Stories by Daniel Alexandre Portoraro

Daniel Portoraro is a student of English Literature at the University of Toronto currently pursuing a future in journalism.

Is Tintin Racist?

December 24th, 2011 at 9:02 am 34 Comments

From the tender age of illiteracy, to the present, I have always had a deep adoration for French comic books (and no, not “graphic novels”). The top of my list has, and always will be, The Adventures of Tintin. One could imagine my sadness when I found out my childhood hero and his white dog would be placed in front of Mr. Spielberg’s lens to be bastardized by the Hollywood machine.

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U.S. Post Admits: Deader Than the Dodo

September 7th, 2011 at 12:00 am 49 Comments

Fredric V. Rolando, treat president of the National Association of Letter Carriers says “we have to do everything we can to preserve it and adapt.” “It” being the United States Postal Service which is reported as potentially defaulting on a $5.5 billion payment due this month. But Rolando, view whether or not he realizes it, prescription is using the same type of terminology that an archaeologist would upon discovering the dusty remains of a dinosaur skeleton.

The Postal Service is dead. If it isn’t, then it is surely in a hospice.

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A Sad End to the Summer

September 3rd, 2011 at 12:00 am 114 Comments

The idea that young people don’t want to work is a myth. The exception, i.e. he who is content to lay about the house, playing video games and soaking up cheap beer, is the idiotic exception. In a generation that is defined almost completely by consumerism, work is a necessity not only to attain one’s economic desires, but also to give outline to an otherwise vaporous form. My generation needs to work, we need money to pay for things, but we also need jobs, especially during the summer, in order to give a sense of structure and purpose to our August days.

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Dealing Weed Beats Cutting Grass

August 27th, 2011 at 12:09 am 38 Comments

Picture a drug dealer in your mind. What does he look like? Whatever the image is, it’s probably not going to be a young white male wearing this summer’s latest footwear, and an untucked “secret wash button-down Coral tattersall” shirt from J. Crew. Doubtful, too, your imagination pictures him as putting aside a copy of Vitruvius’s On Architecture so he can measure out a dime bag of weed. But if you’re young and out to get high, this is probably whom you’re buying from.

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That Was Me Who Interrupted Your Dinner

August 20th, 2011 at 12:31 am 51 Comments

While I waited outside the building for the second round of interviewing for my first real job, I saw a man get into a fight with a homeless drug addict. I was 17 years old. After I had gotten the job, I sat down at my desk. And in the cubicle next to me was the same man who had downed the vagabond. I was working as a telemarketer, selling newspaper subscriptions from an office in one of Toronto’s most dangerous neighborhoods.

I quit after a few weeks, and found work in a trendy clothing store, surrounded by pretty girls who, on more than one occasion, nearly had me fired for creating a heartbroken work environment.

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Standing By for a Crappy Airport Job

August 13th, 2011 at 12:00 am 35 Comments

I’ve always thought that working at an airport must be one of the most depressing jobs available. Far, far away from the center of a city, and often, in an ugly, poorly-designed environment. However, here in Toronto, we are lucky to have the Billy Bishop Airport, a small property in the heart of downtown. Situated on Centre Island, 200 yards from the mainland, one rides a ferry to get across. So in my hunt for a job, I figured such a nearby and urban location might be not so bad—even suited to my needs.

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My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain

August 6th, 2011 at 12:00 am 128 Comments

I have a friend who has recently graduated from the University of Toronto with a B.A. in History. I’ve been living with him this past summer, and he has been unemployed for most of it. About a month ago, he came home happy. He had found a job at an upscale restaurant in the city.

After a bit of prodding, he finally admitted to what it was. After years of education, thousands of dollars spent on tuition, countless readings and promises for a bright future, my friend was now a busboy.

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Why the World Needs Captain America

July 1st, 2011 at 5:35 pm 25 Comments

In the trailer for Captain America: The First Avenger, the viewer is exposed to explosions, one-liners, and loud music. However, he is also exposed to the namesake protagonist of the film; a much needed hero in the current climate of the United States. Bionically engineered and clothed in the Red Blue and White, he faces one of the country’s greatest enemies: the Nazis. While the World War Two period is seemingly old, tried-and-tired fare, this is exactly what the American film industry and people need.

We exist in a time in which our enemies have no face. We fight wars with little consideration for boundaries or frontiers. In effect, our “War on Terror”, as has been stated numerous times, is a war on an idea, and one without a finite number of soldiers. This vagueness, this cause with questionable foundation prevents a country from lining up behind its leaders. As such, there is a schism within America: those who follow, and those who stay back and criticize and protest. The end result is simple: this is not good for morale, and even less so for patriotism.

However, upon its release in July, Captain America will hopefully change this in some small way. Viewers will be transported back to a time in which enemies did have names and faces (and no, were not hidden in Pakistan for nearly a decade), and reasons for battle were tangible and clear to understand. More importantly, the setting of the film, World War Two, is one in which there was little to no  moral ambiguity of what the United States was doing in Europe and in the Pacific; they were fighting against evil forces. Yes, it was bloody and violent and terrifying, but regardless, there was a clear enemy: the Third Reich and its allies, and they had to be stopped.

What’s more, the film portrays the United States as being the vanguards of freedom in Europe. It was a time of glory for the country, emphasized by the fact that at the war’s end, the Americans had won, pure and simple, with nothing up for discussion. Taking Western viewers to what some would consider to be the heyday of American foreign policy can only lift morale, and reassure Americans that while some things might be going wrong today, there’s no reason they cannot be fixed in the near-future. As superficial as it may sound, it’s an uplifting sentiment.

Furthermore the consequences of attaching a single face, or country, to a threat entails the humanization of the enemy. The further villainization of one’s foes to the point where one can no longer feel empathy creates a stronger body of followers. Things become black and white. Static villains are often the most effective ones in action movies, and in politics for that matter. As trite as it may sound, would the James Bond series, with its accented, wealthy, homicidal anti-heroes, be so successful if they struck us as more humane? Obviously things are not truly so extreme under “normal” circumstances, but they must be in crises to assure unity. Gray-zones are a luxury for times of stability. And currenly the American government is in the former camp.

The superhero motif in film might seem childish and superficial at first glance, but its idea of the noble hero and his arch-nemesis is something a country desperately needs, and that the government would do well to reconsider. The most effective results sometimes simply require the most simple means.

Eat, Pray, Eat Again

June 17th, 2011 at 6:23 pm 1 Comment

In the film Bridesmaids, there is a scene in which Kristen Wiig, after snubbing a kind-hearted man vying for her romantic attention, feels guilty for it. So what does she do? She bakes a beautifully ornate cupcake — and then proceeds to devour it immediately. This laborious scene lasts a only few minutes which, in comparison to Hollywood’s latest offerings, is mercifully short. Does this signify that we are nearing the end of a terrible trend in the film industry — one that constantly connects female happiness to food?

Food is no longer a theme in the cooking-show sense of the word, where a movie, such as Julie & Julia is about cooking and little more, or it makes its appearance in passing as physical sustenance. Rather, it seems that food has morphed into a symbol of “spiritual” sustenance. We see this therapeutic aspect briefly in the aforementioned Bridesmaids, but almost entirely in Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts’s latest attempt to inundate the movie-going masses with phoney messages of the soul, and what it truly means to be happy.

The movie does this with panoramic zooms of exotic locales (where joy is always just around the corner!), and seemingly incessant shots of the degustation of “goodhearted” food prepared by “goodhearted” people such as smoked eggplant and ricotta, and pappardelle with rabbit ragu.

In the course of “finding herself” after a divorce, Julia Roberts — after a (thankfully) brief dalliance with James Franco’s character, a humming, drumming Buddhist — leaves Manhattan for Rome.

The film then drowns the viewer with shot after shot of fresh greens being chopped up, homemade pasta being strained, and laughing conversation over interminable meals. Roberts’ character, Elizabeth, proceeds to find her identity not so much in any spiritual or emotional revelation, but more in the various rustic dishes she enjoys. Contentment lies, as she tells a friend, in gaining weight if it makes them happy. And if we are what we eat, then Elizabeth is a plate of linguine.

This isn’t the first time such a message is set forth. In the 2009 Italian film, I Am Love, Tilda Swinton’s character — again, a middle-aged woman — is faced with the fact that her family is changing, and she has no control over this; the family company is being passed down, her children have grown up and are getting married. So what does she do? She takes on a younger lover, one who also happens to be a chef. After having sex, they partake in the supposedly uniting ritual of cooking.

What is it about food, cooking, and women of a certain age? For the female characters in Bridesmaids, I Am Love and Eat Pray Love—and also with Meryl Streep, in It’s Complicated-- cooking acts as the only refuge in a time of emergency. It allows the woman to create something, and then decide its fate immediately by eating it, or having it eaten. She has full control, while the rest of her life is a tangled, independent mess where nothing is certain, allowing her, the “time to murder and create,” as Eliot wrote in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

Why attempt to take charge of life, when one can take charge of the kitchen? It might be easier to wipe down a granite counter-top than tears off a face, but regardless, this is the newly-masked sexism in film, and it would be a shame for viewers to think that these are independent women, while in fact they are the weakly veiled representations of the housewife from years gone by, something which women have striven so hard to escape, and yet, now accept as the ideal.

But if that shortened cupcake scene in Bridesmaids is anything to go by, it’s that films are veering away from the literal food-for-thought motif.  Let’s hope that Hollywood will choose something a bit more interesting than a pastry as the way to a happy, fulfilling life.