We Really Need To Talk About The Mad Men Child Rape Jokes

mad men child rape I must have been the only person who watched Mad Men last night instead of Game Of Thrones, because there are so few mentions of the ick factor in last night’s episode on the online recaps I feel like I am the only person who was utterly creeped out by it. Please keep in mind, there will be some SPOILER ALERTS in this so if you haven’t watched the season premier of Mad Man yet, I suggest you go do so and then you can return to this article and say WTF and over-analyze it with me. Because you are my friend like that.

I’m not going to go into Don’s drunken angst or Peggy’s awesome “I know what the hell I’m doing, annoying male client” attitude, or even Roger’s weird pompadour hair, because it was all sort of business as usual for this lot. It’s Betty Draper I’m concerned about.

Now, we all know Betty is not a great mom. She has slapped poor Sally. She has been nasty and unkind to almost everyone. She is vain. Last season when the character gained weight she lost a lot of sympathy because she has always been viewed as having her appearance the most important aspect of her, and at the end of the day it sort of sucks that the only stay-at-home mother in the series has to be such a raging mega-bitch.

Last night found Betty looking slimmer and passing on the candy.Whatever. Sally Draper had a friend over, Sandy, and this friend, who is 15 years old, played the violin and lied about getting into Julliard while her husband Henry gazes at the young girl just like his young son Bobby. Henry muses “she plays so beautifully” and then Betty, oh WHY Betty, replies: “She’s a year older than Sally, shame on you.” And then goes on to say:

She’s just in the next room, why don’t you go in there and rape her?

But it doesn’t end there.

I’ll hold her arms down.

In Henry’s defense, he replies (along with me in my brain) “Betty, what the hell?” And Betty continues:

You said you wanted to spice things up. Will it ruin it if I’m there? You know, if you want to be alone with her, I’ll put on my housecoat and take Sally for a ride. You can stick a rag in her mouth and you won’t wake the boys.

And she ends this little creepy “suggestion” with a kiss on her husband’s cheek and a “My goodness, you’re blushing.”  I don’t know if they were trying to illustrate how much more cavalier people were towards the idea of adult men lusting after young girls was during that era. I’m not sure if they were trying to make a point about Betty’s insecurity. I’m not entirely sure what the point of this exchange was, other than to make all of us hate Betty a little bit more, and if that was the point than good job writers! But I do know that it made me extremely uncomfortable and I was too busy being appalled by this little exchange to enjoy the rest of the episode. The Mad Men child rape “joke” exchange really bothered me. Feel free to tell me if I’m the only one.

(Image: Wikipedia)

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  • faifai

    I don’t watch the show, so therefore I cannot fairly comment on the exchange. However, it does feel like the word–and concept–of rape is getting thrown around too casually these days. From Amazon tshirts to Daniel Tosh to those little boys in elementary school… It’s almost turning into a joke. Some things are never going to be funny. Some things should never be a joke. Some things are things to which we SHOULD NOT become jaded. Ever.

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      I’ve watched 2 seasons of “Mad Men”, and I think the topic of child-rape was fully intended by the writers. This series is THAT intense.

      Is rape just “another tool in the toolbox” for Hollywood writers to exploit? Or worse yet, another bad punchline? Rape has been addressed in “Mad Men” before (Joan was raped by her fiance in Season 1) Because we still recognize rape, especially child-rape, as fundamentally evil, then we know we’re more “Henry” and less “Betty”. We gauge ourselves by OUR reactions.

      For me, it illustrates what dark depths Betty is willing to go to – for what ends, I cannot begin to fathom – for this relationship with Henry. I’m unsure whether I *want* to know. It’s mentally exhausting watching this and “Breaking Bad” – the drama is so *compelling*.

      Hope this makes sense.

    • whiteroses


    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      did it creep you out too?

      Breaking Bad is the only TV show that has given me for real anxiety attacks :( THE BELL

    • http://twitter.com/TwAlexLee Alex Lee

      My strategy is: I wait until the season is over, then psych myself up, and binge on it in a weekend marathon session. I can’t string myself out over months of this brain-torture.

      ..which is why I stopped “Breaking Bad” just as Gus was about to get blowed up.

      But, yes…Betty was tragic before. Now, she’s uber-skeevy.

    • http://twitter.com/Nat_Parnell Nat Parnell


      (Sorry BB freaks you out :( I find that if the episode ends on a particularly dark note, I can usually become un-creeped out by watching an ep of Arrested or Workaholics)

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      God I love that show. when does it come back? WHY THEY MAKE US WAIT????

  • http://twitter.com/emptydahl Marilyn Talia Dahl

    I understand what you’re saying although I haven’t watched the episode.

    On one hand, I feel that a regular television show, as popular as MM, depicting the gender, race, and general social mores of that time, is a slow grind backward in the perceptions of the general population.

    Gauging the social media of that show in particular reveals how slippery a slope it is.

    There have been arguments like this already about MM. The artistic license and freedom of speech camp, vs. the wtf that is gross and stupid camp. We are all still free to watch or not watch, and to have our own set of moral values regarding race and gender, right? Or are we?

    Personally, I’ve already unfollowed people on Twitter who talk about Mad Men characters like they are neighbors. It only exhibits a kind of mindlessness that is vapid and contagious. Of course, the moral and unmoral majority don’t think much on such subjects as, how the subconscious is affected by watching such material and then discussing it on social media as though the characters / personas were peopel, conducting themselves in the realm of current society.

    Media trickles into social media consumers and is like a virus. Let’s face it. The virus is winning by a long shot.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      I love this comment. Last night REALLY bothered me. and it bothers me more that no one is talking about it

    • Blueathena623

      The twop and imdb forums are talking about it, if that makes you feel any better.

    • http://twitter.com/marisasaystweet MarisaSays

      I feel like you are passing very harsh judgment on/making sweeping generalizations here about Mad Men fans. I rarely talk about TV on Twitter, but on that doesn’t change that I’m a fan of the show and will engage in debate on the characters and plot IRL. I’m not sure in what way that makes me vapid, nor do I think you can determine anything about my moral character from it.

      I’m also not sure that having a “popular” show that depicts accurately the gender, race and social mores of its time translates to a backward movement in our current society’s perceptions and mores. (I put popular in quotes there because while Mad Men does very well for AMC, its core audience is not actually as large as you’d think, which is to say that it’s not nearly as “popular” as some reality shows or tedious network TV out there.)

      The rape comments from Betty were VERY disturbing to me — my husband and I paused the show and had a whole conversation about that scene before moving forward with the episode. But I do think that they were intended to be disturbing, and given the quality of the writing on MM, my guess is that we will see follow-up development of Betty’s character that puts these really creepy (no @EveVawter:disqus , you are not the only one!) comments into a larger context.

    • Blueathena623

      Can you explain more why you think its a slow grind backwards? I don’t understand that statement.

    • alice

      i think in the same way that Downton Abbey is a slow grind towards pre-Suffrage times. oh wait, that’s ridiculous. :)

    • CrazyFor Kate

      I don’t know, when I first saw Arrested Development I was very tempted to go out and commit fraud.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      Marilyn, you have Mad Men fans totally wrong. Sure there are some who missed the point, but most of them hear what the series is saying loud and clear. They appreciate the characters but recognize their wrongdoing and outdated or offensive ideas. Come on, give us more credit than that.

    • alice

      This is really a bunch of crap. I wonder if you’ve even seen Mad Men (more than two episodes) or if you’re just parroting someone else’s trite argument that reduces the complexities of series like amc’s MM to something as obnoxiously simple as “if you like a show like that, you’re validating everything in it.”

    • Blueathena623

      Ok, after reading the responses of others, I think I get the gist of what you’re saying now. Have you watched many episodes of MM? In general, the people on the show are pretty fricking unhappy. There are light hearted moments, but for the most part, the writers make it pretty clear these are not lives to aspire to. I must not be following the same social media as you are, because on the forums I read the viewers are certainly not nostalgic for that period so they can be as happy and care free as don or Betty or Peter, etc.

  • Cherry

    I am so glad to read that someone else was totally repulsed by this exchange! I was stunned by this. It was very strange and a seemingly completely unnecessary exchange. I spent the rest of the episode expecting some follow-up to this, but there was none. If this is a predictor of things to come this season, MM will lose me as a fan. If not, I am still very confused and put off with this writing. Disgusted, in fact.

  • Blueathena623

    Full disclosure — haven’t seen the episode, but a huge mad men fan, have watched the other seasons I don’t know how many times.
    From what I’m reading and what I know of the characters, I think we have to distinguish between a character making a rape joke and the writers making a rape joke. Betty has massive fears about aging and she is basically a child. One of the major themes of the show is that she is in competition with her daughter. With this “joke” the writers are showing us how far Betty has gone off the deep end, that she can view a general compliment about the girls playing ability as a threat to her. Henry has the “what the hell” reaction because he’s the grow up, reacting to her twisted temper tantrum.

    As someone else said, mad men is intense, and I think their past portrayal of Joanie shows that they do not condone rape. After she was raped by her fiancé the subject was just dropped, and viewers thought “wait, are we just supposed to ignore this?” Technically, at the time, marital rape laws didn’t exist. But then, finally, when Joanie dumps his ass, she tells him “you know what you did”, which was the writers way of saying “we know society condoned marital rape, but we don’t”.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      Excellent comment, I am sure Betty has some awful rape backstory the writers will drag up

    • Blueathena623

      I guess we’ll see. Mad men is usually pretty good about not letting things drop, but I’m not sure I agree with al the posters on imdb who think that Betty was sexually abused. To me, she is seriously a child in a grown-up body and has weird, twisted views on sexuality. She was honest to god jealous that the kid played by Matt weiner’s son liked Sally. Sometimes when Betty says really audacious things, its like when kids say something shocking just to get attention.
      Also wanted to add, I know your other Betty post is over a year old, but Trudy is now a SAHM and delightful :)

    • Polly

      I’d like to comment not on the rape aspect of this thread (because I’m still not comfortable with what happened), but your line “Mad Men is usually pretty good about not letting thing drop”. I stopped watching the show after Season 3 because important storylines just disappeared and nobody talked about them, and it drove me bonkers. Maybe it got better in Seasons 4 and 5, but after 3 seasons, I was fed up.

    • http://www.facebook.com/imclerran Ian McLerran

      I’m not ready to believe Betty was sexually abused. However, your comment actually made a very strong argument for that back story.

      “To me, she is seriously a child in a grown-up body and has weird, twisted views on sexuality”

      To remain stuck in a child mentality is a typical sign of abuse at a young age, and I believe one could certainly expect weird twisted views on sexuality to be a repercussion of rape.

    • Blueathena623

      Ok, now that I’ve watched the intro, I’ve semi-revised my opinion. If the theme is what goes around comes around, something may be in store for Betty. However, I noticed that when all the girls were coming back from the symphony and Pauline said something like “we’ll now things can’t get any worse” and the girl said “my mothers dead”, she used a sort of gallows humor and people laughed. So Betty, ever the teenager herself, decides to use gallows humor in bed, except she of course gets it all wrong and is creepy.

  • Lastango

    “I was too busy being appalled by this little exchange to enjoy the rest of the episode.”


    I wouldn’t worry about it. This is just the Mad Men staff preparing to give the pomo audience the social relevence they’ve been demanding. All along, progressivist pundits have been jabbing at the apparent lack of social critique in some MM episodes. They want to feel enlightened and superior, and the facile way to do that is to show the MM characters as primitive and brutal. Then the pundits can point fingers and find elaborate ways to say “Look how superior we are today, and how far we’ve come!”

    IMO there’s plenty more historical revisionism where that gratituitouos chatter about rape came from. By the end we’ll be able to exclaim what we so desperately want to believe about ourselves: “I’m sooo glad I’m who I am, and not one of those horrid mid-century types.”

    One other thing: I imagine the MM team intend to insulate themselves from suspicion that they really are racist, sexist, discriminatory, and abuse of their on-air power to stomp on the saints that these days make up our protected political classes. So, the women, minorities, etc. will win enough battles in the end to pointing the way toward the glorious future we’ve achieved. But the battles will be ugly, and the victories only partial; that way it shows what terrible opposition we had to surmount, how heroic we had to be, in order to become the Shining City on the Hill we are today.

    …all of which is why I won’t be watching. I don’t figure primetime has much to offer by way of insight into history. They’re working their own quasi-political agendas, and they do whatever they want with the truth.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      This is pretty amazing Tango:

      ” One other thing: I imagine the MM team intend to insulate themselves from suspicion that they really are racist, sexist, discriminatory, and abuse of their on-air power to stomp on the saints that these days make up our protected political classes. So, the women, minorities, etc. will win enough battles in the end to pointing the way toward the glorious future we’ve achieved. But the battles will be ugly, and the victories only partial; that way it shows what terrible opposition we had to surmount, how heroic we had to be, in order to become the Shining City on the Hill we are today.”

    • Lastango

      We’ll see, Eve. The more horrid the Mad Men, the harder we of today can slap ourselves and each other on our smug backs.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      Seriously? Do we even watch the same show?

    • Lastango

      “Do we even watch the same show?” There’s more than one interpretation. Here’s another you may not recognize:


    • alice

      Just out of curiosity: are there any series on television that you enjoy, and if so, what?

      Your comment above speaks nothing about the show itself, and only about your interpretation of the writer’s intentions. Which is fine. You may elect any school of literary (or film) criticism you wish. And certainly you do not believe in “the text alone” !!

      So I’m curious to see how you view other television series, and if you ascribe such a seemingly transparent political agenda to everything (even when most would argue this agenda is non-existent, let alone so transparent.)

  • disqus_UjNiJUlkmd

    It was dark and disturbing but I was in no way offended by it because of the reaction of Henry in the scene. He was clearly disturbed and walking that thin line of, “I am disturbed by your comment but don’t want to tell you.” Then as she goes on he tells her that her joke is not funny and to cut it out. He smiles but I thought the actor did a good job of using his body language to negate his facial expression, if that made sense.
    I felt like the purpose of the joke was not to be funny but to show us that one of these characters is not a good person. I would feel the same way if a character made a bad racial joke and someone on the show told him it wasn’t funny.
    I think is was supposed to bother the audience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KatjaMouse Katja Yount

    I’m sure this may be Betty lashing out due to her own insecurity. Remember that Henry here married a woman much younger than himself and perhaps it’s that past behavior that her own insecurity is stirring up this idea that he needs younger and younger women. And before then Don regularly cheated on her, at least one instance while she was in a dining room a few feet away with a client. She’s with someone for the first time that hasn’t shown sexual dishonesty before towards her and whatever emotional frustrations she’s going through is translating into some kind of bizarre jealousy.

    Of course I’m not condoning child rape but remember this is a character driven show, not plot. Betty has some very dark issues and that anger has only been heating up over the years. Last year is was a rolling boil. This year it’s boiling over the pot.

  • CrazyFor Kate

    Um, you know this wasn’t something the audience was supposed to find funny, right? In fact, I think we were supposed to have the same reaction as Henry. The writers are not making fun of child rape, they are showing that something is seriously messed up with Betty. I think you really missed the point with this one, Eve. Mentioning rape does not automatically make it a joke or an endorsement, and I think your blinders were on this time.

    (And lots of recappers brought up the “What the hell Betty” moment – I am one.)

    • livethroughthis

      Regardless of whether it was supposed to be funny or not it was offensive. The comment Betty made was rather out of place and her husbands responses didn’t seem to question her odd behaviour much and the scene just fizzled out. As a rape survivor I was deeply offended, even if it wasn’t a “joke”, that the scene was written so nonchalantly. There are other ways to portray Betty’s strange jealousy, talking- in great detail- about child sexual abuse isn’t one!

    • Hyperbolme

      As another childhood rape survivor, I thought the scene was an important illustration of rape culture – a culture where women can be participants, or instigators. That scene chilled me to the bone and I think that was the intent. I’m glad the writers of Man Men went over-the-top with this scene because we need to give the U.S. a bitter taste in its mouths about the objectification and sexualization of youth. To buy a fashion magazine with a 14-year-old model in the skimpiest of outfits sporting smeared red lipstick and cleavage is one example I can think of that promotes the perversion we’re discussing. Who buys fashion magazines? Mostly women, right?

    • Arla Halvorsen

      Survivor, and I totally agree with you. It’s important to pull the curtain away and expose our society’s implicit acceptance of rape. The only thing more demonstrative of society’s position on rape would have been for him to do it and then have everyone blame the girl for having gone over there, or having not left with the mother and daughter, or having worn something too suggestive, or having not fought back hard enough. Any excuse to make it her fault. Then that would have really been an accurate representation of how our society handles this topic.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kacie-Danielle-Riley/18506719 Kacie Danielle Riley

      It wasn’t out of place, because it is so messed up that it shows exactly how seriously MESSED UP and CRAZY Betty is. Maybe Henry should have had a stronger reaction, but the fact he didn’t is also central to the story because that is how his character handles Betty by not making her upset and therefore even crazier. Instead, he placates her.

  • A-nony-mous

    At this point in the show I think they’re just going for shock value for shock value’s sake. It’s easy to get viewers that way. Getting very disappointed with this tactic in the show for the last few episodes. Drama for drama’s sake that comes from nowhere, adds nothing to the plot or characters and dies a death quicker than a camera flash within an episode never to be spoken of again basically. So I’m not surprised or shocked by this at all. Their ratings are going down and they know it and are desperate.

  • Lawcat

    It was definitely a WTF moment. My husband and were kind of like “whaaaaaa?!” But I think it was the illustrate how inappropriate Betty is. She’s vain, selfish, uncaring, and jealous of youthful girls. So much so that she thinks joking about child rape is OK. I didnt think they were joking about rape in a “haha” kind of way, but more to highlight that only a truly clueless, awful person would bring it up; as shown in her husband and the viewers reactions.

    • Dreám Bongo

      “She’s vain, selfish, uncaring, and jealous of youthful girls.”

      Aren’t a lot of aging women? Always slamming younger women with adjectives like “shallow,” “dumb” etc while(collectively) spending multi-millions, if not billions, in “anti-aging/look-younger” products

  • Annie

    I think the way they wrote it, Betty intended for it to be a joke, not the writers. If that makes sense. It was a vehicle to convey her snipey, bitter nature in a brutal way meant to shock us like ice water to the face. I know when I watched it, I was all “WHOAHH OKAY THEN” which might be the point.

    That isn’t to say that your opinion is wrong, though. Society is obsessed with jailbait and I think this is a valid conversation.

  • Eileen

    I was thinking the same thing which is why I googled “creepy dialogue-Betty Draper” and I came across what you wrote. I was equally disturbed and I am still trying to figure out what the point of the exchange was, really strange!!!! And why is Betty so determined to find this girl, it’s like she is a little obsessed with her.

  • lin

    it wasn’t meant to be funny, it was meant to shock, make you realize how disturbed she is and how much you should hate her. Child rape is horrific, you’re supposed to feel that way.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      why must we hate her? She has to have some redeeming qualities or did Don just marry a witch because she was hot? Oh Mad Men, you conflict me so!

    • lin

      Well, not sure. I guess maybe not hate her – hate some of her qualities, see how disturbed she is….I think the storyline will continue. Whether a great plot, or a bad one, I do think you took it the wrong way. They weren’t trying to make light of child rape, they were portraying her being seriously bizarre, messed up, disturbed. In my opinion anyway. Maybe they went too far? It was disturbing, but I think she was disturbing, not the writers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650762478 Julie Hill

      I think the part of the storyline where Betty tries to find the girl after she runs away is supposed to redeem her somewhat. I think despite her dreadful insecurities, she knows right from wrong and she did try to find this girl. However, she then lied to Henry about where she had been, which was confusing. I don’t know if the girl is a relative, but someone needed to be alerted that she had run away. But maybe this is just keeping her character consistent. Betty has kept inappropriate secrets before regarding children, like when the neighbor kid wanted a locket of her hair. I think like the other posters have said, Betty identifies TOO MUCH with being a child–thus she kept the secret of the girl running away.

  • http://josiejarvis.tumblr.com josiej

    so glad you wrote this that scene basically ruined my day, im not sure I want to keep watching mad men now.

  • astor

    I was deeply disturbed by the lack of context around that “joke.” And further bothered by the lack of commentary about child rape. Thank you so much for bringing up the issue.

    • http://www.facebook.com/KatjaMouse Katja Yount

      I think the context was Betty. That’s it. She has poor boundaries and has been getting darker each season.

  • Psych Student

    People (though especially men) do seem to make rather dreadful comments about sex with young girls. I am sure that the woman from STFUParents (who’s name I can’t come up with right now, sorry!) can pull up a bunch of examples of dads talking about their baby daughters getting penetrated and such and the comments about baby boys related to their penis size. It is distressing to read about sex with children (of any gender) in anything but a horrified manner.

  • http://twitter.com/carinnjade Carinn Jade

    I’m with you Eve, that was some wacky shite, but my guess is you couldn’t enjoy the rest of the TWO HOUR vanity project that was this season’s opener because it was boring as hell. And I love that show. I’m looking forward to things actually happening now that we got all that out of the way.

  • Lrbailey

    Only one other person on my Facebook page acknowledged that this conversation even happened, before that I was afraid I had been hallucinating. I get that the writers wanted to show how crazy Betty is but why use the term “rape”? Why not have her say “Why don’t you go in there and have sex with her?” Which would be just as bad, don’t get me wrong, but what was the reasoning behind using that specific word?

  • Bubble

    Well, this was supposed to make the audience uncomfortable, wasn’t it? Yes, it was awful. No, it wasn’t meant to be funny. Everyone who’s ever seen Mad Men knows that Betty has issues. So please just get over yourself – calling it a “joke” when everyone knows it wasn’t meant as a “joke,” that’s just sad. Or are you grumpy because whoever you were watching this with started laughing?

  • suite & tie

    You are 100 % right, Eve, that was disgusting. Will never watch the show again. Ever !

  • http://www.facebook.com/skyebellematilda.brand Skye Belle Matilda Brand

    I stopped watching Mad Men a while ago because it’s just utter shit…pretty glad I missed this.

  • http://twitter.com/snerber Snobo

    Betty noticed Henry looking at 15-year-old Sandy with some sexual interest and confronted him about. Having no compunction about this, Henry responded by joking about leaving Betty “for a teenaged musician.” Betty just took the conversation to its logical conclusion.
    Betty has a vicarious empathy with Sandy. In the kitchen scene, where Betty and Sandy are talking about their mothers dying, anxieties about going to college, Betty expresses confidence – rightly or wrongly – that she knows from experience exactly what Sandy’s feeling. Betty sees Sandy as a younger version of herself. Having once been a teenaged girl who presumably – like many teenaged girls – got a lot of inappropriate attention from grown men, Betty’s “rape joke” was an expression of anger and disgust on Sandy’s behalf. The smile and peck on the cheek was just passive-aggression.

  • facepalm4usa

    The show is set in a far less PC time, Betty has almost almost been unhinged, and Henry was looking at the girl oddly. It was meant to shock him. Perhaps you should stick with the endless hours of child program’s if you can’t handle a less then nice warning to a stepfather leering at his stepdaughter.

  • doggielover21

    Yes, I TOTALLY found the child rape comment utterly disturbing – in fact, I think I am done with the show. Pushing creative limits is one thing, but there was no need for that. People behind the media are really trying to make things that are not right OK and harden the public, and it’s working, based on little controversy there was with that comment.

  • Digger Nick

    Wow that was awesome! Betty has gotten a lot hotter, I’m sorry I missed that episode.

  • Will

    Whether that joke was a plot device to open up something about Betty’s past or not that we’ll see in future episodes, the joke was disgusting. If it wasn’t for it being so deadpan, and not a cartoon I would have mistaken that as an episode of family guy. I mean for goodness sake, there are swear words that can’t be said on television, yet a joke about rape is absolutely alright? I’m a writer and I am all for a story and having reasons behind why things are written the way they are but to take something so devastating to women, and men (it does happen) and young children and make it a punch line of some sort? That’s beyond unacceptable. Furthermore, I know Mad Men is very elusive with back stories and likes to make the audience wait and say WTF? But at the very least some kind of hint to Betty’s past being related to the reason for that joke could have been made…a flash back or some kind of angry retort, or a question from her husband. At least then it would have given substance to the comment….but again it was disgusting.

  • Jayne Montgomery

    Me too :(

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