Michael Offutt's Blog, page 4

September 9, 2016

I read on io9 that Marvel's capstone movie, Avengers: Infinity War, is due to be released in late 2018. It seems like a long time away, but it really isn't for us older peeps. I (for one) feel like I take a nap and my rent's due again. That aside, in the new Avengers movie we finally get to see a lot of Thanos on screen...a bad guy that's been hinted at (and plugged) in almost every single movie featuring an Infinity Gem. It all started with Iron Man in 2008...that's ten years...and one hell of a project. I've got to hand it to Disney to have kept it all together through three different phases. And between now and then we still have a Doctor Strange movie, a second Guardians of the Galaxy, another Spider-Man movie (starring the incredibly cute Tom Holland), Thor: Ragnarok, and Black Panther. It blows my mind at the amount of maneuvering (and money) that all of this took in order to bring a dream of an entire superhero universe into reality.

When I think about the ultimate villain, Thanos, I also realize that (despite the copious quantities of action) the build-up of every single character thread ends with a powerful love story: that between Thanos and Lady Death (whom we have not seen). Here's a panel from the comic that explains what I'm talking about:
Or maybe (and more appropriately) Thanos is just an angry schmuck who ignores a woman's rejection of him to the point where he kills half the universe in a futile attempt to impress her. Just think about that for a moment. Thanos' story is the ultimate example of male frustration at having been "friend-zoned" by a woman he obviously wants to shag badly. I think it's a good story, but I'm sure social justice warriors on Facebook will point out the obvious in that "Thanos" (being a stand-in for the modern man) is owed nothing by "Lady Death" (a stand-in for the modern woman). They might also point out that the film is the ultimate testament to male violence, which we really can't argue with since Thanos does end up killing half the universe. Pretty terrible, right? But it makes for a good fiction.

All of this also makes me ask where Marvel (and Disney by extension) can possibly go after Thanos? How do you top saving an entire universe? The escalation seems a bit "problematic." I sure hope they don't decide to reboot everything, but then again, look at how many times Spider-Man got rebooted already. What was once old is new again and so on and so forth. Whatever happens, I'm sure that it will be entertaining. Disney rarely disappoints.

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Published on September 09, 2016 03:54 • 2 views

September 7, 2016

Today is the first Wednesday of September, and because of that special occasion, I'm once again taking part in the Insecure Writer's Support Group. For more information on that, click on this link HERE.

This month's question that we participants answer is: How do you find the time to write in your busy day?

This question is actually pretty easy for me. My life isn't as full as some others, either because of choices I've made in life or through a lack of distractions due to my own personality. I think I do really engage with people, but I engage with them in non sexual-tension-filled ways (not my choice...believe me...I'd love to be the flirty one that gets all the attention). For example, I'm the person that people always go to in order to solve a problem (which I actually hate) but they never go to when there's something fun to do.

In other words I just emanate a general aura of "Oh...Mike is uber responsible and will never drop the ball...but...yeah...we don't want him at the party because he's uncool. If he wants to PLAN the party...that'd be great...." And just so you know, I'm 45 so this is a far cry from teenage angst. It's how I actually feel as an adult, and it's based upon decades of behavior that I've analyzed in an attempt to answer the question, "Why do I feel that people just want to assign me unpleasant work to do?"

But to be fair, I'm quite capable of self-criticism. On the subject of "spontaneity" (and my lack thereof) it's something I will own up to (you will never see me use my iPhone to make cute videos filled with laughter and warmth). It's hard for me to cut loose and dance and to be comfortable in my own skin. However, I think its fair to say that my ability to be cute and fun loving was destroyed by years and years of psychological and emotional abuse that made my childhood kind of a living hell, but at the same time it inoculated me to the harshness of the world. In a way, my father and mother simultaneously managed to be the worst/best parents (if that makes any sense) that they could possibly be. And just to be clear, I would never wish the kinds of things I went through on anyone. However, the "emotional skin" I grew in order to deal with the psychological abuse made me able to deal with life in ways that I could never have imagined. Events that absolutely crush/devastate people (that I know) are barely ripples to me on the Sea of Fate, and I actually love that. But the side-effect is that I don't naturally cuddle with dogs and talk about how new babies smell and take selfies with everybody. I wish I could do these things comfortably and naturally, but they always feel awkward to me. What doesn't feel awkward is scrubbing toilets, because for the longest time, that's how people treated me. I was the person people always called upon to scrub the toilet and clean out the garbage.

So needless to say...I don't have people banging down my door to do "Happy Fun Time." And with no partner, this leaves me with a lot of spare time after work and on weekends. I fill that spare time with whatever I want to do. It could be an art project (which I started this weekend) or perhaps it could be another writing project. When I get bored of one, I go and start another. So yeah...I've got the luxury of time...and I know that's just not something that most people have an abundance of. I truly wish I was one of those people with such a full life that I had to juggle everything. As a caveat though, I also guard that time like a zealot. Allow me to explain.

I've got used to saying "No" to people. Believe me when I say, there appears to be an endless supply of people knocking on my door with the goal in mind to put some brown-skinned single Asian guy to work doing some shitty task they don't want to deal with (the "scrub my toilet!" theme fits nicely here even though that's not what they want). A lot of people consider that the "bar offriendship" when it comes to me. "Hey I've got something shitty that I don't want to deal with. You're my friend...I could use you to help me out with it!" Unfortunately for them, I don't share this viewpoint on life. I think true friendship is deeply reciprocal and is built upon a foundation of immense respect. If I knew a task was even remotely unpleasant, I would never foist that on a friend. If I did ask for help, I would compensate them monetarily with hundreds of dollars (that I toiled very hard to get) or not even ask. Friendship is to be treasured and not exploited. Maybe that's the Japanese in me...a belief that one "honors" friends and keeps all the unpleasant things in a closet to deal with on my own time.

Some don't take my "No's" very well, and verbally attack me, pointing out (obviously) that I have resources that could help them. There's no arguing that fact at all. So I make it very clear that I'm saying "No" because I am choosing not to help them and am perfectly happy with that decision. Of course, this really pisses some people off and causes them to throw all sorts of insults at me (which I don't deserve but it happens anyway). It's almost like people are punishing me because I have a lack of blessings in my life, which seems ironic if you dare to look at it from my point of view.

The way I see myself, I'm a survivor/former victim of incredible psychological and emotional abuse. As a result, I'm abrasive enough and uncharismatic enough (in real life) that people only seek me out when they need help with something (no "Happy Fun Time" with Mike). If they do seek me out, they are sure to crowd enough other people into the hang out time that spending emotional time with me is vastly diluted. So (essentially) I have a lack of fun activities planned by others to fill my hours with (but I sure can get people interested in "Happy Fun Time" activities when I organize everything and do all the work) when the "average person in America" has the blessing of a house of children, a partner, a spouse, etc. to help them deal with life. Admittedly, a lot of those things happened because a person was born the right race, the right religion, the right politics (and world-view), the right sexual orientation, etc. to be "attractive" to peers to bring on those kinds of invitations (and had the emotional well-being to survive a society of narcissists). They were born into bodies that had very little challenges (as far as disabilities go) and into families that genuinely loved them and gave them trophies for participation and actually "valued" and would talk through their feelings one on one. Again, please know that I'm not complaining (because I sure as hell know I could be a lot worse off). Rather, what I'm trying to do is explain to you (the reader) why I have so much free time outside of work. The answer is simple: a life-history of a lack of inclusion.

On that earlier topic, I guess what galls me the most is when I get verbally attacked for saying "No" to a person's request to feed at the trough of my resources is that I know that the other group of people (those with children and partners) can say "no" and the person asking smiles and easily understands the rejection. But when I say "no" I get verbally attacked. These are "facts" in my mind, even if there's no way for me to prove them. However, it is very interesting that the guy who has probably suffered the most trauma is the one that continues to get assaulted by people who see him only as a problem solver...as a resource to be used and abused in their tool belt...because life is too difficult for them to deal with and they think (because I have things together) that it must be easy for me and therefore it's my duty to help others. To say it a different way, "the guy who lives a pretty miserable life (by average standards) is the one whom miserable people choose to use as a punching bag."

Anyway, this has been a long, emotional post, but I think it explains a lot about me that I wish more people knew regarding how I manage my time, and to some extent, the resentments I feel toward people who do nothing but try to take (instead of give). And yeah, I have no problem at all saying "No." It's time for someone else to scrub the toilet because this guy is not going to do that (for others) anymore.

I hope that if you take one thing away from this post it is this: it answers the question of "How do I manage my writing time in my 'busy' life?" And the fact is, my life really isn't all that "busy" due to intentional design. I spend my time and resources exactly how I want to because I deserve to have that freedom as payback for all the crummy years of my childhood. If I choose to spend that time writing or drawing, then it's because those activities make me happy. Would I rather spend those hours with a person who appreciates having me around? Yes, yes I would. But as I learned a long time ago, "You can control all the things in your life except love. There is no force in the universe that can make someone love you." And in this sense, the word "value" can also be used interchangeably with the word "love" and still ring true. It is my frustration to this truth--which then leads to acceptance--that (for me) is perhaps the greatest motivating factor behind my creativity in any form. It's why I write, I draw, and I read. At the end of the day, this world is cruel and mean and filled with a lot of nasty people (I know there are a few good ones), and my mind wants to seek out better worlds where I feel respected, wanted, and loved. Stephen King wrote:

"Writers remember everything...especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he'll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory."
My memory holds a lot of scars and most of them aren't pretty, but at least I know who I am.
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Published on September 07, 2016 05:04 • 2 views

August 30, 2016

In an amusing video that I found this week, some guys took one of those miracle sprays that promises to protect the lining of your pickup truck from damage and applied it to a watermelon. In proof that these sprays do indeed work, the watermelon survived the fall with a bounce. It was so hardy, that they couldn't get through its new skin with an axe, and they eventually took a drop saw to it. They discovered that the innards had been scrambled into slush, but the rind was intact and pretty much whole.

In some ways, my mind immediately drew a connection to concussions, which have been a source of fascination to me (I've done some research). Concussions happen when the brain sloshes around inside the skull and gets bruised or damaged as a result, a.k.a., what happened to the watermelon's innards. And there's not really any effective way of stopping this with gear that doesn't address the force rendered on the innards of something due to rapid deceleration. So stopping concussions isn't really going to be about armoring something to withstand an impact. We have the technology to keep a skin whole. We just don't have the technology to keep what's behind the skin whole.

Anyway, it's an interesting video if you have the time to watch it. And watching watermelons explode is entertaining, whether or not you are even thinking of concussions.
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Published on August 30, 2016 23:01 • 4 views

August 28, 2016

I like Tom Holland. Marvel really nailed it by casting him as Peter Parker for Spider-Man. And the boy has got some serious talent. Check these out from his Instagram:

@chrishemsworth and @bobbydazzler84 beat that!A video posted by ✌️ (@tomholland2013) on Aug 27, 2016 at 6:16pm PDT
Here's an awesome video of us doing the Typo Challenge
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Published on August 28, 2016 23:00 • 5 views

August 25, 2016

I love the idea of Proxima B.

If you haven't heard, the star right next door to our own in this unimaginably vast universe has a planet that orbits a red dwarf star within its habitable zone. Scientists refer to this as "the Goldilocks zone" where it may be neither too hot nor too cold. This means (essentially) that liquid water could exist at the surface, and nearly everyone that's at all scientifically literate knows that liquid water is essential for much of the life (that we understand) to exist. Exciting, right?

But the most exciting thing about this discovery is that this planet just might be possible for us to reach with today's technology. How you might ask? Well for starters, it's 4.2 light-years away (or 25 trillion miles), which is close on a cosmic scale. So that you can better visualize this, if the sun were a basketball in New York City, Proxima Centauri (the red dwarf star whose planet has captured the imagination of Earthlings) would be a marble in Honolulu, Hawaii. Agreed, that's a super vast distance. However, it is possibly doable within the lifetime of your children because of multiple probes that are the size of an iPhone.

The project I'm talking about is called The Breakshot Initiative. From their page that I've linked to, I quote the following:
"In the last decade and a half, rapid technological advances have opened up the possibility of light-powered space travel at a significant fraction of light speed. This involves a ground-based light beamer pushing ultra-light nanocrafts--miniature space proves attached to lightsails--to speeds of up to 100 million miles an hour. Such a system would allow a flyby mission to reach Alpha Centauri in just over 20 years from launch, and beam home images of possible planets, as well as other scientific data such as analysis of magnetic fields."
The Breakshot Initiative is a privately funded team of scientists and technology titans. Two of the team members on it are the Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner and the theoretical physicist who needs no introduction, Stephen Hawking.

But that isn't all. Scientists already have gathered enough information about Proxima B to make some good educated guesses as to what they may find. For one, it's most likely tidally locked (just like our moon). Some might interpret this as having one hot side with the sun locked in one spot, and one cold, with ferocious weather at the horizon. But this could be wrong for a number of reasons.

It is not necessarily the case that the temperature difference from day to night be large. It all depends on how massive the planet's atmosphere happens to be. If the atmosphere is thin like that of Mars, then the day-night temperature difference is going to be huge. However, computer simulations of 3D atmospheric circulation on tidally locked worlds show that if the atmospheric mass is comparable to that of Earth (or slightly greater), then the temperature difference between day and night is rather mild. With this planet having a rotation period around its sun that lasts some 11 days, there might actually be efficient heat transport. One need only look to Venus (although not tidally locked, it rotates so slowly that its day lasts 117 of the days on Earth). One might think that Venus would have a large temperature difference from its dayside to its nightside, but it doesn't At the surface, the difference is only a few degrees.

Anyway, Proxima B is the kind of news that dropped that sets my imagination afire (and gives my mind a break from election/political fatigue). I think it's not even worth saying that science fiction writers have just been given some amazing fuel, and that we should all hit our word processors in a race to write the best novel about our closest neighboring star.
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Published on August 25, 2016 23:20 • 3 views

August 24, 2016

This video of New York City is impressive. I've got nothing to say about it really, other than you should watch it. The city just pops with color and looks incredible. I hope to be able to see New York City someday. I just don't want to travel by myself, which is definitely part of the problem surrounding me and seeing the world. 8K COLORS OF NEWYORK 2016 from jansoli on Vimeo.

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Published on August 24, 2016 06:34 • 4 views

August 21, 2016

The movie Shin Godzilla is the first Godzilla movie in more than a decade from movie studio, Toho. It gets released in Japan this week. I'm actually excited to see it (when its available to watch in America as Godzilla Resurgence). From a Godzilla fan, it looks like Anno and Higuchi--the men behind this Godzilla and such timeless weirdos as Neon Genesis Evangelion and Attack on Titan--have made Godzilla kind of creepy. He certainly isn't the "obese" Godzilla that people complained about in the 2014 adaptation (yes, Godzilla was "fat"-shamed and I even blogged about it ).

The new trailer for it is packed with lots of serious-looking Japanese people (Japanese people can look very stern when needed), and Godzilla looks pretty unbeatable with his sheer size and apparent invulnerability to state-of-the-art weapons fire. All I can think is, it must be frustrating to be so large. There's literally no place you could go where you weren't either crushing or knocking over something. At least Shin Godzilla looks to be heavy on the Godzilla...a thing that the American 2014 version could have taken to heart before they filmed it. Not that I didn't like the American version. It's just that kaiju movies should have lots of kaiju in them :).

His weird appearance though does beg some questions: is the radiation that created him making him into something else? Is it making him sick? Is it killing him (you know...more effective than missiles are killing him)?

There's part of me though that dreads this new release. Toho hasn't made a good Godzilla movie in probably thirty years. Godzilla Final Wars was a smoldering pile of shit. Anyone that watched it would probably agree with me. Older versions of Godzilla focused more on the mythology, creating the tiny girls that sang to Mothra, and the whole mysterious "Monster Island" that featured other creatures (like a giant spider called Aspiga). In the modern age of monster movies, it's all about destruction instead of mythology (because the whole world has been mapped extensively and there are no more secrets). How can we destroy more things and make it look better on the screen? Bigger isn't necessarily better. The sequel to Independence Day learned that mistake.

Plus who honestly doesn't miss the aesthetic of good ole Monster Zero:
If this movie isn't received well, I'm going to say my reasons why (ahead of time). Kaijuverse Tokyo seems to be populated with terminally self destructive and demented adrenaline jockies. It’s where the unfortunate genetic casualties who lived under the plume of Fukishima come to blow their life savings on insane binges of roaring hedonism before the cancer kills them. It’s like a city-wide version of Aokigahara....a place to passive-aggressively commit seppuku...where depressed salary-men telecommute and wait for death. It’s where Kaiju-loving suicide cults pray to be taken to heaven by their favorite megabehemoths. Just wait long enough, and something will crush you.

After all, is there one true monster lover out there that can truly deny that they wouldn't want to see Gojira just kick back for 90 minutes, sipping water towers filled with Hoegaarden, smoking cigars, and playing a few rounds of golf? That's the Godzilla movie that the world really wants, and you heard it here first.
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Published on August 21, 2016 23:11 • 5 views

August 16, 2016

Laika, the studio behind the stop-motion animated films, Coraline, Paranorman, and Boxtrolls, is unleashing Kubo and the Two Strings unto the world this weekend (as the summer movie season draws to a close). I haven't seen it yet, but I desperately want to so I will probably knock it off the checklist at some point (hopefully with a wonderful second person in tow). Both Coraline and Paranorman took me by surprise. These particular films featured incredible animation and razor-sharp script writing, which I wasn't used to outside of Pixar or Dreamworks. Paranorman in particular shocked me when one of the muscular and strong-chinned characters ended up being gay. The fact that it was no big deal was a nod to the fact that the world is changing, and the idea of having "gay" characters is no longer shocking or outrageous any more than casting Samuel L. Jackson in a film is shocking simply because he can say "Mother F*cker" like no other.

Kubo and the Two Strings though is different (and has more meaning) for me. From the trailers, it looks to be an homage to Japanese fairy tales, which are things that I grew up on (instead of the ones by Hans Christian Anderson or the Brothers Grimm). Japanese folk tales are quite different from the ones read by westerners. For one, western fairy tales tend to be gruesome. Think of Cinderella's sisters lopping off parts of their feet to fit into a shoe, and you'll understand what I'm saying. The Japanese folk tales (on the other hand) usually have some kind of moral to them. Several feature a man saving some kind of spirit only to have them return as a beautiful woman who marries the man. The tragedy of course is that the man discovers this and in so doing, breaks the spell and experiences loss when the woman has to leave.
Princess Kaguya (かぐや姫) - is the main character of one of the oldest known Japanese folk tales, titled Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語). The story depicts the life of a young girl who was discovered as a baby inside a stalk of bambooJapanese folk tales also feature lots of talking animals. In Kubo and the Two Strings, the trailers hint that there's going to be at least one talking monkey and one talking beetle. Rarely, however, do Japanese fairy tales complete with happy endings, and I expect Kubo to be no different. Happy endings are more of a "western" tradition. In the Land of the Rising Sun, princesses can lead melancholy lives, animals can be heroes, and many stories end with a sad turn of events. I think that these kinds of stories are more realistic: in life we don't always get what we want. Furthermore, there is always a price to pay when it comes to happiness.

In Japan, both Buddhism and Shinto are very popular religions. The Japanese practice both in a kind of harmonious spirituality, and it reflects very much in their folk tales. Shinto has within its teachings a belief that all living things have a spirit, while Buddhism addresses the dead and the afterlife. So Japanese stories tend to be focused on mental gymnastics and a person's connection to the natural world and the drama of the supernatural. For what it's worth, Kubo and the Two Strings looks like it is awash in eye candy, and the battle scene (already in theaters as a featurette) of Kubo fighting a giant skeleton looks awesome. No matter how it ends, the movie promises to be a glorious artistic achievement--yet another win for Laika ensuring that there will be more to come from this little animation studio that could.
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Published on August 16, 2016 23:02 • 15 views

August 15, 2016

The Book of Revelations is some scary shit...if you believe in that kind of stuff. You could make a ton of movies from its material, however none of them would make as much money as Passion of the Christ so what would be the point, right? But when I really start to think about the religious obsession with the end of the world, I think that Christianity (the religion I'm most familiar with) really dropped the ball on these seven signs that the end of the world is happening now.

1) Justin Bieber is threatening to make his instagram private if fans don't stop bullying his new girlfriend. I mean, he's a white male that's young and has low body fat. That's really all you need to send tween girls the world round into a frenzy, right? So stop it y'all. As M.C. Hammer once said, "Can't touch this." Bieber doesn't want you to touch "this," and he certainly wants you to lay off the new lady, Sofia Richie. I'm sure this won't stop any of you who are committed to seeing more Bieber penis shots.
2) Donald Trump. I don't really need to explain this one. Let's just say that this portrait of him is the most accurate I've seen on the internets. 3) Global Climate Change. Each new year since like 2006 has been the hottest year ever recorded. California is on fire, ground is sinking because too much water is being pumped out of the ground to water almond trees, the sea levels are rising, and there's green algae everywhere...even in the Olympic diving pool! A place in Iraq just this year shattered the all time record for high temperatures in the entire hemisphere. I suppose there's a certain irony to a place known for fossil fuel production suffering the effects of fossil fuel production, but you gotta think...#endtimesy'all 4) Jurassic World was the fourth biggest box office hit of all time. Even with the miracle exemption of dinosaurs in the modern world, it just pushed suspension of disbelief a little too much to have a character sprint away from a T-Rex wearing high heels. Wonder Woman battling in heels though is totally realistic. 5) J.K. Rowling sold four million copies of a script for a movie packaged as a book because it had the words "Harry Potter" on it. Seriously? Who the hell reads a script for entertainment? If I wasn't certain of it now, I can absolutely say that millennials have no taste in books. 6) There is so much Narcissism in the world that there are now a ton of sub-categories for it so that psychologists can identify it all. There's covert narcissism, grandiose narcissism, altruistic narcissism, moral narcissism, and collapsed narcissism just to name a few. The most damaging effect of narcissism is that it destroys empathy, no matter what form it takes. A world without empathy is gonna seem like the apocalypse even if it isn't. 7) Self-driving cars. How is this technology possible? It sounds like devil-magic...a sure sign of the apocalypse. 
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Published on August 15, 2016 06:14 • 14 views

August 11, 2016

I’ve had a strange relationship with wieners all my life. When I was just a kid, I remember my mom gave me one to eat off the barbecue, and the dog came up, grabbed it from me, and ate it. That made me upset, and yeah...I cried like a baby. Now in my adult-something, I see myself as a baby crying over the fact the dog ate my wiener. But it never occurred to me that one could imagine a world where wieners could see us as gods. All those horrible masticating teeth, peanut butter mourning the death of his wife (a broken jar of strawberry jam) and a douche that drains a juice box from a hole between its legs all manage to come to life in Seth Rogen's Sausage Party. It's gallows humor at its best.
Sausage Party is a work of cleverness, if not a very crude work of genius. Until seeing this movie, I had no idea how far you could actually go with running gags about sex. The obvious (of course) struck me: that being a wiener and a bun (as shown in the trailers). But the things they end up doing with bagels, tacos, and gum were pretty original. Not to mention the take on non-perishables. Meatloaf singing a song by Meatloaf was a nice touch.

I think the funniest scene in the movie (for me) aside from the end was when the potato got peeled (I love his accent). The food in the show had all created a religion around their gods (shoppers at the grocery store) and the sheer bliss the potato was feeling right before it got flayed was pure gallows humor. And the movie felt about the right length too. If it had gone on much longer, it would have started to grow stale. Ending it where it did seemed pretty perfect.
I think every adult owes it to themselves to go and see this movie. It's just too funny to pass up. Plus, you'll probably get a new appreciation for the food you consume.
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Published on August 11, 2016 23:00 • 6 views