My New Year’s Resolution


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Photos courtesy of the Varsity Blues Media Centre

Arts in Review 2010: Best in Film

The American

The American is the second film from noted Danish photographer and music video auteur Anton Corbijn. As such, it’s a beautiful piece of work, full of great shots of the Italian countryside and evocative shots of George Clooney doing such mundane things as sit-ups and modifying sniper rifles. While it was mis-marketed as an action thriller, the film is slow and contemplative, evoking European art-films as much as the Hollywood action films it takes its basic story arc from. Here’s to hoping George Clooney keeps putting his bankable name behind artful and intriguing projects such as this. – AJ

Black Swan

Natalie Portman is intensely erotic (there, I said it) as a ballerina in an insane pursuit of perfection in Darren Aronofsky’s best film yet, a berserk fusion of melodrama and body horror, the type of over-the-top material that runs the risk of falling flat on its face at every moment but somehow doesn’t. The psychosexual tension, the over-the-top emotion, the literal onstage transformation in the conclusion…please don’t ask me why I found it all so moving. Sometimes trying to explain something can destroy its magic. – WS

Enter the Void

The most uncompromising film yet from Gasper Noe (and this is the man who made I Stand Alone and Irreversible), Enter the Void is a gorgeous, hideous, neon-drenched, first-person trip straight to hell (or, in this case, the memories of a low-level drug dealer and the slums of Tokyo) that feels like a fusion of film, installation art, and one of those rides at Disneyland with rumble chairs. But, y’know, with prostitution and abortions. – WS

Exit Through the Gift Shop

This street art documentary (mockumentary?) by the artist currently known as Banksy is more than just a street art documentary. It’s the entire history of an art form, from subversive beginnings to commercialism, made by an artist clearly worried about how long his outlaw reputation will be able to last with newfound mainstream exposure. And when you think about it, whether or not “Mr. Brainwash,” Banksy’s co-lead, is a fictional character is really beside the point. – WS

I Am Love

Visually vibrant and deeply erotic, Luca Guadagnino directs one of the most engrossing films of the year. Starring Tilda Swinton as a Russian émigré living in Milan and married into a traditional Italian family with a successful textile company, I Am Love weaves together a compelling tale of love, food, and family that can’t be missed. – TC

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

You don’t need to like video games, manga, kung fu, anime, summer blockbusters, comic books, TV sitcoms, teen comedies, or any other gen-Y cultural detritus to love Scott Pilgrim vs. the World – you just need to have grown up surrounded by it. It’s an endlessly entertaining and inventive film that captures the spirit of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic book series while bringing in Edgar Wright’s own Tarantino-meets-Monty-Python sensibility. – WS

Shutter Island

A veritable showroom of cinematic tricks and techniques, Shutter Island is among this year’s best psychological thrillers. Yet another product of the tried and true Scorsese-DiCaprio combo, this film is one of the few that genuinely keeps you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end. – TC

The Social Network

David Fincher’s take on the founding of everyone’s favourite website, The Social Network manages to be as dark as it is manic, with superb performances from Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer to boot. If you haven’t seen this yet, please do — then update your status so people can comment on it. Mark Z. won’t mind. – TC

Toy Story 3

If a live-action film about real people were as brutally honest about abandonment, rejection, aging, death, and the passage of time as Toy Story 3, it might be unwatchable. This is one of the very best Pixar movies, another one where the comic, tragic, and even action elements are perfectly modulated (no, seriously, Pixar consistently makes the best action sequences). And it will have special resonance for anyone who was Andy’s age when the first Toy Story was released. – WS

Trigger

One of three movies directed by prolific Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald this year, and the last film starring Tracey Wright, Trigger follows two past-their-prime female ex-rockers through a Toronto night with some of the best dialogue of the year. Also, Trigger made the best use of Allan Gardens in a Canadian film this year (sorry Chloe, with your Liam Neeson handjob). – AJ

Arts in Review 2010: Best in Books

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

by Stieg Larsson

Sometimes there are books you feel a duty to read out of fairness before passing judgment. Friends, it’s a noble thought, but let me tell you: I have read Eat, Pray, Love for this purpose, and it wasn’t worth it. Everything you think about that book is true — judge away. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, on the other hand keeps you reading and reading — even though your subway stop was three back and you’re late for work. Yes, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest was the one released in Summer 2010, but Dragon Tattoo is by far the best book in the trilogy, and the promise it holds is why you’ll slog through the other two. – JC

Super Sad True Love Story

by Gary Shteyngart

I never became emotionally involved in Super Sad’s characters, and when you don’t really care what happens to someone, it’s hard to travel 300-plus pages with him. The book was entertaining enough — hey, it’s not Freedom — but in reading some of Shteyngart’s lesser prophecies, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the author was making the joke just because he could — as if Shteyngart was reading over my shoulder, saying “See what I just did there?” Having just kind of slagged it, why have I included it here? The truth is, after finishing it, I’ve thought about this book a lot, and felt compelled to talk to a lot of people about it. The sociability of a book’s ideas is a different yardstick to measure by, but often the one that counts in the end. For a satiric work that prophesies America’s apocalypse, it’s absolutely essential. Super Sad is true and scary — so it must be doing something right. – JC

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

by David Mitchell

David Mitchell is a wonderfully skilled stylist, but what puts him in the top league of writers is that he is purposeful in building on every aspect of the novel where lazier writers might fall back on two or three and pay lip service to the rest. Plot, characterization, historical accuracy, dialogue, and setting — check. Writing in English the words of a Japanese midwife speaking Dutch as she would have spoken it in 1799 is one summersault in the air too many for most writers. Yet Mitchell seems to pull it off with such ease that we forget he’s the one doing it. Thousand Autumns is what a novel is supposed to be. – JC

Light Lifting

by Alexander Macleod

All seven stories in this Giller nominated collection of short fiction are equally riveting. Macleod skillfully captures a variety of narrative voices, but his prose really triumphs in the description of physical exertion, which is portrayed in vivid and intricate detail. Physical activity becomes intertwined with sorrow, fear, love, and hope in Light Lifting, and Macleod explores these emotions with remarkable sensitivity. – BK

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Diaz

Oscar is an overweight science fiction nerd, an ardent lover of women, and an absolute romantic failure. The novel initially centers on his sexual frustration, but the focus shifts to his mother and sister, who, like Oscar, suffer from an ancient family curse. Diaz blends an erudite narrative voice with Spanish, street talk, and a smattering of geek-speak. The result is a portrayal of love and identity that is at once vibrant, funny, and tragic. – BK

Great House

by Nicole Krauss

Great House has none of the whimsy of Krauss’ best-selling novel, The History of Love, but it is just as richly imagined. Krauss delicately weaves together the narrative threads of four different characters who cannot escape the sadness of their past and who are all connected by an oversized desk that comes to symbolize their pain. – BK


We’ll get to them eventually: More of 2010’s important reads….

Mordecai: The Life and Times

by Charles Foran

Like many admirers of Mordecai Richler’s fiction, I find the author himself an intriguing personality. He was beloved as a writer, but notorious for the same irreverence and caustic wit that make his characters so damn likeable. One can see how this paradox alone would provide a solid basis for a fascinating biography. – BK

Annabel

by Kathleen Winter

Set in a remote village in Labrador, Annabel explores the life of a child who was born a hermaphrodite and raised as a boy named Wayne. Despite his parents’ attempt to suppress the truth of his birth, Wayne cannot help but sense his sexual duality. Annabel has been nominated for a prestigious trio of Canadian awards (the Giller, Writers’ Trust and Governor General’s awards) and has garnered much critical acclaim for its exploration of gender and identity. – BK

Eating Animals

by Jonathan Safran Foer

As a longtime vegetarian, I am probably predisposed to like Eating Animals, which offers an unflinching portrayal of factory farming and commercial slaughterhouses. But I’m also curious to see how Safran Foer, a brilliant and popular fiction writer, tackles this very real, very unpalatable subject. If his novels are any indication, Eating Animals will be a bright, well-crafted read. – BK

The Four Fingers of Death

by Rick Moody

The year is 2025. Montese Crandall is hired to turn a novel out of B-movie horror schlock The Crawling Hand. It’s supposed to be funny. The New York Times called it “fast-and-loose-and-ambitious-as-Pynchon” and “rock-’n’-roll-dystopian.” I don’t know what “rock-’n’-roll-dystopian” means, but it sounds awfully dangerous and fun. – JC

Parrot & Olivier In America

by Peter Carey

It is written by Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda; True History of the Kelly Gang; My Life as a Fake; etc.). Olivier bears close resemblance to Alexis de Tocqueville. He is accompanied to America by Parrot, an English orphan and aspiring artist. Reviews have led me to believe that what ensues is a 19th-century road trip / feel-good comedy about best buds. – JC

C

by Tom McCarthy

For the longest time — until I started writing this right now, actually — I’ve had no clue what this book is about. What I do know is that you should never trust someone who says she doesn’t judge a book by its cover and I’ve felt this cover watching me as my back was turned every time I’ve stepped into a bookstore this fall. As it turns out, it’s about the life of a man named Serge, who is born in 1898. Generally speaking, the book’s theme is communication, or something. In its review, The Guardian compared McCarthy to James Joyce, and C was short-listed for the Man Booker. Not that any of that matters, because I’m going to read it anyway. – JC

Four tech trends to watch for this year

Mobile Wallets

Imagine this: you’re about to walk into a subway station, but realize you have no money on you. And they don’t take credit or debit! No problem. Just wave your phone at a sensor and you are electronically billed for the fare. Surprisingly, this technology has been around for quite a while, and is actually very popular in countries like Japan, where one can buy anything from McDonald’s burgers to train passes with the simple wave of a cellphone. In Europe and the Americas, adoption of such Near Field Communication technology has been slow, but Apple might provide just the catalyst we need: the iPhone 5, likely to be announced in June, is rumoured to be NFC-enabled. Don’t expect to be buying a latte with your cellphone by the end of the year, though. Adoption will be slow, and it will likely be several years before NFC becomes as standard as credit card chip technology is today.

Location-based Services

Foursquare, Gowalla, and Facebook Places have all made great progress in 2010 but, in 2011, location-based services will really come into their own. As more people carry GPS-enabled cellphones, location-based services are set to become a key part of the social media experience. Look no further than Facebook Places and the recent tie-in feature, Facebook Deals, where businesses can offer special deals or discounts for checking into a location on Facebook Places. The check-in, and thus the deal, then gets broadcast on news feeds for all to see. It’s essentially user-driven social media advertising. With Foursquare and Gowalla offering similar features, expect to see businesses start to flock to location-based services in 2011. We will also see an increasing movement towards an open, integrated location service database. In other words, Facebook Places, Gowalla, Foursquare and any other location-based service will “play nice” and pull from the same database, which would in turn allow for tighter integration between the different social media services.
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Streaming and the Cloud

Last year was a huge year for cloud computing, but 2011 is poised to be even bigger. As information is increasingly stored on Internet servers around the world (“the cloud”) instead of personal computers, the need to carry all of your data with you is diminishing. Instead, you are able to simply connect to an Internet-based service and access it that way. Along with online-only apps and other cloud-based services, this means 2011 will be a big year for streaming. By the end of 2011, expect to be able to stream television and movies straight to your Internet-enabled device, be it your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer. Music streaming, though a bit trickier due to legal complications, also seems poised to make a big impression this year. Why else would Apple sink over one billion dollars into one of the largest server farms ever built? An iTunes music streaming service, that’s why.

Internet Privacy and Cyberwar

We’ve already gotten a taste of this with the WikiLeaks US diplomatic cable debacle, but expect much more in the coming year. As people continue to put more and more of themselves online, questions of privacy and what should (and shouldn’t) be monitored will become increasingly relevant. In November and December we saw ”hacktivists” attacking institutions such as MasterCard, Visa, and PayPal as a backlash against the hard line they had taken on WikiLeaks. This year, expect to see a lot more of this, as net neutrality (the idea that the Internet should be open and its information unregulated by governments and service providers) begins to be disputed by internet service providers, governments, and end users. As this occurs, expect cyberwar to take on new meaning, as different parties scramble to fight over the future of the internet as we know it.

Students challenged to stop child soldiers

Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire is gathering a force to end what he calls a massive but stoppable abuse of human rights.

The senator, humanitarian, and author is widely known for leading the underfunded — and ultimately unsuccessful — UN peacekeeping force during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

Lt.-Gen. Dallaire is now putting his name-recognition, experience, and passion into Zero Force, an initiative to recruit young people to mobilize against the use of children as instruments of war.

The Varsity spoke with Lt.-Gen. Dallaire before his visit to U of T last month on Human Rights Day.
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The Varsity: Why have you decided to participate in Human Rights Day?

Roméo Dallaire: What? Jesus! [laughs] I gotta tell you that I’m taken back by the question after what I have lived, in seeing the massive abuses of human rights and seeing the ineptness of the international community in responding to it; having written on it and advocated on this subject and pursued initiatives to advance human rights on a whole bunch of fronts. If I wasn’t participating I’d probably be asleep or something.

TV: What motivates you to work for this human rights?

RD: Human beings. They’re all equal. And that’s the fundamental premise. None of us have any more humanity; we’re not any more human than any other and in that context we are all equal. We have frictions, but that is not a position that can be held in regards to the equality of every human being that exists.

TV: What do you think is the main obstruction to achieving equality across humanity?

RD: The greatest obstruction of the past was the lack of being able to communicate in order to inform people of their fundamental rights as a human being, and to be treated as a human being according to the charter rights of the UN as an example.

However, that is going to now take a whole different perspective with the revolution of communications that we have, where in fact soon we’ll be able to talk to every human being on earth. And so with that revolution of global communications, we actually have an ability to leap forward in garnering all human beings under the principle of equality.

TV: What can students do to help out with this cause?

RD: Students can do it by leading the charge in advocacy and engagement and activism, because if anybody can master this revolution in communications, it’s those who are under 25. They grasp the concept of how small this planet is and how easy it is to talk to any human being anywhere. They can Skype anywhere in the world as long as they’ve got somebody on the other end with a computer, which they can provide.

And so the youth have the ability to lead this era of significantly leaping ahead human rights through activism: by getting engaged, influencing public opinion and policy by advocacy, by communicating with the youth — their peers in foreign lands, in developing countries — and establishing links, human links between each other, and ultimately engaging and supporting [organizations].

As an example, the advocacy effort that we’re doing on child soldiers, through what is called Zero Force, is one of those new instruments that can help the young people focus on how they can influence what is happening to their peers — not to adults, but to their peers — in foreign lands where they’re being abducted, indoctrinated, drugged up and raped and used as weapons of war.

TV: And how do you think students are doing so far?

RD: I think they’re still not done training. I think they’re still looking at the extraordinary potential they have, but they haven’t been garnered to focus. They haven’t been given enough vision of the incredible power that they have, and in so doing I think that’s where some of us adults have failed and I think we have got to rectify that; not tell them what to do, but to give them some sense of focus, of realizing the power they have and encouraging them to go out there and get their boots dirty.

I think it should be a right of passage in a country like ours, after your education is to go and spend weeks or months in developing countries in order to comprehend what’s happening to 80 per cent of humanity, and bring that rage that they have, that inequality they have and bring something to change public opinion and policy here.

TV: Zero Force is about child soldiers. What are your thoughts about Omar Khadr?

RD: Omar Khadr is, in my military mind with absolutely no doubt, he’s a child soldier. He meets all the criteria. He was taken, although by parents, from this country to another country, he was indoctrinated at a young age, was involved in a military altercation; so he was armed and trained and used in a military operation under the age of 18. All those components make right against the charter of rights and the [Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict] that no one under the age of 18 is to be trained, recruited, equipped, armed, and used in conflict.

And when you have that as an overarching premise then you implement the conventions that you sign, which Canada lead the way for, and that means you bring him back, you go through a set of non-punitive judicial instruments in order to help with the rehabilitation and reintegration of the individual.


Dallaire at U of T

On the evening of December 10, 2010, Human Rights Day, Dallaire spoke to an almost-filled MacMillan Theatre about Zero Force, and challenged students to get involved, get active, and fight for a world where children are no longer used as soldiers.

CBC journalist Anna Maria Tremonti hosted the event, which began with an impassioned story from Michel Chikwanine. The Democratic Republic of Congo native spoke about the two weeks he was a soldier at the age of five, when he was forced to kill his best friend.

The event included performances from Emmanuel Jal, an international hip hop artist and former Sudanese child soldier, and a speech from AIDS activist and former Canadian UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis.

According to Lt.-Gen. Dallaire, the first step of Zero Force is awakening youth to the reality of approximately 250,000 children worldwide.

“The first thing to be done is to create a momentum within the developed world; to engage their youth in recognizing that their peers are being used as weapons of war,” he said, noting that online communications allow almost any two people to get in touch. “That revulsion in itself, I hope will create that sort of energy of activism that is going to stop it.”

After getting involved and informed, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire said that youth could then engage in on-the-ground work. He said that any solution to the use of children as weapons of war must be a political and military intervention, one that can only start by the advocacy of an engaged society.

Referring to inaction as “irresponsible,” the Canadian senator said wealthy, developed countries have a duty to intervene in human rights abuses worldwide.

Explaining his initiative, Lt.-Gen. Dallaire was interviewed by Heather Reisman, founder of Indigo Books & Music Inc. Framing Zero Force in military terms, he challenged young people to enlist and recruit their peers, in an effort to annihilate an enemy force of oppression and injustice.

Winter relief

Santa has come and gone, but Winterfest 2011 may help delay the looming stress of returning back to school. The almost week long event will feature club and pub nights, barbeques, sports events and more, during the first week of classes.

Events run from Tuesday to Saturday, with two events a day. On Tuesday, there will be sports (flag football, ultimate frisbee) set up for everyone to play on Front Campus at UC with a free accompanying barbecue. Tuesday night will feature the annual Winterfest pub crawl that will visit the Bedford Academy, the Duke of York, the Fox and Fiddle, The Madison, the James Joyce, the Brunny, and Pauper’s Pub.

“[The pub crawl will] cater to all partiers even if they aren’t necessarily clubbing types,” said Paul Humphrey, Social Commissioner of University College Literary and Athletic Society. “It also gives people a chance to check out some bars they may not have been to yet.”
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Wednesday will feature both an open mic night at Brennan Hall at St. Mike’s and a live viewing of the Raptor’s game project in Kruger Hall. Thursday night will feature a club night at XS Nightclub at John and Richmond.

Humphrey, former president of Party for a Cause, describes last year’s club night as “amazing” and hopes this years inclusion of musical act Planet Otnorot and DJs Intrinity, Couture, and Dynasty will make this year’s even better.

Friday will feature a self-explanatory pancake kegger. The week will wrap up on Saturday with a giant game of capture the flag in Queen’s Park at noon and a semi-formal in Old Vic’s Alumni Hall that night.

“It’s a beautiful space, and we’ll be sure have it extra decked out for the occasion,” said Humphrey. “We’ll also be providing some great food and bar service all for $15.”

U of T welcome back events first began in the 90s but disappeared in the early 2000s. Winterfest began in 2006 and has grown into a week organized between colleges.

“It’s a unique opportunity for college and division councils who often work on separate or even competing events, to work together and do something for all our students,” said Humphrey.

Humphrey added that this event shouldn’t be confused as a “second frosh week,” as the appeal is intended to be much larger. “Frosh week is catered towards new students, most of whom are still underage,” explained Humphrey. “Winterfest on the other hand caters to a wider community including upper years.”

“Winterfest is all about everyone coming together at the start of a new term to reconnect with their friends and their campus life,” explained Humphrey. “And most importantly remind them that despite the cold and class, U of T DOES party!”

Stunted transit

Mayor Rob Ford’s plan to cancel Transit City, which would have seen seven light rail lines built along Toronto’s busiest bus routes, in favour of replacing it with a paltry, though worthy eastward extension of the Sheppard subway line, is foolish and bears little resemblance to the responsibility which he preached during his campaign. Though Transit City’s overall budget would be larger than Ford’s subway plan, it would do far more with far less money per kilometer of transport. No transit proposal currently on the table is better suited to the age of municipal austerity and restraint, which Ford promised prior to his election this autumn.

Despite the fact that the replacement of Transit City with the Sheppard extension would be bad policy, such a move would be consistent with Toronto’s traditional narrow-mindedness on transit issues. Though municipal and provincial politicians have long paid lip service to the idea of linking the city together with new rapid transit lines, these plans have long been treated as luxuries rather than the necessities that they are. Toronto is like a small town trapped in the body of a large city. Its thinking has not yet expanded to meet the scale and scope of its challenges.

It is this narrow-mindedness that has kept Toronto from expanding and improving on the enviable transit system that it had built by the mid 1970s. If Toronto had followed through on half the proposals made by transit planners since this period, it would have at least two additional lines. One would run along Eglinton from Scarborough to the airport, while another would replace the King or Queen streetcars to provide much needed relief to the overcrowded Bloor and Yonge-University-Spadina lines. The Sheppard subway might be extended both eastward and westward to provide a fourth east-west connection. A third north-south line might be in the works.

The fault for Toronto’s arrested transit development is not solely a consequence of its narrow-mindedness, but because the municipal government is chronically underfunded. While Toronto is required to run a balanced budget and generally manages to do so without imposing too many significant cuts, it has little capacity for spending beyond ordinary operational expenses. This leaves the funding of large capital projects, such as transit, at the mercy of the federal and provincial governments. Unlike most cities of similar size in other countries, Toronto has little capacity to raise money, either through borrowing or taxes.
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As Alan Broadbent argued in Urban Nation it is time that we let large Canadian cities like Toronto raise their own money for big projects by allowing them to raise a greater variety of taxes and to issue bonds; something which even small towns in the United States take for granted. The need for greater spending capacity at the municipal level does not mean, however, that the federal and provincial governments should be allowed to shirk their responsibilities towards big cities. Unfortunately, the current financial climate makes an infusion of federal or provincial money unlikely, despite it being long overdue.

If Toronto cannot expect the support it needs from other levels of government and is prohibited to seek it alone, then it cannot hope to construct the transit infrastructure which a city of its size needs. The result is continually increasing car traffic, which contributes to the decreasing air quality of the city as well as to climate change, but also valuable hours of productivity lost to commuting. Though budget hawks like Mayor Ford are right to ask whether Toronto really has the means to make its transit plans into reality, they would do well not to ignore the consequences which not doing so might have.

Likewise, pro-transit activists are right to seek improvements to Toronto’s transit infrastructure, but they cannot ignore the challenges that improving the aging system will present. Chief among these challenges is that Toronto might need to get creative to make up for shortfalls in federal and provincial funding. This means opening up new transit development to partnerships with the private sector, including real estate developers who would benefit from subway lines being built near their developments. While the city should be careful not to allow private participation to distort transit development, it should not close off the possibility of cooperation outright.

Torontonians face an increasingly stark choice about their transit future. Either we can continue to run an atrophied and outdated network, supplemented by stop-gap measures like Mayor Ford’s Sheppard extension and the new subway trains due to enter into service this winter, or we can get serious about transit and start to create a modern, efficient, and interconnected system to bind Toronto together. Neither will be easy, but it is clear that the first choice can have nothing but negative consequences, except perhaps for the city’s chequing account. And if that is all that matters to Torontonians anymore, then we must be reminded of the difference between a corporation and a government.

When opposing interests collide

The potential takeover of U.K. satellite broadcaster BSkyB by media magnate Rupert Murdoch has provoked quite a stir in political and media circles. Many key industry figures have penned letters to Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat MP and business secretary, to condemn this as a move toward further diminishing media plurality and have urged a halt to the acquisition.

Murdoch, perhaps best known in North America as the founder of Fox News Channel and the CEOU of Newscorp, has long sought to consolidate various media outlets around the world under the umbrella of his multi-platform company, News Corporation, in order to spread a conservative political agenda and act as a mouthpiece for right-leaning governments. While his quest to monopolize most, if not all, of U.K. media has not yet reached the same proportion in the United States, the success of Fox News is but one example of the mainstream media’s deteriorating state of affairs.

The rise of corporate media has led to a merger between journalistic and government interests, whereby the “journalists” and the political leaders whom they are supposed to be challenging are virtually identical. Although we are seeing more web-based, progressive organizations like WikiLeaks fulfill the duties of the media by exposing government secrets and wrongdoing, the website, along with its founder, Julian Assange, are under attack by the U.S. government and perhaps not surprisingly by the mainstream press, whose livelihood is so dependent on the political and financial elite targeted by WikiLeaks. Even some of the most widely respected news organizations, like CNN (owned by TimeWarner) and the Washington Post, who are often praised for objective, non-partisan reporting, have shown a willingness to repeat statements from government officials that accuse Assange of endangering lives, putting national security at risk, and being careless in releasing hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables (the latter of which is categorically false). This dangerous alignment between government officials and journalists poses a serious threat to the democratic process and above all, shield corrupt factions in government from accountability and justice.

Although WikiLeaks consumed much of the recent news coverage, the pathetic way in which it was treated by reporters and assailed by political pundits is perfectly illustrative of the media’s pattern of subservience to those in power. Last year’s proposed healthcare reforms ignited a debate in the country that, for the most part, consisted of inaccuracies, lies, and damned lies (remember “death panels?”) Instead of having a serious national discussion about meaningful structural reform to the health care system, perhaps one that could mirror Canada’s universal healthcare, according to media watchdog FAIR, proponents of such reform were virtually shut out from the discussion. Why? Once the Obama administration had nixed the possibility of implementing a single-payer system early in 2009, media outlets began reducing coverage on this issue, to the detriment of public awareness. The merger of government and journalistic interests is further intensified when former government officials, like torture aficionado Marc Thiessen, landed cushy jobs as political contributors or columnists at news organizations and were given a platform from which to argue propaganda on behalf of their previous employer. It has been widely documented that at the height of the Iraq War, corporate executives of various news outlets, such as Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, among others, suppressed stories and reports that were deemed critical of the Bush administration’s policies. It is, for this reason and many others, that we have seen alternative sources of information, such as WikiLeaks, gain more credibility and legitimacy among the public, to the chagrin of many establishment news outlets.

In order to preserve the democratic process, it is imperative that the media be dedicated to exposing conspiracies and government malfeasance, independent of any political party or moneyed interest. However, as the corporate-owned organizations continue to balloon in size and scope, our understanding of the world’s pressing issues will continue to be filtered through the narrow lens of these corporations, whose interests are more profit-driven, and less about journalistic integrity. It is no surprise then, that investigative journalism has drastically declined over the years, mostly due to the corporate media’s reliance on cost-cutting measures. It is certainly cause for concern when a handful of wealthy individuals exert tremendous influence on public opinion, which in turn, can have significant political and policy consequences. The public embrace of independent voices and the growing support for WikiLeaks represents a desire for more transparency and a rejection of the media’s corporate domination.