You Will Never Feel Safe in a Movie Theater Again

"Good morning, shooters," came the tweet from @NRA_Rifleman. "Happy Friday! Weekend plans?"

Funny you should ask.

The tweet was soon deleted by whoever maintains the National Rifle Association-affiliated Twitter account, likely (but unofficially) the reaction to an outpouring of protest over the insensitivity of such a query mere hours after James Holmes allegedly opened fire in an Aurora, Colorado, multiplex, killing 12 and wounding 50. Moreover, it was a stupid question because we know everybody's weekend plans, curled up with the cultural imperative to "process" the event: To blame, to pray, to reflect, to understand. Was it linked to The Dark Knight Rises, whose feverish midnight showing served as the flashpoint of the massacre? Was it an outgrowth of generations of mediated violence — a gory cocktail of TV shows, video games and shoot-'em-up blockbusters? Was it just a 24-year-old nutjob wanting to hurt, maim and kill for no other reason than to simply do it?

Whatever. It's all those things and more and none of them all at once, because it doesn't really matter.

Not if we're being honest with ourselves. The victims don't matter. The shooter doesn't matter. The motive doesn't matter. All that matters is us, sitting here wringing our hands over the same nightmare we've seen and "processed" again and again and that has finally hit us where we always knew it would: At the movies. A confined space comprising hundreds of strangers in the dark, all vulnerable, oblivious to their surroundings. A literal sitting target in a nation where the National Rifle Association cheerfully greets 16,000 Twitter followers on the same morning that an actual, real-life American Rifleman murdered a dozen compatriots, injured 50 others and got us all talking once more about the omnipresence of gun violence — until no one can settle on accountability and we get bored and stop talking about it. Then it happens anew.

Again, though, you know that story, and you know that we do nothing. So welcome to the new reality: You will never feel safe in a movie theater again.

You will suppress fears and go anyway, because "I can't let the [insert menacing perpetrator of violence here] win. You will go in groups that help you feel safer." You will pass through metal detectors and spot armed police and/or part-time security sentinels roaming the multiplex lobbies and corridors. You will arrive early to get a seat close-by an exit, but then second-guess your position because Holmes is said to have entered through an emergency exit, and what if a gunman or other rampaging homicidal maniac enters behind you and you don't see him? And eventually you will go back to whatever strategy you had before Aurora, because it's easier to be complacent than paranoid. What choice do you have?

Consider Jessica Redfield, who was shot and killed this morning at the movies. Redfield kept a blog where she described in eerie, devastating detail having narrowly missed last month's shooting at Toronto's Eaton Center:

More people joined the crowd at the scene and asked what happened. “There was a shooting in the food court,” kept being whispered through the crowd like a game of telephone. I was standing near a security guard when I heard him say over his walkie talkie, “One fatality.” At this point I was convinced I was going to throw up. I’m not an EMT or a police officer. I’m not trained to handle crime and murder. Gun crimes are fairly common where I grew up in Texas, but I never imagined I’d experience a violent crime first hand. I’m on vacation and wanted to eat and go shopping. Everyone else at the mall probably wanted the same thing. I doubt anyone left for the mall imagined they witness a shooting.

I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.

It would be her final post, and it once again raises the most crucial yet unresolved questions that face us every time this scenario erupts, whether at Eaton Center or Winnenden or Columbine or Utøya Island or Virginia Tech: What will it take for us to stop never imagining we'll experience a violent crime first hand and accept the ever-increasing likelihood of that prospect? And if we accept it, what, if anything, will prompt us to change it? Not violent knife crime or violent bomb crime, either, but violent gun crime — the kind that took Redfield's life and which even she acknowledged as an afterthought from her upbringing in Texas, where one representative's answer to this morning's massacre was not to address the crisis of gun violence but rather to actually lament, "[W]as there nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?"

I'm not going to go spelunking through the murky logic of the pro-gun crowd or the phony, fleeting outrage of millions who sit by spinelessly, deigning to confront the gun scourge only after it has taken another 12 or 20 or 80 souls they never knew. I'm not going to dwell on the barbarism of a society that extols the Second Amendment as gospel but would just as soon argue against an uninsured gunshot victim's constitutional right to health-care coverage. (And anyway, every one of those survivors receiving care in Aurora today surely has a full-time job with excellent benefits, right? Right?) Furthermore, if decades' worth of school shootings and hundreds of dead kids can't force appreciable change, then why would one multiplex tragedy in Colorado result in anything different?

Here's why: Because you'll never feel safe in a movie theater again.

Call it a silver lining if you want (or can), or just call it cold, calculated industry politics, but Aurora transcends our familiar gun-culture stalemates in that very specific way: A billion-dollar industry long accustomed to treating its customers like shit without consequence has been jolted into recognizing a threat that it can't just sweep under the rug. Elected leaders and civic bureaucrats and unions can get away with sabotaging education all they want, up to and including neglecting and ignoring the budding sociopaths who roam the halls and streets with guns. Missing the point is part of their DNA. Hollywood, meanwhile, can see the massacre's ghosts aloft in a shadow lengthening hourly over its domain, and even if every person in America took in a movie tonight in solidarity, the reality of that act as a reaction against fear as opposed to the pursuit of entertainment — of cinema's enduring spiritual thrill — compromises everything this billion-dollar industry is built on.

Like those in the NRA, the captains of this billion-dollar industry also have a lobby in Washington. And when you see envoys for the Cinemark theater chain, the National Association of Theater Owners and the Motion Picture Association of America enacting their own solidarity, and when you see stock values drop and security costs surge (the latter of which, as noted, won't actually help you feel any safer in a movie theater, but hey), you can expect that lobby to apply the same volume of muscle we've seen exerted by gun owners, retailers, manufacturers and the rest of the firearms lobby for years. Only then, when the forces collide, might we have some actual development in how we truly deal with gun violence. And even that is assuming both can be honest about the psychic ravages and legacies of violence, from which they have profited enough to be so powerful in the first place.

Unless, that is, any of us feel like actually doing something worthwhile with all our fashionable defiance — actively diminishing and someday, generations from now, eradicating the kind of gun violence that actually followed Jessica Redfield from Texas to Toronto to Aurora and to which she was so inured that she never imagined it could happen to her. "I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end," she wrote. "When or where we will breathe our last breath." It really shouldn't be in a movie theater, but I guess we'd better add it to the list of possibilities. Wouldn't want to disrupt those weekend plans, you know?

Follow S.T. VanAirsdale on Twitter.
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[Photo: Shutterstock]


  • KG says:

    So, are you saying you don't feel safe in schools, churches, shopping malls, city streets, airplanes, federal offices, or your workplace? Or any other place where mass shootings have happened?

    S.T., I respect your writing and I believe your intentions were good when penning this, but this is just incorrect fearmongering. I truly wish you hadn't written this and that Movieline hadn't posted that. Moreover, I wish that you didn't have to (apparently genuinely) feel this way.

  • Andrew says:

    So you eradicated guns, then what?

    You still have the violence.

    Have you forgotten about the guy who was stabbed in the throat with a meat thermometer for daring to shush a woman on her cell phone during a screening of Shutter Island?

    If this guy hadn't been able to get his hands on guns, he would have still done something. He would have built a homemade explosive. Or just run in and started stabbing everyone. Because his goal was to hurt and kill and the guns were just his tool. They were incidental.

    You're playing armchair quarterback for something that NO ONE could have predicted. Not the people who point out the dude's "warning signs", not the anti-gun looneys, not the pro-gun looneys with "if only someone had been packing so they could have started blindly firing into the dark" as if that wouldn't double the amount of casualties.

    This is an act of madness pure and simple. And while it's the human condition to try and put a finger on something irrational in an attempt to rationalize it and thus understand it, to feel like maybe if you only could do that and figure out how, you can stop it from ever happening again, you can't.

    It's not the guns.
    It's not the movie.
    It's not the movie theater.

    Something like this will happen BECAUSE it happens and that's the only reason it happens.

    • Jessica says:

      Good comment. I completely agree. Madness is in the human condition, that's what caused this; maybe the man took some inspiration from the movie, maybe he did not. Maybe if there were stricter laws on guns he would'nt have done it...but this I highly doubt; the guns were illegally owned anyways! If the movie didn't exist, this violence still would, if guns were harder to get this man would still have found a way to either get them...or use something else. The issues people are focusing on are all wrong. In the end it was human madness that caused this, and that is all.

      • KevyB says:

        So you're saying a dude with a knife or a baseball bat or a meat thermometer could injure and kill as many people as a dude with a semi-automatic weapon? Tell yourself what you need to do to get through the day, but reality says otherwise. Yes, some people will become violent, but do we really need to allow them access to become as violent as humanly possible?

        As for the old unproven argument that if the worst weapons were illegal, then these people would still find a way to get them. History disproves that. Before the assault weapons ban dissolved, violent attacks using assault weapons were way down. Yes, some still got a hold of them, but not EVERYBODY that wanted one. That's a good thing, right? Which scenario would you rather be in: Being in that theater in a country where magazines holding more than ten bullets are illegal, or being in that theater where EVERYTHING was legal (and, yes, he DID get all those guns legally)? He could've killed and injured with a rifle or an automatic, but do you think he could've killed and injured 70 people? The morons who committed the Columbine Massacre didn't use a gun with more than a ten-bullet magazine and they hit fewer people than this guy did. Furthermore, there were TWO of them, and they were both at it for nearly an hour! Now sit there and try to imagine if one of those bozos had actually bothered to use the semi-automatic they had brought with its 28-round magazine, 32-round and 52-round magazine!

        Then there's the bomb argument. If bombs were so easy to make, wouldn't we see more bombings? The Columbine idiots made 99 bombs. Only a handful actually exploded, injuring nobody. Bombings are extremely rare in this country, because they are difficult to make CORRECTLY and because law enforcement is more able to keep an eye on suspicious purchases, something the NRA makes sure does not happen with guns. You ever notice how many times bombings are thwarted before they ever begin?

        And what about this moronic "nobody that was carrying a gun that could have stopped this guy more quickly?" When he was wearing SWAT-level armor? NO, you frigging idiot.

        I'm certainly no anti-gun nut... I grew up around family members and their rifles. But the lack of regulation is ridiculous. If gun and ammo sales were eyeballed a little better, chances are these people would never had amassed the arsenals they did. Or they would have been watched, much like potential bombers tend to be, and maybe things would have never gotten as far as they did. But the NRA has bullied us all into living in a world where any whackjob can get his hands on everything, and we all sit around going "WHY?" after the fact.

        • loren says:

          I totally agree, Kevyb. "If gun and ammo sales were eyeballed a little better, chances are these people would never had amassed the arsenals they did. Or they would have been watched, much like potential bombers tend to be, and maybe things would have never gotten as far as they did. But the NRA has bullied us all into living in a world where any whackjob can get his hands on everything..."

          It makes me think of the flying schools & the terrorists who didn't want to learn how to land. If someone - anyone - had passed this odd bit of information on to the authorities... but we'll never know. Communication & keeping an eye on massive gun & ammo sales is key. But most importantly, why the hell does anyone need an automatic weapon? Bring back the ban.

          • Sammy says:

            "If someone - anyone - had passed this odd bit of information on to the authorities... but we'll never know. " uhhh sorry to burst your buble, but they did report the guys and the authorities ignored it.

    • joe says:

      I blame fox news, msnbc, republicans, democrats, Stewart, Colbert, Greta, Hannity, Colmes, O'Reilly, O’Donnell, Maddow, the media in general, guns, the NRA, violent movies, video games, rap music, rock music, Marilyn Manson, White people, African Americans, the Christian right, atheists, Wall street, Hollywood, Tobacco, big pharmacy, Global warming, drugs, student loans, Whole Foods and Adam Sandler Films... Please add anything I missed? We all rush to judge (I have been there myself) and when we do it makes it about us, as opposed to the victims of this senseless tragedy. The real issue is mental health; however that's just not as sexy as blaming political beliefs or guns, but if you want to go ahead. That’s what makes this country great, arguments over beliefs, but more important family, friends, which both candidates stressed yesterday, which is something I think we can all agree on. Steps off soap box.

      • Hiro says:

        I hear you, Joe.
        It's also really disgusting when people take an incident such as this and use it to promote their religious or political views, very irrelevant religious and political views.
        The real issue here IS about mental health. But so many people take mass shootings and start spouting off and trying to pull the truth to their side. They don't approach and address the problem in all honesty; they throw a rope around it and try to pull it toward them to help them bolster their political stances.
        Educated or not, this guy seems to have some serious mental problems, and far too often mental health issues are overlooked until something bad happens.
        That's what happened with the Virginia Tech shooter. All the signs were there that something bad was going to happen, and plenty of people at the college knew about it and yet, because of bureaucratic rules, almost nothing was done to help the shooter.

  • After 9/11, all the alarmists were saying you'd never feel safe in New York, or in a high-rise ever again.

    I feel fine in all of these situations. I'm going to the movies tonight. Am I worried? Only that my friend won't save me a good seat.

  • Heisenberg (AJ) says:

    That's weird, I watched all this unfold on the News this morning. I felt so bad for those people and their families. But I don't live anywhere near there and there is not much I can do but feel sad for their loss and go on with my life. So I bought a ticket to see The Dark Knight Rises at 1 this afternoon. I went by myself, walked into the theater and did not see a cop or metal detector or anything out of the ordinary whatsoever. I sat and watched the movie with 100 other people and we all had a good time and went home. Your odds of being killed in a event like this are even less than dying in a plane crash. Probably about the same as being hit by lightning. Yet you fly, and you go outside in thunderstorms. If you want to live your life in fear of what may happen, then you might as well become a shut-in. I have been a paramedic for 16 years and a nurse for 5 so maybe I am biased. People live, people die. In between you should make the most of it because you never know when it will be over. And I certainly won't let the freaks in this world ruin it for me.

    • Heisenberg (AJ) says:

      I should add I have a concealed carry permit in Texas and I could take my gun with me to the theater if I wanted. I didn't. Because it just isn't likely to be needed and I still feel perfectly safe going to movie. I am 36 and this is the first time I have ever even heard of a movie theater shooting in my life.

  • Edward says:

    "incorrect fearmongering" Yep, you lost your footing here SVT

  • Edward says:

    Sorry, Stu, I call bullshit.

    It might take a day, or a week, or a month, or a season, or a year, or even a decade, but there will come a day when we as a nation will accept what happened in Aurora today as an isolated incident, remembering what happened but realizing there are over 56,900,000 movie screenings in the United States each year (assuming each of the 38,974 indoor movie screens shows an average of four shows per day, every day of the year), and that there is maybe two or three gun-related incidents at the 5,331 indoor movie theatre buildings in any given year, rarely with any loss of life.

    The biggest movie of the year features a massive attack on a major metropolitan city that less than eleven years ago suffered through a major terrorist attack. Most movie critics acknowledged 9/11 in their reviews of The Avengers, but very few of the ticket buying public felt uncomfortable watching New York City get smashed down by an alien attack. We as a nation have accepted 9/11 was a horrible but isolated event, remembering what happened but realizing there have been only a handful of plane-related incidents since 9/11 over the course of millions of flights, and that no one has died in a plane-related terrorist plot on American soil.

    This is not to invalidate the memory of those who lost their lives wanting nothing more than to enjoy a couple hours at a movie. What happened in Aurora was, is and will remain a senseless tragedy. But like all other tragedies suffered by Americans and America, it will pass in to the annals of history.

    • robbushblog says:

      I would call the use of planes on 9/11 isolated, but the death and destruction craved by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists is not isolated.

      • Edward H. says:

        Of all the things I mentioned, THAT is the ONLY thing you're taking out of it? And an incorrect point to boot?

        • robbushblog says:

          I agreed with the basic premise of your comment. The use of planes in such a manner was an isolated event, as it hasn't happened again and since we will consider it as an option of terrorist aggression now, hopefully it will remain so isolated. That attack falls under a broader subject though. That was but one attack by a group that frequently carries out and attempts to carry out violent acts against those they perceive as their enemies. The movie shooting was totally isolated because, as far as we know, he didn't plan it with anyone else, it wasn't part of a broader scheme to do further damage and he won't get another opportunity to do it again. I wasn't arguing with you.

    • CinnamonandCloves says:

      These are isolated incidents. I will continue to live my life, realizing that I cannot protect myself (or anyone else) against every eventuality. I do not want movie theatres to install metal detectors et al. Sure, when I go to an outdoor concert it occurs to me that this would be an easy soft target, but I don't roil and moil about it. I enjoy the concert. And I will enjoy going to the movies. If you live your life in fear, you aren't living.

  • This is one of the most fear-mongering and blatantly stupid articles I have ever read.

    "Again, though, you know that story, and you know that we do nothing. So welcome to the new reality: You will never feel safe in a movie theater again."

    This is patently false. Unless the evidence shows that theater shootings are prevalent enough to warrant fear, you're full of it.

    Your slippery slope regarding metal detectors is equally absurd. Welcome to capitalizing on the fear, I guess?

  • SD says:

    It wasn't the first act of gun violence in the country and it won't be the worst. And the longer that people dwell on it the greater the act becomes and the more someone will feel the urge to replicate it or top it later on.

    It happened. Let's move on.

  • James Evans says:

    High majority of comments here seem to come to the defense of guns and the "adult acceptance" of the inevitability of "random violence". I'd say this article hit the truth nerve.

    Guess what. "It happened. Let's move on. It's an isolated incident," = WE DO NOTHING.

    • robbushblog says:

      The only thing TO do in this situation is punish the guilty party. If we lived in a Minority Report kind of world, where people are punished for crimes they have not committed based on a possible outcome, would you be happy?

    • SD says:

      I am anti guns but, you know what, gun laws are not going to change in this country any time soon. So what is the alternative?

      Do you want metal detectors and pat downs on the way in the cinema? This country is still gripped by the fear caused 11 years ago in New York and the ridiculous security policies that were adopted as a result.

      I say Yes,WE DO NOTHING. We stop the 24/7 news cycle that will give this guys trial all the attention he wanted. Let the story die and let's live a normal life until the next inevitable incident.

      You have to make a choice to let the fear define you or you move on.

  • Shane says:

    I normally don't read the commentary-type articles on here just for this . . . continued misplaced comments by the writing staff. Please just stop - leave this as a site that everyone can come to when they want to find relevant entertainment information. This article does not appear to be clearly thought out.

  • Mike says:

    I'll still feel plenty safe. There's psychotic people everywhere and killings happen all the time. I'm not going to live in fear because of it. If anything this just reminds us to never be complacent. Also I had to stop reading your post about half way through. It became redundant.

  • Alex says:

    Movieline is going to the dogs. First they fire their best reviewer (miss you Stephanie) and now they go all Fox News on us by telling us to be afraid. Seriously Stu?

    • robbushblog says:

      How is that like Fox News?

      • Alex says:

        Have you seen Fox News? The entire program grid is based on scaring the audience of one thing of another (ironically, not climate change). Movieline made a mistake by making such a cavalier statement. Stu, do you want people to be scared? You'll be out of a job fairly quickly if people stop going to the movies out of fear.

        • robbushblog says:

          I watch Fox News when there's nothing else on. Aside from terrorism, I don't often see anyone discussing how we should be scared of anything.

    • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

      Nowhere in the piece does it tell anyone to be afraid. That's not what it's about at all. It's about security, denial, complacency, hypocrisy and politics, and we can agree to disagree on all of it, but please don't misrepresent its purpose.

  • Brieftaube says:

    How about "You will never feel safe in this world again"? Just look around! Tell those people in Syria that headline of this article, and they will probably smile at you like they'd smile at an imbecile - because in their world, it is not safe to put a foot out of a shelter to go buy bread. I am in Austria, and guess what I did after hearing the news? I went to a movie! I wanted to take my mind off the horror. Remember the Utoya-shooting last year with so many young people killed by that Norwegian maniac? So nobody will ever feel safe in a camping-ground again. And we haven't even started talking about suicide-bombers and pharmaceuticals yet.

  • tracemurray says:

    It's ironic that, though you'll certainly be more wary as you enter the theater in the coming months, it's far less likely to happen now than it ever will be again (at least until the next incident).

  • nick says:

    you idiots. buy a gun, get a license and keep it on you. next time you go to the movies you'll save the day. you assholes should be grateful that you can buy a gun and keep it on you in this country, assuming you're not a pussy and expect the police to save you from a bullet and a psycho.

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  • J K says:

    Guns could be made illegal, and it would not stop gun violence in a country where guns have existed and been freely traded since it's foundation. (Most research points to an estimate of at least as many firearms as total number of citizens in the United States-- with one out of four people owning a gun, and of those who own guns, each owning an average number of four.)

    Their possession would simply be deemed a crime- creating a new class of criminals and an unenforceable burden placed on the state. I would like to point out that those unconcerned with legality possess many objects that it is not legal to possess. And that generally people who are concerned with obeying laws and social protocol do not commit gun violence, and certainly not in the form of mass killings of unrelated strangers.

    Making them illegal would simply be a formal condemnation of their existence. We already formally condemn murder. This condemnation is basically the foundational pact of society. Yet people murder. And the state sends robots to murder from a safe distance. In ALL our names, despite any personal piety.

    I have always felt that the taking of another life is the last act of a conscious being in total existential crisis- the striking down of the other a kind of final veil behind which lies absolute self-destruction. There is almost a kind of faith placed in the murderous act that the act itself will be some kind of transformative experience. And thus once the act is over, and nothing is transformed, the gun is so often turned on the shattered self.

    Life has never been safe-- and usually one dies a violent death related to the circumstances of the personal engagements and relations of ones own choosing. You live by the sword- you die by the sword. Most people are murdered by friends, lovers, and confidants when the thin boundaries between love and hate are violated. Most murder is a consequence in some form or another of the life one is living.

    Mass violence is different. The act can not be held by the perpetrator as transformative. It's as if the protest is simply against the existence of others-- that the disavowed voices of the tortured self are projected outwards until all other beings become these symbolic objects, collections of information to be valued or dismissed according to immediate urge.

    There have always been loose nuts. But we must admit we also live in an age with no bolts.

    We have an entire generation of young, angry men whose lives are without purpose, without engagement, and frankly without hope. We stare into screens until, bleary eyed and drunk on the fantasy of what we somehow should be, we can no longer recognize the real face of another human being- or our own souls.

    We identify only with phantom images of promoted selves. We see nothing of ourselves in one another's actuality.

    There have always been individuals who could not make the leap from adolescence to the rigid difficulties and responsibilities of adult life- who have found a shared accountable life within community unendurable. But, I truly believe it is the dearth of community, not the dearth of willing individuals that is responsible for our inarguably alienated age.

    The long and short is this: A person excluded from the community and marooned into a set of splintered networks of phantom identity does not value the community. And can not, thus, ultimately value the self as a moral agent.

    The people they are shooting are no more human to them than the characters on the screen. Actually, less so, because the phantom nature of the screen characters is closer to our grandiose ideals, to be larger than life and be recognized everywhere.

    We would rather be Batman than a man. We would rather be the Joker than an impotent king- so maligned is the simple nobility of living an anonymous life of decency.

    There can be no greater tragedy than our young men wanting to be Dylan Klebold or Anders Breivik rather than a simple man enduring his suffering in quiet dignity.

    Controlling guns is as impossible as controlling people. Instead of a metal detector, an outreached hand and a genuine smile. Instead of better tactics of dehumanizing management of the other and pharmaceutical management of the self, simple solidarity.

    Fear creates only fear. Love alone is credible.

    "Once I have discovered the stranger within myself I cannot hate the stranger outside of myself, because he has ceased to be a stranger to me. " - Fromm

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  • stplkin says:

    i never ever felt safe in a movie theater since childhood... anything could happen inside.. its like being inside a time bomb actually !!

  • Surprise says:

    "So welcome to the new reality: You will never feel safe in a movie theater again."

  • Surprise123 says:

    That actually wasn't my message above. My message is actually, "Oh, please." The chance of any one of us ever ending up in a theater targeted by an insane gunman is a million to one. And, if we avoid over the top nihilistic violence and action packed block busters like "The Dark Night Rising," and angsty, silly, poorly executed teenage block busters like "Twilight," our chances are even better that we won't be a mass gunman's theater victim. Art films, festival flicks here we come.

    Oh, and to the writer of this article: way to go ratcheting up fear to increase readership. NOT cool.

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