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Archive for October, 2008

I went to see Vampire Weekend at the Ambassador last week. They were great, in their inoffensive, poppy way, but two things struck me about the crowd. One: girls no longer have to wear sensible shoes to gigs these days. Some day I will write a post about the difference in dressing for gigs when I was a teenager and dressing for gigs now – back then, you only wore shoes you didn’t care too much about damaging, because about 2000 people would have stood on your toes by the time the gig was over, and you pretty much always came home with bruised shins.

Wholesome!

Vampire Weekend: Wholesome!

And two: the (very youthful) audience were really, really into the band. To an extent that kind of baffled me. Because much as I like Vampire Weekend’s jolly Afrobeat-influenced preppy pop, I can’t imagine them inspiring such genuine passion in anyone. But the crowd were singing along to ‘Mansard Roof’ with such enthusiasm that you could barely hear the actual band. And they sang along to all the guitar riffs as well, which was really annoying and part of the reason why the new unreleased tracks were the best part of the night.

I wasn’t sure, at first, why I was so surprised by all this passionate devotion. But I was talking about it with H.R. Costigan afterwards and he said maybe we were both bewildered by the crowd’s enthusiasm because Vampire Weekend – or at least their public personas – are not outsiders. They’re smart, sophisticated rich kid hipsters and that’s reflected in their music. They don’t come across as being in any way insecure. They’re not weirdos or rebels. Their moods seem to range from jaunty to bittersweet. In other words, they are not like the average mopey teen. Does anyone seriously sit in their rooms listening to ‘Oxford Comma’ (a song I totally love, by the way), thinking “only Vampire Weekend understand me!”? Do they stomp forlornly home in the rain listening to ‘Blake’s Got a New Face’ like I used to listen to ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ as a preposterously-angsty-for-no-real-reason 16 year old? I just can’t imagine it.

So what bands were you slavishly devoted to as a tiny teen? For me it was primarily (and in chronological order) REM (first band I loved that didn’t, like my other 13-year-old faves the Smiths or Lloyd Cole, originally “belong” to my big sister, and the first band I ever saw live, in 1989. They’d lost me by 1992, but I still have a huge soft spot for their early stuff), Throwing Muses (the first time I heard the sort of music I loved being sung by a girl. It had a HUGE effect on me), P.J. Harvey (she sounded so young on Dry, and the music was so ferocious. I used to listen to that album on my walkman in bed every night for several months back in 1992), Blur (I know, I know. I am one of about five people who bought and loved Popscene in ’92 – I’ve never been able to resist noisy songs with trumpets – and when Modern Life is Rubbish came out, a few weeks before I did my Leaving Cert, it was the perfect soundtrack to the imaginary ’60s film that I wanted my life to be like) and Suede (I had never heard much vintage Bowie so I thought those first three singles were utterly original and thrilling and sexy. They turned out to be the band’s musical highpoint, but they’re still fantastic songs. You’re taking me ovah, indeed! Suede’s first Irish gig at the Tivoli in early 1993 remains the most hysterical concert I’ve ever attended).

Of course, I loved loads and loads of other bands in my teens, some of which I still love now. I used to lie in the garden in the summer listening to Nick Drake and feeling sorry for myself; I would listen devotedly to the Pixies and play the bassline of ‘Gigantic’ for hours on end on my dad’s guitar. The bands I listed above are just some of the ones to whom I felt that strong personal connection that makes audiences shriek like 10,000 maniacs (I liked them as well when I was 13. Oh dear). So now I’ve revealed the objects of my teenage devotion, how about you? What band did you greet with the level of hysteria mystifyingly shown by Vampire Weekend fans?

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The first Feminist Open Forum takes place in Wynn’s Hotel on Abbey Street tomorrow (Thursday the 30th) at 7.30, with speakers including Ivana Bacik. And if you need a reminder why such things are still necessary, read Fiona‘s excellent piece in Saturday’s Times. A few years ago some of my friends and I wanted to start a feminist action group (we were going to call it Feminist Mafia, because we were so amused/infuriated by the claims by John Waters, Kevin Myers et al that some sort of “feminist mafia” was running the country) but we (or at least I) was too disorganised, so I am very impressed by this. I would love to go to the meeting, but sadly I have a prior engagement (a prior engagement so awesome that it can’t be broken), so I’ll have to wait until the next one.

There’s something kind of brilliant about this meeting taking place in Wynn’s, which for years was the traditional location of the organisation of the arranged marriages we now try and pretend weren’t standard practice in this country. Yes, Wynn’s was where young girls were taken to meet the friends of their fathers to whom they would subsequently be married. Romance, Irish style…

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Don "you-can-drape-yourself-all-over-me-any-time-love" Draper

Don

TV rarely gets me all excited, but I’ve just watched the Season 2 Finale of Mad Men and will be glued to it later. Spoiled for choice, this will be followed by Charlie Brooker’s Big Brother Zombie send-up Dead Set, which kicks off tonight on E4. But back to Mad Men. This series has been so much darker than Season 1, with the emphasis on lots of other characters apart from Don Draper, particularly the office women. Peggy has been stamping her slightly frumpy heels against the glass ceiling and Joan Holloway has been shimmying her own way up the ladder with a fiancee in tow who’s a bit of an Albatross. There better be a third series, that’s all I can say.

Saturday Night Live, who’ve been excelling themselves of late with Tina Fey/Sarah Palin sketches bid adieu to Season 2 with ‘Don Draper’s Guide to Picking Up Women’ – it won’t embed, so here’s the clip – total genius. Particularly love the bit with Amy Poehler (“Let’s get me out of this skirt!”) and I’m wondering if doing a scene with smoulder-tastic Don contributed to her going into labour?

WARNING! If you haven’t seen Season 2 of Mad Men, there are spoilers in the comments section below.

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If, like me, you are tired of all the recent magazine and newspaper articles telling rich people about “fun” ways to survive the recession, you’ll enjoy Sadie Stein’s deliciously snarky riposte over at Jezebel.

Don’t Be A Moron:Basically, all of these tips can fit under this heading. “Live the way most of us do already” would be another good one. But since we all really enjoy frugality tips from rich people, please, keep patronizing us. It’s a form of free entertainment we’ve been onto for years!

So true! If I read another piece telling me that it’s actually possible to take the bus into town on a night out rather than a taxi, or that you can eat out without spending €100 a head, my bus-riding, Yamamori-eating self will have a(nother) tantrum. And frankly, I’ve had too many this week already.

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I’ve been doing a lot of ranting here recently. Actually, I do a lot of ranting in real life, too. But I am also capable of feeling joy! No, really. Here are some things that are currently making me happy.

1. Dear Science by TV on the Radio. This is the best album I’ve heard in a long time. It’s a little bit talking Heads, a little bit Sufjan Stevens, and it is totally freaking awesome. It’s impossible to walk down the street listening to ‘Golden Age’ on an iPod without strutting. This song makes me so happy. As does its deadly video:

2. This story about Kristin Pass, a girl with Down’s Syndrome who was chosen as Homecoming Queen by fellow students in her Texas high school. Over on Jezebel, some commenters wondered whether Kirstin was the victim of a vile Carrie-esque prank, but from the comments by those who know the town it really seems like this was a genuinely nice gesture of affection and support that made Kristin very happy.

3. Stomping around in winter boots. I plan to buy these ones tomorrow and march through some leaves.

4. There’s a new Philip Reeve book! And it is very funny and charming, and anyone with an appreciation for vintage children’s fiction and/or steam-powered spaceships will love it. Reeve is the author of the best kids/young adult/whatever books written over the last decade, the Mortal Engines Quartet, which are emotionally and morally complex, very funny, very moving, and feature one of the greatest, most fucked-up anti-heroines ever. They also feature cities that move around on caterpillar wheels and “devour” other cities as part of a social system known as Municipal Darwinism, and are set in probably the best-realised fictional universe I’ve ever encountered. Why is turgid Philip Pullman both hailed as a genius and a huge bestseller and no one (well, outside all the people who’ve given him awards) seems to know about Philip Reeve? He deserves to be a household name. It is a mystery. But he is brilliant, and the new book is entertaining me greatly.

5: These pictures.

6. New winter knitting projects. Last night I started this jumper by Wendy Bernard from her excellent book Custom Knits (sorry about the dodgy quality of the image, it was the only pic of the jumper I could find online.

So what about you? What is cheering you on this miserable October afternoon?

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What would we ladies do without Heat Magazine? If it weren’t there to inform and educate us, we might forget to subject other women’s bodies to the sort of scrutiny once reserved for crime scene investigations. We might not be aware that cellulite is shameful but clavicles are even worse. And I’m pretty sure we would be blissfully ignorant of the private lives of Jade Goody and whatever annoying nonentities are in the Big Brother House this year.

While Heat loves to sneer at celebs who’ve commited the cardinal sin of leaving the house without dieting and exercising away every fat cell in their body, they reserve their special ire for those who dare to go out and about looking a bit thin.

It's time for the Two Minute Hate!

It's time for the Two Minute Hate!

A few weeks ago (in that dark period when we Anti-Roomers were sadly too overwhelmed with jobs and stuff to do much posting), they ran yet another cover about too-skinny stars. The defiant headline was “We’re Skinny – Get Over It!”, displayed above the usual array of photos designed to show the likes of Keira Knightley at their most scrawny. Could this be a rare example of Heat, in typically cack-handed and hypocritical style, defending women’s right to go about their business without complete strangers judging their physiques? Of course not! Because the charming subhead beneath this declaration was “Deluded stars claim they eat normally”.

I am not a large woman. I’m 5’2″ (just about) and weigh about eight stone. I have a slight frame and am, by most people’s standards, pretty slim, and when I was younger and my metabolism hadn’t started slowing down, I was downright skinny. When I was in college, I weighed under seven and a half stone. And while I may not have had the healthiest diet in the world back then, that was more because I was a student and was living on supernoodles, toast and all-day breakfasts in the Alpha rather than because I was on a diet. In fact, I’ve never, in my entire life, been on any sort of diet, and I don’t own a scales – I only know my weight because I sometimes measure myself on the scales in a friend of mine’s bathroom when I’m over in her house. I eat three vaguely healthy meals a day and a few biscuits and go for walks. Basically, it seems that nature – or rather genetics – has designed me to be a small, skinny-ish woman, the same way my sister is a tall, skinny-ish woman, and when I say that I eat normally, I’m not “deluded”.

So when I see Keira Knightley and her ilk, I don’t automatically think “oh, they’re starving themselves to death!” Yes, there are some plenty of celebs who are unhealthily thin, too thin for their natural frames. I’m not going to pretend that someone whose every thigh sinew is sticking out like a cable is eating a balanced healthy diet. But Keira Knightley, to me, just looks like a skinny, flat-chested girl. And that’s another thing that enrages me about Heat‘s approach. One of the reason Knightley looks particularly thin is because she doesn’t have big boobs. In fact, she’s probably barely barely an A-cup. And while the weight gained as my metabolism slowed now means that I’m (just about) a 32B, I was (just about) a 32A until my mid-twenties. Most clothes are made for women with larger bosoms, and can often make a flat-chested woman look more scrawny, especially about the chest, than she actually is (I speak from bitter, badly fitting experience). It’s actually quite hard to put weight on your upper chest (as opposed to, say, your hips or thighs), and looking a bit bony there doesn’t mean that you’re wasting away.

Of course, by Heat‘s standards, the worst thing about being stick-like and boobless is that it is apparently inevitably unattractive to men, and we should, of course, always think about how our bodies appeal to the opposite sex. The “deluded” stars on the cover enjoy the privilege of having their bodies judged by two “experts”. One of the experts is actually a nutritionist – albeit one who has no personal knowledge of the celebrities themselves, of course – and the other expert is….some bloke who presents some programme I’ve never heard of. His expertise seems to consist purely of the fact that he’s straight and a man. And he doesn’t fancy really skinny birds. That is, seriously, about it. That apparently give him the right to criticise the arses and thighs and collar bones of lots of women he’s never met.

Heat started off as an attempt to copy the far superior American magazine Entertainment Weekly, but it wasn’t until it started dissecting famous women’s bodies that the magazine really took off. These days, the average issue of Heat is more like the Two Minutes Hate in Nineteen Eighty Four than EW. It encourages its mostly female readers to sneer at and mock the appearance of other women. Are some of the women in those faux-horrified photo spreads unhealthy? Yeah, probably, although there’s no way of knowing that unless you’re their doctor. But what good does it do to point this out on the cover of a magazine? Do they really think Mary Kate Olsen is going to see herself on the cover of Now magazine and get herself to an eating disorder clinic? Of course they don’t. It’s Schadenfreude masquerading as concern for these poor unfortunate waifs, and it’s revolting.

These magazines encourage us to see totally normal bodies as somehow wrong and freakish. I’d like to think that I’m fairly media savvy, and that I view the world of magazines with a critical eye. But it’s hard to avoid the warped ideas peddled by these magazines, even if you know how cynically they’re put together, even if you know that they’re designed to appeal to our worst, most self-hating instincts, even if you’d never dream of buying Heat (and I wouldn’t, although I’ve been known to read it in the newsagents). We’ve been so trained to hate our “bingo wings” that it’s hard to remember that adult women’s upper arms usually have some actual flesh on them. We forget that most adult women’s stomach aren’t concave and that visible collar bones aren’t a sign of terminal anorexia. We forget that unless you’ve Botoxed your armpits, you’re probably going to sweat under your arms at a crowded pary. We forget what normal women’s bodies actually look like and what they do. And as long as Heat and its ilk continue to put women on the cover in their pants with circles around their cellulite and sweat-stains, it’ll take us a while to remember.

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Gender stereotypes are always annoying, but few are more annoying than the idea that all women are desperate to get married and all men are terrified of the prospect. Strangely enough, not all women are marriage-crazed and not all men are marriage-phobic (and some women wouldn’t want to marry men anyway)! But you wouldn’t know that from the New York Post’s piece about a totally stupid book by Lori Uscher-Pines called, charmingly, The Get-Your-Man-to-Marry-You Plan: Buying the Cow in the Age of Free Milk. Classy!

I got married last year, and strangely enough, I didn’t follow Uscher-Pines’s almost staggeringly ridiculous “rules” for (oh God) “buying the cow”. Let’s have a look at them, shall we? First of all, the “don’ts”, most of which are related to behaviour so preposterous that anyone who is even considering doing any of these things is in need of a lot more help than this book can give. In fact, all of these “don’ts” should be so self-evident that Uscher-Pines might as well have said “DON’T refuse to wash for months on end” or “DON’T punch his mother in the face”. Here’s what she did say.

Rule No. 1: Don’t become your boyfriend’s therapist. This is “nagging for smart people,” she says. Sure, you think you’re helping by getting to the root of his mommy issues and constantly talking about what childhood “commitment” incident may have scarred him. Reallly – your intentions are obvious and kind of embarrassing.

Um, you can say that again. But then, so is buying a book called The Get-Your-Man-to-Marry-You Plan: Buying the Cow in the Age of Free Milk. I’m not even going to start on that title, by the way.

No. 2: Don’t get friends to lobby on your behalf. Ooooh. Where to start. “When you do that, it isolates him and it makes it seem like it’s the world against him,” she says. “You really want to make it seem like the two of you are on the same team, and everyone else is on the opposing team.” Also: It’s lame.

Seriously, WHO THE HELL WOULD GET THEIR FRIENDS TO TELL THEIR BOYFRIEND HE SHOULD PROPOSE? Who needs this advice? Crazy people, that’s who! The friends are obviously mad too, I should add, for going along with this.

No. 3: Don’t use the stick instead of the carrot. Hey, Einstein! You’re going to withhold sex as a girlfriend to teach him a lesson, eh? “Men are afraid their wives aren’t going to have sex with them,” she says. “What kind of a message are you sending when you’re not having sex when you’re just dating?” An idiotic one. That’s what.

I love how she just throws out generalisations about men being “afraid” of their inevitably bleak sexless marriages. Moron. Also, way to reinforce the idea that men are so easily led and women’s only power is sexual. I’m just surprised she didn’t use the term “wifely duties”. ALSO, what the hell sort of terrible relationships do these people have, if they seriously consider blackmailing their partners into marriage through some sort of Lysistrata-esque sex strike? God, this is depressing.

No. 4: Don’t go public with it. Cringe-worthy. As an example, she uses the infernal Facebook status update, which should not be: “Such-and-such is not married. Such-and-such is still not married. Such-and-such is staring at her empty ring finger, weeping softly, once again.”

WHO ARE THESE WOMEN? I refuse to believe they exist! I am in my early thirties, the age at which a lot of couples tie the knot, and I have never met anyone so pathetic they would even consider doing this. It is insane. And the fact that it is counterproductive should be glaringly obvious – I wouldn’t even want to be friends with anyone who could carry on in this fashion, let alone marry them.

No. 5: Don’t have an emotional breakdown at a happy event. One horror story Uscher-Pines includes in the book is the desperate non-housewife who humiliated her boyfriend during a wedding toast by saying she “wished her boyfriend would have the guts to do something like this.” Let a happy event be a happy event.

Um, I actually know someone who, after friends of ours got engaged, started going on and on in the pub one night about how SOME people had managed to get engaged, and would they give her boyfriend lessons? It was hideously embarrassing. I was unmarried and unengaged at the time, and she kept trying to drag me into it, assuming I agreed with her, which made me extremely angry. So perhaps this one is not as unlikely as it seems. Surely this can’t mean there are people who do the Facebook and the sex strike things too, though? Please?

Now, I know I didn’t do any of these things when ensnaring my hapless victim wooing my husband. But did I follow the “dos”? Let’s find out….

No. 1: Do talk about expectations. “You’d be surprised how often the man hasn’t thought about marriage,” Uscher-Pines says. “Get it out in the open. Don’t immediately bring out your fangs by saying, ‘Where is this going?!’ But have a positive conversation where he feels like he can contribute.” Oh, and that means letting him talk. And no crying.

OMG, actually talking about your relationship! What a radical notion! Do you know anyone who is married who never discussed the possibility of marriage before they got engaged? Because I don’t. Also, how depressing is it that she feels the need to advise her readers not to cry when they talk about their relationships? Christ.

No. 2: Do spend time with all those marrieds who seem so crazy happy in love. Know what guys like? Things. Things that other people have – like bliss and togetherness and an easy, fun life. “You want peer pressure to work for your advantage,” she says. “Men get turned on to things when they see their peers doing the same.” A caution: Avoid couples with babies. And, extra points for renting movies like “Apollo 13.” Houston, we have a positive example of a committed lifetime partnership.

What the fuck? What does that even mean? Is Apollo 13 some universally recognised symbol of couplehood that I don’t know about? Or is it supposedly such a manly film that you will be making the ultimate sacrifice by watching it instead of Sex and the City or whatever other über-girly film you are of course devoted to? Or is it because it’s a film about men going off to do exciting, scary, dangerous stuff while their poor wives sit at home worrying? Who knows? Also, don’t get me started on how patronising this “tip” is to men. I have no idea why feminists called manhaters, when gender traditionalists are the ones who love to depict men as imbecilic children. Speaking of children, there are actually plenty of adult men who aren’t terrified of being anywhere near them.

No. 3: Do remove the “barrier” he’s created, such as not being able to afford the ring, or the house, or the wedding, or you. Easy, easy, easy. “Directly address what the problem is,” she says. “Agree that you’ll get the ring in a few years. Tell him what’s actually important to you.”

Oh, this is making me lose the will to live. Am I being cynical in thinking that if someone is coming up with ridiculous excuses not to marry you, he doesn’t actually want to marry you? You can get married on the cheap, and a plain gold wedding ring costs less than €100 (believe it or not, you don’t need an engagement ring).

No. 4: Do create some dependency, you scheming bitch. Ha ha, kidding. But really, do this. “Get him to depend on you a little bit,” she says, “and then show him what life is like without this benefit.” Cook him a gourmet meal every night and then stop. Pay bills and then stop. Get his car inspected and then stop. You’re so bad, you’re good!

No you’re not, you’re a manipulative loon! Doing nice things for one’s partner shouldn’t be some sort of bait and switch tactic. Also, if you suddenly “stop paying bills”, you’re likely to get into serious trouble. But hey, losing your credit rating will be worth it when you’ve bewildered some poor schlub into marrying you!

And last but not least, perhaps the maddest rule of all:

No. 5: Do initiate a major life change. No, Slutty McSluttypants, this doesn’t mean sleeping with his best friend. This means saying you might go to grad school or move to a new city or any kind of “fish or cut bait” decision-inducing measure. Basically, create a negotiation point. “An ultimatum isn’t manipulative if you think about it,” she says.

“It’s just saying, ‘This is what I’m going to do. So what are you going to do about it?’ “

What he MIGHT do, of course, is say that he still doesn’t want to get married. And then what are you going to do? Follow through on your ridiculous fake ultimatum and move to Alaska or start a PhD or something? Also, an ultimatum, if it is based on lies, is incredibly manipulative. Even “if you think about it”. And let’s not even start on the use of “hilarious” slut-shaming terms.

One of the many things that really freaks me out about books like this and the attitudes they reflect is the obsessive focus on “getting married” and having a crazy-ass wedding rather than having a good relationship. Because really, getting married does not change anything in your relationship if you love each other already. But you wouldn’t know this from the media, and from books like this. What’s going to happen once the wedding is over? Who cares! It’s all about the (gag) Happiest Day of Your Life. But what sort of miserable relationships do the emotionally stunted man-babies and manipulative harpies that star in this book actually have? The women-are-marriage-crazy industry (and it really is an industry) seems to be based in a world where men and women are so hugely, fundamentally different that they don’t even seem to like each other very much and have to trick each other into doing each other’s bidding.

This is not a world I recognise. My friends who are in heterosexual relationships are actually friends with their partners. They have stuff in common. They make each other laugh. They have mutual friends. They do stuff together. They don’t treat their relationships as some sort of freaky mind-game. And some of them are married, and some of them aren’t. But marriage is not some sort of relationship prize. I firmly believe it should be something people decide to do together, when the time is right for both of them. Of course, I know some feminists have a problem with marriage in general, and I understand the objections. I didn’t take part in some traditional elements of the whole thing that I strongly disagree with (I wasn’t given away; I wasn’t walked up the aisle by my (lovely) dad; I never, in my whole life, considered changing my name) but I am aware that I’m now part of an institution that has traditionally been used to control women – just read our first book club selection, The Woman in White, for proof of that.

I do, however, think marriage is something that can and should be redefined, and I don’t believe there’s anything inherently anti-feminist about formalising your love for and partnership with another person; everyone, gay or straight, should have the right to do this if they want to. Although if you view marriage the Uscher-Pines way, that stops looking like any sort of privilege…

So anyway. I’m not going to pretend that marriage-obsessed women don’t exist; I know that there are women who really, really want to get married. But I don’t think that they are helped by the media reinforcing these feelings by constantly telling them that this is the normal state of affairs, and depicting a world where men are constantly trying to escape the trap of marriage that every straight woman alive is supposedly trying to set for them. This is not the 19th century, and women do have more options in their life. Mrs Bennett was obsessed with getting her daughters married off because they would literally have nothing after their father’s death if they didn’t have a husband to look after them. Times have changed a lot since then. But you wouldn’t know it from films like 27 Dresses and The Wedding Planner and bullshit books like this that constantly tell women that getting a ring on their finger (the more expensive the better) should be their ultimate goal. Plenty of women are also being told by their parents to “settle down”, and it’s not always easy to resist this overwhelming social pressure.

But it’s important for people to acknowledge that it exists, and that the current wedding fever doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I think it’s also important to acknowledge that men and women are not two separate species, and that there are plenty of men who want to get married and plenty of women who don’t. And that romantic relationships aren’t actually necessary for a happy, fulfilled life. But if you are looking for a relationship, surely it’s best to be with someone with whom you actually have something in common. For the last year and a bit I have been very happily married, to a funny, kind man who makes me laugh and shares some of my obsessions (political ranting, music, good books, comics, quality telly and amusing animals to name but a few) but were just as happy before we got married and I didn’t do anything to “get him to the altar” (or registry office). We got each other there, together. And neither of us had to stop cooking or pretend we were moving to Alaska.

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