This Is Rei Kawakubo, The Designer Breaking Down Binaries At The Met

Categories can be presented as choices, but more often, they designate limitations to our freedom. Between options lurks an “or,” a subtle warning of our “this or that” restrictions.

“Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” the exhibition opening this week at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, operates differently. The show, honoring iconic Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo, is divided into several categorical pairings, such as “Then/Now,” “East/West,” “High/Low,” and even “Clothes/Not Clothes.” Yet the slash stuck between each pairing isn’t intended as an “or.” Instead, it’s meant to demarcate an in-between, a space that turns dichotomies into cacophonous harmonies. 

The exhibition, decisively described as not a retrospective, features 150 garments from Kawakubo’s collections, divided into binary categories she then proceeds to break down. All of the pieces are presented at eye-level, so the viewer can properly observe the magic of their construction. There is no wall text whatsoever, a nod to Kawakubo’s consistent refusal to define her work in rigid terms. “The meaning is that there is no meaning,” she said in 1995.

The designer was born in Tokyo in 1942, the oldest of three children and the only girl. At university, Kawakubo studied the history of aesthetics, which incorporated elements of Asian and Western Art. It was in 1973 when she established her now-famous label Comme des Garçons (which means “like some boys”), opening her first store just two years later. 

Kawakubo made her Western debut in Paris in 1982, disrupting the era’s wave of glamorous power suits with saggy, lopsided black frocks accentuated with holes, shredded fabric and excess layers of more black. Like many great avant-garde works of art, Kawakubo’s collection was initially met with shock and disdain; critics described it as “ragged chic,” “Hiroshima’s revenge” and “post atomic.”

One of her most iconic collections came over 10 years later with the spring/summer 1997 collection “Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body,” featuring skintight stretch dresses pulled over ballooning pads. The form-hugging attire accentuated the pads’ bizarre humps and swelling, radically transfiguring the wearer’s silhouette. The dresses, which were later adapted into costumes for a Merce Cunningham dance, epitomize Kawakubo’s radical ability to defy the assumptions about clothes you never knew you had. 

Even if you’re not into identifying fashion designers, recognizing Kawakubo’s work is a cinch. Mostly because her designs barely resemble clothing at all, boldly defying the laws clothes are intended to serve. Most garments cater to the body of their wearer ― flattering the figure by enhancing certain body parts and downplaying others, all in accordance with ideal beauty standards. Even more fundamentally, they follow certain elementary guidelines ― for example, shirts and pants have a set amount of holes.

For Kawakubo, these items of clothing are hardly that simple. As she told The Guardian: “I built my work from within instead of satisfying a demand for sexualised and ostentatious clothing.”

At times, a Commes des Garçons piece can resemble a cocoon or a gift in haphazard wrapping paper. Some tops contain far too may holes for human arms to occupy, as if designed with another species in mind; others have none at all. Many feature bulging protuberances, while other extreme finishing touches like ruffles or collars seem to be exacting revenge on the wearer.

Kawakubo’s designs tend to transform those who don them into mythical personae, otherworldly creatures or conceptual artworks. Instead of aspiring to make a woman look long and lean, Kawakubo endows her models with pillowy hunchbacks and architectural nests for hair, destabilizing the gaze that often governs fashion.

For centuries, the act of dressing up has proven capable of turning women into characters ― the bride, the professional, the vixen, the princess, the tomboy. The ability to embody an alter ego just by slipping on a dress can be liberating, though of course, the range of available characters can also be limiting. They can seem like choices that, in reality, are anything but.

Kawakubo, however, explodes the vault, queering established feminine tropes and ushering in the masculine, the inanimate, the surreal. Instead of being an “old Hollywood starlet” for a night, how about a pillowcase? A cluster of barnacles? A cobweb? Kawakubo’s clothing invites women to transcend and transmute their bodies, weaving fairytales from their own flesh. In Commes des Garçons’ world, there are no stereotypes, no laws, no masters and no categories: the freedom is absolute and often breathtaking.

You might not realize how similarly individuals dress until you set eyes on a woman wearing what looks like a blowfish carcass, something so unmistakably distinct. Even at The Met Gala, where Kawakubo was the theme, Rihanna’s army of petals ― one of the few actual Comme des Garçons dresses worn ― made jaws drop.

Today, Kawakubo is known as one of the most respected designers of all time ― only the second living designer to be honored with a Met exhibition, after Yves Saint Laurent’s in 1983. Some repeated themes in Kawakubo’s work include the colors black and red, bulging shapes, punk plaid, allusions to bridal and princess gowns ― somehow mangled and resuscitated ― tattered holes, shredded layers, asymmetrical hems and a sculptural intensity that’s rarely seen on the human body.

Most of all though, she’s defined by her inability to be defined. Her work’s most identifiable quality is its sense of boundlessness, which brings into being visions so viscerally peculiar most of us couldn’t conjure them in a dream state. In an interview with The New Yorker, the famously silent Kawakubo revealed that she had “never belonged to a movement, followed a religion, subscribed to an ideology, or worshipped a hero.”

She has even denounced those who have hailed her a feminist icon, refusing to belong to any such category. “I am not a feminist,” she said in 2009. “I was never interested in any movement as such. I just decided to make a company built around creation, and with creation as my sword, I could fight the battles I wanted to fight.”

Comme des Garçons does, however, liberate women from the monolithic male gaze, from the fashionable tradition of dressing up as a mode of self-improvement. But the label does more. It frees art from existing, cold and untouched, in glass cases and frames. It releases pants from the expectation of being two-legged. And it emancipates human beings from their flesh, inviting people to embody intangible ideas that defy categorization.

“Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between,” runs until September 4 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. See photos from The Met Gala here. 

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Bernie Sanders Is Writing A Book For Progressive Teens

During last year’s presidential primary elections, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) won a staggering amount of the under-30 vote: more than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump combined.

Whether his appeal among the millennial set can be chalked up to youthful idealism or shifting tides is tough to predict. Still, his popularity is clear, and he’s decided to put it to use. On Monday, Teen Vogue shared an exclusive look at Sanders’ forthcoming book, The Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution.

The title presumably aims to encourage those who voted for him to do more than vote, and to take action between elections, too.

Sanders explained the title, which will publish Aug. 29, to Teen Vogue: “This book will expose them to an unusual political campaign, the excitement of politics and what being a progressive is all about.”

The title follows Sanders’s 2016 book, Our Revolution, which outlined how his campaign blossomed from a “fringe” movement to a realization of a full-fledged political philosophy. The book also spends a fair amount of time on the pitfalls of what he calls “corporate media” and its failure to cover the 2016 presidential campaign season in “a serious way.”

Sanders is hardly the only past, present or future politician with plans to release a book. Clinton is working on one, as is her daughter Chelsea, whose picture book title She Persisted will be an homage to 13 American women who overcame personal and societal hurdles to achieve their dreams.

Barack and Michelle Obama recently inked a historic deal for two books as well.

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Black America Is 72.3 Percent Equal To White America. That Could Worsen Under Trump.

Black America is still far from equal with white America, a new report shows ― and with Donald Trump as president, the stakes are higher and the consequences more dire for communities of color across the country.

On Tuesday, the National Urban League released their annual “State of Black America” report ― which quantifies the quality of life of black Americans each year compared to that of whites ― and found that black America is just 72.3 percent equal to white America. The Hispanic index was also measured, and landed slightly higher at 78.4 percent. This percentage reflects the “equality index,” which measures the share of the whole pie that black Americans get and considers the areas of economics, health, education, social justice and civic engagement.

This year’s equality index of black America increased only incrementally compared to last year’s results. The 2016 equality index stood at 72.2 percent, and this year’s report shows that despite an increase of less than 1 percentage point across the five categories, the largest jump in this year’s index was in the area of education. That number went from 77.4 to 78.2 percent as a result of multiple factors, including a higher percentage of African Americans gaining associate degrees and a decline in high school dropout rates.

Smaller increases were seen in the areas of health (from 79.4 to 80 percent) and economics (56.2 to 56.5 percent) and no change was noted in the civic engagement index (100.6 percent).

“While the social justice index (from 60.9% to 57.4%) declined sharply, this change should be interpreted with caution because most of the difference is the result of a change in how one of the major data points is reported,” the study states, referencing a change in the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ reporting.

The report also ranks unemployment and income inequality across the country’s metropolitan areas. It found Milwaukee-Waukesha-West in Wisconsin was this year’s least equal metro area (Wisconsin also ranks as the worst state for black Americans) and that Toledo, Ohio, has the highest black unemployment rate at 20.7 percent. Meanwhile, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario metro area in California kept its top ranking when it comes to black-white income equality, and the highest median income for black households was in the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area of Washington, D.C., at $68,054. 

National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial believes that while the improvement black America has made in the last year may be minimal, it still matters. Furthermore, he contends that black America needs protection from Trump and members of his administration, who he says are a threat to any potential for progress across multiple areas. 

“It is impossible to discuss the state of Black America in 2017 without addressing the shift of power and priorities in Washington,” Morial wrote in a public letter published as part of the report. He cited the areas of progress black America made under former President Barack Obama ― for which the Urban League awarded the Obama administration the second-highest rating of “Excellent” in its first presidential scorecard. While most reviews of Obama’s handling of America’s race relations revolve mostly around his shortcomings, Morial focused on the areas where Obama had a significant impact. 

“During the Obama era, the economy added 15 million new jobs, the black unemployment rate dropped and the high school graduation rate for African Americans soared,” Morial wrote. “Now that progress, and much more, is threatened.” 

Morial, who is a former mayor of New Orleans, painted a clear picture of the potential devastation Trump and his administration could bring upon all vulnerable Americans. He also highlighted the uptick in hate crimes since Trump assumed the presidency and how his dangerous and discriminatory ideas for governance ― as well as those from officials who have expressed white nationalist views ― could impact people of color.

“Recent proposals before Congress would shift desperately needed resources away from underfunded public schools toward our heavily-invested-in military,” Morial wrote. “The federal budget currently under consideration would slash the budget of the Departments of Health, Education, Housing, and Labor — a blueprint for a sick, uneducated, homeless and unemployed America. Suggested double-digit cuts, or the outright elimination of funding for vital programs and services, would devastate already vulnerable citizens and working families.”

Morial also made specific mention of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and took aim at his recent call for reviews of important consent decrees that were issued by the Department of Justice under Obama to help provide oversight of police departments that were found to have racist and abusive practices. Sessions, however, expressed more concern that the legal agreements “undermine respect for law enforcement” and “has ordered a review of all federal reform initiatives, signaling a retreat on common sense police reform that endorses constitutional policing in all our communities,” the report reads.

“We believe he must continue to enforce these vital consent decrees,” it continues. 

The National Urban League proposes the Main Street Marshall Plan, a comprehensive guide that helps address the country’s issues with inequality. It recommends a $4 trillion investment over a 10-year period in communities in need, with a plan designed to improve both infrastructure and human development in these areas. 

The plan introduces strategies for resolving disparities in education, employment, the economy, housing and health, such as implementing a living wage of $15 and increasing federal funding of public schools.

The National Urban League acknowledges that there is still much work to be done to achieve racial equality, but also expresses that it firmly understands that rolling back on even small gains is a step in the wrong direction.

The information in this year’s release is presented to politicians like Reps. Karen Bass (D-Ca.), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Cedric Richmond (D-La.), as well as to influencers like Michael Eric Dyson, Angela Rye and Symone Sanders ― all of whom will be joining journalist Roland Martin for a special town hall airing on TV ONE on Tuesday to discuss details in the report. 

“The National Urban League is resolute,” Morial wrote. “We will protect our progress.”

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This Hair Ad Reveals A Critical Truth About Domestic Violence

An ad campaign from Bangladesh is highlighting the heartbreaking consequences of domestic violence.

The ad was produced by the Dhaka-based advertising agency Sun Communications for Jui, a hair oil company. In it, a young woman is at a busy salon for a hair cut. Luxurious long hair is a source of pride for many South Asians, so the salon employee is surprised when the woman tells her to “cut it short.” 

The hair stylist tries a few different lengths, cutting the woman’s hair shorter every time, but the client isn’t satisfied with the results. In a surprise twist, the client subtly reveals the real reason why she wants her hair cut ― because it’s been used by an abuser to hurt her.

“Make it even shorter,” the woman said in the video, gripping her hair tightly next to her scalp. “So that no one can hold it like this again.” 

The ad then shares a sobering fact about domestic violence in Bangladesh ― that every 80 of 100 women in Bangladesh face violence in some form or another in their lives.

“Hair, the pride of a woman. Let it never be the reason for her weakness,” a title text from the ad reads, before displaying a domestic violence hotline phone number.

Qazi Tushar, an account executive at Sun Communications Limited, told HuffPost that the ad was created for Jui for International Women’s Day. The ad has received more than 100 million views from around the world.

Tushar said that Jui set up a domestic violence hotline with the help of counseling psychology experts at the University of Dhaka. The hotline had existed before the advertisement aired, but calls reportedly starting picking up right after the ad was placed online.

“Our established toll free help line is taking in a good number of calls, every day, coming from different parts of the country,” Tushar said in a Facebook message.

A survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics in 2011 suggests that as many as 87 percent of currently married women have experience violence of some form from their current husbands. 

The Sun Communications team hopes that the ad will encourage women who are facing some form of abuse to speak up and get help. 

Watch the advertisement above.

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‘The Big Sick’ Trailer Makes A Leading Man Out Of Kumail Nanjiani

One of Hollywood’s better decisions in recent years is making Kumail Nanjiani a leading man. In the semi-autobiographical “The Big Sick,” Nanjiani plays a Pakistan-born comedian whose family wants him to marry a nice Muslim girl. Instead, he beings dating a white grad student (Zoe Kazan), forcing him to hide the relationship. On top of that, she falls ill and he must deal with her parents (Holly Hunter and Ray Romano), who’ve come to town to care for their daughter. 

I spent a day on the set of “The Big Sick” and saw the finished product at the Sundance Film Festival. It’s lovely. Nanjiani, best known for “Silicon Valley” and funny tweets, really is a star, so mark your calendar. He co-wrote the movie with his wife, Emily V. Gordon. It opens in limited release June 23 and expands nationwide in July.

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Pink’s Daughter Is Basically Doc McStuffins

Doc McStuffins might have some competition!

On Monday, Pink posted a photo of her daughter on Instagram. The picture shows Willow decked out in surgical scrubs performing an operation on a monkey stuffed animal. And her concentration is fierce.

Dr. Hart (great name for a surgeon, ay?)

A post shared by P!NK (@pink) on

Pink’s daughter Willow is only 5 years old, but it looks like her parents are already seeing some STEM potential in her future. 

“Dr. Hart (great name for a surgeon, ay?)” the singer wrote in the caption.

Shoot for the stars, Willow!

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Mariska Hargitay’s Doc ‘I Am Evidence’ Is An Eye-Opening Look At The Rape Kit Backlog

If you were to watch almost any episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” it’s likely that some form of sexual assault would take place, the victim would be given a rape kit at the hospital, and the dedicated detectives investigating would send the kit off to be tested for DNA evidence. 

But what happens during the course of an hourlong procedural rarely aligns with reality, something “SVU” star Mariska Hargitay knows all too well. The actress, who has played Lieutenant Olivia Benson on the NBC series for 18 seasons, is a producer on “I Am Evidence,” an eye-opening new HBO documentary which premiered last week at the Tribeca Film Festival. The doc highlights the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits that sit in evidence rooms in police departments across the country. 

For Hargitay, her role on “SVU” hasn’t just defined her career, it’s sent her on a mission to create change. She founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004, in response to the many letters she received from fans confiding in her about their personal stories of sexual assault. In 2009, Hargitay learned about the nation wide rape kit backlog and couldn’t wrap her head around the idea that untested DNA evidence was collecting dust in storage rooms. 

“I thought my head was going to explode because I could not believe that this was how these crimes were being handled and that lives were being discarded,” Hargitay told HuffPost in a recent interview. 

The message she believes it sends to women is that “you don’t matter.”

Ending the backlog became her foundation’s top priority, so Hargitay set out to make a documentary as a way to shed light on the issue.

Co-directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir spent nearly four years on the film, interviewing 14 women before ultimately focusing on the stories of four survivors of sexual assault. The result is 89 minutes of footage that will likely leave viewers astounded, outraged and horrified. 

“It was always going to be a survivor-centric [film],” Adlesic told HuffPost. “Historically, the identities of victims have been kept private, obviously for safety reasons, but these women have waited so long to be heard.” 

One woman waited 30 years that we interviewed, so she was really ready,” she added. “You get pretty angry waiting that long.”

Viewers may already be familiar with the issue thanks in part to the segments on “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee” that exposed the lunacy of public officials who actually opposed a bill that would force police to test rape kits. One segment ultimately helped prompt actual legislative change in Georgia in 2016.

While seeing rape kit legislation reform is an end goal for the filmmakers, Gandbhir told HuffPost that telling survivors’ stories was vital to their vision, since there’s still so much stigma surrounding sexual assault. 

“One of our survivors talks about it ― the shame. She felt the shame was hers. I think that an important part of the film is really dismantling that sort of myth and stereotype,” she said. 

But the real shame is in the attitudes of police departments across the country, who often don’t send kits out to be tested because they simply don’t believe the women reporting their rapes. 

This isn’t a small group of people making bad decisions, this is about victim-blaming attitudes that are ingrained in our thinking.
Mariska Hargitay

“One woman told me after her assault, she went home and told her mother and she called the police. The police came to the house and pulled the victim aside and said to her, ‘You know why you were raped, right?’ [The officer] said, ‘Because you don’t have a daddy,’” Adlesic said of one survivor’s story that didn’t make it into the doc. 

The film shows these attitudes aren’t just wrong, they’re incredibly dangerous. While kits sit untested for years in storage, it allows serial rapists, like Charles Courtney Jr., to travel the country violently assaulting women. 

Courtney Jr., a long-haul truck driver, was arrested in Indiana for raping his wife, Mary Jane Courtney, at knifepoint in September 1996. He plead guilty to a lesser charge of sexual battery and served only a two-year sentence. Three months after he was released from prison, he kidnapped and raped an Ohio woman named Amberly Lakes. When Lakes’ rape kit was tested in 2001, DNA evidence matched to Courtney and he was given a 30-year prison sentence. But Lakes’ rape would’ve never happened if the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Office had previously tested a rape kit belonging to a woman named Helena Lazaro.

Courtney kidnapped and raped Lazaro at knifepoint in August 1996, but her kit wasn’t tested until 2003. Had Lazaro’s kit been tested when she was attacked ― and Courtney’s DNA been in the CODIS system in 1996 ― it’s likely he would have been flagged as a serial rapist.

“These attitudes, they make me insane,” Hargitay told HuffPost. “These attitudes are so pervasive. This isn’t a small group of people making bad decisions, this is about victim-blaming attitudes that are ingrained in our thinking.”

She continued, “Sexual assault and domestic violence and this kind of behavior derails a human life. But that’s what is so hopeful about the movie. There’s support in place in listening to survivors and believing survivors. That’s how we’re going to get on track and take away the shame and isolation and say, ‘You’re not alone and we are going to fix this.” 

And the good news, she said, is that this is fixable. 

We have a plan to fix this in four years. The rape kit backlog could be ending by 2020,” she said. 

But just by screening the film, Hargitay, Adlesic and Gandbhir are already accomplishing what they had hoped to. Hargitay recalled that after the film’s premiere, “this stunning, beautiful, powerhouse” woman, who holds a “big job,” privately approached the actress.

“She was like shaking and she kept saying, ‘I’m a box. I’m one of those boxes.’ And I was like, ‘First of all, you are so much more than a box,’” Hargitay explained. “It was just so beautiful to be in community. I think, being in community, as we say at Joyful Heart, and starting this conversation is how we are going to change it. It’s how we are going to fix it. It’s as simple as talking about it.”  

“I Am Evidence” will air on HBO later this year. 

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Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines And Susan Sarandon To Star In ‘Bad Moms’ Sequel

If you liked the 2016 movie “Bad Moms,” then you’re in for a treat: we’re going to meet the bad moms’ bad moms in the sequel.

The movie, titled “Bad Moms Christmas,” will star Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines and Susan Sarandon as the moms of Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn, respectively.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the plot will focus on the original bad moms attempting to have the perfect Christmas for their families, and their *gasp* mothers.

Is anyone else LIVING for Baranski as Kunis’ mother? We didn’t think anyone could rival Patricia Clarkson as Kunis’ mom in “Friends With Benefits,” but Baranski may just be the one to take the crown as Best Movie Mama.

Anyway, “Bad Moms Christmas” is slated for release ― just in time for the holidays! ― Nov. 3.

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These Rainbow Babies Aren’t Just Sisters — They’re Twins

Back in January, biracial twins Kalani and Jarani Dean achieved viral fame due to their different skin tones.

Now, the baby girls are warming hearts again thanks to a special photo shoot. Photographer Mary-Kathryn Nourse of Elite Photography took “rainbow baby” pictures of the duo in honor of their first birthday. A rainbow baby is a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss.

Kalani and Jarani were born two years after their mom, Whitney Meyer, lost her 2-year-old son, Pravyn, in a drowning accident at his daycare pool. To celebrate the hope the twins brought after this devastating loss, they posed with colorful headpieces in front of a rainbow of flowers.

Nourse posted a photo from the shoot on the Elite Photography Facebook page, where it received nearly 10,000 likes within a week. The photographer told HuffPost the twins behaved like “typical 1-year-olds” during the shoot. 

“You would sit one down and the other would crawl off and vice versa,” she said. The photographer also noted that they had a sweet bond. “They were always aware of the other and looking to make sure they were within sight of each other. Not only are their skin tones different but they really have their own personalities already.”

The photographer described the family as “very sweet and loving.” Though the mood at the photo shoot was light, Nourse said she became emotional looking at the images on her computer at home. 

“I thought about how hard it must have been to have lost a child and how these little girls don’t even know it yet, but they are helping to heal so many people,” she said.

“I hope the photo gives others who have lost a child hope and strength to move forward,” she added. “I hope people can see color as just that, simply a color, and I hope it sends a message of love, unconditional love these baby girls will grow up being loved immensely and equally.” 

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Thank Goodness Elizabeth Warren Won’t Have To Go Without ‘Ballers’ Now

Phew! The Writers Guild of America members negotiated the terms of their contracts with Hollywood’s major studios, which means Elizabeth Warren no longer has to worry about missing her favorite show, “Ballers.”

Warren posted a Facebook note Monday in support of the WGA’s bargaining, which had a midnight deadline in order to avoid a strike. The organization, which represents thousands of entertainment writers, worked up a new contract that would broaden health care and increase residuals. As a result, Warren can rest assured that Dwayne Johnson’s NFL comedy will not be affected. (In other news: She and her husband love “Big Little Lies.” Do we think Warren is a Madeline or a Renata?)

Heading into Monday night, with the WGA’s contracts set to expire, a strike seemed imminent. Talks lingered throughout the weekend, making it likely the writers wouldn’t reach a deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in time. They pulled it off at the last minute, circumventing a repeat of the 2007–08 writers’ strike, during which reruns and inexpensive reality programming caused TV viewership to plummet and the entertainment economy to lose millions of dollars. 

But back to the real heart of it all: Elizabeth Warren can still enjoy what The Rock is cooking for the third season of “Ballers.” All is well.

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