‘Tis the season to spend money

The holidays are approaching. Registers are ringing, twenty dollar bills are fluttering out of wallets like snowflakes. The Season of Spending is upon us yet again. Big deal.

It seems to me that every year, November rolls around and the Christmas decorations are brought out for another holiday season, people immediately launch into the same predictable annual gripes about the materialism and consumerism that seem to engulf us every winter.

The truth is, there’s little point in humbugging over the commercialization of Christmas these days. By now, we are all aware that corporations start the holiday season way too early and milk it for all it’s worth. Christmas decorations go up in stores before the Halloween candy gets discounted, and shoppers start on their Christmas lists before autumn turns to winter.

The corporate hype around “the holiday season” is less menacing than the ways marketing constantly pervades our lives the whole year round. At least during Christmas everything is out in the open. People buy gifts for one another in celebration of the birth of Jesus, and competition for your dollar, while still crass, at least blatantly obvious.

In a society where we introduce Santa Claus to children practically the moment they emerge from the womb, encouraging toddlers to write long wish lists to Santa and his helpers before they can properly hold a pen, how can we realistically expect people to restrain their holiday spending? No spending means no gifts, and despite what Dr. Seuss would have you believe, no gifts means no Christmas.

But what’s really frightening is what goes on the rest of the year, when retailers’ agendas are not so obvious. Sure, every business’s goal is to make money, but the ways in which we are duped out of our money on a regular basis is truly frightening evidence of the power of marketing.

We are all familiar with MasterCard’s infamous TV ad campaign. It uses a phrase traditionally used to deplore materialism and spending—“Money can’t buy you everything” —and cleverly appropriates for their profit-driven agenda: “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else there’s MasterCard.”

Each commercial typically features a “priceless” moment at the end, which contrasts with all the other expenses that appear at the bottom of the screen throughout the commercial. The company’s message seems to be “Money can’t buy happiness…but actually yes it can. So get a MasterCard.” This insinuation is despicable, and is a prime example of how businesses have no problem banking on human emotions for their own gain.

Anyone who bemoans the orgy of buying around Christmastime must be forgetting all of the other unnecessary spending we do on a regular basis, a lot of it on ultimately useless things.

Starbucks has cleverly convinced us that a coffee is worth $5 and a 20-minute line-up. How many of us raced to get the new touch-screen iPod when it came out, because I mean, come on—it has a touch screen!

We are all constant targets of some marketing campaign or advertising strategy, not just at during the holiday season. It’s simply inescapable in the world we live in. But too often, we fall victim to these machinations when we really don’t have to. Instead of launching into the same old complaint about commercialization and materialism of the holiday season, we should instead open our eyes to the hundreds of ways we are lured out of our money on a regular basis, and resist them.

Convoluted Youth is no masterpiece

You’re going to hear some wildly mixed reactions to Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola’s first film in 10 years. When it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September, it received poor reviews (“Youth Without Youth will translate to theatres without audiences,” said Variety), and I’m sad to report that at the press screening I attended, several of the critics giggled repeatedly at inappropriate moments. But while this movie likely won’t find box office success, and its Oscar-season release seems like wishful thinking, it feels like the kind of movie that will find a rabid cult of defenders.

It would be nice to say that Coppola, who hasn’t made a great film since Apocalypse Now, has hit one out of the park with his return to directing. I don’t think he did, but certainly this challenging project is worthier of Coppola’s talents than Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Jack, or The Rainmaker.

Based on a novella by Mircea Eliad, Youth Without Youth begins in 1939 when Dominic Matei (Tim Roth), a 70-year-old professor who has never finished writing his time-consuming book about linguistics and has never found love, is struck by lightning. Miraculously, this doesn’t kill him but revitalizes him, restoring his youthful looks and giving him superhuman abilities. Dominic soon attracts the attention of the Nazis, and falls in love but, of course, complications abound.

The plot isn’t quite as simple as that—Dominic’s active fantasy world comes into play, with inner dialogues and erotic fantasies woven into the story in a way that blurs the line between where his mind ends and the world begins. The film also switches back and forth between genres— or genre stereotypes, at least—with alarming abruptness. There are times when Youth has the lovesick melancholia and jumbled-timeline structure of a Wong Kar-wai film, times when it becomes an all-out melodrama, and times when it mimics Old Hollywood spy thrillers and film noir capers (a giveaway comes when Dominic points out a Maltese falcon on his balcony).

This is apparently a very personal film for Coppola, who largely self-financed the movie and tinkered with it in the editing room for nearly two years. Some reviews have suggested that Dominic is partly a stand-in. Like Dominic, Coppola has laboured fruitlessly on an ambitious project—spending the last decade trying and failing to mount a film called Megalopolis. Would it be unkind to also suggest that perhaps Coppola identifies with the elderly Dominic because he, too, is generally considered to be past his prime?

My rational mind says that the film doesn’t work. While its attempt to mix genres into the cinematic equivalent of Dominic’s psyche makes it an interesting experiment, but it is an emotionally distant movie. But Coppola has proven himself to be a filmmaker who knows what he’s doing, and I’m positively intrigued by this film’s strange internal logic.

I wonder if this movie will improve on repeated viewings, when the convoluted plots’ subtleties become clearer and doesn’t have to contend with the high expectations placed on it at initial viewing. Perhaps Youth could be the kind of film that develops admirers who create their own theories about the symbolism, the autobiographical elements, and the tenuous line between fantasy and reality. Otherwise its a movie so personal that the only audience member who completely understands it is Francis Ford Coppola.

Certainly there are flaws. Whether the muddled plot and sudden shifts in tone are fatal flaws depends on your perspective, I suppose, but what to make of the stiff, awkward performances of the majority of the supporting cast? Even Tim Roth and Bruno Ganz, the two acknowledged masters in the cast, have trouble with their stilted dialogue (although Roth generally acquits himself admirably in a challenging role). And there are times when the sillier aspects of the story threaten to enter high camp territory (I’m thinking of the Nazi scenes in particular).

I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from seeing Youth Without Youth. It looks beautiful and many individual scenes have flashes of greatness. The story about a failed man given a second chance has some emotional resonance, and the oddly structured narrative is interesting to follow. Sometimes Youth Without Youth stimulated me, and sometimes it tried my patience. I’m giving it a two-and-a-half star rating, but I don’t feel very confident about that grade. This is a movie that demands repeated viewings, and I have only seen it once.

The butt that just won’t quit

Let me put it this way, in my best Claude Rains impersonation from Casablanca: I am shocked, shocked! Shocked that anyone believed that a pair of pants had a damn thing to do with your skin and dermatological health.

The New York Times recently revealed in laboratory testing that Lululemon’s VitaSea fabric, used in its popular yoga pants and apparel, does not, in fact, release special marine amino acids and help your skin.

According to The Toronto Star, Blackmont Capital analyst Barbara Gray “believe[s] this controversy could challenge [Lululemon’s] strong brand image, authenticity and loyal cult following.”

I hate to break it to Barbara and all her futures-trading friends, but this revelation isn’t going to impact Lulu’s stock or sales in the slightest. Lululemon sells a lifestyle more than it sells products, and the skin-cleansing capacity of their pants is simply not part of the lifestyle they market. The people who buy the company’s caboose-hugging pants probably don’t put much stock in Barb’s stock predictions. In fact, all signs point to company’s fortunes continuing to rise.

Sure, products are ostensibly what a consumer purchases. But when a person walks out of a trendy clothing store, what they get out of the deal is not just a pair of pants or a sports bra. Rather, they walk out with a certain brand name that says something about the way they live. By sporting Lululemon, what they are telling the world is, “Hey! Look at me! Yeah I do some yoga and I like to chill. Also, doesn’t my ass look GREAT in these pants?”

Most of the above statement may or may not be true, but if I may digress for a moment, I feel obliged to point out that the answer to the last question is always and without fail a resounding “YES.” Those pants are worth every penny as far as I’m concerned. They make normal asses look like they’ve been salsa-dancing for the past five years and make great asses look like they should be on a billboard for La Senza. God help us if we ever see a shot of J-Lo in those things, I may not be able to leave the house.

Anyway, the point is you need not be “chill” and certainly need not do yoga to enjoy the pants and their reputed comfort. In purchasing a pair of black and lavender stretch capris, you’re buying a share in a community of people who share a ready-made style and image. That’s the whole point of branding, after all.

We all need to buy pants and shirts from time to time, which we eventually buy from somewhere, whether it’s Lululemon or Sears. What branders are concerned with is not that you simply buy a shirt but that the shirt reflects your lifestyle, and no one’s lifestyle is based on the healing properties of seaweed.

It’s regrettable that Lululemon advertised an unverified claim about their product. Truth in advertising the least we should expect in this advert saturated, consumerist world. Lulu should have contracted an outside lab to experiment and verify the claims they made about their product, and if it turns out that they have lied, they should apologize to their customers and their seaweed-stained hides.

But this pseudo-scandal won’t fundamentally alter what people buy from Lulu. Consumers will continue to clamor for their clothes as long as the company successfully links the garments to trendy lifestyles, and as long as fabulous rear ends remain in fashion.

Blues hit winning note

Men’s hockey (7-8-0-1) was looking to generate a winning streak this weekend against Carleton on Friday and McGill on Saturday. The Blues, losing five games by one goal and unable to create more than a two-game winning streak, are having a rough year. Still, U of T is only three points out of first in the Mid-East Division.

The Blues beat the Carleton Ravens 5-2 Friday night, led by Brendan Sherrard with three assists and Anthony Pallotta, who continued his strong play with two goals and an assist.

“We’re just taking it one game at a time. We don’t want to think too far ahead and only worry about the next game,” said defenseman Darryl Simich.

“We just have to keep working hard,” added forward Alex Nagribianko. “We are making the plays we are supposed to, but we have to play better defensively in order to prevent odd man rushes.”

Dan Brewer opened the scoring for U of T after a cross crease pass from defenseman Brendan Sherrard. Sherrard outskated the Ravens defender for a loose puck trailing into the corner, and found an open Brewer right in front of the net.

While they outplayed Carleton for most of the first period, the Blues went into the intermission tied 1-1 after a wrist shot by Ravens defenseman Adam Marriner squeaked by goalie Andrew Martin.

The Blues dominated play throughout the second, and put up two in the frame, both on the power play.

“Good puck movement is what allowed our power play to work so well tonight,” Simich said.

Coach Darren Lowe was partially satisfied with the team’s performance. “We are getting most of our production from our first team’s power play unit. Problems are coming from getting the second unit up to the same strength,” he said. “We practice the power play two times a week, mainly focusing on what isn’t working.”

Anthony Pallotta netted his first on the night on the power play, going five-hole from the left circle after the Blues moved the puck well in the Carleton zone. Joe Rand made it 3-1 after he tipped in Sherrard’s point shot top corner glove side.

That was all the Blues needed that night, as Carleton made it 3-2 going into the second, and third-period goals from Pallotta and Mark Heatley added some comfort to the U of T bench. Goaltender Andrew Martin got the win, making 29 saves.

“Martin has played really well being a first-year goalie. He has adjusted better to the game, and we hope his play can continue,” Lowe said.

On Saturday, the Blues continued their strong play, beating McGill 5-2 and extending their winning streak to three. Anthony Pallotta had another two-goal night, netting one on the power play and one shorthanded. Mc- Gill outshot U of T 44-22 in the game, but Rand preserved the victory with two empty net goals in the final two minutes of the game.

The Blues won’t be back in action until the new year, but they’ll return to play four straight games on the road against Ottawa, Waterloo, Western, and Laurier, before heading home on Jan. 17 to play divisional rival Ryerson

The Ron Paul Revolution

The phenomenon that is the “Ron Paul Revolution” is sweeping across America and pundits and voters alike are, to put it mildly, surprised. The sweet, ornery grandfatherly fi gure has captured the imaginations of millions, who for one reason or another have dedicated themselves wholeheartedly to the Texan presidential hopeful’s campaign.

I cannot in good conscience go any further without disclosing to readers that I too have been infected. Like most of his supporters, I had no idea about the man or his politics when Republican candidate race began, but over the course of the year I have developed very strong feelings for him—bordering on a man crush.

While he’s well behind the frontrunners in the polls, his grassroots backers are practically rabid about him. What is it about the man that makes his supporters so passionate? Ron Paul would like us to believe that it’s his libertarian message that compels individuals to rally behind him, but I am not so sure. Are we seriously to believe that students across American university campuses have suddenly developed a burning desire to return to the gold standard and abolish income tax, as Paul is advocating?

Probably not. Still,this hasn’t stopped crowds, upwards of two thousand mostly young individuals, from showering Paul with applause when he gives speeches on their campuses. This rock star treatment appears to be a result of Paul’s baffl ing popularity on the Internet, which is itself a unique phenomena. It’s Paul’s good character, more than any element of the political ideology, that draws such a diverse group into his fl ock.

Paul is often criticized by his detractors as out of place as a Republican presidential candidate because he appears to take leftist stances on subjects like the Iraq war and the Patriot Act (he opposed them both). But an objective evaluation clearly makes him out to be the ideal conservative candidate for his party. Paul’s libertarian values run entirely in line with the empty rhetoric espoused by most modern Republican politicians, earning him the distinction of being the only candidate to actually stand by his principles.

Having never voted for a tax increase or an unbalanced budget, he has a uniquely consistent voting record against runaway government spending. As a practicing OBGYN, Paul has delivered more than 4,000 babies during his career and has been married to his wife for 50 years, making him an unwavering advocate of prolife and pro-family values. Paul also served in the military as a fl ight surgeon during the Vietnam War, which is politically relevant because Americans desire a commander-in-chief who’s had military service. How then can anyone question his suitability as a Republican candidate, especially when the current GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani is a thrice-married man who is pro-choice and has been photographed cross-dressing, when the mood strikes him?

Paul’s perfect conservatism hardly explains why I, a self-professed liberal, would even consider supporting him. Undoubtedly his statements about the Iraq war and his stand against America’s out of control imperialist foreign policy play a part in seducing lefties like me who traditionally support the Democratic Party, but feel that the current lineup is pitifully inadequate.

In the end, my personal support is directed towards the man himself, not his eccentric domestic policies. My generation has only ever known the state as a giant caretaker of its citizens, and as a student only moderately educated in modern political theory, I must confess I don’t quite have a full grasp of what it means to have truly limited government. But it really doesn’t sound like a good idea.

That hardly seems to matter if you’ve got a man like Ron Paul captaining your ship. At the root of it all, it is not the issues that drive his supporters but rather widespread dissatisfaction with the present corrupt American political culture, and his seeming ability to cut through it all. This army of Paul supporters, comprising of true libertarians, religious conservatives, anti-war liberals, pot heads, and anarchists, all conceive of the Texas congressman as their messiah, the last best hope for genuine change. Dare to speak ill of Ron Paul, and you risk unleashing the fury of his foot soldiers, as countless political show hosts have already found out.

However, the curious discrepancy between Paul’s values and that of his supporters is so vast that, as much as I love him, it is at times comforting to know that he is only polling at six per cent. But recently Paul’s campaign has made signifi cant inroads in legitimizing itself with the mainstream media, and more importantly, raising money. More than $4.2 million was raised for Paul’s campaign in a single day on Nov. 5. This unprecedented feat was made even more extraordinary by the fact that this was a spontaneous show of support that commemorated a failed attempt by Guy Fawkes to blow up the British Parliament in 1608. Not exactly the kind of thing any other politician would attach himself to, but this is a revolution after all.

Fitzgerald puts chokehold on wrestling championship

At the provincial open wrestling championships on Dec. 1 and 2, Toronto wrestler Jessica Fitzgerald distinguished herself by winning her first ever provincial championship. “It feels exciting,” Fitzgerald said about her victory. “I felt well prepared going into the tournament but I admit that I was pretty nervous.” En route to triumph, Fitzgerald had to defeat two wrestlers who had previously given her a lot of trouble. With a record of 12–0, she remains the only Toronto wrestler to be undefeated in both university and open competition this year, conquering the top ranked U.S. intercollegiate wrestler at the McMaster Invitational. “Jessica wrestled very well yesterday. The woman she beat in the finals had dominated her all last year, and so beating her now is definitely a tribute to how hard she has trained,” said Coach Mike Quinsey. Jessica is in the first of a four-year graduate pharmaceutical program. The Ontario Open Wrestling Championship is open to wrestlers over the age of 20. The tournament is used to determine carding (provincial funding) points for financial assistance to athletes.

Why free speech ain’t free

When Liisa Schofield heard from the Campus Community Police about a public lecture her humanitarian organization was planning, she knew a steep bill was coming. The hundreds of dollars in charges stemmed from the simple fact that the university considered the lecture controversial and demanded police monitoring, at a high cost.

For Schofield’s organization, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, bills for such mandatory security have significantly outstripped all other event costs combined. The incident has raised the question of exactly who, on a campus of 70,000, decides which issues are controversial.

The lecture in question happened on Nov. 15. Salim Vally, a former South African anti-Apartheid activist now teaching at York University, gave a talk entitled “Apartheid: From South Africa to Palestine” in the Sanford Fleming building near Convocation Hall.

Campus police assessed the need for two officers to police the event. The duo showed up in plainclothes, according to Schofield. “I didn’t actually know that they were officers until we got the invoice,” she said.

That invoice came four days later, billing OPIRG $440 for the service of two officers, at $55 per hour each, for four hours. By contrast, OPIRG paid about $100 for all other costs of the event, mostly for A/V equipment. They do not normally pay booking fees on campus. U of T’s Office of Space Management notified OPIRG that, unless they pay the bill, they will be barred from booking campus space in the future.

“That’s the entire annual budget for an action group,” Schofield said of the bill.

Last October, OPIRG hosted activist Tariq Ali for a talk called “Imperial Blues: Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine.” According to Schofield, police called to notify her of the security presence at the last minute, at a time when OPIRG’s offices are normally closed. OPIRG was billed for security, refused to pay, and contacted Student Affairs. Jim Delaney, the assistant director of Student Affairs, took some of the pressure off OPIRG’s payment and assured Schofield he would arrange a meeting between OPIRG and the campus police to discuss fees and the risk assessment process for events. That meeting has not yet happened.

Schofield was highly critical of the decision that Vally’s talk posed a security risk.

“The only two events we’ve had police are Tariq Ali and Salim Vally, two Arab-Muslim-sounding names speaking about Middle-Eastern politics.” She remarked that more politically radical guests, such as those who spoke at the Latin Solidarity Collective’s “Mayan Struggle in Guatemala” event, drew no security attention.

When The Varsity called to ask about event security procedures, Campus Community Police operations manager Sam D’Angelo declined to comment and immediately hung up. At press time, staff sergeant Mike Munroe, the top-ranking officer in the unit tasked with event security, had not returned phone calls and could not be reached by email.

Andy Allen, the manager of the OSM, said the police scan his office’s records of upcoming events and choose some for risk assessment. Neither Delaney, Allen, nor the university communications office to which campus police refer media inquiries knew how assessments were conducted.

According to Allen, if police determine the event requires security, they tell the OSM how many officers should police the event. The OSM then informs the event holders, who, according to Allen, are always expected to pay the associated cost. If they do not, the event is canceled.

University policy documents available online at the OSM website and through Governing Council, however, say recognized campus groups do not it requires opening a normally closed building. Allen said the policy on the OSM website, dated 1995, was obsolete.

Delaney confirmed that a version of that same policy, put into effect in 1988 and available on Governing Council’s website, was still in effect with the nopay clause for recognized groups. He stressed that the 19-year-old policy was dated by U of T standards and that under to normal expectations, practices would not always conform to policy guidelines.

Delaney added that OPIRG does not have status as a recognized campus group this year. Student Affairs grants such status to eligible student groups on an annual basis, and while OPIRG was recognized last year, Delaney was unaware of them reapplying this year.

OPIRG has nine action groups, semiindependent teams of students promoting specific social justice agendas. The Nov. 15 event was organized by Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Other action groups include the Critical Area Studies Collective, a No One Is Illegal immigrantrights group, and the equity gardeners who maintain a public food garden on St. George campus.

OPIRG staffers like Schofield, who volunteered for OPIRG at York before he was hired full-time downtown, give guidance and coordination, and fund each group with $400 to $550 per year.

“We don’t have that kind of operating budget [to pay] for every event we do that is termed ‘controversial.’ These costs will be prohibitive for organizations that want to hold political events, and that’s essentially shutting down those events,” said Schofield.

At an unrelated event last Thursday, CEPAL, the Canadian-Palestinian Educational Exchange, hosted a lecture by Norman Finkelstein at OISE. Four campus cops and two city police officers for 53 division, OISE’s district, patrolled the talk.

Shannon Dow, CEPAL’s president, declined to give exact figures, but if CEPAL was charged the same rates as OPIRG for policing, the bill for their five-hour event would come to about $1,650. Booking fees for the event space would not have exceeded $400 under the OSM’s highest hourly rate.

“The [security] costs are high, you could put it that way. And it’s not very fair to humanitarian organizations like CEPAL, and I’ve expressed this to security here,” said Dow after the lecture. “It’s a bit outrageous that it should cost so much for security on an event like this,” she added.

Staff Sgt. Al Hastings was among the campus police at the event. He was not in uniform, though the other officers were.

According to Hastings, the scale of police presence depends on such factors as whether the event was sanctioned by U of T, the features of the venue, whether it concerns a controversial issue, and whether the group holding the event has what Hastings called “a history.”

“We’ve got to create an environment that’s safe and that allows for free speech,” Hastings said.

He noted that around 15 protesters showed up. They were allowed inside but had to leave placards behind because they could be used as weapons.

Delaney said he was concerned about the issue raised by OPIRG, and that he did not know why it has not yet been resolved. Schofield and others have called the mandatory charges a selective barrier to freedom of expression.

“It can become a part of censoring students […] if they are then given a bill running into hundreds of dollars, which would obviously make people think twice before having an event,” said Vally.

Arts and Science Students’ Union president Ryan Hayes voiced expressed similar views. “No one has money on campus to organize events and pay $500 for security, so effectively that’s just saying ‘don’t hold those events, don’t question these topics.’”

OPIRG has demanded to meet with Student Affairs and campus police, and that the university foot their bill. The University of Toronto Students’ Union, ASSU, and the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students have signed a letter of support.

With files from Naushad Ali Husein

The Last Word.

TTC increases fares

It already costs far too much to wait 45 minutes for a bus only to end up surrounded by strangers who don’t use deodorant. People won’t use public transit if they have to pay a premium for bare-minimum service, and the little improvements that came our way (polite Canadian announcers make an appearance on the Queen and Spadina streetcars!) aren’t worth the hike.

UTSU Referendum

Students balked at an election that was held without notice, was rife with sneaky voting strategies, and saw UTSU crush all opposition in pursuit of a utopic centre with no architectural plans. Democracy at its best!

Provincial Election

As John Tory shot himself in the foot over religious schools (so much that he remained seatless), Howard Hampton did the best he could in a post-Rae Ontario. Frank de Jong just wanted people to notice him. They mostly didn’t. Dalton McGuinty is some kind of robot and apparently that’s good enough for us. Another muddled referendum (this time about proportional representation) left us with the status quo. Sadly, in the end nothing really changed.

Muslim Students Union doesn’t like halal food at UTSC

In a story that sparked controversy in the National Post and the Toronto Star, The Varsity learned that religious accommodation can only go so far. Tolerance is key in a campus with over 60,000—we can’t give everything to everybody, but little concessions are okay every now and then.

The city implements landmark new taxes

If Toronto ever wants to play with the international big boys, we have to fi nd new sources of income—property taxes simply aren’t enough. The city is constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. And as David Miller pursues one cent of the GST, our two cents is that these taxes are an investment in a more progressive society.

Varsity Blues just can’t win

We can’t help but smile at our football team’s inability to win a single game. Having already set one record for futility (take that York!), the Blues are on their way to setting another. The Varsity hopes they can keep up the streak and at least be known for something. If not, drinks on us when (if?) we fi nally light up the scoreboards.

Nuit Blanche

This year’s all-night “contemporary art” thing was inspiring, unorganized, and a little underwhelming. While its debut was better, there’s potential for better next year.

U of T invests your money in military companies

While the cynic in us realizes every university is part corporation, is it so hard not to make money off war? We already divested our tobacco stocks last year—investments in military contractors aren’t that much better.

Ethical stem cells

The barriers between scientifi c innovation and religious fundamentalism were fi nally broken with the development of “ethical stem cells.” Finally George Bush can get off his high horse and realize the possibilities of saving lives that don’t even exist yet.