Close encounters key to co-existence

From grad students to seniors, young children to young couples, a diverse crowd came out to U of T’s Faculty Club on Nov. 4 for John Wall’s talk on “A Quest for Co-Existence: People and Other Animals in an Increasingly Human World.” Wall, who is director of the Jane Goodall Institute and a doctoral candidate in Carleton University’s geography and environmental studies department, appeared as part of U of T’s Centre for Environment seminar series.

As dusk fell Wednesday evening, Wall asked his audience: what are the processes and prospects of living with endangered species? How do people adapt to living with animals, and vice versa?

“[Dr. Goodall’s] research has opened up a new view into animal behaviour, and chimpanzee behaviour and ecology,” Wall said. “She doesn’t see a sharp division between what we need to for other species and what we need to do for people. As she often puts it, ‘Let’s make a better world for the Earth and all of its inhabitants.’”

A trip to Uganda as a volunteer development consultant shaped Wall’s research interests. Not only did he become more aware of complicated conservation and economic development issues in the region, but he also began to wonder about how people and animals co-exist.

“The encounter” was the motif of Wall’s talk. He pointed out that because not everyone can share the same experiences, each individual encounter is unique. Direct encounters as well as indirect and vicarious experiences can shape our position towards not only animals, but other social groups and communities as well.

“For me, an encounter with a chimpanzee, Sophie, changed my mind about people and animals. I was beginning to see myself in her eyes,” Wall said. “Subsequently I thought, ‘Humans are animals too, and just as our eyesight, hearing, smell, and touch are in continuum with other species, some of those species have capacities in those areas that far, far exceed our human capacity.’”

Recently, Wall has focused on the mutual adaptations of people and threatened species. He has investigated eastern wolves in the Ottawa Valley, grizzly bears in Canmore, Alberta, and North Atlantic right whales in the Bay of Fundy.

Wall said he hopes to continue working in human-animal studies that address conservation and development, and to examine how people develop their ideas of nature. “As we learn more about [encounters], and begin to see ourselves in the other,” he said, “it completely transforms our relationship and our desire to live a peaceful and successful co-existence.”

Maxed out

When interviewing Tucker Max, be careful about dropping the S-bomb. To a writer assigned to deliver a story on Max, the “sexist” issue may seem a natural point of discussion. To a man who has been dealing with the adjective every day since the 2006 publication of his book I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, it is a topic of considerable weariness.

“Define ‘sexism,’” he shoots back.

I scramble for a dictionary. “See?” he says. “You’re throwing around a word you don’t know the meaning of!”

I have found a definition: “Sexism: discriminatory or abusive behaviour towards members of the opposite sex.”

“Okay,” he pauses for a second. “So, discriminatory behaviour, right? That means treating women differently simply because they are women. It’s not like I look at someone and say, ‘Okay, because you’re a woman, I’m going to…’ whatever, ‘xyz’ that I wouldn’t do with a man. No. I mean, like, the only people who focus on that shit in my writing are really kind of…whatever…” His voice trails off.

“Look. Every person in my book takes shit. I give shit to guys just as much as I give it to girls, and probably no one ends up worse off than I do. And yet, it’s funny, no one ever says, ‘Why do you make fun of yourself so much?’ or ‘Why are you so hard on guys?’ For some reason they only focus on the aspects involving women. I really don’t know why. But sexism implies treating women differently. I don’t treat women any differently than I treat other men or myself.”

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, a raunchy collection of hook-ups gone wrong, features a disclaimer: “My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole.” This more or less establishes the persona point-blank. As described in his literary adventures, Tucker is an unapologetic narcissist with a raving id and a shortage of shame, eager to consume as much sex and booze as humanly possible. “But I do contribute to humanity in one very important way,” the disclaimer adds. “I share my adventures with the world.”

Beginning as a blog, the book became a bestseller many times over, particularly on university campuses. Everyone’s favourite story seems to be “Tucker Tries Buttsex; Hilarity Does Not Ensue,” a chapter that filled me with the intense desire to buy Max a mop.

Now there is a feature film of the same name, collecting many of his most famous anecdotes into a fictional story about Tucker (Matt Czuchry) taking his friends Drew (Jessie Bradford) and Dan (Geoff Stults) to a strip club to celebrate Dan’s impending marriage. Imagine The Hangover if you actually saw the bachelor party.

The film is belatedly opening in Toronto theatres following an American theatrical run in September, where the film was met with modest box office revenues and some of the harshest reviews of the years (“The result just might be the most hypocritical feature in the history of film as well as the history of hypocrisy,” wrote Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune). Gamely taking interviews for the Canadian release, it is clear that Max is still smarting from the reception.

I mention that Tucker’s big redemptive speech didn’t feel very redemptive. His voice lightens considerably. “So many critics totally fucking missed this,” he says. “I mean, they tried to criticize the movie because they’re like, ‘Oh, Tucker’s supposed to be irredeemable but then he fuckin’ totally changes at the end.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you idiots, did you not watch the fuckin’ movie?’ Because, like, he doesn’t! That’s the whole point.

“This presented a lot of problems with the critics: so much of American film is so trite and so pat, and everything’s wrapped up in a little bow, and the moral message is very clear, right? But life doesn’t work like that, and we didn’t make a movie like that, because that’s bullshit. We made a movie where every character has faults—some are more good than bad, but the movie doesn’t take a moral position on anyone’s actions. It just shows them as they are. Sorta like The Wire, my favourite TV show of all time.”

He continues: “A lot of people took this like, ‘Oh, they’re saying this [behaviour] is funny, this is good’—no! It’s not! Like, the movie doesn’t take a position on narcissism necessarily, and if it did, it would be that it’s bad. But a lot of people, because they’re so used to bland pabulum, they don’t get it. If you have a good, complicated movie, sometimes it’s tough to get across in the first showing. Sometimes people have to watch it a few times, like Fight Club, Office Space, whatever, and I think this movie kinda fell into that trap.”

I was bothered by the scene where Tucker flirts with a group of female friends in a bar, holding an indignant one up to ridicule. I ask if it was fair to feel that the woman had every right to be angry. “Yeah, dude. No one’s right or wrong. I mean, in their exchange, sometimes she’s wrong, and sometimes he’s wrong, y’know? Like, there are definitely times when she’s kinda being a fucking cunt, and then there are other times when he crosses the line. The barometer of where the audience should be is where her friends are…I mean, dude, it’s supposed to be like real life, and it’s not always clear what’s right or wrong.”

Instead of parlaying his book’s popularity into a big studio movie deal, Max went the route of independent financing and distribution. “I turned down $2 million for this script. There’s absolutely no way that had I filmed the script through a major studio they would have done anything but fuck this movie up. They would have cut all the balls off the comedy, they would have put Seth Rogen and Dane Cook in it, they would have changed Tucker to make him fall in love, and all this stupid shit that would have driven me up a fucking wall.”

Several times during the interview Max refers to himself and his character as a narcissist, and I tell him that I’m surprised by his frankness. “I really am a narcissist, y’know? I’m not quite as bad as I was in the movie. The movie portrays me, like, 10 years ago, when I really, truly was, like, straight-up narcissist. Now I’ve kinda thought my way out of a lot of those issues, and I now maybe only have narcissistic traits, I’m not a full-on narcissist anymore.”

Tucker Max will be appearing in-person at CINSSU’s advance screening of *I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell on Tuesday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. The film opens on Nov. 13.*

A splendid evening with the Prince of Wales and his Royal Military

The 2009 visit to Canada of Their Royal Highnesses The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall is a nationwide phenomenon. Well, at least to anyone who cares. The Royal Monarchy (which insists on capitalizing any noun within three feet of itself) has fallen under a lot of criticism in this country, not the least of which coming from our own Luke Savage in the previous issue of this paper. Even one of the photographers at this event was audibly complaining about how ironic it is to see Prince Charles, who has never seen combat, play the role of Colonel-in-Chief to two historic Canadian regiments, the Royal Regiment of Canada (formed in 1936, wearing red) and the Toronto Scottish Regiment (raised in 1915 as the “Mississauga Battalion,” wearing grey), which is also “Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s Own” (she liked them better). And so a crowd of admiring post-colonial onlookers watched an incredibly colonial ceremony: the Presentation of New Colours, a tradition that dates back to the 18th century. “Colours,” in this case, means not only the colours on the uniforms, but also the battle flags of each regiment, as well as a historical-spiritual combination of divine right and past accomplishment.

The Royal Media Guide puts it best: “The Colour, then as now: was always saluted; carefully guarded; and had an escort to protect it. On the Regimental Colour are emblazoned the names of the battles in which the unit has distinguished itself. The Colour therefore reminds the soldiers of the past history and traditions of the Regiment…As such a symbol, the Colours are the most prized possession of the Regiment and are held in veneration.” Indeed.

To say the least, it was interesting that this ceremony landed Charles, Camilla, and rows of military in 19th-century costume, right here at U of T. Varsity Stadium beamed as Anglican priests incanted and Charles gave a heartwarming speech about remembering the fallen. And despite the bitter cold, I think even the shivering men in kilts were given the kind of warmth and comfort that only such an archaic institution as the Monarchy can provide.

Beyond Bruce Lee

Now entering its 13th year, the Toronto Reel Asian Film Festival does not always attract the best of Asian and Asian-themed cinema. (The opening night gala in 2007 was Finishing the Game? Really?) However, it usually does provide a good chance to see some hidden independent gems, as well as Asian-produced box office hits unlikely to land a North American studio distribution deal. This year’s line-up is looking exciting, particularly because of the centrepiece presentation: Red Heroine (1929), the only surviving martial arts film of its period, will be screening Friday at the Royal with live musical accompaniment. In addition to the vintage kung foolery, here are three more major screenings.


The last decade has been a disastrous one for the Hong Kong film industry. Once among the most vibrant and prolific film producers in the world, an annual output of 400-plus theatrical features has dwindled to around 50 thanks to a combination of rampant piracy and a shortage of new talent. Overheard, the festival’s opening night gala, comes from Alex Mak and Felix Chong, two of the makers of Infernal Affairs (2002), one of the few really worthwhile and globally successful Hong Kong films this decade. Overheard is one of the region’s most successful local productions this year, and it is indeed above average for contemporary Hong Kong commercial filmmaking. Ostensibly about three cops (Lau Ching-Wan, Louis Koo, and Daniel Wu) tasked to spy on a business firm suspected of insider trading and price fixing, Overheard isn’t so much a suspense thriller as a slick soap opera, with Koo tempted into corruption to support his dying son and Lau holding a secret affair with another cop’s estranged wife. The story walks the line of believability in its later scenes, and I’m not sure I’ll remember much of this a few months from now. Overheard is, however, serviceable entertainment. And as anyone who’s been following Hong Kong cinema over the last 10 years can tell you, there’s something to be said for serviceable.


A Japanese punk band primarily famous for having broken up “one year before the forming of The Sex Pistols” (as on-screen text tells us twice) record their last single, a Dadaist oddity called “Fish Story” based on a bit of bad translation from a paperback published just after the Second World War. A meteor races towards Earth 37 years later, and two men in a Tokyo record store spend their last hours attempting to decipher the meaning of the one-minute silence within the song. Amid these book-ending plot threads, director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s very deadpan comedy (based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka) shifts to several different subplots spanning four decades, the connection between them ambiguous until the final scene. Compulsively watchable for its dry tone and enigmatic plot, Fish Story is an entertaining testament to the importance of chance—until the ending explains how everything fits together, and the effect becomes somewhat anticlimactic. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the revelation, but I wish Nakamura had taken a cue from the film’s band and left a little more to the imagination.


Yang Yang is the second feature-length film from director Cheng Yu-Chieh, whose Do Over received some acclaim on the festival circuit in 2006. The film follows its title character, a Eurasian teenager (Sadrine Pinna), as her mother marries Yang Yang’s track and field coach and her best friend Xiao-Ru becomes her stepsister. Shawn (Bryant Chang), Xiao-Ru’s boyfriend, takes an increasing interest in Yang Yang, and tensions rise between the two friends. Shot in claustrophobic close-ups with a handheld camera—a technique easier to take in small doses, admittedly—Yang Yang is still a strikingly intimate drama with naturalistic performances from its three leads. Director Cheng shows considerable skill with mood: he knows how to evoke his characters’ restlessness in visual terms.

The Reel Asian Film Festival runs from Nov. 11 to 15. Locations include Innis Town Hall and Bloor Cinema. For more information, visit

Turnout drops for Drop Fees

On Thursday, Nov. 5, protestors braved the cold and hail for the Day of Action for a Poverty Free Ontario. Across the province, students, labour unions, and social justice and antipoverty groups pushed the Ontario government to support multi-year funding for new poverty reduction measures. The annual protest is traditionally organized by the Canadian Federation of Students as part of the Drop Fees campaign.

The protest’s focus and community involvement expanded this year, even as many participants noted that attendance decreased. “People are saying it’s a bit smaller,” said U of T student David Perry, playing his djembe as he moved through the streets. “People question why I support a protest, but we need to get the message out there.”

Before the event, U of T Students’ Union president Sandy Hudson predicted a higher turnout due to additional community involvement. “There are far more groups involved this year than there were last year. Last year was very, very student-focused and this year we have tied it into the broader issue of poverty,” Hudson said.

“The campaign is about sending a strong message to the government to make social services affordable and accessible to the province,” said Hadia Akhtar, VP external for UTSU.

As for the Drop Fees campaign, Hudson said “We’re hoping to get tuition fees reduced to 2004 levels, because that’s what the opposition parties have signed on to. The tuition fees framework that the government has been using to increase our fees for the last four years expires in December, so we’re trying to make an impact on that.”

St. George students gathered at Sid Smith before joining contingents from UTM, UTSC, Ryerson, and York. Other community organizations also joined the protest as it converged at Convocation Hall. The group then marched along Wellesley, south on Bay to College, and back to Queen’s Park.

A flatbed truck adorned with CFS logos led the protest, blasting music. Attendees waved placards as they marched, and some brought props and costumes. Ali Karin, a student from UTM, dressed as Drop Fees Man, a caped superhero battling against the government to drop fees.

“I see so many enthusiastic people,” said Doville Skersyte, UTM student and protest marshal. “It’s so wonderful that no matter what kind of weather it is, people are really enthusiastic.”

While Hudson’s goal may have to reduce fees to 2004 levels, many advocated for no tuition fees at all.

“We think there should be no fees for students and in fact all students should be paid a stipend,” said Elizabeth Rowley, Ontario Leader of the Communist Party. “We have always supported students fighting for a reduction of fees.”

At its peak, the protest stretched roughly half a city block. Some students, however, chose to watch the commotion from a distance rather than join in.

“The way to engage with the issue of tuition is to adopt a more constructive approach,” said Shakir Rahim, an exec on the Association of Political Science Students. “What is actually going to get results is to try to analyze where these two groups can come together and make the series of compromises that are necessary to find a realistic solution to the problem.”

“When I started at U of T, the Canadian Federation of Students was able to bring out large numbers of students to these protests,” said Gabe De Roche, international relations student and president of the U of T Liberals. “They didn’t need to meet on the patio of Sid Smith, they could meet on front campus. It looks like they printed too many signs.”

No free press for The Garg

On Oct. 25, the University College Literary and Athletic Society withheld The Gargoyle’s access to its student levy fund after rejecting the student newspaper’s proposed budget. The UC Lit did this out of concern that too much of the budget was allocated to food, alcohol, and parties. On his blog, UC Lit speaker Andrew Rusk says The Gargoyle spends 20 per cent on food, drinks, alcohol, and parties, compared to the two to three per cent at The Varsity, 6.5 per cent at The Mike, and 10 per cent at The Strand.

As someone who has worked for various student newspapers, I understand how food, drinks, and year-end parties can boost morale and show appreciation for unpaid, overworked staff. It’s especially true for a newspaper that is completely driven by volunteers, as is the case with The Gargoyle. This incident shows there is a serious problem with how much control a student union has over the funding of a student newspaper.

Namely, that it literally has enough power to stop a newspaper from printing.

No student government should ever control funding for a student newspaper, be it at UC, U of T, or any educational institution. A separate board of student directors, newspaper ombudspersons, or a combination of both should be what provides oversight on issues like hiring and appropriate budget funding.

Preceding the decision, The Gargoyle poked fun at members of the UC Lit by annotating the minutes from a prior Lit meeting, only further illustrating why the paper’s funding should never have come from the very organization the student newspaper is responsible for criticizing.

The budget has since been re-evaluated, and eventually approved. Nevertheless, this incident has set up an atmosphere of increased animosity and a “funding chill.”

Unlike a “libel chill”—where news organizations are less likely to pursue specific hard-hitting investigative stories on specific people or corporations out of fear of litigation—a “funding chill” restricts criticism of a ruling institution out of fear of reduced finances (just look at the CBC and the current Harper government!).

If The Gargoyle is to avoid a similar situation in the future, one of two policies will need to be put in place. Either The Gargoyle should establish itself as financially independent from the UC Lit by taking over management of its own student levy, or some other policy should be put in place to ensure future levy funding is never restricted, withheld, or further delayed by the Lit. The $13,418 student levy fund is not a grant and it has no other specified purpose than to continue to finance the 50-year-old UC student newspaper.

A true student press should never suffer ongoing fears of being shut down at any moment, especially when publishing criticism of student politics. But if nothing really changes in this situation, The Gargoyle will continue to run the risk of having their production halted by the decisions of the UC Lit. That’s a terrible reason to stop the presses.

UTSC gets new sports complex for Pan Am Games

U of T will host several events for the Pan American Games in 2015, which means new athletic facilities at UTSC and upgrades for St. George campus. UTSC’s North Campus will be the site of a $170-million sports complex, including gymnasiums, fitness and training facilities, two Olympic-sized pools, and a 10-metre diving tank. The downtown campus will get turf upgrades at Varsity Stadium and a double artificial turf field on the back campus. Scarborough will also play host to the new Scarborough-Malvern LRT, a direct transit connection to the Toronto subway system.

Emily Kakouris, a third-year student who plays soccer and field hockey, is excited about the prospect of expanding sports infrastructure at UTSC. “There are many sports and activities coming out of UTSC, but very limited space to accommodate them,” said Kakouris.

Franco Vaccarino, principal of UTSC, shared her enthusiasm. “This project speaks to the needs that I’ve been hearing from the first day I got [to UTSC]. This need refers to the present substandard athletics facilities that accommodate only 4,000 of the current 10,000-student population,” he said.

The federal and provincial governments will provide 56 per cent of the funding, while Toronto and the university will each make a 22 per cent contribution. UTSC’s tab comes to $37.5 million, and it wants students to pay $30 million through levies.

Scarborough Campus Student Union president Zuhair Syed, excited “beyond words” at the decision, said students can vote on whether to ratify the levies in a referendum in March 2010. “The decision has to be made by students but the fact that we can present this opportunity [to them] is the first and biggest step,” said Syed. “Our job is to present the facts to the student body.”

Asked how UTSC would pay for the facilities if students vote against the levy, UTSC spokesperson Laura Matthews said the university is confident the levy will be passed.

“Students need to be mindful of the levies and vote against them,” said Joeita Gupta, spokesperson for No Games Toronto, set up in early 2009 by U of T students and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty to campaign against Toronto’s bid. The group argues that resources going towards the Pan Am Games would be better spent on health care, childcare, education, and poverty, among other areas. Gupta, a U of T student who sits on Governing Council and is an exec at the Association of Part-Time Undergraduate Students, added that the group isn’t opposed to athletics or better facilities at UTSC.

“Although I won’t be here when it’s done, it is an investment. But it’s frustrating [because of how] we are struggling with tuition as it is,” said secondyear social science student Clara Price.

The UTSC campus will play host to the Games’ swimming, diving, fencing, modern pentathlon and Parapan volleyball competitions, while the downtown campus will host field hockey, futsal (a variation of indoor soccer), and soccer, in addition to the opening and closing ceremonies for the Parapan Am Games.

Student Code of (mis)conduct

Last Tuesday’s meeting of the Governing Council’s University Affairs Board began like any other, with the usual formalities. After premiering the university’s new online strategy, Jill Matus, vice-provost of students, moved on to address the impending review of the Code of Student Conduct, slated for the next several months. Thus began the meeting’s high drama.

Part-time student representative Joeita Gupta, who had already drawn critical attention to earlier points in the meeting, now reached the peak of her performance. Gupta delivered her points with clarity and determination. She called for the outright scrapping of the code, saying that such a disciplinary framework has been used to restrict students’ rights to free speech, especially when such speech challenges the university administration. She noted the 2000 TA strike and the debacle surrounding the Fight Fees 14 two years ago as examples of such misuse.

Jeff Peters, president of the Association for Part-time Undergraduate Students, addressed the board as a guest speaker. Peters also questioned the Code of Student Conduct, almost perfectly echoing Gupta’s sentiments from only moments earlier. This would have made for an unremarkable and superfluous speech if not for the fact that Peters has a speech impediment that gives him difficulty speaking. On this particular night, he was also struck by a cough that often overcame his body and appeared to nearly knock him down.

As this spectacle wore on, and Chair B. Elizabeth Vosburgh asked Peters to wrap up his speech, he stood his ground and starkly refused. He asserted that he had many points to make and that he would speak for as long as he needed. The chair was nevertheless firm, causing Gupta to intervene and insist that Peters be given more than the usual allotted time due to his impediment. The confrontation devolved into a shouting match between Gupta and the chair. In the end, Peters did wrap up and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

Gupta and Peters are certainly neither foolish nor naïve, and their combined spectacle entirely reframed the meeting. Rather than simply paying homage to the university’s strengths, those in attendance were called upon to confront the shortcomings and inequities perceived among members of the student community.

Whereas U of T is undoubtedly a world-class institution that should proudly promote and celebrate its virtues, a single-minded focus on this hampers progress in the long run. Rather, improving the experiences of students requires bodies such as the Governing Council to realistically attend to the challenges and shortcomings that persist.

Before closing the topic, Matus responded that the code would be done away with only if widespread sentiment against it is made apparent in the coming months. The door to significant change therefore lies open, and the onus is on all members of this university to make their voices heard. Do we agree that the university is a hierarchical corporate structure and that students, like employees, are subject to particular rules of conduct? Do we instead agree that the university is a community of equal members, all subject to the same rules of conduct? Or do we simply shut up?

Maciek Lipinski-Harten is a graduate representative on the University Affairs Board.