Ignatieff’s Canadian album

“You’re having a history of Canada on the sly.”

Two days prior, from the same born-again professor: “Everything a politician does is political, but some things a politician does are less political than others. […] I hope you’ll forget the current context and we’ll have an interesting discussion about our country.”

For three days last week, Michael Ignatieff—academic, author, journalist, MP, and, many suppose, Liberal leadership hopeful—presented University College’s F.E.L. Priestley Memorial Lectures in the History of Ideas. His subject, “The Canadian Dream: Past, Present, and Future,” covered “three generations of sustained reflection on what Canada was, and what Canada could be” through what his mother’s side of the family, the Grants, hoped for this country.

Who do the Grants think they were? And why does Ignatieff think the audience would care?

Ignatieff justified his approach in the lecture: “It’s a double kind of thing I want us to go through: a sense of understanding how deeply their love of their country ran, but also how problematic some of their visions of our country turned out to be, and how much difficulty we’ve had as a country since, because we were saddled with the dreams that they gave. I don’t assume that the only thoughts were by my family. I’m crazy, but I’m not that crazy.”

Emblematic of Ignatieff’s approach might be the image he used to describe William Lawson Grant upon the death of his father. “The death of parents is a complex experience in any man or woman’s life, but it’s also a release, whether we admit it or not. The son was able to step out of the shadow of the father, yet the shadow had given the son’s life its meaning.”

Ignatieff admits that he has been “shadowed” by his family history. The lectures are related to a book he is working on, similar in nature to 1987’s Russian Album, in which he delved into the Ignatieff line.

“This was a ground-clearing exercise to figure out ‘What are some of the ideas we’ve had of Canada?’” Ignatieff said in an interview with The Varsity after the final lecture. “You gotta start somewhere, so you start with what you know and what’s familiar to you. Where we are now? I think we’re struggling, we’re trying to figure out how to make a multicultural, multiethnic, bilingual, multinational, transcontinental nation-state hold together, cohere, and be a model of tolerance for other countries.”

Three generations of Grant men thought of Canada in relation to empire. For Ignatieff’s great grandfather, George Monro Grant (who accompanied Sanford Flemming in his 1872 trek across Canada to survey a route for the Pacific Railway, and later became Principal of Queen’s University), if the sun never set on the British empire because of Canada’s place in it, it was as if that empire that ensured Canada’s place in the sun.

For William Lawson Grant there was no question about Canada supporting Britain during the First World War. His experiences at the Somme, though, convinced him that Canadians had earned their country’s sovereignty with their valour and their lives.

As George Parkin Grant famously grieved in Lament for a Nation, the waning post-war British colonial influence would surely result in Canada being engulfed by the United States.

“The intellectual history I’m telling you, which is I think a history of the illusions about Canada that we’ve believed in, is that they were powered by the mistaken belief that there wasn’t enough here,” Ignatieff said Thursday afternoon. “Part of what the burden, [John Ralson Saul’s] A Fair Country and others have argued, is that there was an awful lot here, we just didn’t see it.”

“The question now is how to deepen love for a country that remains unfinished and incomplete. The task for all of us is to rid ourselves of the feeling that life—real life—is somewhere else.”

The future of Canada remained the very large elephant in the small lecture hall. Because there were actually four generations participating in this sly history. Pleading it was a history as opposed to a campaign, Ignatieff deflected questions concerning whether he’ll run for the Liberal leadership.

“All appearances to the contrary, I do not want to convert a series of academic lectures into a political platform,” he apologized, though there were hints of how for the politician, everything is political. “As someone who’s gone into elected office for the first time in my life, the single most useful thing to me has been whatever knowledge I’ve had of the history of my country.” The historical was also political. “Canada was called into being by an act of choice, and she could only be sustained by an act of political will.”

No one called the bluff. Ignatieff did thank the college for allowing a practicing politician to give the lecture. “It’s a very daring thing for University College to do.” Asked a year ago to give this year’s lectures, perhaps Ignatieff didn’t know the question that would be on everyone’s mind.

Michael Grant Ignatieff was in his first year at U of T when Lament for a Nation was published in 1965. “I rebelled against that pessimism then, as I do today,” he said, noting that shortly after the book’s publication, Canada went through what he typified as the most rapid reassertion and transformation of its identity. “But,” back to Uncle George, “his pessimism lays down a challenge. There’s no easy answer to that challenge. For my uncle asked, as I think no one had ever done before: Is Canada possible? Can love of this country be sustained? Does this place make sense any more?”

The vision for Canada that Ignatieff presented did not depart from the points of his “What I would do if I were the Prime Minister” essay in Maclean’s in 2006, though he rooted his desire for “a shared dream that leaves no one out and no one behind” in the lessons learned about his ancestors’ dreams that had fractured the country.

On the campaign trail, “a shared dream for everyone” might sound like so much pap. Ignatieff acknowledged that patriotism is an unfashionable word, unless properly applied.

“Patriotism: enduring, impatient, non-ironic belief in the promise of the land you love, is the single greatest asset of successful societies. […] Patriotism is the source of that impatience and anger that makes abuses seem intolerable, injustices unacceptable, and complacency a delusion. Patriotism is the sentiment that makes us want to be one people. It is the shared feeling that allows us to rise above our differences and make a complex unity of us all. This unity, never certain, never to be taken for granted, is always a work in progress, and it has meaning for us, but it also offers an example to the world. Canadians know as much as anyone on earth about living together across the gulf of difference.”

Everything you wanted to know about sex, but were afraid to ask your grandpa

“It’s about pleasure of the mind, not the flesh,” explains dominatrix Miss Barbie Bitch as she shows me the bondage cage.

The box is a steel rectangle, only slightly larger than a dog carrier, complete with a studded collar hanging from the top. “I’ll leave a sub in there overnight or so,” she shrugs. We move on to the bondage coffin, as she urges me to get inside. “When you don’t have someone in it, you can use the coffin to hold your laundry or towels,” she says, a regular Martha Stewart with a cat o’ nine tails.

Barbie Bitch, who has spent nearly two decades as a dominatrix, fit right in at this weekend’s Everything To Do With Sex Show. Lodged into a convention room at Exhibition Place, a 19-plus audience revelled in smut. While some came to watch pole-dancers or have a porn star instruct them on the best way to lick a nipple, others were there to simply pick up an extra pair of flogging gloves, or sample a cake in the shape of a large phallus. Larry David would be proud.

In a nation that recently re-elected a pro-abstinence Conservative government, open discourse about sex seemed liberating. Yet the most shocking aspect of the convention wasn’t the genital shavers or portable dungeon equipment, but rather the attendees. I had been expecting youngsters in body paint, but the average age seemed to be about 45. In fact most could have starred in those Stephen Harper campaign ads.

Compared to our European neighbours, North Americans have always been pretty uptight about sex. Seeing grey-haired husbands pose with porn stars and post-menopausal women in nipple tassels made me feel hopeful, yet it was sad to see so few young people in attendance. Does it really take us 30 years of sexual activity before we can say the word “masturbate?” I know I’m still working on it.

It’s scary that we’ve created a society where “orgasm” is a more offensive word than “murder,” and we’d prefer to watch two men on television kill each other than kiss. I was happy that the attendees felt relaxed enough to publicly lick chocolate dildos, but the event still had a secret, back-alley aura. Take the investment-banker type who whispered to his girlfriend, “I just don’t want to run into anybody I know, that’s all.”

God bless the old timers whose age has made them comfortable with kink. “If you know you’re a dom, you know that it means being one in every aspect of your life,” Miss Barbie tells me. She’s strapping her sub, a mid-sixties man in a pink brassier wearing a nametag that reads “Miss Bitch’s Pain Pig,” into a bondage chair. When I ask her what the downside is to being a professional dominatrix, she smiles wickedly. “There’s no such thing.”

Further down the hall I find “The Dungeon,” a section where cameras are banned. Inside, a woman is being tied to a spider web-like contraption, while a man in leather masks paddles someone bent over a bench. I approach a man carrying what looks like a toolbox. In his hand is a bulb of static electricity, which looks like a miniature of the ball you touch at the Science Centre to make your hair stand up. I hold out my hand, and the demonstrator gives me a series of electrical shocks down my palm, described as the feeling of being tattooed. When I inquire if it’s intended for use all over the body, he nods. He informs me that there might be some burning or scabbing after a long play session. “But nobody has ever died from it—that we know of.”

Further along, I sit in a thousand-dollar sex chair, and bounce on a “sex-ercise ball” as a couple next to me browse for the right scented lubricant. I want to get as much education as possible, so I head to the seminar section where a tiny Japanese woman in her late forties discusses anal beads. Sexpert Midori quickly puts the audience at ease, promising to answer any questions. When someone inquires about semen, she informs us that you can change the taste of your juices by consuming certain liquids, like pineapple juice. Her advice on anal sex is pretty spot-on: “Everybody has an asshole,” she delivers to the man in the first row. “It doesn’t mean you have to be one.”

Midori’s focus, like most of the presenters, is education. After an afternoon of browsing through the stands, “normal” sex seems relative. If sweatpant-clad suburbanites seem so comfortable purchasing videos of the “Naughty Newfie,” why is my generation embarrassed even discussing coitus? If age begets wisdom, I think I should listen to my elders. “Everyone should work towards being a ‘try-sexual,’” Midori tells me. “It’s better to have adventured and spilled some lube along the way.” Wise words, I think to myself, as I smile at the Grandpa clad in the golden man-thong, walking towards the exit.

They Came From Robarts!

We know our beloved University of Toronto as a dignified institution, defined by the acquisition of knowledge; a gateway into adulthood with the occasional drunken hookup. However U of T’s hallowed halls have also stood in as the locale for many a spin-tingling horror film. In the spirit of Halloween, let’s take a full moonlit walk down memory lane and revisit these seven films shot in and around our fair campus. And you thought Robarts was scary!

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)

The granddaddy of Canadian horror films, this statement really says more about Canada’s horror film industry than it does about Black Christmas. During Christmas break, a mad killer terrorizes and kills the members of a sorority, and it’s up to the police lieutenant (played by the great John Saxon) to stop them. The cast includes such masters of horror as… uh… Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, and Andrea Martin. I have seen director Bob Clarke’s earlier She-Man (1967), and I’m happy to confirm that U of T is not to blame for that one.

BRIDE OF CHUCKY (1998)

“Chucky gets lucky!” promised the ads for this fourth entry in the mildly popular killer doll series. Indeed, the little hellraiser does get some action in the form of Jennifer Tilly, far from the glory days of Bullets Over Broadway. Among other Ontario locations, director Ronny Yu brought the production to the University of Toronto, perhaps because creepy and vaguely unsatisfying sex scenes feel right at home on a university campus. Bride of Chucky was released one year after another U of T-shot movie, Good Will Hunting. Oddly enough, only one of these two films was mentioned on my residence tour.

WES CRAVEN PRESENTS DRACULA 2000 (2000)

Bram Stoker’s classic tale is updated for the 21st century when Count Dracula (Gerard Butler) travels to New Orleans to seduce and kill the daughter of his arch enemy, Professor Van Helsing (played by Christopher Plummer, seriously). U of T turns in a convincing performance as New Orleans, and, to give credit where it’s due, Gerard Butler is a lot easier on the eyes than Klaus Kinski. While author Bram Stoker does not receive credit, “fetish performer” Christopher Allen does.

THE SKULLS II (2002)

A direct-to-video sequel to the staggeringly unpopular Joshua Jackson film from 2000; the fact that the producers were unable to lure even Mr. Jackson into this film is not promising. I haven’t seen The Skulls II, but an IMDb user comment from “ragreen259” asks thoughtfully, “Who fished this turd out of the pool?”

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008)

While technically not a horror film, this film boasts a giant monster in it, so it counts. More importantly, it included scenes shot in and around Toronto, including a few unconvincing CGI action scenes at St. George Campus. During the extended, Godzilla-like monster vs. monster action finale, moviegoers across the world asked each other how a Sam the Record Man store ended up in Harlem, and why the Apollo Theatre looked suspiciously close to Club Zanzibar.

LITTLE SHOP OF EROTICA (2001)

Admittedly not shot at U of T according to IMDb, the film was made in the bustling metropolis we call home. Marilyn Chambers, from Behind the Green Door and Incredible Edible Fantasies, stars as “Marilyn” in this soft-core combination of sex and horror with an average IMDb user rating of 2.0 out of 10 (based on 36 votes). Just out of curiosity: why do you think Little Shop of Erotica received a tax break from the Ontario government? That’s yet another blotch on Mike Harris’ legacy.

FEVER PITCH (2005)

Queen’s Park turned in an admirable performance in this grim tragedy from the Farrelly brothers, from which millions of moviegoers fled screaming at the horrifying sight of Jimmy Fallon as a romantic lead.

Torture Me

Over the years, I’ve watched young women suffer a battle’s worth of gruesome deaths; the prettier, the sassier, the closer to 18—the better. Recently, I watched a naked woman get yanked to her watery grave by monstrous tentacles, while her severed arms hovered in chains above the sacrificial pit (Dagon). I’ll always remember the one who cried tears of blood before throwing up her innards (City of the Living Dead). Watching ladies squirm on the ends of long knives, hearing their suspiciously orgasmic screams, I’ve often asked myself: who watches this shit?

In my case, it’s an outspoken and nitpicky feminist. I have a knack for detecting sexism in unlikely places, and male friends are sick of hearing about it. Yet I get off on watching one of the most barefaced and egregious manifestations of woman-hating in the Western world: the horror flick.

One rather sucky explanation is that I’m too sensitive to violence against women; it offends me so deeply that subconsciously, I hope to exorcise the shock through watching scenes of extreme violence repeatedly. But seeing splatter films is not the key to self-healing; it’s just a lot of fun. I have to be honest with myself, as any horror fan must: sadism, masochism, and self-loathing underlie my viewing habits, to varying degrees. More importantly, I get a kick out of it.

Sometimes sexism is entirely excusable for the sake of a great flick. Few directors devote as much time to the aesthetic of expiration as Dario Argento does, and Suspiria’s famous window scene is as elaborate as brutality gets. It’s also somewhat pornographic: a very masculine arm (wasn’t the “killer” supposed to be a witch?) thrusts a girl’s face into a window, and then stabs her repeatedly as she lies, panting, on her back. We even get a penetration shot of the knife entering her heart. Stage Fright’s scantily-clad Italian ladies are a mere fringe benefit in a stylish, cheesy classic. Though I feel for the sorority sisters at the receiving end, the obscene phone calls in Black Christmas offer more golden moments in slasher history. Often enough, there’s more misogyny than movie, and Maniac is a standard example of this kind of picture: join Frank Zito as he slaughters New York broads in explicitly sexual ways and pins their scalps to mannequins. It’s utterly excessive, but completely awesome.

Within any genre, there’s good and there’s good. Last year’s Inside is brutal to a panic attack-inducing degree, largely to the fact that the primary victim is a pregnant woman (it should be noted that the villain—and what a villain—is a woman; the filmmakers, of course, are men). It’s absolutely painful to watch, but the immaculate use of tension and violence contribute much to its quality; the gore is abundant, but it’s far from gratuitous. In Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, just about every woman that appears on screen is murdered (or already dead): prostitutes, mothers and their families, even the female lead that the audience dares to hope might live. But the film’s matter-of-fact tone and Michael Rooker’s staid depiction of Henry Lee Lucas are what make it more than just a genre film. It’s worth noting that both of these movies were based on real events; the more you worry, the more you crave cinematic release.

Unfortunately, classics like these have stoked the ambitions of far lesser filmmakers. Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible has the pretensions of an art film, but the structure of a cheap exploitation flick: a ramshackle plot built around a few shocking scenes and gimmicks. It takes a lot of nerve to establish your film—your career—on the basis of a cold-blooded and unnecessarily prolonged rape scene. The makers of Inside had nerve, but they made a great film. This is key: much like off-colour jokes, outrageously sexist movies are only acceptable if they’re good.

A steady diet of blood and guts leaves one in need of comic relief. Luckily, the horror genre is wonderfully self-reflexive, and not a few directors have made virgin (more often slut) sacrifice fun. Slither makes a farce of phallic slaughter: the town tramp is impregnated by tentacles extending from the ever-virile Rooker’s torso; she then becomes rabid for raw meat, expands to the size of a barn, and bursts with alien slugs. The Wicker Man remake is an unintentionally hilarious parody of male paranoia about feminism. Nicolas Cage, facing an island full of man-hating drones in silly clothes, delivers some of the best lines since “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in They Live: “Killing me won’t bring back your goddamn honey!” Some horror directors have even saluted their feminist detractors: Stuart Gordon, clearly concerned about sexual reciprocity, has a dismembered head pleasure Re-Animator’s female lead.

I’d be a dirty liar if I didn’t admit that some horror movies, however stupid, serve their basest purpose: titillation. In most slashers, the killers—much like the real-life murderers they’re based on—are far from sexually potent. On the contrary, they’re driven to kill by their inadequacies—virginity, gender confusion, and, of course, mother issues. One notable exception is David Hess, the Robert Redford of grindhouse: he kills because he’s so ridiculously, delightfully masculine. Hess started out as a songwriter in the late ’50s, but carved a niche for himself as an onscreen psychopath in the ’70s, playing characters with names like “Krug Stillo,” “Bosco,” and “Ferret.” And carve he did, as anyone who’s watched Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left knows quite well. With pot as their bait, Hess and his gang capture, sexually humiliate, rape, and disembowel two teenage girls; it sounds horrible, and it is. The parental retribution doesn’t quite atone for the bloodbath, but Hess, as much as it worries me to admit, is a pleasure to watch. For the more compassionate, Ruggero Deodato’s House at the Edge of the Park is much less brutal (some of the sex is even consentual), and features Hess in various stages of undress. Aside from a particularly tense scene involving a razorblade, the Jewish Adonis is in fine, cheesy form—if you ignore his love handles.

It’s easy to draw the line between politics and pastimes; we’re well aware that many of our cultural indulgences are sexist, racist, or just stupid. There could be a host of psychological reasons for why a feminist enjoys watching her own kind get picked off like piglets; there are certainly enough real-life examples to make me question my own habit. I think the answer can be summarized quite succinctly: horror movies are harmless, often goofy fun. And like anyone else, we’re up for a good time.

Cooking Up A Crisis

Guide to the financial crisis

You gotta pay for the right to party

Last week, acting deputy police chief Brian Cookman of the Kingston Police had a tough job to do. He had to explain to the police services board why the department spent $296,000 policing Homecoming at Queen’s University.

Homecoming is an annual tradition at campuses across North America, and the Queen’s celebration on Aberdeen Street draws thousands yearly for a weekend of partying. This year, only 25 per cent of those arrested were identified as Queen’s students, the rest consisted of out-of-town students and older partygoers not affiliated with any university.

Over two days, the Kingston police department spent 5,300 police hours, chalking up 619 provincial offence tickets, 138 arrests. These numbers are up significantly from the roughly 50 arrests made in 2006 and 2007.

“It’s becoming edgier and it has been described as more dangerous,” said Cookman, adding that the number of arrests would have been even higher if there had been more holding cells and police officers. The Ontario Provincial Police and Toronto Police contributed around 90 additional officers.

“Someone is going to die. […] It’s not a matter of if, but when,” wrote Dr. James Landine, who was on duty in a Kingston emergency room Saturday night, in a letter to the mayor, police, Queen’s principal Tom Williams, and local newspapers.

Still, officials are hesitant to simply cancel the bash. With an estimated 9,000 attendees, the event brings a significant boost to the local hospitality industry. The university, the city, and student groups are currently discussing how to tone down Homecoming, and expect to reach a decision in a couple of months.

Concert Review: Magnetic Morning at the Horseshoe Tavern

It’s common knowledge that the Horseshoe Tavern has a reputation of being a starting ground for promising young bands. But tonight, there’s nothing new or promising about Magnetic Morning. Although theirs is a name not yet widely known, the band boasts years of experience, despite the fact that it formed only two years ago in New Jersey. Magnetic Morning consists of Sam Fogarino, drummer of New York post-punk legends Interpol, and Adam Franklin, singer and guitarist of UK shoegaze outfit Swervedriver. With talent and experience in spades, tonight Magnetic Morning must prove they can stand on their own two feet, without the support of their original bands.

With their cheery attire and variety of instruments (like trombone and banjo), local openers Entire Cities prove to be a huge contrast to the band they precede. Opener “Meat Head” is a soft, amorous ballad that echoes through the half-empty venue. But by the second and third tracks, no less than fifteen additional members storm the stage, clad in quaint pioneer attire reminiscent of Little Women. Their music is packed with backing vocals from ten girls without instruments and apparently, no knowledge of the lyrics, as they’re reading off a pad of paper. When it’s all over, the band joins the audience on the floor, doling out liberal amounts of hugs to their fans. It’s hard not to fall for Entire Cities: their easygoing nature is contagious. The band seems to be less interested in playing their instruments than having a good time.

With no introduction, Magnetic Morning emerges to a stage full of synth ensembles and Vox amplifiers. They open with “At a Crossroads, Passive,” beginning like Interpol circa Turn On the Bright Lights with sparse, gloomy guitar chords. As Franklin’s voice trails off into a desolate, echoing drawl, Fogarino kicks in with the simple backbeats that made him famous.

Their stage presence is almost nonexistent, with the unassuming Fogarino staying put in the background, Franklin playing with his eyes closed. It seems Magnetic Morning aren’t looking for the limelight. Instead, they’re making dreamy soundscapes that take a sharp turn towards the pure noise faintly reminiscent of Franklin’s shoegaze contemporaries, My Bloody Valentine.

The band establishes a pattern by quickly exchanging the dreamy sound for a more conventional rock n’ roll groove that shows off Franklin’s radio-friendly vocal turns on “Motorway”, and a lively cover of The Kinks’ “The Way Love Used to Be.”

But it’s the noisiest songs that have the most impact. “Don’t Go To Dream State,” with its echoing vocal intro and sparse drumming, is a resounding success. “Cold War Kids” features a lengthy build-up to an explosion which finds Fogarino pained from hitting the drums with extreme force. It gets louder and louder, fooling the crowd into thinking it’s the finale. Just when you think it’s about to come to a sudden halt, the band draws it out into a wave of reverb and galloping drum beats.

The band then breaks into deep spatial sounds with “Athens 5.” Perhaps they should have kept the vocals out of the mix, but the heavy drums and blaring reverb forces some stunned audience members to start holding their ears. It’s bearable, but all of a sudden it stops, ending the set with a glorious hurricane of static.

Magnetic Morning has yet to find a concrete sound. For this project to achieve the success of their original bands, Franklin and Fogarino must decide which they prefer: straightforward rock n’ roll, or noisy dreamscapes. Otherwise, they’ll find themselves catering awkwardly to two very different audiences, a position that neither Interpol or Swervedriver ever put themselves in.

Crowdsourcing university

Even though Wikipedia will tell you anything you want to know, academics want to formalize online learning through the new Internet-only Peer 2 Peer University.

The concept is simple enough—create an educational social networking site, in which members have access to teachers through Facebook-like profile pages.

U of T’s Leslie Chan and Stian Haklev are among the team of nine students and professors spearheading the campaign for free, specialized, and interactive education on the net.

Chan is a senior lecturer in UTSC’s social sciences department and Haklev is an MA student at St. George. Other group members hail from schools around the world, including Harvard University and the University of Western Cape in South Africa.

The university’s temporary website, Peer2peeruniversity.org, announces their mission of providing accessible information, analysis, community, and structure for a diverse audience who would otherwise not have the time—or the money—to complete a traditional degree.

Not all are convinced, however. While educators fear that the project undermines the role of institutions in education, and relies too heavily on the “star power” of individual professors and volunteers, students simply fail to see the practicality of a free education without official accreditation.

“If I’m paying for my education already, why would I waste my time on a course that I couldn’t receive credit for?” asked Mark, a third-year commerce student. “I came here for my degree, any information I find on the web is just in addition to the education that I’m getting.”

MIT launched its open courseware project in 2001, putting lecture notes and other materials online. Other schools have followed suit—U of T students can browse course materials through Blackboard—but the growing availability of free course material is far from supplanting the importance of live lectures, critics say.

William Wolfson, an economics prof at U of T, said that though he posts lecture outlines on Blackboard, they are meant as an enhancement, not a replacement for lectures.

“It’s great to have the information about what the lecture’s going to be about before you go into class,” said Jane, an ECO101 student. “But the graphs are going to look like gibberish if you don’t fill them in during class. I mean, Blackboard helps, sure, but interaction with fellow students is what makes the class bearable.”

P2PU will try to recreate that sense of community online. The site launches in February 2009.