and people started asking questions like that. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that you’re doing a show that’s so much like How I Met Your Mother?”

But, other than that aspect, I don’t really think of them as that similar?

Yeah, but we do deal with a similar theme of whether or not destiny exists.

Do you believe it does?

I gotta tell you, I do for the most part. And then sometimes … I’m still trying to figure that out. Every now and then I’m like, are we the ones that need to take action and then destiny doesn’t exist? Do you create your own destiny? But then, if you create your own destiny, destiny already exists! And you just didn’t even know.

So you differ from your character in that way.

Ben Feldman and I sort of are each other’s characters in real life. I’m Andrew, he’s Zelda. He’s far more pragmatic. I think I believe more in love at first sight than he does.

Andrew works at an online dating company. Have you ever tried that?

No, I’ve never tried it. I’m not on any social media. I know people who have met on Twitter and through Facebook. I had a friend, someone liked her photos on Instagram and they started direct messaging each other and went out on a date! That’s so foreign to me. Whatever floats your boat. If it works for you and that’s how you find love, that’s wonderful. On the other hand, there’s nothing like meeting a person and knowing there’s that sparkly chemistry. But I guess you know that when you go out on that date after your profiles get Tindered.

Have you played around on someone else’s Tinder?

Last summer a friend of a friend gave me his phone and said, “Want to flip through and do my Tinder?” I had this crazy power rush. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m deciding who you’re going to go on a date with!” But I also felt terrible clicking no.

Destiny’s in your hands.

Yes, exactly! My my, how the tables have turned.

What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?

I went on a date with someone that I had not been seeing for very long — I’ve pulled a real Andrew here — but I was very sure: “I have feelings for this person and I’m going to tell them tonight.” We went out to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine, and I was finally like, “I just have to tell you, I really, really like you and have all these feelings and just needed to get that off my chest.” He just stared at me and was like “Oh, okay, I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way.” We had just finished dinner!

And you just had to sit there until it was over?

Yes! It was a nightmare.

Okay, happier thoughts: what is your ideal date?

It would probably involve the beach and eating.

Very good choices.

Or like something wild that I’ve never done before like being driven to a lookout and being able to see the city. I feel like I could come up with a better one.

I don’t know. Eating at the beach is hard to top.

That’s all you need!

Going back to How I Met Your Mother for a second, were you surprised about the backlash regarding the ending?

Oh no, I wasn’t surprised. That show — which speaks to the quality of that show — always had such a passionate fanbase. I remember talking with one of our props guys about what the reaction was going to be, because some people all along had rooted for Ted and Robin, even when she was going to get married. There’s no way to please everybody. There’s no way to please 10 million people, unless you take them to the beach and give them food.

Do you watch Mad Men? Because Ben’s character went a little crazy this season.

We were just talking about this yesterday. I’ve never seen Mad Men. I want to do it leisurely and really soak it in, but I don’t have time to get to season five [when Feldman’s character is introduced]. I just want him to send me his scenes, but he won’t do it.

Do you know what happens?

I do, because we did the upfronts the day after he cut his nipple off.

Oh my God.

We were in the press line together, and all the questions were like, “Cristin, how do you feel about dying?” “Ben, how do you feel about cutting your nipple off?” It was a really dark press line.

My first thought after watching that scene was thankfully A to Z isn’t on until October — we have some time before we have to think of him in a rom-com way.

Yeah, and he does it with aplomb. I really, really want to see Mad Men. I’ve YouTubed — he doesn’t even know this — I’ve YouTubed parts of his performance when he was first being brought in for the role of Andrew. I loved it. I loved what he was doing, and I want to see more of it, but he was like, “It’s important that you know what’s going on.” I basically asked him for his reel.

In addition to acting, you’re also musical: you’ve been nominated for a Tony and the Once soundtrack won a Grammy. Are you going to go for EGOT status?

Haha, geez, I don’t know — I’ll try, I guess? I’m in complete disbelief of what has happened to me. And the Grammy thing, it seems like I just went to a store and asked them to make me a Grammy. It’s so unbelievable to have that thing in my house. It just looks like when you’re little and you’re playing and you get an Oscar that says “Best mom.” That’s what it feels like. I still can’t believe that.

Speaking of music, will Andrew and Zelda swap mixtapes this season?

No, but they should!

Maybe as like a DVD extra you can include them.

Yeah. Do people still do that? People should do that.

I would, but I feel like people catch on too quickly now — they know what’s up when you give them a mix CD.

But hasn’t it gone retro yet now? Maybe not. I don’t think mixtapes will ever go out of style.

You need to speak out and make them cool again.

This is a public statement: I’m in favor of mixtapes.

A version of this story appears in the Oct. 6 issue of TIME, on stands this Friday.

TIME

From Mad Men to Empowered Working Moms

The Importance of Strong Work-Life Balance Policies in 2014

Secretary school. Menial, “fetching” tasks. Available 24/7/365. The “Glass Ceiling.” It’s safe to say, women have made major strides forward in the professional world since the era of Mad Men.

Of course, there’s always more progress to be made. In my own professional lifetime of more than 20 years, I’ve seen this progress take place, albeit sometimes at a snail’s pace. Today, I’m proud to work for Ogilvy & Mather North America, a company that’s named to the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.

When my daughter was born over 23 years ago, there was little flexibility for a working mom. As a divorced, single mother, long nights at the office meant expensive babysitters. Work trips left my daughter behind in tears, with any family member that was available. When my daughter was too ill for school, I had to stay at home as the caretaker, leaving my work neglected at times and often returning to work, myself sick with a runny nose.

Any working parent can attest to these and the myriad number of other daily issues that comes with the territory of being a professional with children at home. However, women have certainly taken the brunt of the pains of being a working parent. We’re often seen as the “natural caretaker” and judged as negligent when we, as mothers, miss a ballet performance or soccer game, leave a sick child at daycare instead of staying home, or decide to buy brownies from the grocery store for the bake sale because we didn’t have time to make them from scratch the night before. Yet, leaving the office early to make dinner or even just to put the children to bed before 8 p.m. can often warrant just as many judgmental looks from our co-workers.

Over the past 20 years, it has taken the combined efforts of many women, including myself, acting as trailblazers for today’s working mothers. As we broke down barriers and climbed the corporate ladder, we reached high enough positions of power to not only ask for change, but to be in the position to enact the change as well.

I know firsthand the importance of working for organizations that provide flexibility and support. As the Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Ogilvy & Mather North America, I have collaborated with my colleagues and visionary leader and CEO, John Seifert, who is the ultimate champion of diversity and inclusion, to implement the ability to design our company’s strategies to mirror those of our clients and peers. This has made significant strides in building inclusive corporate cultures.

We have worked tirelessly to improve our policies and benefits to ensure that working mothers are able to take advantage of flexible work schedules, emergency childcare, lactation rooms and in our New York office, a vibrant Working Parents Network and a Pumping Moms Club. Policies such as these have been critical in my ability to become the senior leader that I am today. I believe these policies will give new working mothers the flexibility and support they need to succeed in both their personal and professional lives.

Only by standing up and asking for change can we help one another achieve a better work-life balance, with the breathing room for both professional growth and fulfillment and happy home lives.

Donna Pedro is Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Ogilvy & Mather North America and was honored by Working Mother magazine and Advertising Women of New York (AWNY) and named one of five “Trailblazer Moms,” identified by Working Mother as “Pioneers who are paving the way for future working mothers.” Ogilvy & Mather North America is the only advertising agency on the 2014 “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers” list.

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