By Christopher Read
Just over Dino Sossi’s right shoulder, outside the window of the Queen Mother Café on Queen Street West, a gaunt young man wearing a translucent bird beak mask is swinging a plastic lightsabre at his pals on the sidewalk.
When told of the hallucinatory being just behind him, Sossi, the one-time editor of the Eyeopener’s Fun section, smiles and says, “Oh yeah?” but doesn’t turn around quite far enough to see it.
His lack of interest is notable, given that he works for a television program devoted to voyeurism.
Sossi, a video journalist for the Life Network’s program U8TV: The Lofters, graduated from Ryerson’s radio and television arts program in 1999. As a video journalist, Sossi is a camera operator who follows the show’s cast members on sojourns outside the loft.
U8TV is a co-called reality television program shot in and around a “state-of-the-art” loft on Richmond Street West.
It features eight young Canadians paid $30,000 to spend the next 12 months exhibiting their lives five nights a week, on primetime.
Six feet tall, lean and likeable, Sossi is wearing a big, faded, floppy hat, and blue-tinted sunglasses.
A man of varied interests, Sossi has a geography and economics degree from McMaster University and a law degree from Queen’s University. He does stand up comedy during amateur nights at local clubs and runs his own video production/ consulting company on the side.
He refuses adamantly to divulge his age.
“I prefer to be valued for what I have to say, and what I can do, and the kind of person I am rather than an abstraction like my age,” says Sossi, speaking in an amiable, haphazard staccato. “You can oversimplify yourself based on labels like that.”
But the gig that puts the bread on Sossi’s table is U8TV.
In a recent episode, lofter Tre Smith (whose motto, according to the website, is “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’!”) causes a stir when he regurgitates his dinner all over someone else’s bed following a late-night booze-up. This provides the other lofters something to riff on not-so-brilliantly for two or three episodes.
“Great art, great literature helps us make difficult decisions,” says Sossi. “It gives us the strength to do that.”
But is U8TV great art?
“There are moments,” he says, “when there are truths onscreen. I think it can be really kind of chilling. We are trying to, as much as possible, get as much reality as we can — and I that’s someone crying, we get that.”
As Sossi speaks, bird beak man and his female pal enter the café and sit one table over. Female pal is young and serious-looking, and wears a pink toque.
Sossi notices the man’s lightsabre and mask, and gives a subtle grin.
“Excuse me,” says pink toque after a few minutes. “I’m totally eavesdropping. I’m an anthropologist and I overheard you say that you work for U8TV.”
Pink toque says she feels the show and its website are fostering an unhealthy exhibitionist-voyeur relationship.
She says she has been in the U8TV.com chat room and has been sexually explicit and violent messages typed by fans of the show. She is polite, but accuses Sossi and his program of doing nothing to discourage this type of behaviour.
“I wish that people would take the moral high ground, but unfortunately they don’t always do that, which is sad,” Sossi says to the woman. “We don’t want this to be pornographic at all.”
But pink toque isn’t satisfied yet, and continues her attack. Sossi seems rattled, and turns off the tape recorder.
Despite Sossi’s defence, a cursory study of U8TV leaves little doubt that any viewer prone to moral outrage will find U8TV a fertile source of irk.
A recent episode has gay lofter Mathieu accepting a “dare” from the show’s producers to “be a gay porn star for a day.”
Mathieu spends a day on set with two male porn stars and although no actual sex occurs, Mathieu fills most of the segment with vapid, confessional babble about how embarrassed he is, and how surprised he is that he’s embarrassed, and so on.
Granted, the segment is fairly innocent in its content, but it is undeniably designed to tease and titillate the prurient section of the viewer’s brain.
Eventually pink toque and bird beak get up to leave; not in anger, but because they’ve finished their soup.
After bird beak and pink toque depart, Sossi, feeling safer, turns the tape recorder back on and takes a breath.
“I lived with five sisters, so you almost had to be a bit voyeuristic,” he says. “even if you don’t want to become that, it happens.”