Author Archives: Tanya Rohrmoser

Good Luck Out There: Simple Solutions for Getting into the School Swing

In the first of our Back to School series, author Andrea Olive offers simple tips on tips on how to keep your “first-day-mojo” going – at least until you can hit that snooze button in late December.


Your first day. This is probably peak college. Today you are organized, and you are ready to learn. Your clothes are clean, you remembered your lunch, you got a parking space, and you found the right room. This is exciting.

Unfortunately, it is likely all downhill from here. Actually, it will be uphill – steep and Sisyphean for a lot of you. If you don’t get that reference, look it up – you are in college after all.

Did you Google it? I am waiting.

It sounds terrible, right? Knowledge is just one big rock that has to be pushed uphill repeatedly. College is meant to be challenging – but this is exactly what makes it meaningful.

Luckily, I have a few tips on how to keep your “first-day-mojo” going until you can finally hit the snooze button in late December. And these tips are pretty simple.

First, let’s cover the bare-minimum basics: sleep, water, and nutrition. These apply to college and pretty much every day after that. Sleep eight hours out of every twenty-four hours. Drink water regularly (but not before sleeping). Take a vitamin. Seriously, just take a vitamin because I know you don’t eat healthy now (I’ve seen your food selections at the cafeteria) let alone when you are cramming for an exam between the two jobs you have decided you have time for this semester. Leave bottles of water (in reusable containers, because the planet is a whole other problem) and your vitamins in a visible place – your desk, your car, at the front door, in the bathroom… I don’t care. Just make it easy for yourself to see them because that makes it more likely you will use them.

Now that you are healthy enough to make it to class, you should shut off your phone. (No one in the history of the planet uses their iPhone to “take notes” or read scholarship. Just no.) In fact, shut off your phone right now so that you can focus long enough to read the rest of this. Unless you are reading it on your phone, of course. (The off button is on the right – just hold it down and the phone will ask if you are really serious about turning it off. Swipe to off.)

Oh, you brought your laptop to class, didn’t you? Sneaky. You think you are going to take notes on it. You are actually going to Google fact-check something and then before you know it, you will be on Instagram looking at photos of your ex’s sister’s wedding from two summers ago.

I would recommend that you download an app that can prevent you from going down this road. Use an app like Freedom or Anti-Social to prevent you from accessing the Internet. This isn’t permanent. Just set it for the duration of class. And then use it while studying.

The struggle is real. You probably googled “Freedom App” and found yourself on Reddit. It happens to the best of us. This is why we need help. Consider it.

Better yet, leave your computer in your bag. You do not really need it for class. You just need paper and a pen. (We professors like to say: In university, the pen is always mightier than the keyboard. Hahaha.) But this might be too radical, and it probably makes me sound 100 years old. Besides, deforestation is a serious problem and every kid can’t just be using paper like it grows on trees.

Okay, open your computer again. Take notes on it. But you have to save the file to your desktop. And then you have to save it to the iCloud. (I actually have no idea how that works so maybe don’t trust me on that.) But the point is, you need to create backup files. Your dog isn’t going to eat your homework if it is on the computer. But your house could burn down. That happens in real life. So, email the files to yourself.

Come to class a few minutes early and make time to linger around after the end. This is how you meet friends. And class friends are so important. You can study together. You can share notes. You can complain to each other. And you can just talk about a mutual interest – namely, the course content. (Yes, you should be interested in the classes you take.)

Thus far you are healthy and attending class. That is pretty much how you succeed in college. That is the big secret. But if you want to totally rock it, I would recommend a few other things in no particular order:

Correctly spell your professor’s name in emails and on assignments. That is just good manners. And it will go a long way in earning their trust and respect. Never call your professor “hey.” Titles are confusing and names can be hard to pronounce. But you will never go wrong with “professor.”

Do not post your class notes on the Internet. You think you are helping friends, but it turns out that you misunderstood something and now you have misinformed the planet. The world has enough problems already. Just keep your notes to yourself.

Buy the books. Yes, they cost money and I understand that money is hard to find in this day and age. But I also see you at Starbucks three days a week. Grown-up life is all about priorities. So, get in line at Tim Hortons (bring a reusable mug because those cups are not recyclable) and save your pennies so you can buy the books.

Oh, and read the books. Even the boring ones. And the long ones. And the ones with no pictures. It will build character and help you on the exam.

But if you really don’t have the money, that is okay too. The university has a building called “Library” and there are literally thousands of books in it. It is generally a huge building. Often times, it is where the Starbucks is on campus. If you go into the library, really nice people work there and can help you find the book for your class. They will also let you sit down in a quiet place and read the book. For free. Yes, for real. Try it.

Read and follow the instructions. Your professor isn’t trying to pull a fast one on you. They genuinely want you to succeed. The test isn’t a trick. The assignment isn’t a scam. You are too young to be this cynical.

You aren’t going to read the syllabus. I have pretty much given up on that. But look at that one section that explains the due dates for all assignment and tests. Put all those dates into your phone and computer calendar. Or download an organizational app that can help you with that.

Bring a sweater. I think that is self-explanatory.

Ask questions. That is the whole point. You’re not in college to get a job. Okay, that isn’t the only reason you are in college. You also have the opportunity to learn stuff. I was a political science major (don’t roll your eyes, it is super interesting) in undergrad at the University of Calgary. I took an astronomy class where I was able to see the Milky Way through a 1.8m A.R. Cross Telescope on a cold night. I got to ask some of the most important minds in the world about variable stars. It blew my mind. I didn’t become an astronomer, but the class made me a more well-rounded scholar and introduced me to new ideas and friends. Don’t just study what you already know – and never be afraid to ask questions about the things you don’t know.

Good luck out there.

(You can turn your phone back on. Just hold down the button on the right and it will come back on, I promise.)


Andrea Olive is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and the author of The Canadian Environment in Political Context.

The Enduring Allure of the Mafia

With the new edition hot off the presses, Mafia Movies editor Dana Renga talks visual texts, representations of the mafia in the US compared to Italy, and how these evolve as the organizations grow stronger.


By guest blogger Dana Renga

Every Spring semester at Ohio State I teach a general education course called Mafia Movies that regularly enrolls between 200-250 students from a variety of majors across the university (the majority from Business and Engineering). We watch many films and television series, from mob classics such as The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, Mean Streets, Goodfellas, The Sopranos, and Gomorra. The Series, to lesser-known films like the anti-mafia biopic Placido Rizzotto and the melodrama Angela. The toughest film to teach in the course is Luchino Visconti’s 1963 masterpiece The Leopard – it is very long, students find it slow and dense, and, most importantly, “mafia” is only mentioned once in the film, and, at first glance, mobsters are absent. Why then include such a film in a course on the mafia? (I’ve received this question from students countless times!) In a nutshell, Italy’s equivalent of Gone with the Wind conveys a crucial message about Cosa Nostra (the mafia of Sicily): it is a relatively new phenomenon, born at the same time as the Italian state roughly 150 years ago (i.e. the mafia, and Italy, are only about as old as The Ohio State University, which was founded in 1870!).

The mafia’s inception, evolution, and expansion into the United States are long, complicated, enthralling stories that are treated in several of the chapters of Mafia Movies: A Reader, Second Edition. What originally fascinated me about the mafia, and compelled me to put together the first edition of the reader about ten years ago, is how the mafia is represented differently in the US and in Italy, and how visual texts – films, documentaries, television series – contribute to how various mafias are understood by viewers. And today I am even more intrigued by how various mafias that originated in Italy and expanded to the US are depicted on big and small screens, and are received by viewers globally. Take, for example, two recent Italian television series with broad international appeal: Sky’s Gomorra. The Series (available on Netflix and The Sundance Channel), and Netflix’s Suburra. The Series. Now in its fourth season, show rights for Gomorra have been purchased in 190 countries – I just checked, and there are 206 sovereign states in the world, so these are pretty good odds. And Suburra is Italy’s first made-for-Netflix series that engages viewers in markets across the globe (Netflix content is available in over 190 countries).

Ciro Di Marzio (Marco D’Amore) as a new breed of redeemed (and attractive) gangster in Gomorra. The Series

Gomorra and Suburra focus on factual Italian mafias that appear regularly in the international media spotlight: the former narrativizes the exploits of the Camorra, the mafia of the Campania region, while the later is centered on Mafia Capitale, the organized crime network based in Rome, the nation’s capital. With few exceptions (think Henry Hill in Goodfellas), the vast majority of Hollywood representations of organized crime are purely fictional (there is no real-life Tony Soprano or Don Vito Corleone). This is not the case in Italy, where, especially in more recent productions, narrative is inspired by real life events, actual organized crime syndicates, and historical figures. This is incredibly fascinating as, more recently in Italy, onscreen mobsters are depicted in incredibly sentimental and sympathetic terms, similar to many antiheroes gracing American television screens as of late (in addition to Tony Soprano, Walter White, Dexter Morgan, Nucky Thompson, or Hannibal Lector come to mind). Also, and differently from these and other American perpetrators, in Italy, bad guys are also played by conventionally beautiful actors. So, in Italy we have good-looking perpetrators committing factually based criminal acts. Such a recipe causes many debates in Italy regarding the so-called glamorization of organized crime, and these polemics are heightened around series with a focus on good-looking, sympathetic perpetrators.

As discussed in Mafia Movies, the Italian mafia is a global phenomenon that has penetrated legal and illegal business and grows stronger by the day. At the same time, filmic and televisual representations of the mafia with a focus on redeemed and redeemable villains are increasingly common, and attract viewers throughout the world. What does this all mean? For one, Italy’s mafias are culturally specific and global. Also, mafia films and television series attract viewers in and outside of Italy in their focus on organized crime, a topic with selling power. Most Italian films and television series focusing on the mafia made before the early 2000s focused on those fallen in the battle against the mafia, or depicted mafiosi in highly ambiguous terms. Now, however, Italian gangsters approximate glamorized Hollywood depictions of criminality, such as in both Scarface versions, The Godfather saga, and Goodfellas. To return to The Leopard, in the words of Tancredi Falconeri (played by the stunning Alain Delon), “If we want things to stay as they are, everything must change.” In sum, the mafias, and depictions thereof, continuously evolve as the various organizations grow stronger. An enduring phenomenon indeed, made clear in this set of mafia-related arrests on July 17, 2019.

Learn more in this free excerpt from the book! Mafia Movies: A Reader, Second Edition is now available.


Dana Renga is an associate professor of Italian at The Ohio State University. She is the author of Unfinished Business: Screening the Italian Mafia in the New Millennium (2013), Watching Sympathetic Perpetrators on Italian Television: Gomorrah and Beyond (2019), and Mafia Movies: A Reader (2019). She has published extensively on Italian cinema and television.

Diagnosis: Truths and Tales Book Giveaway

CONTEST ALERT! Annemarie Goldstein Jutel’s new book has been getting a lot of buzz since its recent release, and we thought you’d want to see what it’s all about.

Diagnosis: Truths and Tales shares stories told from the perspectives of those who receive diagnoses and those who deliver them. Confronting how we address illness in our personal lives and in popular culture, Jutel’s book explores narratives of diagnosis while pondering the impact they have on how we experience health and disease.

Want a copy for yourself? From July 2-7, follow us on Instagram, like our post announcing the book giveaway, and tag a friend. You’ll be entered in a draw to win a FREE copy of Diagnosis: Truths and Tales!


Terms and Conditions

Open to residents of Canada (excluding the Province of Quebec)

  1. CONTEST PERIOD: The 2019 University of Toronto Press Instagram contest commences at 12:00 PM Eastern Time (“ET”) on July 2, 2019, and will end at July 7, 2019 (the “Contest Period”). All times are Eastern Times.
  2. RULES: By entering this Contest, entrants agree to abide by these Contest rules and regulations (the “Official Rules”). The decisions of the independent contest organization with respect to all aspects of the Contest are final. These rules are posted at https://utorontopress.com/ca/blog/2019/07/02/diagnosis-truths-and-tales-book-giveaway/.
  3. ELIGIBILITY: To enter the win the Contest and be eligible to win a Prize (see rule 6), a person (“Entrant”) must, at the time of entry, be a legal resident of Canada (excluding the Province of Quebec) who has reached the age of majority in his/her province or territory of residence. The following individuals and members of such person’s immediate family (including mother, father, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, partner or spouse regardless of where they live) or persons with whom they are domiciled (whether related to the person or not) are not eligible to enter the Contest: employees, officers, directors, shareholders, owners, general and limited partners, agents, representatives, successors.
  4. HOW TO ENTER: During the Contest period, follow @utpress on Instagram, like the post that pertains to the Contest, and tag a friend. Limit one (1) entry per person per day during the contest Period regardless of method of entry. Any person who is found to have entered in a fashion not sanctioned by these Official Rules will be disqualified.
  5. PRIZE: The winner will receive one (1) print copy of Diagnosis: Truths and Tales.
  6. DRAW:
  7. The random draw will include all eligible entries, and will take place on July 8, 2019 at 12:00 PM at the University of Toronto Press offices, located at 800 Bay St. Mezzanine, Toronto, Ontario, M5S 3A9.
  8. The winner will be contacted via social media, and will be included in the announcement on Instagram. If a selected Entrant cannot be reached via social media within 7 days of the draw, then he/she will be disqualified and another Entrant will be randomly selected until such time as contact is made via social media with a selected Entrant that satisfies the foregoing requirements or there are no more eligible entries, whichever comes first. University of Toronto Press will not be responsible for failed attempts to contact a selected Entrant.
  9. CONDITIONS OF ENTRY: By entering the Contest, Entrants (i) confirm compliance with these Official Rules including all eligibility requirements, and (ii) agree to be bound by these Official Rules and by the decisions of University of Toronto Press, made in its sole discretion, which shall be final and binding in all matters relating to this Contest. Entrants who have not complied with these Official Rules are subject to disqualification.
  10. CONSENT TO USE PERSONAL INFORMATION: University of Toronto Press respects your right to privacy. The information you provided will only be used for the purpose of administering this Contest and prize fulfillment. For more information regarding University of Toronto Press’s privacy statement, please visit https://utorontopress.com/ca/privacy-policy.

 

Spirit, Wit, and Forgeries: The Beautiful Untrue Afterlife of Oscar Wilde

After ten years of detective work investigating Oscar Wilde forgeries, Beautiful Untrue Things author Gregory Mackie talks queer poets, roguish impostors, and the shifting reputation of everyone’s favourite Victorian gay icon.


Oscar Wilde is an instructive case study in how literary reputations can change drastically. When he died in 1900, in exile after his release from a prison sentence for the crime of “gross indecency” – the legal term for sex between men in Victorian Britain – he was a pariah. Over the course of the twentieth century, he has gone from being “unspeakable,” in the words of E.M. Forster’s novel Maurice (1913), to being the ultimate gay icon, revered as a saint and martyr. (If you don’t believe me there, check out his lipstick-kissed tomb in Paris’s Père Lachaise cemetery.) Wilde remains a haunting presence in literary history, which is why I frame my examination of multiple Wilde forgeries in terms of an “afterlife.” And indeed, in one chapter of Beautiful Untrue Things, I mean this idea quite literally: it explores what Wilde’s voluble spirit says about art and theatre from the great beyond, when channelled by zany 1920s spiritualist mediums. Without giving too many details away, I can say here that Wilde’s ghostly wit is characteristically devastating.

I have been working on this book for over a decade now, and during that time the topic of my research – literary forgeries of Oscar Wilde – has intrigued nearly everyone I have told about it. That such curiosity has survived my nerdy bibliographical enthusiasms is, I think, a testament to the topic’s appeal, although whether more fascination attaches to Oscar Wilde or to forgery I can’t say. For me, the process of assembling, orchestrating, and analyzing the obscure publications, archival bits and pieces, and outrageous, long-neglected stories that make up the book has been wonderful. And I mean that in the word’s literal sense: researching and writing Beautiful Untrue Things has kept me in a sustained state of wonder, which for an academic is a rare treat. What do I mean by wonder? I mean learning things that few people currently alive likely know or remember; reading books that no one else has touched for a century; following up obscure leads to unexpected revelations (not to mention the occasional disappointment); and finally putting together the pieces of an intricate puzzle. In some ways, working on forgery means thinking like a detective – and, sometimes, even like a forger – as much as a traditional literary scholar.

Following the leads of the mysterious and eccentric characters who populate the book – forgers that include the queer poet “Dorian Hope” and the roguish impostor Mrs. Chan-Toon – has meant that much of my sleuthing has been done in rare-books libraries. I visited archives, some of which have only recently been catalogued, across North America and Britain. Researching this book has also meant remaining attentive to information emanating from unexpected places. I continue to be amazed by the wealth of information about forgotten literary adventurers held by people working in the rare-book market, for instance. One of the most crucial sources for Beautiful Untrue Things is the private archive of a well-established London dealer – still in business today – contacted by “Dorian Hope” in 1921. These kinds of places represent a living repository of lore about book history and the book trade.

Of course, my research methods have also had to keep up with the times. Early in this project, I travelled to the British Library’s offsite newspaper archive in North London in search of an otherwise unobtainable interview with Mrs. Chan-Toon. I spent a full day trying to access one small news article. That library is now closed, as widespread digitization of historical newspapers has transformed the work and expense of a transatlantic journey into a matter of a few well-chosen clicks in an online database. And yet online research has also saved me from momentous mistakes. One of the book’s signature contributions is the uncovering of the real identity of “Dorian Hope” in New York and Paris, thereby solving a mystery that has puzzled literary researchers and librarians for decades. Quite late in the production process, as the book was nearly ready to go into print, I still believed that it was impossible to prove with certainty who “Hope” really was. If it hadn’t been for a chance database search on another project – a veritable tumble down the archival rabbit-hole – I wouldn’t have been able to connect the dots to arrive at the forger’s unmasking. With this new information in hand, the game is newly afoot: I hope to go back to the archives, to learn more about a certain Brett Holland (from Gastonia, North Carolina) who reinvented himself as the French fashion journalist and literary chronicler “Sylvestre Dorian” after the Wilde forgeries he peddled under the name “Dorian Hope” proved profitless. But that’s another story.


Gregory Mackie is an associate professor in the Department of English Language and Literatures at the University of British Columbia, and the author of Beautiful Untrue Things.

Dragging Theory

As she gets ready to celebrate the launch of her new book, Viva MˑAˑC author Andrea Benoit talks Judith Butler, the art of drag – and looks back to that notorious VIVA GLAM ad featuring RuPaul. During the month of June, proceeds from sales of Viva M·A·C will go to Casey House, a stand-alone hospital where people with HIV/AIDS can receive compassionate care without judgment.


Written by guest blogger Andrea Benoit.

Image courtesy of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

In season 9 of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” drag queen Sasha Velour considered performing as philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler for the infamous Snatch Game challenge, which showcases the queens’ best celebrity impersonations in a game show setting. Aside from wondering what that would look like (and we’ll really never know as Sasha decided to perform as Marlene Dietrich instead, I was struck – yet again – at the prevalence of drag and how it’s now considered in wider and more popular contexts since the 1990s, when I talk about the art of drag in my new book, Viva MˑAˑC: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.

Viva MˑAˑC  is the first cultural history of the originally Canadian cosmetics brand, and uncovers the origins of the company’s corporate philanthropy around HIV/AIDS awareness and fundraising. When MˑAˑC first started raising money through sales of its signature VIVA GLAM lipstick to support local AIDS organizations in 1994, AIDS was still largely a verboten subject for corporations. While many myths about AIDS were beginning to be dispelled, such as how HIV was transmitted, there was still great fear and rampant homophobia surrounding this medical condition.

MˑAˑC chose the relatively unknown drag queen RuPaul to be its first spokesperson for VIVA GLAM and Chairperson of its new charity, the MˑAˑC AIDS Fund. In 1995, RuPaul appeared in the company’s first advertisement, a provocative image that portrayed him spelling out the letters of VIVA GLAM, including the notorious letter “M” that gloriously depicted his legs splayed wide-open. Twenty-five years later, the Fund has raised almost $500 million for AIDS organizations globally. RuPaul’s mantra of “loving yourself,” combined with his entertaining, over-the-top glamour, brought international attention to the MˑAˑC AIDS Fund, and made addressing the AIDS epidemic a bit more palatable to a mass audience. Much has changed since the 1980s and 1990s, when Viva MˑAˑC’s narrative takes place. Folks live with HIV for decades now, as it’s no longer an immediate death sentence, thanks to antiretroviral medications.

And RuPaul is now famous. Back in early 2009, as I was beginning to outline the contours of what would eventually become my book, an intriguing new show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race” appeared on Logo TV, a niche American LGBTQ television channel. Debuting at the height of the reality television phenomenon (itself a subject of scholarly inquiry within my own field of Media Studies), RuPaul offered a completely different take, which promised to reveal “America’s Next Drag Superstar,” riffing on the then-popular “America’s Next Top Model” show to great, if unexpected, success.

Now, Sasha Velour considering performing as Judith Butler on season 9 harkens back to Butler’s own theorizing of drag twenty-five years earlier in Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity  (1990) and later in Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex (1993), when Viva MˑAˑCs narrative takes place. Traditionally, a drag performance is a very self-conscious presentation of gender norms, often being a hyper-stylized representation of femininity. Depending on the context, however, such performances offer potential sites for challenge, critique, and action, especially regarding the AIDS epidemic. While Butler did not really consider commercial or media contexts when she described the ways and spaces in which gender performances could be subversive in the 1990s, I argue in Viva MˑAˑC that MˑAˑC’s notorious VIVA GLAM ad featuring RuPaul should also be considered subversive: the very fact of featuring a drag queen “performing” in a beauty ad to promote awareness and fundraising for HIV/AIDS organizations was unheard-of for that time.

We’ve now come full circle: Sasha Velour can invoke Butler, confident that many in the audience would understand the reference. Butler herself responded to Sasha (much to her delight), admiring how “radical and fierce” Sasha was but also pointing out they were both connected in a mutual project that addressed the “struggle for freedom, for self-expression, for political rights, for the ability to walk down the street without being harassed, to be able to move across borders and express one’s political desires and have a form of life in which one can live and breathe and move as one pleases.”

Drag as an art form has evolved in amazingly creative and increasingly diverse and inclusive ways, and it’s now also mainstream entertainment, drag’s underground vernacular and traditions, even its theoretical underpinnings, becoming common parlance, thanks largely to “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” It’s worth remembering, though, and not just during Pride, that drag’s political and activist commitments run deep, wherever they show up: in the bar, on television, or in a lipstick ad. Viva MˑAˑC tells a little of that story.


Andrea Benoit is the Academic Review Officer in the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies at the University of Western Ontario. She is the author of Viva MˑAˑC: AIDS, Fashion, and the Philanthropic Practices of MˑAˑC Cosmetics.