Summer Update of Nada

I’m trying to get ready for the next season. Any requests? Any podcast ideas? Any anything?

It’s pretty hot outside right now, so I’m not feeling inspired. Help me out! Leave a comment or send me something at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

Hot, see?

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I feel as listless as this guy in the summer heat.

Racism in Vintage Cards

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr. day, and I got called out for posting vintage cards that were blatantly racist. I included a caption explaining that I did it as a reminder of how racism used to be part of the holidays for many people, and it seemed appropriate for the way my blog deals with vintage images and for the day.

[For the record, I’m not posting them on this post because it might just seem like provocation, but the links are above.]

I also assumed that someone would misinterpret what I was doing, and I was right. I’ll call the person Fred because he (although I guess Fred can be a girl’s name, too) submitted comments anonymously rather than giving his actual tag, and I just like the name Fred because, come on…it’s Fred! But Fred sent in a few notes, and I think the real heart of what he wanted to say was this:

I don’t pull out pictures of swatstikas and go lol fucked up how that use to happen but we can laugh about it now huh guys. No. no one wants to see racist art I can guarantee that. There is no good reason for you to be posting that.

I gave some quick responses because I was on the road, but I wanted to explain in a bit more detail. (He also kept IM’ing me, but I kept the rest of the conversation private.)

I obviously disagree with Fred. I actually do think there a number of good reasons to post (share, disseminate, whatever) racist images from the past. I think the same thing about misogynist images, images making fun of the misfortunate, underprivileged, poor, you name it. I do it all the time, and I’d say that things any marginally ethical person today would find offensive make up about 20% of the stuff I post.

I do it for a few different reasons:

1. It’s funny. Or rather, it’s funny when done from the right context. I make fun of the cards, ridicule them, but the joke isn’t the offensive material itself. The joke is that someone used to think this is ok. The joke is to make fun of the people who thought this was a good thing to say.

On that front, it’s basic satire. It’s the kind they teach you in middle school when you have to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, then have to sit through a class where all the idiots ask why he would want to eat babies and how Swift is obviously an evil person, and the teacher has to spend the next hour trying to get people to realize that satire is all about saying one thing and meaning the opposite. Some people never get that lesson. Those people shouldn’t read/follow my blog. But, hey, the Dunning-Kruger effect is always in full force, and the internet is an open democracy, so, whatever.

2. It’s important. Look, I’m under no illusions that posting dumb old cards and making smart-ass comments about them is doing a social service along the lines of passing anti-discrimination legislation. In fact, if I have a problem with how I replied yesterday, it’s that I was probably too earnest. But I do think it’s important to know your history, and since I’m all about a very weird, very odd angle on the “history” of the holidays, the least I can do is not whitewash this kind of stuff when I find it. Otherwise, I might give the impression that I think the Victorians and 19th century Americans who made a lot of these cards were just naïve people who thought that frogs and weird Santas were fun to slap on a Christmas card.

But the truth is that these images are a glimpse into the weirder side of a culture that had some pretty messed up ideas about kids, about religion, about gender, about their own culture, and, yes, about racism. The “weird” in these things is sometimes funny, and it’s sometimes downright disturbing.

3. It’s right. Ok, maybe I’m a little earnest. Part of why I like posting these weird cards is to burst peoples’ bubbles about the “sanctity” of the holidays. For example, I like the history that shows there is no one true history of Christmas (or any holiday, for that matter). I get a kick out of showing how Christians for most of the last 2000 years wanted to keep Christ OUT of Christmas, which makes the whole “War on Christmas” look ridiculous. I get the cynic’s jolt of glee out of that, and, sure, it’s not entirely neighborly, but it’s fun. Still, showing a Christmas card that is blatantly racist is a great way to say, “Hey, guys! You talk about the ‘good ole days’ when Christmas was all about religion, but how do you square that with blatantly hateful cards that show ethnic hatred? Where’s the Christmas spirit there?” So showing these cards is in fact a kind of reminder of how racism (or sexism, or what have you) has been part of our culture even when we were supposedly at our most “holy” moments. There’s a kind of ethical responsibility in doing that. You bring them up, show how they work, and remind yourself how bad things can get.

So that’s why. But Fred said it didn’t matter what my intentions were. I was still posting racist stuff, period. The easy response to that is that intention is all that matters. (Well, and context.) If your purpose is to make a point about historical racism, you have to talk about that racism and show evidence. You can’t say “Some of these cards were racist” but then refuse to show any examples because that would be racist. His swastika analogy fails because that’s precisely what you DO to keep those symbols from regaining some kind of power.  And mockery, laughter, and satire are good ways to keep images from regaining their power.

But there’s a more sophisticated response he could have made. He could have said that it was inappropriate to be doing that on Martin Luther King, Jr. day, especially if I was just trying to get a cheap laugh. And I would agree with him there. If I was just trying to create controversy by posting evil pictures in direct opposition to the day’s meaning, then he’d have every right to bitch at me. If I was just slapping up racist pictures and saying “Happy MLK day!” hoping to piss people off and be an asshole, then of course! That would be radically disrespectful. And, granted, maybe I was walking that line a little too closely.

Still, here’s why I don’t think it’s disrespectful: MLK wasn’t about celebrating being beyond racism. He never saw a victory over racism or even, as far as I’ve read, thought it would be possible in his lifetime. His life was about the always-continued struggle against oppression and inequality. The fight is always still going on. History’s crimes and their effects are still happening now. So celebrating the day isn’t supposed to be about celebrating only the progress he made, but also about remembering the fights that are still being fought. And given that my cards are a tiny little niche of weirdness, posting those things was the only on-topic way I could acknowledge that.

Now, it’s important for me to note that I COULD BE WRONG! That’s why I posted his responses publicly rather than ignoring or keeping them silent. I’m actually glad he spoke up because it’s good to have a discussion about this stuff. And I’m trying hard to not to say that Fred is WRONG! I’m saying I disagree, and that’s an important difference. He or someone else might convince me to change my mind, but I just don’t agree with the reasons he gave.

But I’m also not an idiot: if I got a huge response from a ton of people telling me I just didn’t get it, then mea culpa. But in the years that I’ve been doing this, it hasn’t happened. Fred was the only person to speak up yesterday. And, honestly, the reaction has mostly been the opposite: lots of people from different backgrounds have told me they like seeing the “problematic” cards, and a few people have even gone on to use them in really constructive ways. But if the pushback became big, I’d have to listen, especially in situations like this because I’m not the one facing the racism/misogyny/hate in these cards. (There’s a wonderful article on precisely that kind of deference to criticism by a philosopher named Laurence Thomas titled “Moral Deference.” It’s incredibly moving and thoughtful and talks about the times when you need to just shut up and listen to the people who have more to say about a topic than you do.)

And that brings me to one last point: In a different IM, Fred said that the only reason I posted these was because I was white. Or he assumed I’m white. (He didn’t tell me what ethnicity he or she is.) And, yeah, I’m white. I’m also probably all the other privileged categories you can think of. But he doesn’t know my family, my friends, my community, my politics, my profession, or anything else about me, what kinds of discrimination I’ve seen against pepole close to me, fought against both privately and publicly, etc. And I’m not going to defend myself on that front because by doing so, he assumed intentions about me rather than looking at the context in which I posted those pictures. Besides, in the end, it’s also true that not only white people post these. Harvey Young, Jr., for example, has done a lot to publicize these cards and discuss their racist heritage.  (I even found a bunch of Valentine’s Day cards through him that I’d never seen before.)

Blah blah blah tl;dr, I know. But I wanted to lay it out a bit more. Disagree? Am I totally wrong? Comment here or send me a note at weirdxmas@gmail.com.

 

Gnew Year Gnomes

A Happy New Year - Gnomes with a Mushroom and Bouquet

MMMMMMMushrooms!

The New Year cards are just chock full of gnomes. You might even say it’s an infestation. I mean, sure, there are a lot of pigs. But the gnomes show up even more often.

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Dance, fools!

The weird thing is that, while the pigs have a tradition and reasonable explanation for them, the gnomes are a bit harder to account for.

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Drink my gnomish concoction and despair!

They’re all across the nationality spectrum. English gnomes, Scandinavian gnomes, German gnomes, French gnomes, I’ve even found a Russian gnome (although I lost the card…I’ll post it when I find it.)

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This guy wants to eat the New Year baby with chips.

But why New Years cards in particular? They show up occasionally in Christmas cards, but apart from pictures of just straight-up drinking to depression, gnomes are one of the most popular images.

I can’t find a good explanation why either online or in anything I’ve read.

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So much is going on here that I have a headache.

The popular explanation online is that it’s all tripped-out, old school hallucinogenic holiday fun. There’s a big love online of using these cards as evidence that the old Northern and Central European winter solstice traditions used fly agaric mushrooms as part of the celebrations. And, of course, gnomes and elves seem trippy.

I don’t buy it. But I think it’s a cool theory, and one day I’ll get around to why I both love and hate the idea.

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“And this is my tribute to Jerry Garcia….”

So why gnomes? Elves and fairies were never really seen as good luck charms in most cultures. On the contrary, you had to do all kinds of things to keep them from causing trouble. So to see them associated with other images of fortune and prosperity for the new year is odd, to say the least.

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Pig arch. I guess?

But there they are, always hanging out with pigs, clovers, horseshoes, and showering money all over themselves and the rest of the world.

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Not quite Santa, but a kind of riff….?

The one above made me wonder if the gift-giving thing and Santa and his elves had something to do with it, but you don’t usually see them associated with other St. Nick or Santa or gift-giving imagery. So is it something about the elves (or leprechauns or whatever) hoarding cash? Possibly…

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Homey don’t care.

So I’m clueless. If you have more insight, post a comment or drop me a note at weirdxmas@gmail.com. This one bugs me because I can’t figure it out, and I feel like it should be more obvious.

In the meantime, have a gnice gnomey gnew gn…year:

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These dudes really love midnight.

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Just drop that crap anywhere.

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TOO MUCH COCAINE!!!!!!!!!

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Damn, girl. That’s cold!

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Jump, pig! JUMP FOR YOUR LIFE!

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Whatever. I’m frickin’ cold.

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I WILL CHOP YOU!

New Year Pigs

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Hungarian for “Happy New Year.” As if that’s the hardest thing to translate…

You’re gonna see a lot of pigs on the New Year cards. They’ll stop seeming weird after the first twenty or so, I promise. There’s a lot of clover and mushrooms, too. (Not to be confused with Christmas mushrooms, which are another thing altogether and ENTIRELY 100% PROOF OF EVERYTHING THIS SITE WANTS YOU TO BELIEVE! Don’t let rationality get in the way of a cool idea.)

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The mushrooms aren’t about tripping. Or not ONLY about tripping.

 

But I digress.

It’s not that weird when you know the history. In a lot of Teutonic (old German) and Scandinavian traditions, pigs represent good luck and prosperity. That’s why you’ll see them with four leaf clovers and a lot of bags of gold or coins. The idea is basically wishing you a prosperous new year.

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Why does only one wear clothes? We may never know.

But…that didn’t stop the card artists from just going hog-wild on the odd things that pigs can do in these cards. Sometimes, it seems downright UNlucky.

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This is obviously on a farm, and they’re getting drunk for the slaughter.

In some cases, I’m just glad that it’s the artists who were drinking instead of the pigs, because otherwise, where would we see a gnome playing on a see-saw with a piglet?

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WE’RE the lucky ones!

A lot of spilled money, too. I guess that’s a sign of excess but also seems…careless.

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Dammit, kid, have a care!

Some are downright threatening, though.

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Go all in. I dare you.

Some make me want to purge and purge and purge until I’m eternally clean…

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Now…where did those coins come from?

Pigs. Enjoy your New Year Pigs.

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I like to imagine how this card would smell.

2016’s Greatest Hits

For Christmas day, I thought I’d put together all the most popular cards from this year’s posting on Tumblr. These aren’t necessarily my favorite, but they’re definitely the ones that went furthest this year. Some I expected, but others surprised me quite a bit. So here they are in no particular order:

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A perennial favorite. “Frog Murder Christmas” got up to 10k shares this year.

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By far the most popular Krampus card this year, which I thought was odd because usually the darker ones get the most traffic.

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Another non-surprise. This guy never fails to please.

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This was second behind Frog Murder this year. And I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. (Truthfully, anything with a cat was a hit, but I’m only including one because it’s my blog and I can do what I want so leave me alone you crazy cat people!)

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Who knew so many people liked frogs in boots carrying umbrellas?

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This. Why?

A Merry Xmas to You

I almost didn’t keep this one because it’s just an owl, but the more I looked at it, the creepier it seemed. A lot of people agreed.

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The bird parade really messed up a lot of peoples’ holidays, I think.

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I put this one up right after Thanksgiving, and it stayed popular the whole month.

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This Krampus card has always been popular, especially among the racier blogs that repost things from me. I’ll let you guess why.

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Christmas?

And finally…

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Everyone loves a Santa who’s willing to kill.

It’s different every year, and this year was about cats and killing. I guess that’s good enough for Christmas. And now… on to the New Years’ cards!

The Rabbit of Questionable Contentment

Sometimes I think far too much about these cards. This is one of those times. Fair warning that I really, really enjoy taking over analysis way too far in order to come to ridiculous conclusions about innocuous things. I promise to post more random pictures of funny things next time. But for now…this:

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I’ve never understood it. I mean, I get what it’s supposed to say, but the second I let my mind focus on any part, the logic starts going in crazy circles. And I end up thinking that somehow this card is incredibly anti-Christmas. Here’s my reasoning:

The top part says “Much Happiness at Christmas!” MUCH seems to be the kicker here. Not just a conservative, prudent bit of happiness, but MUCH. (See how “MUCH HAPPINESS” is all in caps? DO YOU!?) Fine.

The bottom says, “Content is Happiness.” That’s inelegant phrasing, I must say, but I get it: be content with what you have, and you’ll be happy.

But to be simply content would seem to contradict “MUCH” happiness. So we already have a problem.

BUT THEN, the rabbit has nothing. He’s looking at one tiny little piece of fruit or veg. So he’s not being greedy. I mean, look at the wasteland he’s sitting in. There’s absolutely nothing to eat, no vegetation, not even leaves on the stems all around him in that snowy, claustrophibic hell of a background.

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Nothing lives here. Nothing can survive here. This is a Beckett landscape.

So…what’s the conclusion?

Thesis 1: To be content with what you have is good enough. The rabbit shouldn’t seek anything new or anything at all really because it all comes to disaster. If he even tries to survive by eating the only edible thing in his world, he’ll be killed by a trap. Accept what you have, even if it’s nothing.

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Look at him: innocent, scared, indecisive…

But that’s awful. So…

Thesis 2: Realize that even the smallest thing you desire is more than you need. The rabbit already has life, but why should he want MORE life? To want more, even when “more” seems like the barest minimum, will lead to tragedy. So maybe desire itself is the problem? Now we’re getting very Buddhist. Desire causes suffering. So only contentment can bring happiness. So this is a Buddhist Christmas card? Maybe.

But that doesn’t solve the problem of the difference between MUCH happiness and contentment. The card wants to surf that limit. So let’s give it the benefit of the doubt. This card isn’t Stoic or Buddhist but is somehow a response to a Buddha-like angle that still finds happiness beyond giving up on desire.

And here’s where I get weird. This card is about the trap, not the rabbit. This card is about the person who set out to kill the rabbit. It seems like it’s using the rabbit as a lesson about not wanting too much and how it might be dangerous to desire things. But, no. It’s about the poor soul living in this wasteland who can’t survive without killing something through a kind of deception (offering food that really means the creature’s death). It’s about how the rabbit’s death will lead to the hunter’s survival. The rabbit’s dilemma is a distraction.

This card is about the sacrifice inherent in every moment of nourishment. To have too much contentment would be to side with the rabbit, to empathize with the reality that things have to die in order for others to survive. Is that empathy useful? Of course not. It means that we would die, that we couldn’t eat anything. After all, the rabbit has to kill the vegetable in order to survive. So are we any worse for killing the rabbit? We’re ultimately the same.

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This carrot/tomato/fruit/vegetable thing is just as tragic as the rabbit. Or us. Or any living creature caught in the cycle of eating things just to be eaten by other things later.

But if we’re supposed to empathize with the dude who laid out the trap, are we still really talking about contentment? A trap has a purpose: to kill in order to satisfy the trap-maker’s desire. That’s the opposite of contentment because it’s going out of your way to destroy something else for your own gain.

Contentment is more like realizing that the tragedy is necessary — it’s not about avoiding tragedy. I mean, are we supposed to give up on our desire to survive? Are we supposed to be like the rabbit who’s apparently afraid to keep living because it’s afraid to eat? Or are we supposed to recognize that any moment of survival is also a moment of something else’s demise on which that survival depends? After all, the rabbit is both prey and hunter (or veg) in the image. The image is ruthlessly realistic and unsentimental. Things die so that other things can survive. There’s no other reality.

Now…if the card, on top of that image, wishes us MUCH happiness at Christmas, it’s violating the cycle of sacrifice and survival it pictures. It’s breaking the cycle by saying that we can be happy without sadness, that we can have MUCH happiness even beyond contentment.

Christmas would be excess. Christmas would be outside of the circle of survival. Christmas, in other words, is unrealistic.

The very idea of Christmas as being about MUCH HAPPINESS goes against everything else pictured in the card. In other words, the card intentionally contradicts itself. But why would it do that? Because it’s malicious.

This card attacks Christmas as an unrealistic sham that creates hope which will only be dashed on the rocky shores of an uncaring cycle of survival. This, friends, is a cynical and evil card. It mocks us, it mocks our pain, and it mocks our celebrations. It points out problems it can’t solve. It wants me to be confused even while it pretends to celebrate my favorite season. It wants me to want impossible things and then to point out how impossible they are. It wants me to value contentment and then remind me that contentment is never enough. It wants me to admit that I can never be happy or fulfilled or content, especially at Christmas time.

I hate this card.

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Look at his terror! That is my terror!

I also think I’ve probably thought about it way too much.

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Krampus was a dame!

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The tongue gives it away.

Well, not really.

But there are quite a few German cards from early and mid-century that show a female version of Krampus. The above is one of my favorites because it looks like they took a stock image of a sweet young girl and just added the trappings — craftsmanship at its finest.   But some go a bit further:

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Krampus also has sex appeal, but men should let that cool/slide… [rough translation because my German’s out of practice]

It’s not a stretch, though. The central European tradition of Perchta (sometimes Percht or Berchta), a female witch figure who gives presents and doles out punishment, is still around. And she sometimes carries switches like Krampus or St. Nick or Knecht Ruprecht in older traditions. Sometimes she was even shown with horns, or at least hanging out with a Krampus:

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This picture scares me.

But even when male, it’s clear that Krampus is supposed to get some of his naughtiness from sex or from some kind of association with female iconography. I like how in this one a simple broom becomes the switches, as if suggesting that even your sweet little domestic goddess could turn into a demon at any moment, and her expression is anything but innocent, especially with those guys chained to the wall back there:

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I’ll sweep you into hell, sweetie.

Then there are the cards that show Krampus to be powerless against women, turning into a simpering puppy-dog figure when he sees a pretty girl. I’m never sure if these are supposed to “weaken” Krampus or just show that women are more powerful. But it’s a big theme:

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If you want to dance in the club, invite Krampus to your party today!

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What fine suitors she has.

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Looks like she said yes.

But then there are the ones that show women straight up taming and emasculating Krampus. Chicks got power, yo!

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This time the switches are a witch’s broom.

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That’s a beautiful story: A Krampus falls in love.

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She skinned him!

Some just go for the hard-ass bitch vibe. I’m down with that.

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The biker thing’s just an excuse to show panties. Not that I’m complaining…

But this last one is definitely my favorite. She’s a full on intentional Krampus collecting dudes in her basket. Men suck.

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Is the guy in the basket happy?

 

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