Soft-core fucks you back

I have been trying to figure out why am I obsessed with these films from the past that cheesily allude to sexual acts and show a little titty here and there. The Blue Lagoon, for example, would cut to turtles swimming whenever the sexual tension between Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins would rise. The film haunted my sexual fantasies as a child (and continues to do so) because my imagination was able to take over where the director left off. Visually, the film left me in the middle of the ocean, but my mind was able to create an even dirtier and realistic fate for my incestuous duo.

There’s the popular cliché that it is better to leave more to the imagination than give away the milk for free, or something along those lines—and I agree. That’s not to say that I am prudish or that I have something against expressing oneself. I simply feel that it is more fascinating to navigate within the grey area of the in-between than take an extreme side one way or another—to show it all or show none.

Show what? you probably ask. I asked the same question when I attempted to define the term soft-core. Even the word itself is a limbo of sorts. Hardcore is a solid unified word as verified by spell check, but soft-core elicits a hyphen, which leads me to believe that soft-core is somewhat of an uncharted territory.

This year, the U of T Film Festival will be dedicating the entire third floor of Hart House to the investigation of soft-core. The aim is to create alternative viewing experiences, based on the principles of peeping toms and veiled perspectives. It will tie into the larger theme presented by the festival concerning issues of censorship, as we attempt to show student films in an atmosphere that promotes censorship not only as something to be trespassed, but also something that can give art new life. The context in which the films will be shown, similar to the way soft-core scenes function within a narrative context, is key to the stimulus created by the images.

Censorship as a constraint can have many different effects when producing sexual feeling. It can draw attention to that which it is censoring, through the use of blurring or blacking out parts of the image, for example. The approach to the soft-core part of the festival is a simple one: we want to encourage students to make films, indulge in sexual fantasies, and make it as fun as possible.

Yet censorship, as much as it adds to soft-core by what it does not present—all those turtles when I knew there should have been something else—does not entirely explain my continued attachment to these films. For that, I’ve turned to cultural theorist Slovoj Zizek’s interpretation of pornography and nostalgia, which focuses, for me, soft-core’s relation to the spectator.

When there is something left to the imagination, the people on screen hold a power of mystery over the spectator. Through the principles of mystery, “spectators are reduced to a paralyzed object-gaze,” says Zizek, instead of the all-powerful gaze commonly attributed to the observer. Zizek states that “to extract the gaze-object in its pure, formal status, we have to turn to pornography’s opposite pole: nostalgia.” This quote hits me like a ton of bricks.

If we can go back for a moment to watching Blue Lagoon: I have to admit the film translated a tad literally with my two cousins that one night, but I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The fact that I was able to watch these kinds of films only at my cousins’ house and from their illegal TV box may have also contributed to the “naughtiness”—kiddy-like naughtiness—of it all, adding to the potency of this particular nostalgic event. We revel in images that we don’t have easy access to. I will always love Blue Lagoon, and the movies that I illegally watched in that basement have informed the obsessions that I still practice today.
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Nostalgia consists of two parts: fascination and ironic distance. They seem to almost counter each other because fascination diminishes when irony takes over. It’s fascination that I’m interested in exploring. As my friend Airhead remarked at work, “the cultural cycle is speeding up increasingly to the point where we experience a kind of instant nostalgia.” And if things are put so quickly in the past, they are more susceptible to pastiche and parody. It is obvious that nostalgia is paramount to the aesthetic and obsession with soft-core, but I would like to take it more seriously. I want to give it the recognition it deserves in relation to its influence on the way I perceive sexuality and its legitimate reflection in real life. The presence of irony in my everyday life is becoming more and more prevalent, and it is getting to the point where I don’t want to get it anymore.

Soft-core is dynamic, not only because it exists in a narrative context that draws us in, but also because it brings us closer to that mysterious real thing. This “thing” is defined by its ability to create desire and fascination that can only exist through an indicated or “faked” representation. Zizek says, “if we show the Thing itself we necessarily lose what we were after.” This may be behind my aversion to the new sub-genre in horror movies called “torture porn”: I don’t want to hear someone screaming for an hour and half. Of course that is going to make you feel sick inside; it’s too easy.

8mm is a good example of the sexiness of the fake. It has not only that big hunk Nicky Cage with his “leatha,” but also Joaquin Phoenix as a porn-shop skid babe who knows everyone and is intelligent, as we are made eye-rollingly aware, because he reads novels behind the counter.

Even though the representation of the underground porn industry in 8mm is most likely inaccurate, it still gives something onto which spectators can project their fantasy of the porn world. The bondage scenes, for instance, are completely overdone—everyone has a European accent—and are positioned in the narrative as a sign that the investigators are getting close to the real hard stuff. However, bondage rarely includes nudity, let alone penetration, and could easily be considered a soft-core activity in most instances. It is the fantasy that matters; not the plausibility of the act in the real world, but in the context in which it is presented. Nicolas Cage could have never infiltrated the snuff Mafioso that quickly, especially with that lame lingo, but he did and, I am happy to say, so did we.

The film was not very good but I bought it and I’ve watched it many times because there is something about old film stock and sexuality that just make you want to watch it. First of all, 8mm film brings about notions of home movies and amateur encounters. You feel as if you are watching something personal from someone else’s past. You are gaining access to memories that you were never meant to see. But, as this film teaches us, you are never alone in this activity. There will always be others implicated. Even if you, like Nicolas Cage, are trying to crack the case of “who made this snuff film,” you will also be implicated through the very watching of the film, regardless of whether you are getting any perverse sexual pleasure out of it. (I did.)

I still don’t know how to define soft-core, but I am slowly realizing what it is not. I came to the conclusion that most people agreed that hardcore pornography means penetration, “showing pink,” and bad plot lines. One of the reasons why hardcore porno movies have staggeringly horrible plots is because the story isn’t taken seriously. The actors become lifeless objects that have no real impetus.

Soft-core, on the other hand, involves the spectator on another level. In the same way old film stock implicates you the viewer, you are now engaged in an interaction. The spectator becomes the object as well, instead of simply the all-powerful observer. Through the oscillation between concealment and exhibition, the spectator engages in an exchange when watching love scenes in a movie, or by tuning into soft-core programming late at night. In a sense, you could even say that soft-core fucks you back.

Kate McEdwards is in her final year studying cinema studies and English. “As an afterthought and seeing as 70 per cent of my sexual activity has occurred while watching a movie,” she says, “I would like to suggest a few good ‘soft-core’ titles that will create some quality sexual tension, that can be easily ignored, and will also allow for a few bursting laughs of relief: Cape Fear, The Crush, The Dreamers, and White Palace.” McEdwards’ investigation of soft-core, with Felix Kalmenson and Jimmy Weaver, will take over the third floor of Hart House on March 13 as part of the U of T Film Fest. Interested in submitting something to the exhibit? Email

Can’t spell ‘fuck’ without ‘UC’

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We met at Ramsey Wright, 10 minutes before a BIO150 final exam. Instead of doing last-minute cramming for biology, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I ended up getting the question wrong on the exam, but also got her contact. She is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love you!—Anonymous


He was gorgeous. Last year, I spent Monday night Canadian Literature class, in McLennan Physical Labs, staring at the back of his head. I tried everything to have him notice me: the subtle cough, the long sigh. I even tried finding his name on the attendance sheet—entirely without success. I did not see him again until this year, while I was in the middle of distributing newspapers. I looked like a sweaty, stressed-out mess. He looked like sex in a black pea coat. Why does this always happen to me?—Victoria Asikis


I saw a gorgeous boy at a UC coffeehouse in my first year. He had a guitar, and apparently had more important places to be. He left before I found out his name. I forgot about it months later and started dating my current boyfriend. One day over a conversation he mentioned that night, and we both realized he was my mystery coffeehouse boy.—D. Massicotte


It was September and the moon was out and it was so cold. We sat on the benches in the UC quad; you lit a cigarette. I asked. Lies mumbled vaguely out of your mouth as compassion did out of mine. You told me that now was not our time—that you and I were finished. Mascara slid down my cheeks and for a moment the world slipped out of sight. There was only Laidlaw and the sky and your calm, cruel eyes.—Anonymous


I got dumped outside the Astronomy and Astrophysics building during my first week at U of T. I unofficially decided to stay in Toronto for university because of this guy I was seeing. He’d just moved into Sigma Nu, a frat house on Huron Street, and we signed up for AST101 together at Con Hall. After avoiding me all frosh week, he finally sat down with me over a hot dog to talk.

While sitting on the cement slabs on St. George just south of Willcocks, he said we should just be friends. My heart was broken, obviously, and it seemed that everyone walking by was an acquaintance from my new classes. When we were about to finally part ways, he asked me if he could borrow $20. I still hate walking by that part of campus.—Laura K. Maize


My father was a UC student and my mother was at U of T Law. After dating for a year and a half, he took her to the UC quad and proposed. “I don’t know how I schemed to get her there, but I did, and she said yes,” my Dad said. They married that August, and have been married for 30 years. And that’s why I’m alive.—Liz Kagedan


I met my boyfriend a couple years ago through some mutual friends. For the first couple of months that I knew him, I would see him in Old Vic after one of my morning classes. Even though I only ran into him occasionally, I would spend so long getting ready in the mornings when I had that class, just in case. I hoped that he would ask me to have a coffee at Caffiends, but it took him a couple more months to notice me!—Anonymous


I met my ex in The Gargoyle office. I thought he was a jackass. He spent the night on a diatribe about my home state: New Jersey (pre-Jersey Shore). We met again at a UC coffee house, where I blocked his view. Then, he saw me working at Reznikoff’s. While talking, he went to drink and instead spilled coffee all over himself. Being a terrible person, I burst into roaring laughter, and afterwards felt so bad I was compelled to talk to him again. We started hanging out and a few weeks later, he asked me out. We’re still friends today.—Cristina DÍaz-Borda


I’ve had the bad luck to be single every Valentine’s Day. So the best February 14 of my life was hitting the (now defunct) Hart House shooting range with two of my best friends.—Ashley Challinor


Back in high school when I was deciding between universities, I chose to spend a day at U of T. I’d asked an older friend where I could inconspicuously attend a typical class, and she’d recommended a first-year anthropology lecture in Convocation Hall.

Fearing the prof would notice I didn’t belong (a funny notion in retrospect), I took a seat on a top balcony, hidden somewhat behind a pillar. Suddenly, I heard heavy breathing, so I turned around—and in the row behind me, there was a couple engaged in a mating ritual quite different from the one our prof was describing. Needless to say, I was a ground floor devotee from that day onward.—Shoshana Wasser


You were finally free of those antiseptic hospital halls, and winter was retreating. Wanting you to convalesce in the sun, I planned an elaborate picnic on the roof of Morrison Hall, accessed via a little-used maintenance ladder. We ate candy hors d’oeuvres and basked in our freedom, and your smile coruscated like a shattered glass. Were we not happy then? Before my tongue could make it through those three tiny words it was struggling to enunciate, your don showed up—that petite tyrant!—and promised to write you up.—Anonymous


I remember us first speaking by a dumpster behind Wymilwood, smoking furtively. I remember suddenly believing in fatalism, your number scrawled on the inside of the pack, a movie half-watched, a coffee barely tasted. A dizzy sensation like heights and glass floors. I remember lust, and love, and lies. I remember treating one another like garbage, and thinking we’d come full circle.—Anonymous

Varsity Love and Sex Guide

Your first kiss

You never forget your first time? Six students tell us about their inaugural kisses

The difficulties with dating

In comment, a writer argues why dating is worth all the awkwardness

The ins and outs of sexual arousal

In science, Explain My Brain tackles the things that get your motor running

Can’t spell ‘fuck’ without ‘UC’

We put out a call for your true tales of love and heartbreak from around campus. Surprisingly, nearly all the submissions came from UC and Vic. What, is no one hooking up at Trinity?

Soft-core fucks you back

A personal essay on nostalgia, irony, and The Blue Lagoon

Varsity Valentines

Struggling to express your love? Print out these cards and let pop stars do the talking for you

Students occupy Queen’s Park

On Wednesday, the U of T Model Parliament kicked off its inaugural session at Queen’s Park. The simulation, chaired by Trinity College student Michael Motola, aims to replicate—to the smallest detail—the business of Ontario’s parliament in two separate sessions, for high school and university students respectively.

UTMP hosted a mock “election day” at the Munk Centre on Saturday, Feb. 6, to elect party leaders, form caucuses, and talk smack. This week the group will run its simulation in the legislative chamber at Queen’s Park, where the business of the province takes place when parliament is sitting. Participants will mimic the political parties who occupy the chamber, representing the Liberals, the NDP, and the Progressive Conservatives.

“Instead of creating an artifice of government, as many model parliaments do, we hope to keep the focus on debate as much as possible,” research director Patrick Baud told The Varsity. “Many simulations of this kind become partisan to their detriment.”
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While parties will exist, opposition MPPs will have the opportunity to amend the two major bills presented by the Liberal government and these amendments will be voted on by parliament at large. No party discipline will be enforced, so participants will be free to vote against their parties and cross the floor if they are dissatisfied with their party’s performance.

The two major bills in the senior session will concern education and the environment. While the junior session will also debate education, its second bill will address aboriginal healthcare. Organizers have arranged for Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, an assistant professor in U of T’s social work faculty, to testify.

The three-day novelist

By day, Mark Sedore works as a communications writer for U of T president David Naylor. The 31-year-old is also a Master’s student and a novelist. Last year, he won the 3-Day Novel contest over Labour Day weekend. Sedore had placed well in the contest in previous years. On his third try, he won with Snowmen, a tale of two brothers torn apart by illness, glory, and a journey to the Arctic. Sedore sat down with The Varsity to talk about writing, PhD ambitions, and his X-rated Boy Scout zine.

THE VARSITY: Tell us about other writing experiences. You had a zine?

MARK SEDORE: Me and my best friend were in scouts way longer than anyone should ever be in scouts—like until our twenties. He works at OISE, and actually did the 3-Day Novel Contest with me. We were going to camps and in the higher levels it’s co-ed. It’s just a big party and less survival skills-ish, although the spirit of community, helping, and service are still there.

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It had been a long discussion amongst us for years about having this crazy zine and writing whatever we wanted, just getting it out to people. It was terribly successful. But we didn’t believe in censoring ourselves, so if somebody sent in something with a bunch of swear words in it, we would just print that.

We had a cover contest one time where people could submit their covers and my friend’s cousin, who’s kind of a prankster, sent in his submission and it was just a full-frontal nudity shot of a dude with [the name of the zine written on] his member…So we printed that and gave them out to probably 1,800 kids from across Ontario. This particular cover was tremendously successful with the girl guide leaders who were there. Naturally, Scouts Canada didn’t think too highly [of it].

TV: What was your writing process like?

MS: I didn’t really have an outline but the format of the novel was sort of easy to follow. I just decided 24 chapters, 1,500 words per chapter minimum, eight chapters a day—regardless of when I woke up, what kind of naps I took, or how much beer I drank. Eight chapters before giving in at night.

I knew that each chapter would alternate in time. One would take place in the present tense and all the even chapters would take place in the past. I just put all the chapters on sticky notes on the wall while I was working, so I could just tear them down as I was going.

TV: Do you plan to write more novels?

MS: All along I’ve been writing novels, it’s just now being published. I don’t foresee a time when I’ll be quitting my day job to write novels. That doesn’t seem very economically feasible, especially [since] I’m applying to PhD programs [in political science] in the fall and paying for that.

TV: Do you plan on becoming a professor?

MS: David Naylor anticipates I’ll become a professor. I don’t see that, I don’t know if that’s what I want. But I’ve never TA’d before, I’ve never had a class, I’ve never sat down and led a discussion. The reason I’m doing the PhD is because I like sitting around a room talking about great books with other people who also like the same thing and have read them. If the only way I can keep doing that is by being some sort of lecturer and sitting down with smart kids once a week and talking about Plato, maybe that’s not a bad life.

Snowmen will be released in August 2010 by 3-Day Books and distributed by Arsenal Pulp Press.

Don’t forget the lyric

At the end of Jonathan Culler’s hour-long lecture on Tuesday evening, an audience member raised a question. In their works, poets often speak of solitude, the man said. Isn’t it a paradox if the poet expresses his isolation in a poem that he intends others to experience? Is that what the poet intended?

Culler was hesitant to answer. “Theories of the Lyric” was only his second lecture in a series of four, presented by University College’s 2010 Alexander Lectures. Each lecture had been crafted as a delicate sub-plot to a larger story, and it was clear Culler wanted to unravel it slowly. “The Lyric” was his story of artists that write it, the tradition that canonized it, and the scholarship that has fought to determine the hows and whys of its genre.

The Alexander Lectures were founded in 1928 in memory of professor W.J. Alexander, head of the English department at University College from 1889 to 1926. The lectures are usually a successive series featuring topics in literature.

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Culler, professor of English and Comparative literature at Cornell University, has a background in structuralism and literary theory. He is completing a term as president of the American Comparative Literature Association. Culler takes an interdisciplinary approach. He has written over a dozen books, and his inspirations include Ferdinand de Saussure, Claude Levi-Strauss and Northrop Frye.

Culler’s lecture series offered a close deconstruction of the Western lyric and what it says—or doesn’t say—about its subjects, literary and biographical. On Tuesday, he used every instrument in his literary repertoire to evoke his elusive lyric’s history. Culler sought to appraise the enigma of poetry: “Who is the poem seeking to persuade?” His case studies ranged from Horace to Sappho, Baudelaire, and Frost. Complex questions followed. (One audience member: Is poetry delimited by language or its author?) Culler answered one citation with another. He spoke on behalf of the lyric’s greatest devotees: from Aristotle to de Man, ancient Greek philosophers to contemporary literary theorists.

If you weren’t aware that Culler was a decorated academic, you wouldn’t guess it going into his lecture. His tone was modest and his movements jittery. His voice often descended into mutters. He had frequent mishaps with technology. In one instance, Culler accidentally turned off his microphone and retracted his projector back into the ceiling. But the audience, clearly familiar with his work, was on his side.

Scarborough heir

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John Aruldason

SCSU involvement: Current VP campus life.

Year and major: Third year, double major in political science and history.

Platform: To improve the efficiency of services SCSU already offers (like Metropasses); increase access to board information to ensure accountability; continue the success of campus life events; additions to clubs funding; push for alcohol on campus; a revamp of Rex’s Den.

Role in Zuhair Syed’s impeachment: Not very involved, save for a reminder to coworkers at an emergency board meeting: “I think you have to remember that we’re talking about the president of the SCSU, not the President of the United States.”

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Aisha Khaja

SCSU involvement: She was humanities director last year until she was elected VP academics in the spring executive elections with 664 votes, almost twice that of her nearest opponent. For 18 days, Khaja was interim SCSU president and CEO.

Year and major: Third year, French specialist and English major, part of the French Concurrent Teacher Education Program.

Platform: Increased study space in the new athletics facility proposed as part of the 2015 Pan Am Games; expanded food options; more grants and bursaries; a change to UTSC identity; more support for clubs and departmental student associations; awareness and maximum use of resources.

Role in Zuhair Syed’s impeachment: Khaja accused Syed of threatening her for joining a Facebook group that wanted Syed impeached and encouraging others to join. She said she didn’t feel safe and reported the incident to campus police. Syed denies that he threatened Khaja but apologized for his unprofessional tone. When Syed was elected president in the SCSU fall by-election for the 2008-2009 year with only 212 votes (at a campus of 10,000 students), Khaja was one of the six directors who voted in favour of ratifying Syed as president. Six other directors chose to abstain.

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Imran Khan

SCSU involvement: Current chair of the board of directors and two years as social science director. Khan ran for the VP external position in the spring 2009 executive elections, but lost by just over 100 votes.

Year and major: Third year, double major in political science and psychology.

Platform: A long list of goals, including advocating for more study space; around-the-clock coffee and food service; more campus jobs and a centralized job search engine; better payment options for Metropasses and vendors; better wireless access; more SCSU hours of availability; improved campus life in the student centre; more web-based course options; a student centre expansion; more club resources, funding, and student activity space.

Role in Zuhair Syed’s impeachment: Khan says he was also threatened by Syed but didn’t take it as seriously as Khaja and did not speak to the police. He is also one of the six board members who voted to ratify Syed’s election victory in October 2008.

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Maryann Raby

SCSU involvement: Current humanities director and chair of the SCSU subcommittee for clubs funding. She ran for VP academics in February 2009 and lost by 347 votes to Khaja.

Year and major: Fourth year, philosophy and political science.

Platform: Based on one-on-one student interaction and improving student services: extended hours for campus food vendors; improved efficiency for Metropass sales; better e-resource access to the anti-calendar, exams, and course syllabi; better marketing of SCSU job opportunities; increased equity training for directors and UTSC students.

Role in Zuhair Syed’s impeachment: Raby has been outspoken about Syed’s performance throughout the year. She also pointed out a potential conflict of interest between Syed and Khaja, causing Khaja’s removal as interim president.

Information compiled from the SCSU website, Facebook pages, and Varsity archives.

All photos by Jessica Lee.

Kettle, meet pot

UTSC students have one less candidate to consider in this week’s executive elections. Martine Lee was disqualified on Feb. 2 for an “inaccurate nomination form.” Lee was sent a late notification of disqualification and prohibited from appealing. She was running for vice president of students and equity.

To be nominated, each candidate needs a minimum of 25 student signatures. Lee got 25 signatures, but one of her signees had dropped courses. UTSC’s chief returning officer, Hamoon Yousefzadeh, issued a notice of disqualification after a search through ROSI showed the student was no longer enrolled.

Lee said she was unaware of the situation and that the student in question felt dropping courses was a personal matter. “[But] they didn’t know they weren’t a student anymore [since] they were planning to take courses later,” she said. Lee did not reveal the student’s name.

The CRO is in charge of ensuring fair candidacy, acceptable campaigning and impartiality, and adherence to election policies. Yousefzadeh was hired as CRO at the beginning of the winter semester. In the fall semester he was the deputy returning officer, who assists the CRO.

The SCSU Elections Policy states that the CRO is meant to “ensure that each candidate is eligible for election within two business days following the deadline for nominations.” Lee was notified of her ineligibility more than five days after the nomination deadline.

According to Yousefzadeh, much of the elections policy is currently at the discretion of the CRO. “Voting changes from year to year,” he said. “[This year] two days was a little unreasonable.”

Yousefzadeh said the notification was delayed because of the referendum and impeachment proceedings of Zuhair Syed from the SCSU presidency. “This year it has been hectic so we’ve pushed [the notification] a bit further.”

Lee’s notice stated she was not entitled to an appeals process “since [she was] never a candidate to begin with.” Yousefzadeh placed the onus on Lee for “only inputting the minimum 25 names.” The Elections Policy does not have rules for her case and does not address an appeals process.

In other disqualification cases, the CRO uses his discretion and justifies his decision to the board. “In this case I didn’t use [my discretion …] it was [over] a technicality,” said Yousezadeh. He said Lee’s unusual case limits him from letting her go through usual appeals procedures.

Lee approached the chief of the Appeals Committee, Sara Bushara, who emailed her two colleagues regarding the matter. The committee decided Martine should not be disqualified.

After the committee’s email correspondence, a meeting took place last week between Lee, Yousefzadeh, Bushara, elections liaison Amir Bashir, and the student whose signature was ineligible. Yousefzadeh said Bushara agreed to uphold his decision after he explained it to her. Bushara could not be reached for comment.

Before nominations, Yousefzadeh held an all-candidates meeting to go through the rules and answer questions. Candidates were asked to review the policies on their own and email in any queries.

Maria Malik, running for the same position as Lee, said Yousefzadeh did a good job of explaining elections policies. But she added, “However, there was no mention of what would happen if there were any errors in the nomination form.” Malik said the nomination forms should have been checked before candidates were allowed to campaign.

Yousefzadeh will present a report on the elections to the board the Friday after Reading Week, two weeks after the elections are over and more than three weeks after Lee was disqualified. The board will then decide whether his decisions were acceptable.

SCSU executive elections take place this Wednesday to Friday, Feb. 10-12. The remaining candidates for VP students and equity are Zahra Murji, Chanile Vines, and Maria Malik.

The SCSU Elections Policy is available here.