We’re richer than they think

Toronto’s rich are getting richer and its poor are getting poorer— such are the findings of a study on the city’s economic divide done by U of T’s Centre for Urban and Community Studies. Since 1971, rich neighbourhoods have seen average incomes rise, while 36 per cent of Toronto’s poorer neighbourhoods have seen them fall by 34 per cent.

The culprits? “Changes in the economy, in the nature of employment (more part-time and temporary jobs), and in government taxes and income transfers,” says the report. This criticism sounds like the typical indictment of capitalist economics for leaving employment up to the market and cutting social programs, while lowering taxes for the rich.

Before we go and lead the proletariat into revolution, remember that there is little evidence that this polarization is caused by structural inequality or a lack of upward mobility among the general populace. It is far more likely a reflection of Toronto’s role as a top destination for new immigrants.

The first problem with the report’s argument is that the study focuses on the average income trends of Toronto neighbourhoods, not of individuals. When it comes to poverty, we should care about the plight of people, not of arbitrary geographic areas. That said, the fact that average income in a certain area went down doesn’t say anything about personal welfare. Upon closer inspection, there’s actually nothing in the study to back the claim that poor individuals have gotten poorer.

For example, picture a neighbourhood that initially contains a mix of high and low income residents. Now, let’s say that the richer residents move away and an influx of residents with lower incomes arrive. Statistically, average income drops. But this doesn’t mean that individuals in the neighbourhood are getting any poorer. In fact, who’s to say they didn’t get richer? It’s entirely possible that those who stayed in the neighbourhood saw their incomes rise, while newcomers improved their situation relative to their place of origin.

Since Toronto is the primary destination for new immigrants, there is good reason to think that this is what’s happening. It’s no coincidence that the neighbourhoods classified as poor also have the highest concentration of immigrants. Of the population in these areas, 62 per cent is foreign-born and 42 per cent arrived in Canada only after 1981. In 1971, native-born Canadians were the predominant group.

Recent immigrants face high language barriers, and are often disconnected from the social networks necessary to find high-paying employment. This makes their labour market incomes lower than the average Canadian. Newcomers are also typically concentrated in the same neighbourhoods, due to the presence of shared languages and familiar cultural products like food and entertainment. It would be nothing short of a miracle if average incomes in these localities stayed constant over the period studied in the report.

The good news is that, according to a 2003 Statistics Canada study, “initial [immigrant] settlement is in disadvantaged immigrant enclaves from which longer-term, more successful migrants subsequently exit as they purchase homes in more affluent neighbourhoods.” But as these established immigrants move away and are replaced by more recent arrivals, neighbourhood average incomes, of course, drop—reinforcing the illusion of the poor getting poorer.

Beneath this bleak tale of neighbourhood inequality is a serious success story. Over the past few decades, hundreds of thousands of people from less fortunate places around the world came to Toronto in search of a better future. Migration significantly improved their opportunity and standard of living. As they settled in, their incomes rose and many moved out of ethnic ghettoes, only to be replaced by a new group of people looking to do the same thing.

There is an inevitable trade-off here. We can’t accommodate a massive influx of new immigrants and expect our demographics to remain constant. Torontonians have shown that they believe in the right of people to come here in search of a better life, but this makes our city’s neighbourhoods less economically similar, as waves of newcomers slowly adjust to life in Canada. In the end, we need to stop focusing so much on income equality and ask a fundamental question: are the living standards of individuals rising over their lifespan? If the answer is yes, we should be proud.

Talking Heads: Do you pay too much for required textbooks?

Clockwise from top-left

Steven, 1st-year Industrial Engineering and
Mizuk a, 1st-year Chemical Engineering:
Him—Yeah!
Her—Me too!

Aroni, 1st-year Economics, Yeah. I buy
used textbooks ’cause I can’t afford
new ones. They’re half price and they’re
still too much.”

Kevin, MBA, Yeah, of course I do. The
real problem is all of these multiple
editions that add no value.

Michelle, 3rd-year Commerce, Yeah!
I do! Some of them don’t even have a
buy-back program ’cause they go into a
separate edition. If students can’t use the
old textbooks, the university should be
responsible for buying them back.

Perspectives from Persepolis

Fearing social suicide, I very seldom use the word “nifty.” Yet when faced with the task of describing the animation style of Persepolis, it seems like the only word that will do. The characters are drawn in a stylishly minimal black-and-white and move in a herky-jerky way that is defiantly 2-D in a Pixar-dominated animation marketplace. When characters move, they often look like paper puppets— one part of the body will be flailing while the rest remains absolutely stationary. In the rare instances when 3-D is used, it is employed in a way that simulates a pop-up book. It looks like one of those Robert Smigel cartoons from Saturday Night Live filtered through German Expressionism.

Persepolis is based on two graphic novels by Marjane Satrapi about her own adolescence in a war-torn and increasingly oppressive Iran, and her subsequent tumultuous, soul-searching journey through Europe. The books and the film are also a pretty effective history lesson, summarizing years of Iranian war and revolution. Despite the difficult subject matter, both the graphic novels and the film are surprisingly whimsical and occasionally touching, and they have the same sort of irreverent humour one might find a comic written by a kid during class.

Unlike most literary adaptations, the Persepolis movie is co-written and codirected by the original author. “I never wanted to make a movie, and I always thought that was a very bad idea to make a movie out of the comics,” said Satrapi in a phone interview. “I had the possibility to make exactly the movie I wanted without making any compromise, and as an artist it doesn’t happen every day when people tell you, ‘Oh you can do whatever you want’—it was really an intellectual and artistic challenge for me.”

The challenge of the Persepolis movie was to take two rambling, tangential graphic novels and turn them into a relatively conventional 95-minute movie while still maintaining their spirit. “When I made the book, the story is linear: it starts at one point, it finishes at one point, and I had all the space to express whatever I wanted. When you a one-and-a-half hour movie of course you cannot put everything, otherwise you’ll find yourself with five movies in one, which is a complete disaster.

“It was really a book that I made to give another point of view to the world. I didn’t want the movie to become a political or a historical or a sociological statement, and I thought to make it universal it would be much better to concentrate on the story of one person, a very individualistic [structure] and humanistic point-of-view. And just to show how it is as a human being when you are in a place and how [cultural norms] become so much bigger than you as an individual and pressed down. And how do you leave? How do you grow up? I thought that was an interesting angle.”

Persepolis has received almost unanimous critical and popular acclaim. It has been selected as France’s official entry for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, beating out much-hyped candidates like La Vie en Rose and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and at last May’s Cannes Film Festival it won the Jury Prize. “The Cannes festival is like the day of your wedding,” said Satrapi. “Everybody enjoys it except you.”

But the film’s North American release is especially notable for coinciding with an unprecedented level of negative American media coverage about Iran. Considering the increasing tendency to label Iran, rather simplistically, as part of an “Axis of Evil,” Satrapi’s human story is particularly valuable.

“It is important that people don’t forget that the government is one thing, and the people are another,” says Satrapi. “I mean, even me, when I came to America for the first time, I missed [the fact] that American government and American people are not the same until I saw them, and I saw how people were…and American people are often not George Bush, thank God!”

“But most of the time people forget that, because every day 200 people die in Iraq, but nobody cares about it. They talk about it like it’s a dog dying. They have forgotten that those people [Iraqis] are just people like them, they have family and friends and hope and love, but they are reduced to some kind of abstract notion—‘Axis of Evil.’ So it’s very important that we put the human being at the centre of interest. It’s so obvious what I’m saying, but I feel that it can never be repeated enough.”

Books, by hook or by crook

With the winter term of classes only a week old, students at U of T, as across North America, are flocking to bookstores in search of required reading. As an inevitable result, students’ budgets are busting at the seams. On average, undergraduate students spend approximately $1,000 per year on textbooks. When all is said and done, the price of textbooks represents five to six per cent of the cost of education.

Textbooks are more expensive than novels, non-fiction, and other published material for a variety of reasons. Expensive binding and paper can drive up costs, as can detailed colour graphics and the so-called supplemental materials packaged alongside, which are often used to justify price hikes. Demand for textbooks is much lower than for mainstream books, further increasing their price as publishers must charge a high premium on the limited- run books in order to make their desired profit.

Third- and fourth-year textbooks are often much cheaper than for first year courses. This is in part due to the fact that first-year instructors are often not tenured faculty members. CD-ROMS, instructor packs and other supplementary materials are very handy tools for such instructors, but unfortunately it is students who pay for such materials.

U of T’s campus bookstore gets about 22 per cent of each book’s sale price as profit, compared to publishers’ 64 per cent.

Nevertheless, the cost of textbooks at campus bookstores has students seeking more affordable options. Many are using websites such as Ebay and Amazon.ca more than ever before. The benefits of shopping online vary on a case-by-case basis, however. Some textbooks are significantly less expensive, but others are priced exactly the same or higher than those on campus.

Students have also taken it upon themselves to provide each other with textbooks. Founded in 1998, the Toronto University Book Exchange provides students across the GTA a place to buy and sell textbooks. Its website, tusbe.com, is run by students, and has grown at a tremendous rate in the past few years, climbing from 10,000 book sale posts in 2002 to over 75,000 in 2007.

David Mazza, a fourth-year biology major, has used TUSBE for two years and said he loves it. “I can find all the books I need at a fraction of the price at the university bookstore,” he enthused.

High prices have even spawned an underground textbook market. Enterprising students of shaky ethics have found a profitable industry in selling illegally photocopied textbooks. Photocopied textbooks show up on TUSBE, too, sometimes as cheap as $25—still a large profit for their manufacturers.

In December, Canadian students, bookstores, and university administrators took part in the National Roundtable on Academic Materials. The first of its kind, the conference addressed concerns over the costs of textbooks, and found that students, who can be counted on to buy the textbooks, are only a minor factor in publishers’ calculations.

David Simmonds, VP university affairs for the University Students’ Council at UWO told the Gazette “One of the things that came out of the conference […] was that students have never been acknowledged in the textbook industry as the primary consumer of textbooks.”

With prices growing almost as fast as alternative options and piracy, it remains to be seen who will get the last word in the textbook industry.

Hot Buzz: Bands making it big in 2008

THE TEENAGERS

This pervy, pop trio of Parisian hipsters made this list last year, and after 365 days of playing footsie and looking deep into the eyes of mainstream success, these fresh-faced indie swingers are preparing to pony up and do the deed big time. Combining electro synths and drum sounds with tried-and-true, semi-ironic pop-rock riffage, the Teenagers resist a conventional label, although they tend to tour with the likes of Crystal Castles, Klaxons, and These New Puritans. Propelled in equal parts by their catchy tongue-in-cheek lyrics (these tend to either graphically recount drunken sexcapades or reference hilarious pop-culture “icons” like poor Jared Leto and Shannen Doherty) and by their signature remixes for buzz bands GoodBooks, Lo-fi FNK, and Black Ghosts, the Teenagers seem poised for big things. While 2007 saw Michael, Dorion, and Quentin drop a few tracks on limited-edition import 7” vinyls, 2008 will see the Teens’ first North American single, “Fuck Nicole,” land Jan. 18 courtesy of Montreal’s Summer Lovers Unlimited label. Following in March will be the climactic release of their first full-length LP, Reality Check, which will catalogue glossier versions of staple singles “Homecoming,” “Starlett Johansson,” and “Sunset Beach,” alongside brand new hits-in-waiting “Streets of Paris,” “Love No,” and “French Kiss.” An exclusive North American EP, The World’s Not Fair, will also be available in March on Summer Lovers. Watch for the Teenagers to make their Toronto debut as part of their first North American tour Jan. 27 at The Social. —JORDAN BIMM

www.myspace.com/theteenagers

THE COAST

If The Coast’s rising fortunes are any indication, 2008 should be a breakout year for this brit-influenced Toronto quartet. (OK, full disclosure: singer Ben Spurr is also one of The Varsity’s comment editors, but read on and you’ll understand how we just wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t tell you about these dudes!) After having their twinkling tune “All Farewells” featured in an episode of MTV’s Newport Harbor, the Coast have recently inked record deals in the U.S. and the U.K. and will soon be on tour with Tokyo Police Club. In March they’ll be releasing their debut LP and playing multiple engagements at Austin, Texas’s South by Southwest music festival. Catch up with The Coast at their next Toronto show Jan. 26 at the El Mocambo opening for New York’s Ra Ra Riot.—JB

www.myspace.com/thecoastmusic

VAMPIRE WEEKEND

The New York City hype machine has set its sights firmly upon Vampire Weekend, whose combination of Afrobeat and classical influences produces a breezy type of indie rock (playfully dubbed “Yacht Rock” by some scribes) that has gotten the blogs buzzing and left ears perfectly intact. They’ve already begun an extensive touring schedule, and 2008 promises more of the same, with a spring North American tour already mapped out. Their self-titled debut is set for release Jan. 29 on the red-hot XL Recordings, allowing critics everywhere to prepare four-star ratings for rapid deployment.—ROB DUFFY

www.myspace.com/vampireweekend

FOALS

While landing the cover spot on NME’s New Noise 2008 issue doesn’t necessarily guarantee fame or fortune, it’s certainly a good sign. A five-piece out of Oxford, Foals combine math rock with electro-pop to form a catchy, reverb-washed wall of sound. With their debut full-length Antidotes, due sometime in March, Foals are set to become the flag-bearers for the next wave of dance rock to hit North American shores. Their recent MySpace blog claims: “We’re going to take all them motherfuckers down and we’re going to destroy everything and everyone including probably ourselves.” It’s a cheeky assertion, of course, but it remains a distinct possibility.—RD

www.myspace.com/foals

Mouthing off

The prospect of Maureen Hunter’s latest, Wild Mouth, had me gritting my teeth before the curtain even went up: another Canadian farm drama featuring prairie winds and thick skins. It proved to be more than that, although it took its time.

Wild Mouth is set in Saskatchewan, 1917, bringing together hardworking British ex-pats the Reids and the visiting Anna McGrath (Sarah Orenstein)— sister of Reid paterfamilias, Logan (Ian D. Clark). The plot follows Anna as she tries to cope with the loss of her teenage son to the killing fields abroad—coping being a relative term. Anna’s presence stirs up much more than she intended as she tries to provoke the inert Reids (who have also recently lost a son in France) to some level of emotional awareness. There’s also swarthy Ukrainian farmhand Bohdan (Oliver Becker), whose presence creates so much sexual and emotional tension in the household that he and Anna’s mutual contempt that scars them irrevocably.

Although the setup is promising, Anna’s “wild mouth” isn’t all that wild, and the conflict surrounding the idea of repression versus expression travels in frustrating circles—the only marked difference is whatever farm chore happens to be completed at the time. Speaking of the farm, much of the action surrounds everyday activities like the eating of dinner, chicken-plucking, and pig-slaughtering. Why? Perhaps it’s to show how repetitive things are on the prairie, how predictable and inescapable the daily banalities are that lead to conflict and violence on any scale.

A scene at the conclusion of act one veers dangerously toward Carrie territory, and a climactic scene near the end of the second fares much worse thanks to R.H. Thomson’s confusing and ineffective staging. Thomson, perhaps unsure of how to make use of Yannik Larivée’s beautiful, if not unusual set, stages much of the play crammed into corners, failing to use the dynamic space afforded to him. Constructed out of precisely cut wood planks, the design consists of a box within a box, creating a forced perspective that focused eyes on two converging spots. As my companion pointed out post-show, the whole thing resembled the inside of an antique camera—much like the one that Anna uses throughout the action to capture the bleak landscape around her.

Despite the elegance of Hunter’s writing, Wild Mouth could have benefited from a good nip/tuck. Certain characters border on redundant—like the two Reid children, Claire and Jamie, who fail to do much more than watch the action happening around them as if they were at a ping-pong match. David Fox was made to play Aloysius, and he does it with great sensitivity, but both his character as well as Brenda Robins’ Roberta Reid needs more attention to detail written into their characters. As they stand, they’re not much more than devices to the plot—and what Wild Mouth requires is sharper characterization to make that wildness hit the prairie air.

Wild Mouth has powerful moments, posing interesting questions about war, family, desire, and inequality between immigrants, but it falls into the trap that many distinctly Canadian plays suffer from: a dull sobriety that squeezes any vigour from a subject (farm livin’ and war-hatin’), tending towards talking head syndrome straight from the get-go. And it should be added; the utterly cheesy final image of Aloysius playing a mournful tune on the violin would have had a lot more kick had Fox actually moved the bow across the strings. Or better yet, kept him offstage, leaving something to the imagination.

Guild guilty of gutting Globes?

If you’re like me, your entire life revolves around the annual Academy Awards. (Then again, if you’re like me, you’re probably also very, very alone, but that’s beside the point.) Oscar obsession usually starts around September with the Toronto International Film Festival, when I spend endless hours ignoring loved ones in favour of reading reviews of whatever four-hour Ang Lee movie is premiering that day. The next five months until the Academy reveals its award winners are like hot, sweaty foreplay for any true Oscar junkie—the sweet caress of the “For Your Consideration” ads, the sensuous lubrication of the box office reports, the gentle thrusting of the early award shows (Golden Globes, People’s Choice Awards, Independent Spirit Awards), all leading up to a vaguely unsatisfying and all-toopremature Oscar telecast. It’s a yearly ritual that gives my life meaning.

But this year, the Oscars are in jeopardy. As you’ve probably heard, the Writer’s Guild of America is striking because of a dispute with the Producer’s Guild over residual payments for sales of movies and TV shows over online venues like Itunes. The writers believe they should receive 2.5 per cent of online revenue in residuals. By contrast, the producers believe the writers should receive zero per cent.

As a result of the strike, no Writer’s Guild members are allowed to write new movie and TV scripts until the issue is resolved. Furthermore, anyone who appears on a show that is being produced in violation of strike guidelines is perceived as not supporting the writers’ cause, and can rightly be considered a traitor. As a result, virtually no important people will cross a picket line. This is why Leno’s guest the other night was some guy from the L.A. zoo and Conan’s guest was Bob Saget.

Awards ceremonies are similarly affected, as evidenced by the recent cancellation of the Golden Globe Awards. Oh yes, that beloved presenters’ banter is, in fact, written by a professional, and unless the award show received special permission from the Writer’s Guild, no big stars will cross the picket line. Even if they did, what would they say? Since we all know the main appeal of the Golden Globes is the outside chance of seeing a celebrity drunk, there was nothing left to do but cancel it.

For any hard-core award show fan, this is bad news. As Dick Clark says, the Globes are “the party of the year,” and if Dick Clark says it, it must be true. Who can forget all those wacky and wonderful memories from past Globes ceremonies? Like that time when…uh…well, actually, the only really wacky moment I can think of is when Pia Zadora won, and that was before I was born, but the point remains: we’ll surely be missing out on some wonderful memories. Another unfortunate result of the cancellation is that Steven Spielberg, this year’s lifetime achievement winner, will have to wait until 2009 to collect his trophy. Poor guy. I hope he catches a break someday.

With the Globes cancelled, all eyes are now on Oscar. If I may illustrate this situation using a metaphor in the form of the 1996 movie Executive Decision, the Globes are like Steven Seagal to the Oscars’ Kurt Russell: if Seagal dies early on, then Russell can no longer be considered safe. Okay, terrible example, but you get the idea.

If the writers and the producers don’t come to an agreement soon, the Oscars will probably be cancelled. And with no Oscar-cast to watch, my life will lose all meaning, and I might be forced to go outside, read a book, or even interact with other people, and nobody wants that. So if anyone from the Producer’s Guild is reading this, I beg of you: if you don’t care about fairness, honesty, accountability, and creativity…could you at least care about me?

Matus named student kingpin

Effective July 1, 2008, Jill Matus, English professor and current viceprincipal of University College, will become U of T’s new vice-provost of students, a step up the administrative ladder that Governing Council approved this past week. She has been with the University of Toronto’s English department for over 25 years.

Matus will succeed U of T’s fi rst vice-provost of students, Jonathan Freedman, who held the job for seven months as an interim appointment while the university searched for a permanent replacement. During Matus’s upcoming fi ve-year tenure, she will be responsible for policies affecting the students and student organizations of all three U of T campuses.

In particular, she will oversee the operation and administration of student programs and services on St. George campus. Matus broke down her priorities for the downtown campus: “It would be things like the International Student Centre, First Nations health, student housing, and Hart House,” she said.

Other tasks Matus is expected to shepherd include supervising student recruitment operations, overseeing admissions and awards, and handling international student exchange programs. She will also supervise the assistant vice-president of student life, a newly created position, as yet unfilled.

After earning her PhD at the university in 1981, Matus worked as a part-time lecturer and an assistant professor at UTSC before joining the St. George English department as a full professor in 1997.

Three years ago, she began a term as vice-principal of University College, also taking on the role as acting principal of the college from July to December of 2007.

Announcing Matus’s new appointment, U of T vice-president and provost Vivek Goel said Matus embodies the essential characteristics needed for the position. Goel cited her “direct experience in undergraduate education, an understanding of the role of college life in the student experience, and a tri-campus orientation.”

“She has been engaged in activities that bridge curricular and co-curricular to ensure that our students have a well-rounded experience,” he said.

The outgoing Freedman expressed similar views of Matus, supporting her appointment, while bidding farewell to the post he has held since July 2007.

“She will be a wonderful addition to this office, and I look forward to having her take over the job,” said Freedman.

Matus was enthused about the appointment, but said she hopes it will not take her away from the classroom completely.

“I love teaching. It’s a wonderful way to maintain contact with students, particularly in my own department,” she said.

Apart from her administrative and academic experiences at U of T, Matus is also a distinguished humanities scholar and researcher, specializing in Victorian literature and culture. She has published writings on authors such as Dickens, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters—to name but a few.