What about Khadr?

In the summer of 2002, 15- year-old Canadian citizen Omar Khadr was captured by U.S. soldiers in an Afghanistan firefight. He has since been held at a military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay. The grounds for his imprisonment include the murder of one U.S. soldier, first class Sergeant Christopher Speer. Yet, with the recent disclosure of new case evidence, it appears that Khadr’s involvement is not as clean-cut as U.S. officials initially thought.

The documents leaked to reporters at Khadr’s pre-trial imply that he was not, as formerly stated, the sole person left alive when U.S. soldiers arrived at the compound. Prosecutors have stated that they intended to release a “redacted” version of the document, but defence attorneys insist the document was never intended to be released.

More evidence reveals that no member of the U.S. militia saw Khadr throw the grenade that killed Sergeant Speer. His guilt was determined by his position in the compound: he was believed, until recently, to have been the only one alive.

With the lack of evidence that would implicate Khadr in these crimes, his defence lawyers should have an easy time clearing his name. Nevertheless, Khadr’s main defence attorney, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, maintains that there is more evidence being withheld, and that officials have neglected to put them in touch with key eyewitnesses.

Human Rights Watch has voiced several concerns about the legal processes and rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Specifically, the military commissions put into place by President George W. Bush “fail to guarantee that evidence obtained via torture or ill-treatment shall not be used” and “provide lower due process standards for non-citizens than for U.S. citizens.”

Considering that Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, where does the Canadian government stand? According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, we should hand over Khadr, and let the U.S. deal with him. Meanwhile, Amnesty International Canada continues to express their outrage that Khadr is the “first child combatant ever to be brought before a court for alleged ‘war crimes.’” Indeed, there are United Nations resolutions in place specifically to protect child soldiers. Khadr, at 15, could not be considered any different than the child soldiers in Africa. Amnesty International is also disappointed in the Canadian government for failing to act on Khadr’s behalf. Other governments have worked to protect the rights of their citizens in Guantanamo Bay, but Canada has remained silent.

It is simply unacceptable that Mr. Harper gives Khadr to the American military without any words of opposition. Whether or not Khadr is guilty is not the issue. He should be brought back to Canada to go to trial and if found guilty, he should be imprisoned in his own country. Robert Ingersoll, an American politician and Civil War veteran once said, “Give to every human being every right that you claim yourself.” We cannot expect to retain our own rights and freedoms if we have citizens who are denied those same entitlements.

Michel Gondry unwinds

“I had this utopian concept well before I was a video director, I was imagining a system where people make their own films, and then watch them together.”

I’m speaking with Academy Awardwinning writer and director Michel Gondry about his new film. A native of Versailles, France, Gondry has a reputation for producing fiercely imaginative work with a surreal look and feel. In person he’s relaxed, affable, and speaks in an unapologetically-thick French accent.

Your parents probably know Gondry as the guy who co-wrote and directed 2004’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but he is best known to us kids for his arty music videos for Daft Punk (“Around the World”), Foo Fighters (“Everlong”), Radiohead (“Knives Out”), and The White Stripes (“The Hardest Button to Button”) among many others.

He’s eager to discuss his new project, Be Kind Rewind, a movie that advocates his own brand of DIY creativity in opposition to the lazy detachment of mass-media corporate consumption.

“I took the principle that people could create their own entertainment instead. Imagine someone who works all the week and on the weekend they don’t know what to do except to go and see a movie. This is giving the money they earned from one corporation to another.”

Gondry would rather see people take creative control themselves, and discover that engaging in a cooperative art project can be more rewarding than just passively enjoying a finished product.

Be Kind Rewind, which hits theatres on Feb. 22, hits on this theme in an inventive way. It tells the story of a local, independent, VHS-only video shop in Passaic, New Jersey. Mike (Mos Def) is left in charge of the store but his spacecadet best friend Jerry (Jack Black) accidentally becomes magnetized and inadvertently erases the store’s entire catalogue. The duo are then forced to frantically remake the erased films on the fly using only a decades-old shoulder- mount video camera and debris scavenged from Jerry’s junkyard. In doing so they both become local celebrities, and copyright criminals.

The plot is standard “save the store” formula, but what makes it better than Empire Records is that Gondry infuses it with his trippy, trademark style and a strong political message about community consciousness and participation in the arts.

For Gondry, amateur filmmaking should be more about connection and satisfaction rather than quality, “I truly believe that it doesn’t matter if the movie is good or bad. That’s not the point. Nobody can argue with me. I’m not saying ‘this movie is better than a movie in Hollywood.’ I’m saying ‘if you’re in the movie you’re going to enjoy it better.’”

To this end, Gondry soaked up as much locality as possible into the film. “We really put our faith in Passaic and we really tried to incorporate as many people from the neighbourhood as possible, and that was a great experience.”

Still, Be Kind Rewind is certainly not the amateur film-club project that Gondry is demonstrating in the script. Unlike the characters in his film, he had to be a realist and make certain concessions to the big business of movie-making.

“I wish we could shoot every scene in chronological order, so we don’t have to group scenes with the same actor,” he says. “It would be great because then the actors would understand their characters much better.”

At the heart of Be Kind, of course, are the clever remakes, which play up Gondry’s knack for finding creative lo-fi ways to simulate special effects. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Boyz n the Hood, Men in Black, The Lion King, among many other blockbusters, all get the Gondry treatment here.

“Some of the films I chose were ones I really like, Robocop or Ghostbusters, and some of the movies were inspired by Dave Chappelle. He said ‘Oh you should do Driving Miss Daisy because it’s so racist, and you should do Rush Hour 2 because it will be hilarious.’”

Interestingly enough, the selection ultimately hinged on Gondry ability to secure the rights to reproduce each film, which is specifically what the characters in Be Kind Rewind do not do. In fact, Gondry tells me that he was unable to attain the rights to include a remake of Back to the Future, which was in the original script, but had to be cut due to its upcoming remount as a Broadway musical.

This is unfortunate for two reasons: seeing Jack Black play Marty McFly would have been amazing, and secondly, Gondry would have been able to dabble with his pet interest: time travel.

“Yesterday I was at MIT talking to a physicist about time travel,” he says enthusiastically, “and he said you could travel into the future if you put your vessel in orbit around a black hole—obviously you don’t want to go too close because if you go across the event horizon you will be screwed— but there is a place that you will be going so fast that if you stay in orbit, and then return to earth, you will be thousands of years in the future.”

Gondry then reveals that he is working on a new time-travel themed story. “It’s about two kids at MIT who make this discovery of this water that when you drink it you can hear music. They are enemies with this guy who works in quantums and he has this project on time travel, and he denounces what they are doing. So they go one night to sabotage his lab but they get sucked into the future.”

Looking into his own future, Gondry says he has plans to debut a short film he just shot in Tokyo, and then shoot music videos for both Mos Def and Bjork (who he’s worked with many times before). I ask him if there’s anyone he hasn’t made a music video for, who he really wants to work with. “Yes, Serge Gainsbourg, but he’s dead, or Michael Jackson, but he’s out of his mind.”

I press him for a more realistic answer.

“I want to make a video for Peaches,” he says, “she’s from Toronto, and I had an idea where a guy with a suitcase comes out of a suitcase with another suitcase and then somebody comes out of that suitcase with another suitcase, and another suitcase, you know, forever.”

This infinite digression is something Gondry loves to feature in his work, even in Be Kind. For this movie about low-budget movie remakes, he’s shot a low-budget remake of the trailer where he plays every part.

Since Be Kind Rewind fetishizes the now-archaic VHS tape, I ask him if he still owns a VHS player.

With a laugh he replies, “Yeah, but I’m too lazy to use it.”

Sweaty metal and rose petals

Marriage to robots may be legalised by 2050. Artifi- cial intelligence researcher David Levy, author of Love and Sex with Robots, thinks this is unavoidable. He predicts people will be able to form romantic relationships with robots and consummate that affection. The book promises that the human-robot relationships of the future will improve upon most sex between humans today.

Currently, robots are mostly made for factory work, but, says Canadian science-fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, “We are at the tipping point where in just two years they’re going to start being in our homes doing domestic work and in our offices.” Producing robots in the form of toys (such as Sony’s Aibo and Robo-Sapien), artificial workplace mail couriers, and household cleaners are commonplace. As this trend continues, robotic design becomes anthropomorphic, including mental capabilities like personality. Sex dolls are currently in demand, with artificial heartbeats to mimic orgasms, pelvic thrusting motors, and voice response. Robots are now being made with skin sensitive to temperature, pain, and pressure. There’s a shift in the way we see and treat robots today, eventually reaching the point where we can fall in love with them.

But will it be easy? That some humans who interact with a “computer therapist” report a strange attraction to the software program called ELIZA indicates the possibilities. Scientific research has found a number of factors for why we fall in love, such as reciprocal liking, physical attraction, and similarities in personality and interests. Levy believes these are all programmable. It may seem unlikely now, but computing power doubles roughly every 18 months. “Smart robots are only so sophisticated today,” says Sawyer, “but before the end of this coming decade we’re going to have to deal with autonomous, self aware, conscious entities that aren’t human beings.”

Moving forward, the idea of performing sexual acts with robots will definitely be criticized at first. But these roadblocks will merely hamper the inevitability of mainstream robophilia, not destroy its eventual acceptance. An excerpt from the New York Times Book Review says Levy makes his case by noting the past condemnation of acts like oral sex, masturbation, and homosexuality that today are “widely regarded as thoroughly normal, leading to fulfilling sex lives.”

Before you join the robot sex crusade, let’s evaluate the possible impacts it may have on our society. Advanced robotic sex toys would devastate the sex trade industry. STDs, embarrassment, risk of damaging one’s reputation, and various other inconveniences associated with prostitution would all be eliminated. If it feels like the real thing,with none of the so-called “side effects,” why would anyone choose prostitution?

A robot spouse may be the only answer for those without the resources to invest in a proper relationship. Going through the proper courtship of wooing the opposite sex can be challenging. Sex aside, as robots become more advanced, they will eventually have human-like personalities. When that happens, how will our society adapt to accommodate robotic marriage? Will there be tax-breaks, infidelities, polygamy, divorces, and alimonies?

These questions may be laughable, but Sawyer insists “it’s going to happen, it’s inevitable—already it’s in Japan.”

Out from under the mattress

Matt P. is a self-admitted porn addict—a “connoisseur,” in fact. His closet is packed with over 50 two-hour “mixtapes,” video collections of his favourite scenes taped from DVD. He watches porn five to seven days a week, and, at the height of his addiction, he spent days at a time hopping from one adult video store to the next in pursuit of the next illicit gem. His preferences are typical: “I guess the best way to sum it up would be ‘barely legal.’”

Matt is also my boyfriend. I’m not thrilled by the idea of him jerking off to women made to look younger than I am, but the cheerleader porn stowed under the mattress is the only indication of his being anything less than a respectful, well-adjusted, stand-up guy. I also have his best interests in mind. I recognize the good porn has done for Matt, a virgin well into his 20s: “I used to be very bitter towards women, and part of getting over that was jacking off to porn,” he says.

According to Bill, the webmaster at pornaddictioninfo.com, Matt is certainly not alone; porn addiction is rising “exponentially.” Furthermore, his (and my) situation could be much worse: “So-called ‘soft porn’ [stops] being enough,” Bill says of addiction. “The addict doesn’t get the thrill he/she needs, so they move on to ‘harder’ stuff. That progresses to ‘kinkier’ fetishes, and then deeper into those fetishes…There is also a tendency for the addict to lose sexual interest in their partner.”

Clearly, whether or not porn has good or bad effects has as much to do with the consumer as with the images consumed. Although there are plenty of websites decrying the dangers of pornography, many of them are owned by right-wing Christian organizations who object to porn on moral grounds, and aren’t so interested in individuals’ struggles with addiction. Bill started his site for personal reasons: he is a recovering porn addict. “It started with the discovery of some porn magazines at a buddy’s house when I was seven or eight years old, maybe even six. I don’t remember ever not wanting to get more porn since then,” he says. “But it didn’t get out of control until the Internet came along, and I moved from a UNIX provider to ‘PPP’ in the mid-’90s.”

The porn industry makes $12 billion a year, and much of that cash stems from the Internet. U.S. video sales and rentals decreased by 15.4 per cent in 2006, while Internet profits increased by 13.6 per cent. A thousand new porn sites pop up on a daily basis. The San Fernando Valley in California, widely considered the industry’s capital, now competes against any would-be pornogarpher with a domain name and a dream. In an article about the fetish site kink.com, New York Times Magazine’s Jon Mooallem pointed out that Internet porn industry types are often “serious- minded, tech-oriented entrepreneurs working outside the influence of the porn establishment.” As they provide for the markets overlooked by big-business, big-name porn stars migrate towards the mainstream. And the mainstream is certainly where porn is headed. Seymour Butts’s TV series Family Business familiarized viewers to adult performers on a first-name basis, and Ron Jeremy has done so many clothed media spots by now that the world has nearly forgotten his cock size.

Whatever your opinion on the merits of porn, multi-billion dollar industries tend not to dry up overnight. If porn’s increasing visibility has one indisputable advantage, it’s the availability for critical discussion. “Porn obviously has significant cultural impact, and its profusion in the culture indicates that it’s not confined to the proverbial dirty old men in raincoats,” says Kay Armatage, a professor at U of T cross-appointed to Cinema and Women’s Studies. Armatage, along with a number of professors across North America including Kassia Wosick-Correa (UC Irvine), Constance Penley (UC Santa Barbara), and Laura Kipnis (Northwestern), is willing to screen sexually explicit (though not necessarily mainstream pornographic) films during her courses. As she points out, sexual content is neither something new, nor something to be ashamed of: “In Western culture there are many classic texts that explore sexuality: notably, The Story of O (Pauline Réage, 1981), the many books by the Marquis de Sade, as well as other ‘popular’ books, e.g., Peyton Place (Grace Metalious, 1957), which everyone read. I found it in my mom’s bedside table.”

In terms of the damage porn causes, the debate seems irresolvable. In 1970, President Nixon’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography found no connection between pornography use and violence. Sixteen years later, under Regan, the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography (the Meese Commission) found the opposite. A study by Anthony D’Amato, the Leighton Professor of Law at Northwestern, claims that rape rates have declined 85 per cent over the past 25 years due to pornography consumption. The Traditional Values Coalition reports that rape rates have increased by 500 per cent since 1960, for the same reason. Whatever side you take, there is plenty of evidence both real and fabricated to give credence to your argument. It seems reasonable to state that porn is neutral; one fantasy is as good as the next, as long as it stays put.

It’s when porn gets attached to something extraneous, however—compulsive behaviour, the wanton pursuit of profit—that things can get twisted. “Pornography, like many other consumables, is a market-driven commodity,” says Judith Taylor, a professor in Sociology at U of T who teaches Feminist Studies in Sexuality. “If you really want to learn about pornography, you should contact someone from the Rotman School.”

Bill noted that a typical sign of addiction is the “escalation factor.” And if popular tastes demand more extreme visuals, the industry will provide them. “It seems each HIV outbreak in the industry correlates to a nihilistic new frontier in porn performance,” Dennis Romero wrote in an article for Los Angeles CityBeat, noting that a 1998 outbreak coincided with the emergence of “D.P. [double penetration].”

In 2004, an outbreak in the porn industry resulting in four infections, a quarantine list of over 50 performers, and the temporary stalling of 30 studios was caused by two factors symptomatic of porn’s rapid expansion: “D.A.” (double anal), and outsourcing. Lara Roxx, then 21 years old, had started her porn career in Montreal only months before contracting the virus filming Split That Booty 2. Her manager had told her that if she insisted on using condoms, she wouldn’t find work. On set she was told that if she didn’t agree to D.A., she wouldn’t be used in the picture. Darren James, the “patient zero” in this case, caught the virus in Brazil, where HIV infection rates are higher and tests are less affordable. (The Brazilian industry relies on condoms, but performers can make more money in American productions if they film bareback.) Like any industry, porn has a bottom line, and to make the most money sometimes performers have to engage in risky behaviour.

And then, of course, there’s the misogyny. “Feminists have been so concerned with keeping the state from censoring [pornography] that we’ve abandoned the discussion of what it produces for individuals and for society,” Taylor says. Few are willing to accept the simplistic Andrea Dworkin/ Catharine MacKinnon conclusion that pornography is violence against women, but watching an “18-yearold” get slathered in ejaculate can really make a girl question her own emancipation. Of course, this is not the only option. According to the New York Times, the “mature woman” genre is in high demand, and its consumers are often men in their 20s who are tired of chirping innocents. Taylor remains sceptical: “If you look at the [ads for escorts in the] back pages of NOW Magazine, you will see that the sex industry has been anticipating the diverse sexual tastes of men for a long time. So, I don’t think a demand for older women is something new, or that meeting diverse sexual needs has corresponded to greater equality or a more expansive popular portrayal of desirability.” Though porn might most often be intended for men, however, it doesn’t mean that women don’t enjoy it. Sex addiction authority Patrick Carnes estimates that around 40 per cent of porn addicts are female. “We don’t have any on our site and I personally suspect that the issue is shame,” Bill says. “Shame is huge with this thing, as you can well imagine.” The assumption is often that men are the only ones with politically incorrect desires, which for women doesn’t make reconciling politics with our sexual tastes any easier.

Unfortunately, mainstream conceptions of female sexuality often include soft lighting and erotic massage. A Google search for “porn for women” yielded predictably dull results: one porn blog included headings like “nipple sucking” and “statuesque naked man.” Another was a joke site featuring pictures of men vacuuming and putting down the toilet seat. How does an industry that caters to every fetish imaginable miss a market consisting of half the population? Pornstars/pornographers Nina Hartley and, particularly, Annie Sprinkle have addressed this. Sprinkle, a Ph.D-holding sexologist, has performed in features ranging from erotica to “transsexual docu-porn” to “classic XXX.” “I think Annie Sprinkle is fantastic, an icon whose website asks viewers to really think about sexual desire and practice,” Taylor says. And there have been grassroots solutions: the Brooklyn-based, female-run Sweet Action magazine features cute, naked, and erect young Williamsburg types.

“Women directors especially have been pushing the boundaries of representation,” Armatage says. “Breillat, Monika Treut, Bette Gordon, Lizzie Borden—taking up new expressions of women’s sexuality in contrast to ‘vanilla feminism.’” Women have also left distinctive marks on porn proper. Boink magazine—“College Sex by the People Having It”—was cofounded by Alecia Oleyourryk, a then-senior at Boston University. Fans of “barely legal” would love Boink’s content, of course, but it’s not for them. Lauren White, a.k.a Raymi the Minx, has received awards for her blog, raymitheminx.com. While the nude photos White originally post probably boosted her readership, she’s the blog’s selling point. “I was an online ‘model’ for 10 months…I had a curtained-off little room with a bed and computer and remote webcam,” she writes over e-mail. “My job was to entice [viewers] to take me private, which is buying minutes to have me to themselves…We would phonesex and they could watch me do my thing. My skin is crawling as I type this right now.” Jerking off to her blog is free, but anyone who does so has to contend with an entire person rather than a gyrating webcam image.

Human beings will use any medium at their disposal to convey sexual messages. Pornography, defined in the most general terms, is a simple inevitability. It conforms to the ideas and carries the moral imprint of whoever happens to control it, and affects the viewer according to his/her ability to think critically through the images presented. Porn’s expansion through the Internet and increasing visibility in popular culture is neither a good thing nor a bad thing overall. For every addiction there is a catharsis. What is good is porn’s emergence as a topic of open discussion rather than a mere bone of contention. The more transparent the industry gets, the more we can critique it constructively, and the more we can explore alternative options.

U of T admins rip off protest posters

Custodial staff say they can’t remember ever getting such an order before, but the University of Toronto’s senior administrators are having them tear down hundreds of posters for being “possibly defamatory.”

The posters, put up by the student activist group AlwaysQuestion, accuse Peter Munk, chairman and founder of the Barrick Gold corporation, of “endless” atrocities, including funding militias, killing dissenters and labour leaders, instigating wars, and burying miners alive.

The posters also highlight Munk’s $6.2-million donation to U of T in 1999. The money helped establish Trinity College’s IR centre, which was then named after him. To date, Munk has donated $12.2 million to the Munk Centre, according to U of T’s official publication, the Bulletin.

According to AlwaysQuestion member Prambir Gill, the posters went up on Friday, Feb. 1 and had all been torn down by the following Monday.

When he saw custodians tearing down the posters, AlwaysQuestion co-founder and administrator Farshad Azadian went to Wayne Shaw, the manager of caretaking services. Shaw told him that the posters were “not authorized” and that administrators had ordered him to see they were taken down.

Apparently, administrators feared the posters could expose the school to a lawsuit by Munk or Barrick.

“Posters of that nature that may be defamatory, and the university might be on the hook,” said Ruta Pocius, U of T’s director of issues management and media relations. She said the university held legal consultations which found that the posters could be a liability, but has not—and does not intend to—investigate whether or not the posters constitute defamation under Canadian law.

Gill was clearly frustrated by the university’s handling of the matter. “They limit our right to free speech and censor our material, and they’ve given no clear reason for it,” he said.

“If you have any issues with the statements we made, they are all backed up by fact,” said Gill. AlwaysQuestion also runs campaigns addressing such campuscentric issues as the recently-announced (and angrily protested) 20 per cent hike in the New College residence fees.

The group has not been contacted in any way by the university, said Azadian. Since the first wave of tear-downs, the group has begun putting up a modified version of the poster, which now asks: “Why is U of T trying to censor this poster?” The new poster also bear an “Endorsed by ASSU” stamp—the Arts and Science Students Union assists AlwaysQuestion by providing photocopying service.

The first batch of 250 revised posters have already disappeared, with a second round stapled to bulletin boards across campus at press time, including at Sid Smith, Robarts and, pointedly, the Munk Centre. According to Pocius, the university will continue tearing down the posters.

Azadian noted that AlwaysQuestion put up several different posters, including some alleging Canadian imperialism and others condemning Israel, but only the Barrick posters were targeted.

What is love (baby don’t hurt me)

At one moment in your life, love may overcome every aspect. You will not notice it at first, but with time you’ll understand. When you’re nervous on the phone, excited to talk with the one you love. When every kiss feels brand new. When every touch feels like the greatest adrenaline rush. When three hours pass in a minute. When this happens over and over again, you will know you are in love. Are you?

What is it about love that has fascinated ingenious minds for centuries? How can something so culturally widespread have remained a mystery throughout generations? There is no one definition that encapsulates the concept of love, and there never will be.

The biological mechanism behind the mystery was thought to be understood, but this has changed in the last century. So what’s going in our brains?

Love uses several neural reward pathways. The most prominent is referred to as the mesolimbic pathway, extending from our midbrain to the limbic system using the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a neuromodulator that can diffuse large areas of the nervous system, affecting a multitude of neurons. Rewarding activities, like love, boost a stimulating cascade of biochemical reactions leading to the physical perception of pleasure, but perception of this pleasure can also come from artificial stimulants like drugs, which use the same pathway. In fact, studies have shown male rats choosing to self administer intracranial stimulation rather than indulge in sex with a sexually receptive female. Yet there is a major difference between the different types of stimuli. Natural stimulants are held in check by aversive centres, meaning that the desire decreases for a time following the pleasurable activity. This is why what some refer to as “time lag” periods can interrupt sex. Meanwhile, drugs promote a vicious positive feedback referred to as motivational toxicity, an effect some would undoubtedly prefer at the expense of health. From this perspective, “addiction to love” takes on an entirely new meaning.

But there are different kinds of love: your feelings towards your mother differ from the love towards your partner. Misunderstood on a biological level, both seem to instill a sense of belonging and safety, and reduce anxiety. This not only helps us lead healthier lives, but gives us a reason to be. If you are depressed, odds are that a lack of love—a lack of purposefulness, of being needed—may play a major role.

The act of sex by no means implies a loving relationship, nor does a loving relationship imply the abundance of sex. Yet as most will attest, the ideal sexual partner is undoubtedly one for whom you do indeed have strong feelings of attachment. A point of note: women evaluate men differently across menstrual cycles. So how does that age-old adage go? “If at first you don’t succeed…”

Some believe that stress may actually be beneficial to the forming of social bonds, perhaps because it effectively puts individuals into a state where they can better emotionally relate. Romantic Hollywood movies seem to cash in on this theme. The guy usually won’t get the girl until the passing of a series of never-ending dilemmas faced by both.

Nothing should be taken to excess, as chronic stress seems to compromise health, leading to a breakdown of social relationships, which may in turn result in depression. The best option is prevention. Taking your friend for a night out on the town might be one of the better options after a tough breakup. Putting their life into perspective and reminding them how many other things they’ve got going for them may go a long way in regaining full form.

So why love at all, you may ask? Why expose yourself to being hurt? The answer lies within the existence of love itself. Simply put, the benefits exceed the cost. Love promotes social attachment, gathering, copulation, and reproduction. Love is even more important than self-esteem and self-actualization, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Love helps us reduce anxiety and stress, indirectly boosting our immune systems and sexual performance. Both have a direct benefit for the continuation of our species—the single most important priority in the animal world.

Psych’s winning streak

In faded jeans, a t-shirt and hoodie, Marc Fournier doesn’t look much like a professor. But three days a week the 34-year-old holds the attention of UTSC’s largest lecture theatre, and in a few weeks he’ll be addressing a much larger audience in TVO’s Best Lecturer Competition. This is Fournier’s second time in the top 10, and he’s not alone— fellow UTSC psych prof Gerald Cupchik has also made the finals.

Over the past few months, judges for the competition have cut nominated professors down to semi-finalists and finalists. The last 10 competitors will present their lectures on TVO beginning in March, and viewers can vote for their favourite. The winning lecturer receives a $10,000 scholarship for their institution.

UTSC’s psych department has consistently ranked well—both this year and last, three profs made the semi-finals, and theirs is the only department in the province to place two lecturers in the top 10. So what’s so special about UTSC psychology?

The answer may have its roots in the double cohort. As Ontario phased out grade 13 and the demand for postsecondary education skyrocketed, U of T planned to expand on its suburban campuses, and the department hit a turning point.

“Enrolment in the intro course was 600-700 students,” said John Bassili, department chair. “The year of the double cohort we had about 1250 students, and we now have nearly 1600.”

New buildings weren’t ready on time, so classes were taught in “the pavilion”—essentially a large tent.

“Our enrolment increased so dramatically over the span of a few years that we couldn’t afford to not solve the problems,” said Fournier. The first solution, dreamed up by Bassili, was web optioning. In large courses, students signed up for either a normal section, or a web section. Lectures were taped and put online for all students to view. Online lectures are now so popular that there is room for web students to attend lectures in person, if they feel so inclined. Web optioning has been adopted by other departments, and is now widely practiced at UTSC.

Web optioning is a clever way around expensive bricks and mortar. But it’s also a different model of the university community.

“Let’s not delude ourselves. Classrooms of 500 or, in the case of Convocation Hall, 1,500 are not really communities where there is any kind of meaningful interaction,” said Bassili. “We’re not beginning with a splendid situation.” Online teaching, he argues, can facilitate other sorts of community.

“One student said that when the lecture was given the whole family gathered around the monitor, listening together, and that would give them topics of conversation during dinner. Now is that community or what?”

Fournier uses web optioning, and it’s reflected in his teaching style.

“I prioritize preparing for those three hours that I’m in the room,” he said. “I know other faculty emphasize availability after class—I do relatively less of that. I have only one office hour a week and that’s all, I tend to dissuade students from emailing me.”

That doesn’t mean that the lecture is cold and detached—Fournier makes a point of using self-deprecating personal examples in his lectures.

“The more I seem to suffer as part of the story, the more audience engagement there is,” he said. “What legitimizes me in the classroom is not how I’m different from the students but how I’m similar to them. The more fallible and quirky I seem, the more I have some kind of street cred.”

While Fournier is fallible, Cupchik is confrontational. (“I never have scummy students because I kill scummy students. I hate selfishness.”) In his small classes, students get to know him and each other. Next to Fournier’s high tech lectures, it’s positively old-fashioned. Maybe that’s because Cupchik has been teaching since before Fournier was born.

“They write 50-100 page papers,” he said. “I scare the living crap out of them, and let me tell you, they write the most beautiful papers you’ve ever seen in your life.”

Cupchik’s teaching is about one-onone relationships, and as far as he’s concerned, his department’s teaching success is also about relationships between senior and junior faculty. At other institutions, he says, junior faculty are scared that if they spend too much time teaching, they won’t publish enough to get tenure.

“How much effort are you going to put into your teaching if you’re terrified?” said Cupchik. “We don’t have that atmosphere.”

Ever been in love?

Clockwise from top-left

Katherine, 2nd year English

There are so many different types of love…I’ve felt passionately before but I have never been sure. I thought I was in love, but I don’t know anymore. I did fall in love with all three male lead characters in War and Peace as I was reading. It was amazing!

Sasha, 1st-year Semiotics:

You can point to it when it’s happening but it’s impossible to identify…unless you are Marvin Gaye.

Alireza, 4th-year Economics

I don’t know. I’ve never been in love. I hope it exists, but it doesn’t seem likely. I’m an optimist but look around you. I’m still not sure.

Julia, 4th-year Semiotics

I don’t know but screw Valentine’s day! Love is not something you can arrange and place on a calendar. ‘It’s love day?’ Fuck that.