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.

Editorial: Let’s get it on

Ah, Valentine’s Day. As if we needed another painful reminder that we’re getting less action than the cast members of High School Musical, here comes a holiday entirely devoted to love and the pursuit of making it.

University is a time when we’re supposed to be doin’ it—a lot. Gluts of films promote images of languid undergrads engaging in dorm room threesomes, alongside sexually-confused TAs, hot profs, and winsome roommates. Students apparently engage hourly in rough love against campus stairwells, library stacks, and chemistry labs, as previously bespeckled physics majors reveal pneumatic, perfectly shaped gazongas to their charmingly rakish RAs.

Nobody’s having more sex than university students, especially ones situated in one of the largest cities in North America. So why are so many of us complaining?

As someone who, until recently, previously held a level of expertise equated with the most submissive of 13-year-old girls, I’m here to tell you that sex can, in fact, happen to you. Maybe you’re nervous that your lack of know-how will single you out. Maybe you think that no one’s gonna love you, or that you’re incapable of letting someone into your life. But, to use a rather obvious analogy: once you learn how to ride a tricycle, hopping on a motorcycle is the next logical step in a long line of trips down lover’s lane.

One of my all-time favourite depictions of the “university experience” comes from Judd Apatow’s Undeclared, a college sitcom in which a group of friends who occupy a grubby co-ed dorm go through every coming of age subplot in a successive bound of sixteen hilarious and all-too truthful episodes. Nothing is more telling than the way the protagonist Steven loses his virginity to the girl next door (or should I say, across the hall), Lizzie, who still remains ensconced in a pitiful long-distance relationship with her psycho boyfriend Eric. Who we are when we begin our first year, and where we end up is never a fixed state. We grow exponentially and into ourselves.

Throughout these four years, yeah, we’re supposed to learn about Kantian imperatives and the teleogical aims of the fall of the Berlin Wall—but we’re also supposed to experience facets of our upcoming adulthood. This means experimenting with Jaegerbombs and hash pipes, art history minors and vegan diets. And this includes sex (and love) too.

While a “safety first!” maxim is always encouraged, in honor of this totally corporate/heterosexist holiday of hell, let’s take a pro- Obama stance and say, “Yes we can!” Yes we can have sex. And yes we will.

The Varsity wishes all our readers the happiest of Valentine’s Day, whether you celebrate it solo or with a friend. Treat your partners fairly, and love yourself. Oh, and don’t forget to play side one of The Very Best of Prince. Ohhhh, yeah.

Editorial: You think we said what!?

The Varsity, as a rule, doesn’t shy away from controversial subjects. We’ve been known to print provocative editorials that argue unpopular positions. You wouldn’t expect that we necessarily agree with all of them—how could we, considering the range of opinion expressed? Take for example last week’s side-byside pro- and anti-abortion columns, each written by a U of T student activist (see “Faceoff,” Feb. 4).

The same applies to the other sections of this and any good newspaper: While it’s true that nobody in the real world is perfectly unbiased, it’s not that hard to be impartial and give everyone a fair say. For our part, we don’t pick and choose articles. What appears in these pages isn’t there because of our personal beliefs or agendas, but for its relevance to the U of T community members who read this paper. Our job is only to watch events that affect U of T’s three campuses and report them directly, fairly, and as comprehensively as 16 or so pages will allow. That, and, unless we’re writing a commentary, to keep our opinions to ourselves.

We do that to ensure we stay a reliable source of open-minded reporting on any subject. That, in turn, gives us the freedom to report on anything of interest that happens on campus, without overstepping our boundaries or, hopefully, falling short of your expectations.

Recently, we’ve had a number of complaints about some advertisements printed in our issues. Most of these complaints assume that, by publishing the ad, The Varsity as a whole was endorsing its contents.

Before this boils over into questions of journalistic integrity, let me clear up a misconception: The Varsity’s ads don’t reflect our editors’ opinions. As editors, we don’t choose them, and, in fact, don’t even see them until they are on the page.

The majority of ads in The Varsity and most other university papers are sold by an independent marketing firm, and the rest are handled by two busy administrative staff. Ads pay most of the bills and we’re happy to have them. That doesn’t mean we tailor our coverage accordingly. What we print might affect advertisers’ decisions to take out ads with us, but their decisions don’t affect what we print.

The Varsity’s reporting ranges across the spectrum of political involvement on campus, from anti-tobacco protests to the pros and cons of globalization, high and low moments in student politics, campus clashes on everything from Middle-Eastern politics and Burmese democracy to fast food and sex ed, not to mention the commendable and questionable actions of this university.

Do we contradict ourselves if The Varsity prints, say, an ad for the Canadian army in the same issue as an anti-war editorial? No. Neither does running a McDonald’s ad mean we all like Big Macs (they’re only okay). Are we constrained to publish only the story an advertiser might prefer? Never.

So, with that in mind, please enjoy the rest of this independent newspaper, striving to keep you in touch with the goings on at U of T. After a word from our sponsors of course.

Keep our troops in Afghanistan

We Canadians like to think of ourselves as a helpful bunch when it comes to world affairs. We’re the global citizens, the humanitarians, the peace makers. Our country is a valuable ally and a reliable friend to nations the world over. And yet, this aggrandized self-image is severely compromised by our inadequate contributions to humanitarian operations conducted under the auspices of both the United Nations and NATO. The heated negotiations over our mission in Afghanistan between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Stéphane Dion is a prime example of Canada’s lack of commitment to important humanitarian military operations.

Dion wants to end the mission in 2009, while Harper wants to extend it beyond that date, maintaining substantial troop numbers in the region until at least 2011. If Dion is committed to the high-minded ideals this country holds dear, then he will drop these demands altogether. For the sake of Canada’s reputation, and more importantly, for the sake of the Afghan people, Canada must continue until it has met the only acceptable benchmark for withdrawal: stability, security, and peace in a democratic Afghanistan.

Harper’s position is based on the Manley Report, a collection of findings authored by an independent, non-partisan government panel. John Manley, author of the report and a former Liberal cabinet minister, has made it clear that the present mission is indeed a humanitarian one. As he told the Ottawa Citizen, “Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought Canada or other NATO forces should do, there was never any hesitation: ‘We want you to stay; we need you to stay.’ Without the presence of the international security forces, they said, chaos would surely ensue.”

Canada is in Afghanistan by invitation of that country’s democratically elected leaders, a government that, for all its shortcomings, is far more legitimate than the brutal Taliban regime preceding it. Our troops are fighting a war alongside a multilateral NATO coalition against the remnants of a chauvinist, sexist, and misogynistic group of fundamentalists. As Manley asked, “If we are not willing to lend our military resources when asked to do so by the United Nations, for a mission co-ordinated by NATO, in a country whose democratically elected government wants us and whose citizens desperately need us, then we wonder where and when Canada would do so.”

It is evident from the Manley report that the mission is far from over. While NATO and Canada have made progress, Afghanistan still suffers. In fact, Manley has advised the Canadian government to send more troops, due to the fact that major combat operations have lacked the adequate strength to secure areas that have been cleared of Taliban militants.

With so much at stake, Dion is wrong to call for an artificial timeline for withdrawal. He is either astoundingly naive to think all that we seek to achieve can be attained by 2009, or given the war’s unpopularity, cynically unprincipled enough to not care about the mission or the Afghan people .

The fact that Canada’s leaders have such reservations when success is far from assured is worrying. It makes one question the commitment of Canada to our oft-espoused peace-keeping principles, at a time when Afghans need our help the most.

Scientology versus the Internet

I’ve been an Internet nerd for the better part of my life. I still remember the glory days of AllYourBase, SomethingAwful, and even the original You’re The Man Now, Dog. I’ve been through message boards, image boards, and read more arguments about whether Batman could win a fi ght against Darth Vader than I ever thought possible in a human’s lifetime. Yet after all these years, I’ve always thought of the Internet as nothing more than a distraction, something to whittle away time instead of writing that essay on German-American relations during the Cold War.

All that has changed with the rise of Anonymous, a loose confederation of the kind of Internet nerds who populate sites like 4chan. Anonymous began as a mass entity devoted to its own amusement (“lulz”) by mocking popular culture, using their considerable force to encourage esoteric Internet memes. Recently, they set their sights on a new target: the Church of Scientology.

It’s about time there was some organized resistance against Scientology, the sue-happy “religion” that exploits followers for cash, with a strange hate-on for psychiatrists, rational thought, and the Internet. Project Chanology, Anonymous’s semi-organized attack on the religion’s ridiculousness, began in January after the church used its legal might to try to suppress a secret video that was leaked onto the web. Featuring a twitch-happy Tom Cruise discussing some of the crazier points, like the fact that no one can help you in a car crash besides a Scientologist, it’s a giddy free-for-all for those who wish for fanaticism’s demise.

While Project Chanology began with typical geek attacks—denials of service on Scientology webpages, prank calls, and fake faxes—they’ve recently shifted their efforts to the real world. Last weekend in Toronto and dozens of cities around the world, thousands of people protested against Scientology in the most appropriate way they could: by being utterly ridiculous. Wearing silly masks and holding signs (“Free Xenu!” or “I’d like to start my own religion too!”), crowds had a blast protesting the Scientology centre on Yonge Street, getting a fair amount of media attention.

Mel Brooks once said that the best way to deal with Nazis is to simply show them how crazy they are. Anonymous is doing just that: successfully taking the tactics that dominate their corner of the Internet—irreverence, humour, an inability to take authority seriously—and transferring them to the real world. By physically protesting Scientology, and showing utter disdain for the ludicrous organization, they not only enrage Scientology’s leaders, but also show the community at large how absurd the whole concept is, for next to no cost. It makes sense: the best way to fi ght a dangerous cult that cries for credibility is to simply not give them any whatsoever.

Rise and shine: style for the morning after

We’ve all been there. It’s usually the night when a) you were not in the mood to go out, b) failed to sufficiently groom, or c) had exceedingly low expectations for the soirée in question. Be forewarned, these are the nights that tend to be the most dangerous. Inevitably, your disheveled- chic look and laid-back attitude are incredibly alluring to fellow evening avengers. You lock eyes with some regrettable paramour, and ignore the fact that a) you are on the rebound and b) you disapprove of his choice of footwear. But before you can click your Miu Miu Mary Janes and return home, you’re entangled in a tumbling embrace. You make your way back to your lover’s lair under the pretense of offering weehour decor advice—he is struggling with proper placement of his cliched collegiate poster collection, and this bedroom in particular is just begging for a feminine touch. It turns out to be a big job, and you work diligently throughout the night.

Before you can say hangover, the morning arrives, and you’re obscenely late for brunch at Holt’s with your visiting auntie. You scamper out of the twin-size bed, searching for last night’s ensemble. Priorities firmly intact, you locate rent-cheque heels. After a quick scavenger hunt, you round up your tights and bag. Where is your skirt? Where is your top? Where is your mind? As happenstance would have it, you have just stumbled into a frenetic fashion moment, ripe with opportunity. Suddenly inspired by the mass of unwashed clothes littered around the room, you grab what you can, throw it on, and beat it. You embark on the lowly journey back to your pied-à-terre, bedroom eyes firmly angled down: there is a reason this is called The Walk of Shame.

No need to blush, my dear. Yes, it is blatantly obvious that you’re sneaking through the streets after a night spent in Empire Strikes Back cotton-blend, but no matter. Instead of wearing your shame on your sleeve, why not pretend that, yes you actually meant to look like this. In fact, you just returned from Paris, where everyone is wearing men’s shirts as dresses. As for the bed head—you’ve have never seen a French gamine wielding a hairbrush, have you? Unkempt is the new hyper-groomed. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the top catwalkers—they may ooze pristine polish on the runway, but when left to their own devices, they strike the perfect balance of mix and match. Pair Chanel with Charity Shop, and Fendi with Flea Market. Make it like a MOD (model off duty), and trudge along, darling. Here are a few tips to surviving the fabled Walk of Shame in style.

Shame Style I: Who Wears the Pants?

Pair his crisp white shirt with your wide buckled waistcincher, and little else. Lace tights play up the romance of this look. Black and white patent booties add devilish charm. Edie Sedgewick, whose life was one big Walk of Shame, rarely wore pants, so why should you? But brace yourself and embrace your gams—the starkness of this style will not go unnoticed. Consider cabbing it.

Shame Style II: Kurtsey Cobain

Assure the neighbourhood that grunge de luxe is making a comeback. With a look this schlepy, let’s hope you’re journeying back to Kensington Market. Think of Marc Jacobs’ famous first (and only) collection for Perry Ellis: oversize and slightly decayed. While poor Marc was fired shortly after, the show positively reeked of teen spirit. A threadbare T-shirt, tattered cuffed cut-offs, army fatigue jacket, and plaid scarf shouldn’t work, but paired with opaque black tights and yellow tartan pumps, it’s suddenly quite Chloe Sevigny soignée.

Shame Style III: Steal the Sweater

Why is his sweater decidedly more desirable than your own? Cozy up in what is presumably his favourite cardigan, but looks much better on you anyway. A sweet little bralet is feminine and flirty in all the right ways. And what could be more elegant than a classic pair of latex leggings? They’re having a moment, anyways. Distract those who stare with the sweetness of pink satin Mary Janes. Walk of Shame pros know that Philosopher’s Walk offers the perfect incognito path.

Shame Style VI: Prep Schooled

Boys that are the products of single-sex educational institutions are most desirable for their precisely tailored prepster wardrobes. Swipe the blazer he saves for dinner at the Yacht Club, and scrunch up the sleeves. Underneath, slip on the signed vintage Dylan T-Shirt the hedge-fund father gifted. His glorified boxers are silk and Ralph Lauren—it would simply be a shame to cover them up. Metallic Jimmy Choos, an uptown handbag and a daffodil angora chapeau add Upper East Side panache to this ensemble.

Models: Anna Okorokov and Dan Johnson

Lingerie: Eberjey, available at Augustina

Clothes: stylist’s own

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.”

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.