An Introduction to Popular Culture

An Introduction to Popular Culture
The term popular culture holds different meanings depending on who
is defining it. It is a generic, or conceptual, term that can be defined in
a variety of (sometimes conflicting) ways depending on the context of
use. Popular culture is generally recognized as the vernacular or people’s
culture that dominates any society at a given point in time. As Brummett
(1991) explains, popular culture involves the aspects of social life that are
most actively involved in by the public. As the “culture of the people,”
popular culture is determined by the daily interactions between people
and their everyday activities. Styles of dress, the use of slang, greeting rituals, and the foods that people eat are all examples of the various influences
on popular culture. Popular culture is also influenced by such social forces
as the mass media and the many forms of entertainment, such as sports,
music, film, and television. Popular culture serves an inclusionary role in
society as it unites the masses on ideals of acceptable forms of behavior.
There is no universally accepted definition of popular culture. However, there are a number of generally agreed-upon elements that comprise popular culture. For example, popular culture encompasses the most
immediate and contemporary elements in our lives. These elements are
often subject to rapid change, especially in a highly technological world
in which people are brought closer and closer by the omnipresent mass
media. Certain standards and commonly held beliefs are reflected in pop
culture. Because of its commonality, pop culture both reflects and influences people’s everyday life (Petracca and Sorapure 1998). Furthermore,
certain brands of products (e.g., the Apple logo, the Nike “swoosh,” or the
McDonald’s “golden arches”) can attain iconic status with the populace.
However, iconic brands, like other aspects of popular culture, may rise
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2 Lessons Learned from Popular Culture
and fall (Holt 2004). With these fundamental aspects in mind, popular
culture may be defined as the items (products) and forms of expression
and identity that are frequently encountered or widely accepted, commonly liked or approved, and that are characteristic of a particular society
at a given time. Ray Browne, founder of the Popular Culture Association,
offers a similar definition: “Popular culture consists of the aspects of attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, customs, and tastes that define the people of any
society. Popular culture is, in the historic use of term, the culture of the
people” (Browne 2005:24).
Popular culture is a vehicle that allows large heterogeneous masses
of people to identify collectively with others. Along with forging a sense
of identity that binds individuals to the greater society, consuming the
various popular items of culture often enhances an individual’s level of
prestige as well. Further, popular culture, unlike folk or high culture, provides individuals with a chance to impact, modify, or even change the
prevailing sentiments and norms of behavior.
Popular culture is usually defined in such a way as to distinguish it
from folk or high culture. In some ways, folk culture is similar to popular
culture because of the mass participation involved with both. Folk culture,
however, represents the “traditional” way of doing things; consequently,
it is much more static than popular culture and is not as amendable to
change. Folk culture represents a simpler lifestyle that is generally conservative, largely self-sufficient, cohesive, and often characteristic of rural
life. Individualism is generally discouraged. Group members are expected
to conform to traditional modes of behavior adopted by the greater community. Folk culture is local in orientation and noncommercial. Because
of this, popular culture often represents an intrusion and challenge to
the tradition of folk culture. Conversely, folk culture rarely intrudes upon
popular culture. There are times when certain elements of folk culture
(e.g., Turkish rugs, Mexican blankets, and Irish fairy tales) find their way
into the world of popular culture. Generally, when the folk culture items
that were appropriated by the popular culture become marketed, the original folk culture item(s) gradually disappears from its original form. In
short, folk culture is looking for stability for its societal members, whereas
the popular culture is generally looking for something new, or fresh. That
is why popular culture often has an air of being ephemeral or fleeting, and
why references to recent popular works often date quickly, while references to folk cultures are usually immediately understood. Popular culture is a dynamic, unstable field. Once-beloved cultural icons can become
tomorrow’s forgotten figures.
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An Introduction to Popular Culture 3
In the words of the Irish wit Oscar Wilde (a high culture figure
much referred to in popular culture), “[I]t is only the modern that ever
becomes old-fashioned.”
A key characteristic of popular culture is its accessibility to the masses. It is, after all, the culture of the people. High culture, on the other hand,
is not mass produced nor meant for mass consumption. High culture
belongs to the socially elite. (Note: This does not mean that social elites
do not participate in popular culture or that members of the masses do
not participate in high culture.) High culture (e.g., the arts, opera, theatre,
and intellectual superiority) is associated with the upper socioeconomic
classes. Cultural items of high culture often require extensive experience,
training, or reflection to be appreciated. These items seldom cross over to
the domain of popular culture. Consequently, popular culture is generally
looked upon as being superficial, especially when compared to the sophistication of high culture. And conversely, popular culture often pokes fun at
high culture, as can be seen, for instance, in the frequent opera parodies
of the Warner Brothers’ Bugs Bunny cartoons or jokes about modern art
in episodes of The Simpsons.
There are numerous sources of popular culture. As implied above,
a primary source of popular culture is the mass media, especially popular music, film, television, radio, video games, book publications, and
the Internet. In addition, advancements in communication systems allow
for the rapid transmission of ideas by word of mouth; especially via cell
phones. Shows such as American Idol have for years provided viewers with
a phone number so that they may vote for their favorite contestant. Newer
reality shows have given viewers more options than phone voting for a
favorite contestant. As explained by Brian Anthony Hernandez (2011),
The Voice has allowed viewers to vote by buying the contestants’ songs
on iTunes. Over the years, The X Factor has allowed viewers to vote via
phone calls, texts, Twitter direct message–enabled voting, access to the
show’s website, and via The Xtra Factor App. Project Runway lets fans use
Twitter hashtags to vote for a fan favorite every episode. The combining
of sources (such as television and communications) of popular culture
represents a novel way of increasing public interest and further fuels the
mass production of certain commodities.
Popular culture is also influenced by professional entities that provide the public with information and facts about the world. These sources
of pop culture include the news media, scientific and scholarly publications, organizations like the Popular Culture/American Culture Association, and “expert” opinions from people considered an “authority” in their
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4 Lessons Learned from Popular Culture
field. For example, a news station reporting on a specific topic (e.g., the
effects of playing violent video games on youths) will seek someone who
is an “expert” in that field (e.g., a noted philosopher or sociologist that
has published in this area) so that they can be interviewed as part of the
news broadcast. This production strategy is a useful way of influencing the
public and may shape their collective opinions on a particular subject. At
the very least, it provides a starting point for public discourse and differing opinions. Generally, news stations allow viewers to call or e-mail their
opinions—which may be shared with the public—on the topic at hand.
Examples of popular culture come from a wide array of genres, and
each of the chapters from 2 through 12 in this book cover these different
topics. Sports, television, and social media, for example, are among the
most widely consumed examples of popular culture. Sports are enjoyed
by males and females of all ages, races/ethnicities, and regardless of social
class. In fact, in 2012, six in ten Americans reported being sports fans;
this is a dramatic increase from fifty years earlier, when just 30 percent
of Americans considered themselves sports fans (Beneke and Remillard
2014). Sports are popular throughout the world and some sporting events,
such as the World Cup and the Olympics, are consumed by a collective
world viewing community numbering in the billions. As Delaney and
Madigan (2015) explain, sports are pervasive in most societies and represent a major part of many people’s lives. The pervasiveness of sports
is evidenced by the large amount of print coverage dedicated to sports,
talk radio shows, local and national television coverage, electronic media
coverage (e.g., games available online), attendance figures, sports-related
movies and videos, and the hundreds of millions of websites found online
via a Google search. Showing allegiance to a sports team as a means of
self-identification is a common behavior of many people. Further, cheering for a sports team or a favorite athlete is a way that any individual can
become a part of popular culture. Feeling elation when one’s team wins,
or devastation when it loses—known respectively as “Basking in Reflected
Glory” (BIRGing) or “Cutting Off Reflected Failure” (CORFing)—are real
emotions felt on a mass level (Delaney and Madigan 2015).
Many people watch numerous hours of television every day. (Note:
As we shall see in chapter 3, however, most of the people watching TV
are aging and younger adults are not watching nearly as much.) Some
people watch so much television that they resemble TV’s Homer Simpson’s “couch potato” persona. With the vast array of television programs
available on cable or satellite combined with high density, large screen,
viewing capacity, is it any wonder we watch as much television as we do?
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An Introduction to Popular Culture 5
Television brings us news, weather, sports, and entertainment. It is such
a prevalent aspect of contemporary culture that it is difficult to imagine
life without it. There are those who believe that television is responsible
for the “dumbing down” of society. Critics are especially concerned that
children watch too much television and that the couch potato syndrome
has contributed to the growing epidemic rate of childhood obesity.
The globally popular The Simpsons show provides us with an interesting perspective on television. While doing time in prison, “Sideshow
Bob” became a critic of television. Although he was once a regular on “The
Krusty the Clown Show,” Bob has become obsessed by television’s harmful
effect on society. In the “Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming” episode (#3F08),
Bob argues that everyone’s life would be much richer if TV were done
away with. As a result, he devises a scheme to detonate a nuclear bomb
unless all television is abolished in Springfield. Unable to locate Bob, who
has escaped from prison, Springfield’s city officials meet to discuss Bob’s
demands of abolishing television. A panicky Krusty the Clown proclaims,
“Would it really be worth living in a world without television? I think the
survivors would envy the dead.” Although there are people who agree with
Sideshow Bob’s perspective on television, millions of people, who make up
part of the popular culture world, would more likely agree with Krusty
that living in a world without television is not really living. And while the
life lesson here may be similar to that offered by Krusty the Clown—Do
we really want to live in a world without television?—we offer this life
lesson: It is more difficult to imagine a world without popular culture.
We do know that today millions of people are ignoring television and
finding entertainment value in streaming shows on much smaller screens,
such as computer, smart phone, and iWatch screens. The introduction
of electronic technology, or social media, fuels our thirst for instantaneous information. Social media provides us with live streaming, and live
streaming can give us sports information, television programming, and
much, much more in the palms of our hands. Social media also gives us
social networking sites and devices such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
and so on, so that we can communicate with one another in the cyber
world. We will discuss the popularity of social media in chapter 4.
In the following chapters, the authors have divided popular culture
into specific categories, or genres, consisting of: movies; television; social
media; music; radio; cartoons and comics; books; fads, fashion, technology, and trends; comedians, celebrities, and other ambassadors of popular
culture; sports; and virtual reality. The authors will share six “short stories”
relevant to each category of popular culture and offer a “lesson learned”
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6 Lessons Learned from Popular Culture
at the conclusion of each. The “lesson learned” concept was described in
the Preface but it is worth repeating here that it serves as a brief, generally
one-sentence “moral of the story” type of explanation for each popular
culture story told, thus providing a brief synthesis and evaluation of what
we hope the reader learned from the story.
It should also be noted that, as demonstrated with our earlier example of reality TV talent shows that incorporate audience voting via such
methods as phoning, texting, tweeting, and using an app, there are many
occasions when a story centered on one genre of popular culture overlaps
with other venues, creating a true popular culture phenomenon. Thus, we
define a popular culture phenomenon as any instance when an aspect of
one form of pop culture crosses over to at least six other genres of popular
culture. Such is the case with the Sharknado made-for-TV movie franchise. If you’ve never heard of Sharknado you are not a true consumer of
popular culture, as this B-style movie propelled the Syfy Channel (former
known as the Sci-Fi Channel) to its highest level of movie viewership.
The attention this movie franchise garnered from so many other popular
culture venues is astounding.
For the unacquainted, the Sharknado movie franchise began in July
2013 with the first movie, simply titled Sharknado. The Sharknado films
star Ian Ziering (as Finley “Fin” Shepard) and Tara Reid (as April Wexler,
Fin’s ex-wife), both of whom as actors were nearly forgotten by Hollywood. In the first Sharknado movie, an abnormal hurricane sucks up
a seemingly infinite number of sharks from the ocean and drops them
from the sky over Los Angeles onto the horrified citizens below. With
an estimated budget of just $1 million, Sharknado was never expected to
draw the attention of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.
Instead, Syfy hoped to gain some interest and entertain a viewing audience
that enjoys campy B movies about sharks and natural disasters. Sharknado
garnered 1.4 million viewers in its initial airing (Villarreal 2014).
Surprisingly, however, the absurdity of Sharknado caught the attention of more than just the viewers who turn to Syfy looking for low
budget entertainment (one of the authors of this book especially enjoys
the Saturday B movie offerings of Syfy); it drew reactions from many
people in the media. Howard Stern, for example, discussed the movie
on his radio show and seemed to marvel at its silliness. Sharknado was
trending on social media. Other popular culture commentators and word
of mouth led to the re-airing of Sharknado, which drew an additional
half-million viewers (Deadline 2013). Regal Cinemas and NCM Fathom
Events decided to show Sharknado for one night in limited release, where
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An Introduction to Popular Culture 7
it took in nearly $200,000 in box office receipts (Deadline 2013). While
viewership numbers such as these are considered low for networks and
movie production companies, the Syfy Channel was delighted; so much
so that they decided to film a second installment.
A year after the first movie originally aired, Syfy released Sharknado
2: The Second One. The ridiculousness of this sequel is revealed in the
title of the film itself; after all, if you have the number 2 in the title, you
don’t need to also say “The Second One.” But such is life with B movies.
Embracing Sharknado for what it really is, the plot of this film was similar to the first, only this shark-infested storm wreaks havoc in New York
City instead of Los Angeles. Once again Fin and April must save the day.
This tongue-in-cheek horror film is actually quite entertaining, and one
cannot help but laugh at its suspension of reality. Sharknado 2 is filled
with cheesy one-liners too. For example, after having her hand bitten off
by a shark, April (Tara Reid) states, “He had a scar. It’s like he knew who
I was.” Martin Brody (played by Mark McGrath), perhaps underscoring
the Sharknado films B-movie quality, proclaims in one scene, “You know
what you just did, don’t you? Jumped the shark.” “Jumping the Shark” is
a term used to describe the episode aired when a TV show has run out
of viable plot lines and adds something odd to the show, more or less
signifying that it’s near demise. The expression was first popularized when
Happy Days had its iconic character Fonzie ride his motorcycle over a
pit of sharks. Critics proclaimed the show dead at that point because the
quality of the show had gone down, and, since then, when a show has
long ago reached its peak and desperately attempts to add continued life,
it is said to have “jumped the shark.” When a movie franchise is all about
sharks and killing thousands of them that fall from the sky, it has “jumped
the shark” from its very inception. And yet, like watching a train wreck,
the viewing audience cannot turn away.
The beauty of the Sharknado films also resides in the realization that
the stars themselves recognize the films for what they are. As Tara Reid
explains, “Sharknado was a fun, silly movie that we made—we knew it was
ridiculous. The second one is still ridiculous. But this one has a heart. It’s
not like I did Titanic, or I’m up for an Academy Award” (Lansky 2014).
The limited plot line that does exist involves Fin and April flying to
New York City to help promote April’s book How to Survive a Sharknado
and Other Unnatural Disasters, based on their experiences with the Los
Angeles Sharknado. Outside of NYC, their plane flies through a storm
that includes, you guessed it, sharks. Sharks enter the plane, killing passengers and crew, including both pilots (one of whom, in an amusing bit
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8 Lessons Learned from Popular Culture
of casting, is played by Robert Hays of Airplane! fame). As Fin takes over
control of the cockpit, April tries to shoot and kill a shark but the shark
bites off her hand. Fin eventually lands the plane safely in New York. At
the airport, Fin and April try to warn the media of the incoming storm
filled with sharks but no one believes their story. Shortly thereafter, Fin
takes a cab, driven by Ben (Judd Hirsch of Taxi fame) to Citi Field in an
attempt to warn some of his friends. Just as they are leaving the baseball
stadium the storm strikes. Seeking to avoid the sharks and urban flooding,
Fin and his friends get on the subway. They grab a number of items to use
as weapons. One of passengers proclaims, “No one messes with a Mets fan
on the 7 Train.” Immediately afterward, a shark breaks through the back
of the train car and swallows the Mets fan, thereby negating his claim.
Fin and April and some of their friends make it back to Manhattan
to reunite and have one final standoff with the sharks. Spoiler alert: Fin
and April survive. Of course, they had to survive or how else could they
star in Sharknado 3? And in fact, in the following summer of 2015 Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! appeared, with Fin and April again saving the day.
Sharknado 2 drew 3.9 million viewers the first night it aired, of
which 1.6 million were between ages eighteen and forty-nine, the most
coveted group for advertisers to target. The ratings represent Syfy’s best
for an original telepic. The media awareness for Sharknado 2 far exceeded
the original, helping to boost viewership for the encore airings to nearly
ten million over six airings (Villarreal 2014). The media attention given
to this film is what makes it a popular culture phenomenon. Nearly every
genre of popular culture reported on Sharknado 2, including talk show
hosts, morning and evening news shows, DJs on AM, FM, and Satellite
radio, ESPN reporters (because of the Mets tie-in), comedians, political
cartoons, and social network sites. Name any type of popular culture
genre and the Sharknado crossover was likely to have occurred. Here are
a few specific examples of the Sharknado influence on popular culture:
• Nielsen estimates that 5.5 million people saw one or more of
581,000 tweets posted during the airing. “At one point, the
film held all top 10 trending topics in the United States” (The
Post-Standard 2014).
• Jon Stewart on The Daily Show (July 31, 2014) referred to the
inept U.S. Congress as the Sharknado 2 of government.
• A political cartoon in The Citizen (August 5, 2014) depicted
an exasperated President Obama reading a newspaper with the
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An Introduction to Popular Culture 9
headline—“House Approves Lawsuit against Obama”—with
sharks (the word “lawyer” on each of them) swimming toward
him. The political cartoon was captioned Sharknado 3.
• Like the first Sharknado made-for-TV movie, Sharknado 2
was released on the big screen (August 21, 2014). This time,
however, it was shown at twice as many theatres (more than
four hundred) as the first one.
• The numerous cameos of celebrities assured the crossover
appeal of Sharknado from TV movie to other popular culture
genres. Among the cameos: Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, and
Michael Gelman from Live! With Kelly and Michael; Al Roker
and Matt Lauer from the Today Show; Wil Wheaton; Anne
Wheaton; Daymond John; Stephanie Abrams; Andy Dick;
Kelly Osbourne; Billy Ray Cyrus; and Perez Hilton.
• On July 20, 2014, “Sharknado: The Video Game” was released
(available as an app).
• The book that Tara Reid’s character was to promote in the
film, How to Survive a Sharknado and Other Unnatural Disasters, was released through Three Rivers Press on July 8, 2014.
So a fictional book became a “real” book thanks to pop culture demand.
• There is a Tara Reid perfume inspired by Sharknado as well
and it is simply called “Shark.”
As the examples above of the crossover appeal of Sharknado2 illustrate, this B movie has indeed become a popular culture phenomenon.
With the release of Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! in July 2015 we saw an
even greater crossover effect, to the point where we can introduce the
concept of a “Super Pop Culture Phenomenon,” since it connected with
all of the categories of popular culture discussed in this book. This time,
our heroes have to save the day in Orlando, Florida, Washington, D.C.,
and the entire East Coast of America. Reflecting its popularity, a number of stars and celebrities are added to the cast—some who just make
cameo appearances. Among those joining Ziering and Reid are Frankie
Muniz, Bo Derek, David Hasselhoff, Kendra Wilkinson, Rick Fox, Mark
Cuban, Jerry Springer, Penn and Teller, and Michael Bolton. Cuban, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks and star of the popular TV show
Shark Tank, portrays the President of the United States, who bestows a
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10 Lessons Learned from Popular Culture
medal on Fin for his heroic work, and tells him, “They used to call me
a shark.”
With scenes that include sharks at the nation’s capital’s major monuments (e.g., a shark lands in the lap of Abraham Lincoln), the absurdity of
the Sharknado franchise lives on. Once again, all areas of popular culture
are connected with. Sports star Brad Keselowski solemnly intones the third
installment’s subtitle when a shark lands on him from the sky at a NASCAR race in Daytona Beach. Many of the commercials shown throughout
directly referred to Sharknado itself, increasing the self-referential silliness.
Other pop culture connections included “Archie vs. Sharknado,” a comic
book tie-in with the venerable eternal teenager Archie Andrews saving
his gang from a shark attack, and a cameo from Ian Ziering in another
SyFy production, the equally silly Lavalantula, in which Fin states he has
no time to fight the lava-spewing giant tarantulas attacking Los Angeles
because he’s too busy fighting sharks. There’s even a catchy theme song
at the beginning, with suitably cheery lyrics and animation. The ratings
were down for Sharknado 3, with an estimated 2.9 million viewers, but it
was still the number one cable program for its time slot, and doubled the
audience for 2013’s Sharknado 1. And like the first two, it was a trending sensation. Given Sharknado 3’s cliffhanger ending and absurd final
scenario—sharks in space—a fourth installment is inevitable. Resistance
to Sharknado is futile.
The low budget, sequel-friendly Sharknado franchise provides a
cheesy brand of entertainment that appeals to many and allows itself to
become a punch line for so many others in the world of popular culture.
It also provides us with our first opportunity to provide a lesson learned,
and because of its tie-in with so many other aspects of popular culture it
is difficult to limit ourselves to just one. As will be the case throughout
the book, readers may come up with their own ideas as to the lesson
learned by the short stories described.
Lesson Learned: Never underestimate the public’s willingness to suspend reality.
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  • We have a quality assurance that reviews the paper before it gets to you. As such, we ensure that you get a paper that meets the required standard and will most definitely make the grade.

In the event that you don’t like your paper:

  • The writer will revise the paper up to your pleasing. You have unlimited revisions. You simply need to highlight what specifically you don’t like about the paper, and the writer will make the amendments. The paper will be revised until you are satisfied. Revisions are free of charge
  • We will have a different writer write the paper from scratch.
  • Last resort, if the above does not work, we will refund your money.

Will the professor find out I didn’t write the paper myself?

Not at all. All papers are written from scratch. There is no way your tutor or instructor will realize that you did not write the paper yourself. In fact, we recommend using our assignment help services for consistent results.

What if the paper is plagiarized?

We check all papers for plagiarism before we submit them. We use powerful plagiarism checking software such as SafeAssign, LopesWrite, and Turnitin. We also upload the plagiarism report so that you can review it. We understand that plagiarism is academic suicide. We would not take the risk of submitting plagiarized work and jeopardize your academic journey. Furthermore, we do not sell or use prewritten papers, and each paper is written from scratch.

When will I get my paper?

You determine when you get the paper by setting the deadline when placing the order. All papers are delivered within the deadline. We are well aware that we operate in a time-sensitive industry. As such, we have laid out strategies to ensure that the client receives the paper on time and they never miss the deadline. We understand that papers that are submitted late have some points deducted. We do not want you to miss any points due to late submission. We work on beating deadlines by huge margins in order to ensure that you have ample time to review the paper before you submit it.

Will anyone find out that I used your services?

We have a privacy and confidentiality policy that guides our work. We NEVER share any customer information with third parties. Noone will ever know that you used our assignment help services. It’s only between you and us. We are bound by our policies to protect the customer’s identity and information. All your information, such as your names, phone number, email, order information, and so on, are protected. We have robust security systems that ensure that your data is protected. Hacking our systems is close to impossible, and it has never happened.

How our Assignment  Help Service Works

1.      Place an order

You fill all the paper instructions in the order form. Make sure you include all the helpful materials so that our academic writers can deliver the perfect paper. It will also help to eliminate unnecessary revisions.

2.      Pay for the order

Proceed to pay for the paper so that it can be assigned to one of our expert academic writers. The paper subject is matched with the writer’s area of specialization.

3.      Track the progress

You communicate with the writer and know about the progress of the paper. The client can ask the writer for drafts of the paper. The client can upload extra material and include additional instructions from the lecturer. Receive a paper.

4.      Download the paper

The paper is sent to your email and uploaded to your personal account. You also get a plagiarism report attached to your paper.

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